12 months ago | Words: Rebecca Durband
Growing up, Tropics, AKA Chris Ward, was heavily influenced by his older brother, who was also a musician. He would make him cassette tapes and burn CD’s of early 90’s Trip-Hop, Electronica, Rock, Shoe-Gaze and Post-Punk bands. His mother’s interest in 60’s sounds, and his father’s taste in Jazz also helped inform the music he makes today. We caught up with the British vocalist, songwriter and producer to discuss letting go, childhood memories in France and 80s music.
What are you listening to, reading and watching at the moment?
I’m listening to an album called Night Express by Black Disco. I heard it a few days back in a place I was having dinner and it was something that struck a chord with me immediately. Reading James Baldwin “Another Country” which is amazing, very deep and kind of cinematic. I keep picturing it very much like a movie in my head. It’s mind-opening to try and get into the mental state of understanding the protagonists struggle’s with predominantly race, in New York in the 70’s, whilst being entertaining with a very gritty backdrop of New York life, which was so rough and degenerate in that time. It’s one of the first books I believe I’ve read by a black writer which focuses a lot on the race issue, also sexuality, mental health.. Many things. It’s colourful and brilliant.
What has been your biggest life challenge so far and what did you do to overcome it?
For me, throughout my entire 20’s I chose a path of artistic output without compromise and that in itself, at times, has come with numerous hurdles, challenges at the expense of my well-being. I have to believe to some extent that things happen for a reason and to take the best of every situation, in someway turn that energy, that experience, whether it bad or good and convert it in a way that pushes me forward. Being able to release music that I’ve been told by people has had a profound affect on their well being or mental health is a very rewarding concept, which helps me cope myself with such challenges.
What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?
Working on music at home that I’m excited about. Having that rare feeling I get when I’ve been working so hard on music then I go for a walk, absolutely buzzed with my headphones in listening to it ten or twenty times in a row, sitting in the park under the sun. Totally happy with the outcome of something I’ve made and looking forward to sharing it. Being able to go back home and rest on the sofa on a warm evening, after a hot day. A breeze flowing, the patio doors open with the sun falling down through all the leaves. Ha I love nothing more than a peaceful, chill environment.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My family, my close friends, my education and opportunity. It can be hard at times to remember this. I can be very excitable at times, act on impulse, know when I’m doing so and let it slide. It’s so easy today in what are very challenging environments, whether its your work industry, school, relationships or other, to become a little hardened and put yourself first and above, when you see -or- are on the receiving end of others doing so at your expense. I aim, as best I can, to remembering that the world at best, turns from the good we do. The smaller things do count and that gets passed on and perhaps makes someone’s day more than you’d ever realise. So yeah, as I get older, I try to remember to be grateful and remember the little things that can be passed on.
Complete this sentence: “Ace mental health for me means…”
Ace mental health for me means clarity, calmness and happy in the here and now. As someone who has in the past, especially in my early 20’s and even on occasion slightly now, struggled with mental health, it can be very hard to get into a mind frame of pure simplicity, and to let go of the things that are bothering or hurting you. Of course it’s easier said than done, but sometimes it can feel most natural to dissect and therefore unravel things beyond our control. Like accidentally dropping a roll of twine and struggling to grasp at it whilst it scurries across the ground leaving a trail. It’s hard to stop and check yourself. Putting your mind into a place of ease and look over your situation like an outsider, tactfully and strategically. Or brushing it off. I have always thought too deeply into things and been sensitive to numerous elements socially in this world. That, at times, has sent me into a downward spiral of self-question, anger, depression and at times in the past, thoughts of self-harm. These days I feel blessed to be able to challenge myself to work harder at the letting go of the things I cannot control in my life. A day of that kind of clarity and peace of mind means ace mental health.
What do you eat to stay healthy?
What I put in my body is important to me daily. I’m all about the green juice every morning, I eat meat just not too often. I don’t drink an awful lot, I used to but I hardly drink these days, mostly just on a weekend (a few beers) or on a special occasion. I feel alcohol always had such a negative effect on my flow and creative output which lead to further mental frustrations. I drink water and stay hydrated the best I can, it keeps my head clear.
