After shooing the rest of their band out of the small backstage room filled with snacks, Jim and Dan from KAWALA sat down with me outside of their busy tour schedule supporting Dodie. We talked about their brand new EP, favourite venues, and an interesting pre-show ritual…
How are you, is the tour going well?
Jim: It is going very well!
Dan: It is going better than we thought. We didn’t really have much time to prep pre-tour, but it’s just been mental. We’ve not really played venues on this kind of scale.
Jim: Yeah, we had no idea what to expect.
Dan: We had done one show before at a festival where it was a similar amount of people, but we felt like that was a dreamy one-off. But it’s just like night after night 2000+ people… just absolutely insane.
Jim: And we haven’t had a bad gig yet.
Dan: We’ve had some good ones, and some very good ones… maybe one okay one but not a bad one. We got to the first venue and we had no idea what to expect, at Bristol, honestly not a clue what we got ourselves into… and we get there at about 4pm and this guy comes up to us and asks “You playing tonight?”, we’re like “Yeah” and he says “Well these kids have been here since about 7am, queuing!” Literally the whole venue was there at 4pm. [Dodie’s] got fans!
So, for anyone who doesn’t know who you are, could you explain your music style in 3 words?
Jim: Ooh, we’ve had this before and we went for some terrible ones.
Dan: Haha yeah, I think we went with something stupid like “not racist” … which it isn’t!
Jim: Haha yeah! I guess fun… Harmonious…
Dan: and not racist!
Again, if someone hasn’t heard of you, what one song would you tell them to listen to?
Jim: I’d tell them to listen to two… but that’s not the question is it?
Dan: Haha I’d say to get a balance of what we do, listen to “Runaway”, which is our latest single on our new EP, which represents the real range we have.
Jim: Yeah, got a bit of all of our music in it.
Dan: But then also if we’re talking about the bases of harmonies and songwriting, I’d say mainly “Moonlight” … but go listen to all of it!
Congratulations on your new EP ‘Counting the Miles’ which was out last night!
Dan and Jim: Thank you!
Dan: It didn’t feel like a release day, usually we make more of a thing out of it, but because we’re on this tour, it’s felt like it’s not been thought about, usually I’m sat there updating the streams, seeing how we’re doing.
I saw on your Instagram you were reposting everyone listing to it, so that must be quite exciting?
Dan: Yeah that’s cool. If I’m honest this Dodie tour has been a godsend to us. This age group, meaning this in the least patronising way ever, they’re the age group that actually listen. The way they are with Dodie is like The Beatles fandom, so we’ve done 5 gigs with Dodie, I know it sounds so boring because it’s all about social media, but it’s such an important part these days, as much as we hate it, we were on about 4000 when we started this tour… now we’re on about 6200 followers and that’s from 5 gigs.
Did you find it intimidating then, when you heard you got the job?
Dan: We actually got leaked that we got the job. We had a sound guy doing our sound; I went on a night out with him in Sheffield with the tour manager for Dodie and he does sound for Dodie as well. And he said “Oh we’re going to see you on the tour, are we?” and I was just like “What?!”. But again, because she comes from a different world to what we come from; you know we’re just like London guys who started doing music together and we just kind of built up, in a relatively standard way as how bands form, like she came from the YouTube world, and we don’t know anything about it. It is alien to us! So, when we realised how big her following was we were like “What on earth?”. But, I don’t know whether this sounds arrogant, but it sounds a lot more natural being in these venues than I thought it was gonna be.
Jim: Yeah, first show, obviously we were naturally nervous but after that it’s been just more excitement.
Dan: As soon as you’re up there, these guys are so, oh my god, you’d be there first second and they’ll cheer anything. Even our tour manager, they’ll just cheer him. So welcoming and so nice to experience. You feel settled within 5 seconds of playing a song and you’re all on the same page; a proper nice experience.
If there was a venue that was definitely sold out for you, where would you play? Can be anywhere from big to small.
Dan: It’s gotta be innit? It’s gotta be?
Dan: Kentish Town Forum.
Jim: Kentish Town Forum, yeah.
Dan: So, we’re from North London, and it’s slap bang in the middle of our houses. About a 4000 capacity but it’s big.
Sticking to your routes then?
Dan: Haha yeah well listen, I’d love to say like some 20 million capacity venue in Barbados, but I think it’s something about going full circle, then ending up at that big of a venue close to your house.
I like that answer! I was expecting you to say Glastonbury or something.
Jim: Glastonbury main stage; don’t think I’d mind that.
Dan: Yeah wouldn’t turn that down!
Obviously, it was just you two, now you’re a band! What was that process like, was it hard or quite easy? Because I’d expect it to be like that scene out of The Full Monty.
