After 12 years together and a sound which has evolved from post-hardcore to alternative rock, Deaf Havana are on the march. Frontman James Veck-Gilodi tells Joe Nerssessian why their next record has to be big and his plans to battle the stigma around mental health.

When Ryan Mellor quit as the frontman of emerging post-hardcore rock band Deaf Havana in 2010, no replacement was sought. Instead guitarist James Veck-Gilodi stepped to the front of the stage to fill the void. Seven years and three albums later, that decision is paying off for the boys from King's Lynn.

Quiet, unassuming and a little unsure of his own answers, Veck-Gilodi is not the swaggering, cocksure caricature of a frontman. Sitting in an empty north London cafe near to his house, he believes the band's recent break allowed them to regain some perspective. (January release All These Countless Nights was their first record in four years).

Loading article content

"When we made our first few records, I remember there was a point on each release where we would get carried away and think it was going to be a massive hit," he says. "And we were obviously always disappointed because none of them met those expectations. Taking some time off, we learned not to fool ourselves and we've just matured naturally, I guess."

It certainly worked. All These Countless Nights reached number five in the album charts and saw the band evolve once again. They've come a long way from the roars of Mellor (or the "screamy guy" as Veck-Gilodi refers to him). But what's important now is the band's follow-up. "I'm already writing stuff," he says. "Our next album needs to be very good and it needs to be quick otherwise people really will start to forget about us. It's the make-or-break one."

Hoisting the "make-or-break" rhetoric on to the next album is a surefire way to invite pressure. It also invites questions over the band's goals. Asked whether he sees the band as big festival headliners in years to come, Veck-Gilodi stalls. A long pause is followed by the emergence of a sound which can only be written as 'eurmmgh'. Another shorter pause and one of the singer's favourite phrases is summoned. "I dunno".

Pressed, he says: "It's not really up to us," before adding: "It would be absolutely incredible but I'd never look that far ahead because I don't know how realistic it is. But yeah, of course it would obviously be a dream come true."

It's certainly not the confidence one would expect from a rock band aiming to reach dizzying heights. Quite possibly it has something to do with the lack of attention guitar bands receive in today's stream and data-driven industry.

Veck-Gilodi recognises the struggle a lot of bands, including his own, are facing. "Obviously guitar music is not in as good a place as it was 10 years ago or whatever," he says. "It's not as mainstream and not as well recognised but people are still crying out for it. The problem is there are a lot of guitar bands and it's far easier to listen and dance along to a bad pop song or bad EDM song than it is to get into a bad guitar song. Even I will nod my head to a bad EDM track."

Hesitating, he backtracks a little. "But I don't think it's in any worse shape than it was five years ago or six years ago. There are still great bands coming from the underground."

After 12 years in the band, Veck-Gilodi is acutely aware of the stresses of being a musician. He recently caught Justin Bieber's British Summer Time headline slot but was left a little disillusioned by the world's biggest pop star.

"He looked like he couldn't be a***d," he says. "I guess it''s standard, though, young pop artists don't get treated very well. It might look like they're having the best time ever but they get hauled around like a bit of meat. It must do something to your head. I can't imagine not being able to go out in public since you were like 12."

It sparks memories of Veck-Gilodi's own solo tour. In 2015 he took some of his own material on the road but found the experience a little lonely. "I prefer the band, I just missed that on-stage camaraderie. It's just nice to be in it with a bunch of mates instead of on your own," he says, before quipping it was, however, far easier to make money without four bandmates.

Bieber's personal troubles also resonate with Veck-Gilodi, who has experienced his own fair share of ups and downs. On All These Countless Nights, he lays himself bare with lyrics revealing depression, addiction and loneliness. Recently married, he says his mental health is in a fair better condition - "the best it's ever been".

Using his own experiences, he is now determined to promote the issue and help people, particularly the band's young male fans, to open up.

"Blokes feel like they can't talk about this stuff just because they are a bloke. I can't say I've experienced all aspects of mental health but I can definitely share with people what I have gone through and I'd love to do more stuff to help people open up."

"A lot of my lyrics do talk about it," he adds. "But listen, I'm not smart enough to use deep, beautiful metaphors and poetic ways of emoting how I feel in my songs. I just kind of say it as it is and it seems to work, I guess."

  • Deaf Havana embark on a UK-wide tour later this year and will be at the Northumbria Institute, Newcastle, on Wednesday, November 22