Do you have a daily routine of exercise or do you make it up as you go along?
Ha you could say I make it up as I go along. I do a lot of walking, from the minute I wake up I leave the house and go do something, whether its just a long walk or to a gallery or something. I have to leave the house before I return and do something creative. I also do yoga at home often which initially began as something I was advised to do for a bad back, which ended up giving me a great sense of well being, got rid of my back pain and regulated my sleeping pattern. Sleep is something I have struggled with at times and it affects every aspect of my day ahead tremendously. I like swimming but don’t do it as often, also running which I find really helps my voice and lungs with singing.
Here at The Mind Map we remember playing football and ‘tag’ – running around the playground everyday and loving it – can you share a similar memory?
One of my fondest memories is being in France at the chateaux me and my family would stay as a kid. It had a garden much bigger than ours which felt like a field and was so lovely at sunset. It felt like nothing was around for miles, and it wasn’t. We would rest and relax having dinner in the back garden as a family and play games in the back garden. Was peaceful, tranquil and happy.
What three songs lift your spirits?
Three songs. Haha:
Tears For Fears – Head Over Heels
Psychedelic Furs – Love My Way
Stone Roses – She Bangs The Drums
I’m not sure why they’re all 80s! I’m realising I listen to a lot of 80s music to feel very happy and reminds me of home, being young.
What is your favourite self-help book, or motivational quote?
“Never underestimate the pain of a person, because in all honesty, everyone is struggling” This is a quote I’m guilty of forgetting when I’ve been wrapped up in myself but it’s something as I’m getting older I’m remembering more and more.
What advice do you offer to friends when they are feeling overwhelmed?
Take a breather, take some time out, no qualm is worth your well-being, or mental health. Talk to friends, the people closest to you are always able to offer support.
2 months ago | Words: Ste Turton | Photography: Phil Bridges
As we sit down for breakfast at a converted barn just off the Knowsley Expressway, I realise it’s been five years since I’ve seen Shaun Whalley in person. A close school friend and old drinking partner, the talented winger was always good company. With a turn of phrase as sharp as his Cruyff, we’d bonded as younger men over the usual gear. Sports, betting, The Strokes; we had a lot in common, including our addictive personalities.
Whalley was a fun-loving, infectious kid with a wild streak. Not a Gazza sort, or tragic George Best figure. Just a loveable rogue, who’s pace on the pitch got him paid, while his over-zealousness away from the field, at times, hindered his professional progress. But I’d heard good things. Mutual friends had told me the Shrewsbury forward had completely ironed out his old issues.
As the coffee and convo flows on a chilly Wednesday morning in Cheshire, it’s clear my old pal is in a good place.
“This is the best I’ve ever been doing. I’ve been playing in League One for four years now, and done well every season. We nearly got up last year.”
With spells at a variety of teams, ranging from Accrington to Warrington, Shaun’s time at Shrewsbury has been the most consistent of his career. It’s no coincidence it has arrived after finding peace in his private life.
Never a regular drinker, Whalley was notorious for going hard on the occasions he did cut loose; often leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. I’d been involved in many of those outings. Ruined furniture at house parties. Hotels turned upside down. Cleaned-out drinks cabinets. Young seeds being sewn, you could say. But not an ideal look for a footballer, or actions for a footballer’s friends to be encouraging. Married last summer to partner Jessica and now a father to four-year old Jude, the wild nights have long been benched.
“It’s so hard when you’re making the same mistakes over and over. I try and explain it to people, me mar and that. They like a drink and I think they find it hard that I hardly bother now. I feel like they think I’m not having fun. I try to explain to her that once I stop drinking, I don’t even think about it. It’s not in my thoughts. I don’t go boozers no more, and that’s not even out of effort. I’m just not interested”.
In 2015 when playing for Luton, Whalley received a wake-up call, on the booze front, that topped any of his previous warnings. After the team’s end of season awards ceremony, Shaun had been arrested for his alleged involvement in an assault. It was claimed his teammate, Ricky Miller, had head-butted a taxi-driver during a drunken, late-night ride.
“I sobered up quick, sat in that cell all day, getting questioned. What the fuck had gone on?”
