Better With You

KAWALA

Better With You

Being childhood friends, KAWALA’s vocalists, Jim Higson and Daniel McCarthy, have often avoided getting too personal. “We’ve always found it fairly awkward to write a song about a relationship,” Higson tells Apple Music. “Dan might have to sing about my ex. It’s quite weird singing harmonies about someone else’s love life. So, we’ve always stayed clear of that.” But as the London five-piece’s best-laid plans unraveled during the first UK lockdown, there was a rethink. They’d been due to record their debut album in 2020, expecting to take songs already earmarked for the record to a studio and nail the whole thing in one fairly swift stretch. Instead, they were marooned at home with nothing to do except write new songs and interrogate their emotions. “Suddenly, it felt appropriate to be a bit more vulnerable in our writing,” says McCarthy. “We’d both come out of fairly toxic, really long-term relationships within about six months of each other. We were like, ‘We’re in the exact same boat. Now is the time to start talking about it.’ That was quite a pivotal moment.” Accordingly, Better With You transmits anger, hurt, optimism, and joy as they explore community and isolation (“Echoes”), introspection (“Sailor”), escapism (“Ticket to Ride”), and the frustrations of the dating game (“Searching”). That emotional scale complements the richness of music that draws on pop, folk, indie, R&B, Afrobeat, and electronic. “We learned that it’s all right to be vulnerable because it produces more meaningful music,” says Higson. Here, the duo take us through the album, track by track. “Hold Back the Years” DM: “We wrote it and went in to produce it with our friend Joe Rubel, who’s a brilliant producer working with pretty much everyone these days. As soon as it came back, we were like, ‘No matter what we do here, this has got to open an album.’ Having that big, epic opener—it just felt like there was no place for it other than to kick things off. A bit of a punch in the face to go, ‘OK. Here they are. This is it now. This is what they’re doing.’” “Searching” DM: “That was probably the first turning point for us giving it a go at being a bit more vulnerable in our writing. Talking about a natural, direct thing that we were both experiencing.” Jim Higson: “It’s just an endless amount of going on dates. Going on three dates a week for months on end.” DM: “The lockdown walking dates: That was a horrible time to be alive. You could meet up with one person, and that was this random person on the internet you had nothing in common with. It’s a tale of how novice we both were at it because we had been in these long-term relationships. Suddenly, being in that world for the first time is a bit of a culture shock.” “Marathon” JH: “The genetic makeup of the entire song, from the writing to the production, is a combination of every classic trick that we’ve ever used. Obviously, it’s a fairly upbeat-feeling song, but with a juxtaposition in the lyrics being quite incredibly depressing.” DM: “It’s quite angst-y and quite stressed. It happened upon making sense with the times in a way that was never intentional. The lyrics of ‘Marathon’ feel quite fed up, which I think we all are these days.” “Ticket to Ride” DM: “Daydreaming and escapism felt a nice topic of song when we were writing about it, quite wholesome and fun. Then it developed this much deeper meaning.” JH: “We actually wrote it before any notion of a pandemic and then released it in the heart of lockdown.” DM: “It was on the FIFA 21 soundtrack and that really connected with people. We’re very fortunate to have done all these incredible things, like amazing support tours, main stages at festivals, but no one quite takes you seriously—especially our mates, because we’re not rappers. Then you get on the FIFA soundtrack and I’m getting messages from the most random friends: ‘Oh, so you’re taking this seriously, this music thing? Oh, cool.’ You’re like, ‘OK. Well, I’m glad you are on board now.’” “Sailor” DM: “This is probably the one I find most difficult to listen to, just because it’s very sad. I went through a breakup just before lockdown. We originally thought we were going to be on tour for months and then into festivals, and then releasing music. I was like, ‘Oh, lovely—nonstop distractions.’ And then, all of a sudden, you’re in your bedroom, overthinking everything. I think that was the first time I really faced just how miserable that whole period of my life was.” JH: “We get asked a lot, ‘Is writing a form of therapy for you?’ And Dan was saying, ‘Absolutely not. I was miserable when I was writing it—and when I listen to it, it makes me feel miserable.’” “Hypnotized” DM: “This song was just such a pleasure to work on with Joel Pott [producer, songwriter, and former Athlete frontman]. What a man. Looks like Jesus. He is just the coolest person ever. We actively wanted to switch up what we were doing sonically.” JH: “It ended up a bit Rolling Stones-esque.” DM: “A bit bigger. I don’t know if it’s because Joel works with the likes of George Ezra a lot. I don’t know whether it gave it a bit more of a big, arena-y feel, but while we were writing it, I remember feeling, ‘This feels quite special, this one.’” “Echoes” JH: “We wrote this song when we were losing out, show by show. Finding out this show’s canceled, this tour’s canceled. We wrote it about missing being on the road and playing to the most important people to the project, which is the fans. The album is about how we have a career, but it doesn’t really work without fans and all the other people behind the scenes, so it felt only right to call the album after this song.” “Good Like This” JH: “We wanted to write a sexy song, just for a laugh, really, and then it ended up being actually quite good.” DM : “I was listening to quite a lot of Drake around that time. I was just like, ‘Why couldn’t we just try and see how it goes? Worst case, it sounds terrible, and we never touch it again.’” JH: “It came at the right time because something like ‘Searching,’ which we had written before this, was all about searching for this person. But then, ‘Good Like This’ came at the time of realization: ‘Actually, why are we searching? We’re pretty happy as we are.’ It shows a development through the album of our own emotion.” DM: “You can almost hear the process of healing through the album.” “Jesse C’mon” DM: “We all know a Jesse, right? We all have that friend that has quite a distant relationship with the truth. The chords that I was playing felt quite weirdly upbeat but quite dark—the energy lent itself to almost telling someone off. We tried to cynically use as many hooks as possible within two-and-a-half minutes, to try to make this pop song. I’ve always really liked the idea of having a name in the name of a song, and we wanted a non-gender-specific name. Joe Rubel was like, ‘Well, my two-year-old nephew is called Jesse.’ We’re like, ‘OK, so accidentally we’ve written a song about your two-year-old nephew being a massive liar.’” “Never Really Here for Long” DM: “It’s just enjoying the moment while we’re here. How many people are in a position like we are, doing a dream job, putting out a debut album? We wanted to close the album off with this moment that felt really together and heartwarming—this enthusiastic, upbeat, positive feeling.” JH: “It’s ending on a positive note, but ‘Good things never last for long, so enjoy them while you can’ is the message. Enjoy life while you’re able to. It’s quite morbid and quite lovely at the same time.” DM: “We toyed with ‘Never Really Here for Long’ as an actual album name. But we were scared that loads of reviewers would use it as a chance to be like, ‘Yeah, they won’t, because this album’s terrible.’”

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

Featured On