Dan: Haha yeah! Tough, really tough, because obviously like we exist as a duo, and that’s how we run it, that’s how we write. We run it as the two of us, so it’s centred around what we do. It was translating that into a bigger setting which was tough, but again being lucky enough growing up where we did, we had such amazing access to musicians that we knew. So, our drummer, I’ve been playing music with him since we were in year 7.
Jim: Dan Lee on electric, he’s a friend of my brother.
Dan: Exactly, and then Reeve, our bassist moved to London and Ben was playing with a massive artist called Izzy Bizu, who’s doing really well, and now he’s playing for us, so it’s like this really nice network of musicians and it all worked together. Getting the band right sonically was tough because it was just like we want the core focus to be [Jim’s] vocals and harmonies and the acoustic… and then to expand that, our music has gotten really big and quite loud at times; busy and dancy. So just trying not to do the obvious stuff and really trying to use sound and make it as interesting as possible, which is difficult; we’re still working on it.
Do you have any weird rituals before a show?
Dan: Ha… yeah… I’ll tell you what it’s called but I won’t go any further. It’s called “The Poo Song”. I’ll tell you the origin of it, I won’t sing it to you though. Basically… why am I telling this haha! So, I think Ben was desperate for the loo in Holland and there was no toilet that he could get to before going on so he started doing this weird chant and it just become an ‘every show’ situation.
Jim: It’s a great song
Dan: We’ll have to do it live… Here’s the deal: if we play at Kentish Town Forum, and we sell it out, we’ll sing “The Poo Song” on stage.
Jim: Hmmm… no haha!
Is there an album in the works?
Dan: It’s not that far off as we’ve just signed with a company who can really facilitate that so basically, we need to write a lot. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if we did another EP before an album, we just need to see what feels right… if we get more waves of Dodie fans ready to listen! I don’t think that people listen to albums as much as they did back in the day. If an album was released, would you feel inclined to listen cover to cover? You’d be surprised with people’s attention span. That’s why EP’s and singles are so big these days; why you only see big artists releasing singles. We were even worried releasing two new songs out today because we haven’t done that before. Over two EP’s it’s always been like one song… one song… one song… so we have a chance to grow. But you just have to bite the bullet and go for it. What a dream to have an album out there. To have the potential to try and put one out there for people to see how they respond is exciting.
To finish off, today is International Day of Happiness! What’s one thing that makes you happy?
Dan: Gotta be this man right here.
Jim: Awww get out of here.
Dan: Ha no I’m joking. I’d say when a song goes down well.
Jim: Or when you come off the stage and you know you’ve done well.
Dan: Yeah, I love that feeling
Jim: But un-music related; animals.
Dan: I’m gonna go… West Ham winning!
Orla Gartland kicked off Dodie’s show and with her being so close to Dodie and her fans knowing who she was already, the audience were apprehensive for KAWALA to take stage as Orla was a hard act to follow… yet they smashed it. KAWALA had the audience dancing from the start. With their first songs including such upbeat rhythms like “Do It Like You Do” the crowd didn’t keep still. Not only did KAWALA have the audience dancing, they had them laughing. Dan and Jim, the main duo of the act were having banter on stage and would speak to the audience so easily. Dan told us the origins of the name “KAWALA” whilst also taking the mick out of Jim, as it was all because he has severe dyslexia and couldn’t spell “koala” correctly. Him having dyslexia got a loud cheer from the crowd; weird, yes. But it just showed that the audience liked them and felt comfortable.
KAWALA performed an unreleased song called “Heavy in the Morning”, taking Dan out of his comfort zone, which is him singing behind his acoustic guitar. This time he had an electric, so warned the audience he may not be as good. Although he had nothing to worry about because he played beautifully! The new song is slow and dreamy with lush harmonies. After they finished the song a girl from the crowd even shouted “that was a great song!”. So definitely keep an eye out for when they release this one. Dan babbled on more to the audience, obviously feeling so relaxed with the Notts crowd. He told us about the new merch they had out and joked about his brother who was working on the stand. I think he thought he got a bit carried away as he then said “alright I’ll stop talking now”, although I’m pretty sure most of the girls wouldn’t have minded if he carried on.
The last couple of songs they performed really got the crowds jumping. They played “Runaway” and “Funky”. The latter definitely was a highlight for me. Rich with harmonies and a, dare I say, ‘funky’ rhythm; it is the perfect recipe to leave your audience on a high note. KAWALA’s new EP ‘Counting the Miles’ is out now, so go and check them out if you haven’t already! KAWALA are also touring the UK in May, so if you’re a fan definitely grab yourself a ticket!