“You know me, Ste. I’ve never been a fighter. I knew it wouldn’t have been me who’d head-butted a fella but at the same time, I couldn’t remember. I didn’t have a clue. Could have been? I just thought, “I’m in the shit here”.
Although never charged over the incident, Miller was also later cleared in court, the experience triggered change.
“I spoke to a lawyer. He said they could have nicked me, just for being there. My contract was up at Luton and I was just thinking, what am I gonna do here? I didn’t wanna drop down the leagues again. I had bills to pay. When I was younger I didn’t have any responsibility, it was just me, going at it.”
When a move to Shrewsbury presented itself that summer, Shaun and his partner jumped at the chance of a fresh start. They haven’t looked back. Together for eight years before last year’s wedding, the gratitude he feels towards Jessica’s positive influence is clear when he talks about his wife.
“With her being older than me, she’s always been more mature. She never really drank, either. So I wouldn’t. I guess she’s just bullied me straight,” he reflects with a smile.
While not strictly tee-total, Shaun’s alcohol intake is kept to the rarest occasions. Where once he’d revel in the carnage of a binge, he seems relieved those incident filled sessions are a thing of the past.
“We went to Dublin after a Saturday match for our Christmas doo. I had a good few bevvys, but no incidents, just a few drinks. Got some food. To wake up in the apartment knowing I’d not done anything stupid was just the best thing. I was buzzing”.
With the bevvying boxed off, the conversation turns to another vice we’d both indulged in during our younger friendship. Like many footballers, Shaun found himself with a healthy wad in his pocket and endless, post-training afternoons to fill. Hours – and notes – would invariably be spent gambling.
“The thing was, I just didn’t care when I lost. Most people are pissed off and fuming when they’ve done a wage in. I was just like “sound, that’s gone now”. The girls working the counter couldn’t get their heads around my reaction to bets going down. But I found out later that’s more a sign of a problem than getting angry.”
With one in five addictive gamblers attempting suicide at some point in their lives, Shaun’s escape from what had become a destructive hobby was a major achievement. He again credits Jessica for playing a big part; checking his finances, checking-in on his whereabouts. Ultimately, it was Shaun’s shift in priorities and a determination to be better that lead to change. He says he still has a flutter at Cheltenham and Aintree, but it’s once a year. Like the drinking, it’s controlled.
“I used to think I was a big sports fan. I still love boxing and obviously watching some footy games, but I hardly watch anything else. I wasn’t really into the other sports, just gambling on them.”
Recently back from a lengthy absence through injury, did he have any anxieties over old habits creeping back up on him, while sidelined?
“I’m just in a totally different place now, I don’t get the opportunities to lose the plot. It wasn’t an injury where I’d been stuck at home, so I was still going into training. Getting in earlier, leaving later. I just go home, play with our Jude, watch a bit of telly, then we go asleep. Then it’s the next day.”
Finding structure and discipline hasn’t made Shaun any less fun to be around. Those Ray Liotta blue eyes that once hinted at Henry Hill madness still light up when he’s excited, but represent much calmer waters these days. As we gab about the latest Netflix releases and what new boxing podcasts he should be getting his head into, I’m reminded that our friendship was much more than the gambling and partying that so often defined it.
“You know, I’ll never say any of that was shit, I really enjoyed a lot of those times. But there comes a time, you’ve gotta pay bills. You’ve gotta grow up. And then they’re just memories.”
Whalley’s clearly changed for the better, but so it seems has his environment. With high profile stars such as Tottenham’s Danny Rose opening up on depression, and the FA taking a zero tolerance approach to players gambling on football, does the current locker room seem different to the atmospheres he experienced when coming through the ranks?
‘Completely. Some of the stuff that used to go on in the early days was just not the sort of thing you can get away with in a work place. People just get along and are more understanding of problems. There’ll be the odd talk of a golf bet, but a lot of the younger lads are too busy on social media. It’s much more relaxed.’
After scoring on his recent return to Shrewsbury’s starting lineup after four months absence, the current version of Shaun Whalley seems to have more to give to his club than at any time in his life. He’s been lucky to meet a partner that has helped him develop, but his own intelligence and introspection have also been vital in preventing a premature end to his Football League status.
