The Ninth Wave’s Heavy Like a Headache is a stunning new album. It’s full of vulnerability, and beautifully thought out. It’s organic and emotive, flowing from fuzzy warm recordings of vocal harmonies to the powerful ‘What Makes You a Man’, to the simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting ‘Piece and Pound Coins’. It travels through genre seamlessly, feeling effortless and mature.
Significantly, this record lands at a crucial time for The Ninth Wave, amidst touring, covid-19 delays, and even an imminent band hiatus [announced on the day of the interview]. SNACK sat down with Haydn, Kyalo, and Calum for a cup of tea at Glasgow’s 13th Note to lend an ear.
From what I’ve gathered, Heavy Like a Headache is coming from a bit of an intense place emotionally. Could you tell us more about the source of these emotions?
Haydn: I’d say it’s quite dark but there’s some happier moments on it too. I think it’s the first time we’d been properly comfortable with just being very direct with what we’re wanting to say and like the feelings behind the song. In the past, when we were first making music we would sort of like, try and find a way to ‘tart up’ what you’re feeling so it’s a bit obscured. A lot of the lyrics on this are much more direct. I think basically we’re just a lot more comfortable with what we’re trying to say.
Kyalo: I think accessing those darker feelings is quite a cathartic process as well, because there is light in the songs. Even if on the surface of it it’s a bit darker, there’s a glimmer in there.
The album explores new sound worlds and aesthetics for The Ninth Wave; did this come about as a result of you consciously attempting to push yourself in new directions, or rather as a result of you naturally developing and evolving?
Kyalo: I think, just more time spent together as musicians and the more experiences we’ve had being in a recording studio together, spending the time.
Calum: It’s a mixture of the two things you mentioned, really. There was an element of us wanting to push the sound of The Ninth Wave as far as it could go, as well as that just being a thing that happened as a result of us being together in rooms writing music. And I think we did quite well in achieving that.
It seems like you’ve been on this five-year journey, and that you’re now more confident together and more confident in expressing yourselves. I’m wondering if your hiatus was that something you were aware of while creating the album, or was it a recent realisation? Why now?
Haydn: Well, we finished the album over a year ago now. I feel like it was just after that we realised that ‘Yeah, after this is out let’s give it a bit of a breather.’
Calum: I think for you [Haydn] definitely. You’ve been doing The Ninth Wave since you were a very, very small boy and actually when you’ve been doing something for so long you need to take a step back from it for a while – indefinitely, maybe forever – and just assess it from afar, when you’ve been neck deep in it for so long.
I think we’d done the album and then there was other lockdowns that happened and it just didn’t feel like the songs or the ideas were as cohesive that they could have been. I think that helped us realise that we maybe had to spend a bit of time doing things.
Kyalo: On our own …
Calum: On our own, yeah. We needed space from being together, I would say – not in a bad way, but it was so easy before to write together and then we tried it again – maybe symptomatic of lockdown – and I think we all thought this would be better just as individual elements.
Kyalo: We’ve also known each other since before playing together, and knowing each other as musicians is why we started to play together in the first place. I think that was because we saw something we liked about those people, that drew us together, and this album is definitely the clearest vision of our different voices together. Realising that is also an opportunity for us to pursue all of our own things; it’s the best time for it to happen, I think.
So, would you say it was a space where you helped each other grow and develop, and now you’ve developed? From the outside looking in it seems that you’ve almost nurtured each other.
Haydn: Yeah, I guess we’ve been doing this – the band that it is just now – for the last three years. This lineup as it is now has been the most intense, but in a good way. It’s the period of time that’s had the most thought put into it. I’ve probably learned the most about myself and my songwriting in the last few years and it’s now gotten to the point where it feels easy and comfortable to think ‘Oh, I could go do something else now’, because of what we’ve done as a band.
Calum: It feels like we’ve done this album. I think the way it has turned out has allowed us to be relaxed in thinking we can come back to it later. We also don’t have to – we can leave it there as is and be really proud of what has happened.
So you’re about to embark on these tours and will be performing songs that you wrote at a very specific period in time; does it seem like time-travelling back to the moment they were written, or is it more something you can appreciate now that you’ve gained distance from them?