As for the future? He’s hoping his experiences – coupled with his footballing nouse – will allow him the opportunity to help younger professionals from a position of leadership.
“I want to be a manager, one hundred percent. Football’s all I wanna do. It’s gonna be hard. There are a lot of people that want to manage and there’s not a job for everyone. I know that. I just feel like I could do it, I could be a good manager. I seem to get on with people in football. I’m easy going, I like to see other people’s point of view and where they’re at.”
There’s no doubting where Whalley’s at. After settling the bill, we laugh at the fact we’re leaving a quaint farm dishing out bacon butties and cuppas, rather than a pub or bookies serving up pints and bets, like the old days. There are plenty more positive days ahead for Shaun. On and off the pitch.
Photo Credit – AMA Sports Photo Agency
If you’re struggling with gambling issues, checkout https://www.gamcare.org.uk for help and advice.
2 months ago | Words: Phil Bridges | Photography: Phil Bridges
As forties jazz fills a faux Parisian café on Lark Lane in Liverpool, I spy Kieran Shudall, through the window, bobbing animatedly, phone in hand, trying to locate me. The friendly Circa Waves singer exaggerates relief as he catches my eye. Five years ago Shudall ascended rapidly from building sites and stage-managing bands, to playing Glastonbury. His nostalgic anthems suggested a young scouser living a filmic indie dream. But by the band’s second album, 2017’s ‘Different Creatures’, his songs had become more introspective and Kieran talked publicly about the other side of being in a band: “Just because you have a great job doesn’t mean you can’t suffer mentally and I think it’s important for people to know that,” he told the BBC. With us almost comfortable on stools, hot drinks in hand, Kieran explains the unnaturalness of being so high and low before and after shows. “It can all be an anti-climax. You can come off stage after a big gig feeling a bit guilty like ‘Why aren’t we jumping around the dressing room, and drinking, like in the films? Then you’re back at your silent hotel room. Luckily, I was 26 when we got signed, so I can’t imagine what that must be like for an 18 year old.”
Kieran says Circa Waves was never intended as a live project. Having been in bands previously, he wished to focus on songwriting – releasing his recordings anonymously on the internet. “There are people who have to be on stage and I’ve never been like that.” I note he is a confident frontman. Sipping his coffee, Kieran explains this is learned, rather than innate. He says buried within the stage persona is an anxious kid, who was too nervous to even do presentations at college. “I avoided them like the plague, calling in sick, or asking to do a video. I literally couldn’t get up in front of the class.” He attributes his ability to function on public platforms now to both his wife Heather: “she is amazing” and practice. But there is always another challenge around the corner. “Being in a band, you’re constantly doing stuff out of your comfort zone. I’ve just performed on Sunday Brunch and national TV is terrifying for me. I worried about it for an entire week on tour, but luckily I had Heather who can build me up. Once I’ve done it, I’ll feel great because I’ve pushed myself to achieve something.”
“It’s funny, I was sat next to a bunch of actors who were also really nervous and I thought they’re anxious and they’re in films with Tom Hiddleston’. It affects everyone. You just learn to hide it. Confidence is a choice, you just decide to be confident.”
In his song ‘Out On My Own’ from ‘Different Creatures’, Kieran sings about walking ‘in the steps of the men that you grew up with. But maybe they’re better equipped at dealing with this’. I wonder how modern models of masculinity affect him, as both a touring musician and husband?
“My dad was an electrician, able to fix everything, he could plaster walls and paint the house, do all this kind of stuff and I’m a bit like ‘I can’t do any of that, I’m rubbish’. You almost want to be the sort of tough provider. But at the same time you have the new generation Z growing up knowing it’s ok to be open and sensitive. I feel us millennials are kind of caught in-between. We’re still trying to figure out what’s acceptable. There’s a lot of stuff on Netflix and in the media about being young, sensitive and transparent and that’s amazing. We didn’t have that when we were kids.”
In May, Circa Waves will take their new, more layered expressions to America. “Everything’s built up at a nice pace. Luckily for me, gigs don’t scare me anymore, the bigger the better in my mind, which is something that weirdly happened over time. I feel at home on stage now.”
With Kieran driven largely by the creative process, I wonder how he deals with the scrutiny from music critics? “I hate waiting for reviews and try not to read them as 90% of them will be positive and I’ll be focusing on the 10% that are bad. I guess that can be quite anxiety inducing. It’s frustrating as you can put everything into your work and someone can pick it apart in one sentence. The Guardian did a shit review of our second album but the NME loved it. You want everyone to like it but that’s not possible. Also, the more you put yourself out there commercially or the bigger you get, the more the cooler magazines tend to dislike you. It’s a tough balancing act. You gain bigger crowds but lose some of that critical credibility. It’s very hard to have both.” Kieran laughs: “Bands like Arcade Fire are a bit of an anomaly.” He continues: “I used to strive for both critical and commercial acclaim but now I just try to make stuff as big and as ambitious as possible.”
The Penny Lane resident goes on to explain that it’s also a fine line between artistic expression and keeping your current fans happy: “I don’t think it’s good for art when you try to cater entirely to your current fan base. With our new album, there’s been a lot of people saying ‘Why is there a piano?’ for example. But you have to evolve. You can’t make the same album six times. Imagine if The Beatles had done that? They basically went from a boy band to a psych band. Imagine if they’d had the production techniques of today! They would be having a ball making music now.”
I wind up the interview asking how Kieran would say he has changed in last five years since Circa Waves formed? “I’m 31 now and I was 26 when we started. While life is more complicated and there are more responsibilities, I certainly feel more settled in myself. I suppose most song writers are kind of sensitive on the inside, so I still have that part of me. I think coming home after being on a tour where thousands of people have been cheering you every night to just going to the pub with your mates and talking about telly and being like ‘Isn’t this beer nice’, just regular things really bring your mind back to earth.
“Whilst we’ve had success, we haven’t toured the world constantly, and have had time at home to readjust back to being just a normal person’. I love my house, I love my cats.”
3 months ago | Words: Ste Turton | Photography: Phil Bridges
Sundays have changed a bit for Dave McCabe. Straight from a gym session of spinning ‘and a load of weights’, the charismatic musician’s looking fresh, as he settles into a booth at Love & Rockets, Lark Lane, for a chat about The Zutons’ upcoming tour. With rehearsals booked for this evening and a potentially sweaty 90 minutes watching his title-chasing Liverpool this afternoon, it’s not what you’d call a traditional day of rest. Dave’s happy with the loaded schedule.
“The fitness helps your voice, it helps your brain. It’s not like I’m looking dead skinny and great. But I’m seeing a personal trainer twice, sometimes three times a week. Riding me bike into town. It helps, you know, doing bits.”
Besides one fundraising gig three years back for the tragic loss of close friend Kristian Ealey, The Zoots haven’t been on stage together for a decade. Kicking-off ten UK headline gigs this month to celebrate the fifteen-year release of debut LP Who Killed…The Zutons?, McCabe recently made a conscious decision to live a cleaner, more productive life.
“This is me one beer all weekend, I’ve cut right down. The main thing is staying off the ale, getting up early in the morning, doing your warm-ups, all that shit. You’ve got loads to do to keep you distracted once the tour starts, but the hard work’s done in the practice room. You can’t just go into rehearsal feeling dead weird and hungover. I’ve been having fits of tears, I don’t know why. They only last about two seconds and I used to put it down to the hangovers. But I’ve realised it’s always about stuff I like. A song I like. It’s never crying because I’m bitter, or angry. It’s always positive. It’s always about beautiful stuff.”
It’s been a hectic and emotional few months all round. Since announcing the reunion before Christmas, the band have been busy behind the closed doors of Elevator Studios, re-discovering their rhythm and timing. Alongside its catchy melodies and hooks, Who Killed…The Zutons? is an album filled with trepidation and uncertainty. Tracks like Zuton Fever and Pressure Point, in particular, grapple with unwanted and inexplicable anxieties. What was going through the frontman’s young mind, when he penned the lyrics?