Haydn: It feels more like it’s gonna be a celebration. It didn’t feel like that properly until today, when we let everyone know what our [hiatus] plan is. Now it feels like these three gigs in March are gonna be like a happy funeral or something. [Haydn and the other members of the band laugh]. I think they’re gonna be uplifting!
Calum: Today has been a bit surreal because we made this decision a year ago, so we’ve sat with it for a long time. Any emotions that we had have dissipated really, because we’re all very comfortable with it – it feels very much like a decision that was made a year ago. To make the announcement today and everyone’s reacting to it feels a bit strange, I guess.
Haydn: I know what you mean, because it’s weird seeing all the people going, ‘Oh my God’ and we’re like ‘What?’ because we’ve known this was gonna happen for ages.
Calum: I think it’s so nice, it’s really affirming to see how upset everyone is! [everyone laughs again, including Haydn following it with a fake ‘evil’ laugh]
And what are the other things that you’ve got lined up? Haydn, I know that you’re touring with Lucia, supporting Wolf Alice. What’s in the future, what are you guys going off to do?
Calum: So, as well as doing The Ninth Wave I’ve always recorded and written other things that are a bit more electronic. I’ve got a project called Health and Beauty that I’m hoping to do some things with. But I’ll just take it as it comes. It’s an electronic-based kind of dancey-pop music with a sad undertone, and it’s just me flapping about on stage trying to do too many things at once – which is already me in The Ninth Wave.
Haydn: It’s a solo project called Last Boy. It’s gonna have some traditional elements in it; I always played trad stuff with my dad so it’s nice putting stuff like that into my music now. There’s a fiddle player that’s gonna be doing some bits, but yeah. I’m excited to do that for the rest of this year.
What about you, Kyalo, what have you got planned?
Kyalo: Well, I’ve also done solo stuff under a variety of different aliases over the past few years. I’m just performing under my own name now, but it’s more audiovisual. So I generate live visuals alongside the music, which is I guess electronic but less dancy, a bit more abstract. I’ve done visuals for some DJs and some solo stuff as well so it’s installation/generative/performative. Kind of interdisciplinary, crossing borders, rather than playing a gig.
If you could give a favourite memory related to the band, what would it be?
Kyalo: Hogmanay was surreal, and South By Southwest.
Haydn: Yeah, only the first South By Southwest. We played like, was it four? [the band agrees] The first one was amazing; the others were shite.
Kyalo: Oh, but there was also the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh…That was weird.
Wait, like on the grounds?
Haydn: Yeah, I painted my face white because I wanted to look like one of the sculptures. I didn’t look like a sculpture.
Kyalo: Yeah, and security were like really, really on edge and worried about us knocking something over.
Did the pandemic have a big impact on the band?
Kyalo: Yeah, we were actually supposed to go on tour with Hayley Williams.
Calum: Yeah! It was supposed to be Europe and the UK. She sent us flowers and all that. You can’t say the big what-if, but it’s difficult not to ask. I think we made the best of a bad situation. It was great that we had recorded that EP and had that through the first lockdown period as a focus. I think if we hadn’t then it would have been very tough.
As a band, what would you want your fans to remember about you?
Haydn: Oh my god, that sounds like something you’d get on the little cards at a funeral.
Kyalo: Yeah, it’s an obituary! We’re not going away: we’re still going to be present in other ways.
Calum: Yeah and we’ve still got other bits and pieces to release, we’re not completely going away. But if we are treating it like an open casket funeral then yeah, you just want people to engage with anything we’ve put out there.
Kyalo: Yeah, the next video we’ve got coming out is a way fans can remember us, because it’s experiences that we shared with them, to get them excited and happy rather than sad and despondent.
Kyalo: Yeah, be happy that it happened.
Calum: And come to our solo gigs!
Heavy Like a Headache will be released on the 18th of March via Distiller Records
The Final Shows
Manchester: YES, 16th March
London: Oslo Hackney, 17th March
Glasgow: SWG3 Warehouse, 19th March
Photo credits: Hope Holmes for SNACK