“I was kinda just growing up. You’re seeing your dream come to life because we’d already been signed and started the album. You take a step back, loads of stuff comes out and you start cleaning your emotional pipes.”
“If you’re in a band you’ve got to be like that. In terms of songs and expressing yourself, you’ve gotta be honest or no one else will connect with it.”
Reconnecting with his bandmates seems to be providing as much enjoyment as re-visiting their back catalogue. At a time when some of Dave’s nearest have been battling ill-health, the comfort of his familiar crew has been a timely blessing.
“Back in the big bed, and I’ve only had one argument with Boyan” (Chowdhury, guitar) he laughs. “It’s been really good, everyone’s been dead nice. It was all about me and Sean (Payne, drums) getting on. We’re the driving force, if you will. Pair of narks, the ones who go home and think about shit.”
With Abi Harding back on sax, it’s only Russell Pritchard missing from the original lineup. The La’s/Cast’s Jay Lewis picks up bass duty, while Neil Bradley’s introduced on keys; adding a different dimension not only to the Zutons’ trademark stuff, but also new material the re-shaped collective are working on.
“There’s about twenty songs that I like, bits of songs. They all need finishing. It feels good, the ones we’ve done. Feels like it’s moved forward with Neil being there. There’s more percussion. Bit less sax, more harmonies. I’ve known Jay and Neil since I was about 17, they’ve got the right personalities.”
It’s been a long time coming, but McCabe seems to have struck a harmony in both his recreational and occupational realms. With an eye on the mounted television showing the Liverpool match, and his fingers stuck into a post-workout recovery batch of chicken wings, he’s as relaxed as a Reds fan can be right now. But as any football fan knows, a one-nil lead can be precarious, especially for an outfit with attacking tendencies. Does he see his controlled streak continuing, during and after the tour?
“We’ve done loads of partying in the past. The main thing for me is laying off, not going crazy for days on end. The best advice for anyone not to drink is to keep busy, replace it with other stuff. Give it a chance to feel better. Get over the boredom and all that.”
The singer’s honesty won’t come as a surprise to those who know him. An open book with a real interest in the human condition; even during his wildest periods, McCabe always had a self awareness and desire to find inner calm.
“I think maybe the main thing with any kind of anxiety is realising something in your head is creating stress. A lot of the problems I’ve had in my life have been stress related. Luckily for me I’ve known it’s stress, or been in a group where someone’s been able to point out to me ‘look, you’re stressed’. Some people go months… years, without knowing that. And it has bad results. I’ve seen mates break down crying, just over feeling anxious. I don’t find it hard to gab about anxiety or stress any more. I did when I was younger. More and more people are suffering from it. It’s normal to talk.”
Whether it’s been solo shows or with other bands – including Silent K, which he’s still a member – Dave’s never stopped gigging. But the last time the Zutons topped the bill, Barack Obama had just been elected president, Instagram had yet to be created and Michael Jackson was still alive. Does the prospect of going out there, to a potentially different environment and audience, bring with it additional nerves or fears?
“It’s more about the singing really at the moment, hitting the high notes. But you’ve gotta have nerves, the old cliche is true, and I always did. It’s a good thing. If you just go on and you’re not nervous you’re usually knackered and do a shit gig.”
And what about young artists starting out, putting bands together? With the shift to streaming and the ability for musicians to monetise their talent seemingly more difficult than when McCabe signed his first record deal, does he have any advice for newcomers?
“If you don’t know the difference and you really wanna do it, you’ll find a way. Just keep doing it. The main thing is just enjoying it, that’s what I’ve always thought from the off. It’s nice to make a living out of music, but if you don’t enjoy it there’s no point in doing it.”
True to his word he declines numerous offers of another drink, instead nursing one Guinness for the duration of the conversation, switching to water after polishing off his grub. On the 60 minute mark with Liverpool still leading, he decides to dart off and watch the rest of the game at home, unnecessarily apologising for wanting to grab an hours kip before band duties.
It’s a wiser McCabe; one that’s learnt from experiences and past disappointments. After a rollercoaster conclusion to the match his team have returned to the top of the league, too. Hopefully where they’ll remain.