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“None of this works if I do it alone…” Creating harmony within music is often not simply the result of a technique or knack. For the acts that deliver it with devastating, affecting power, harmony is a way of being, a kind of thinking and an understanding that unites and strengthens a number of different artistic visions behind one goal.   Harmonies certainly seem to be a keystone of the five-piece KAWALA. While that is most clearly demonstrated by the vocal union between singer Jim Higson and guitarist-singer Daniel McCarthy that sits at the heart of the group, harmony on many different levels is what has allowed KAWALA to resonate with people.   Both hailing from the same social environs of Camden Town, Kentish Town and Tufnell Park, the first harmony the co-frontmen experienced was with the North London district where they were raised. Attending different schools but sharing some of the same friends and attending  the same parties since their teens, a strong creative spark would arise between them whenever they saw each other.   After making “too many drunk promises” to ignore, Daniel and Jim eventually met during daylight hours to properly talk music. Tracks by favourite acts like Fleet Foxes, The Staves, Bombay Bicycle Club and Half Moon Run were traded until Daniel presented Jim with a song of his own. “Dan taught it to me, I sang it and it just seemed to work really well,” recalls Jim, discussing the pair’s first collaboration. “I thought it was amazing.”   A flurry of new music was subsequently shot back-and-forth between the duo, but the emergence of KAWALA was truly solidified when Jim and Daniel discovered they had both applied to the same college in Leeds to study music. “We were like ‘this makes sense now, we've got to give this a proper go!’” remembers Daniel of the moment. “So we sat down, jammed together and I was just in awe of Jim’s voice.”   With the pair’s thinking clearly in harmony, the harmonics themselves soon followed, with the pair beginning KAWALA initially as an acoustic duo. “I like to think our vocal blend works so well because I started forcing Daniel to sing,” explains Jim with a grin of how their voices first intertwined. “Initially, he would mimic the way I would sing, but as he’s now become a great singer he’s found his own voice with the reference to mine.”   Daniel grimaces recalling those early days. “I was terrible. I couldn’t sing a note,” he laughs. “I wrote melodies with my voice without ever wanting to sing them, so I had to subconsciously develop techniques from listening to Jim sing. It became a faux blood harmony because I developed all my singing around Jim’s voice – we really locked in. I think harmonies are one of the most powerful things in music.”   While a year’s study in Leeds helped to build this creative relationship, a desire to play live and pull together a band of like-minded brothers drew the pair home to London. While the stripped back approach of their early performances demonstrated the quality of the songs they were writing, KAWALA’s musical vision was always bigger.   With the songs increasingly driven by joyous rhythms and shimmering golden melodies, Jim and Daniel soon realised help was needed to create the full sound they dreamed of, so KAWALA grew. Reaching out, school friend Ben Batten jumped on the drums, Dan Lee – a friend of Jim’s older brother – signed up for guitar and Reeve Coulson joined on bass. “I remember our first ever show as a full band,” recalls Daniel. “And it was just what we always wanted. People were dancing to our music!”   A series of EPs, and the euphoria of the band’s live shows, energized their increasing word-of-mouth following, inspiring a real community to coalesce around KAWALA. Initially inspired by dipping back into their North London bubble for help and advice as the group approached new phases – a primary school friend, now illustrator mucked in with visuals, an older brother directed music videos – the openness and engagement was felt by their audiences. Across the UK people who had perhaps chanced upon the band as a support act or in an early afternoon festival slot, were enthusiastically bringing more and more of their own friends with them each time the band toured.   “It feeds into the music quite a lot,” suggests Jim of the connection. “Some of our singles have big group chanting vocals in the choruses. I feel that is a subconscious nod to the togetherness of what we want to do and what we're about. I've never really thought about it explicitly, but maybe that's where it’s coming from. And it is something we do a lot of on our debut album.”   ‘Better With You’, the band’s first full LP, is both an expression of togetherness – musical and literal – and also the bold step into something new. Boasting a ful spectrum of ideas and emotions, brought to life in euphoric tunes, irresistible tempos and, of course, those sweet harmonies. There is a truly encompassing atmosphere across al of ‘Better With You’s’ ten songs that traces its origins back to the intimate creative bonds at the heart of Daniel and Jim’s artistic partnership.   “A statement of intent is a really good way of understanding this album,” suggests Daniel. “We’ve always been a little outsider-y. We don’t fit the pop narrative, we don’t quite fit the usual band narrative. We’re really happy to be taking up that space, but I think this is our flag in the sand moment. The album really says: This is us, here we are!”   Tracks like ‘Searching’, along with ‘Marathon’, ‘Echoes’ and the (cheekily named, non-cover) ‘Ticket To Ride’, are filled with an intoxicating hopefulness that unfurls into bright, pop moments, sure to stir minds and bodies. While On the flip side of the coin, songs like ‘Hypnotized’, ‘Jesse C’Mon’ and ‘Good Like This’ provide a more immersive musical landscape that offers a more contemplative, intimate vibe.   “The title ‘Better with You’ comes from the chorus of ‘Echoes’,” explains Daniel of the album’s name and the open-heartiness behind their music. “We wrote that about the longing and need to be reconnected with people. We had the audiences at shows in mind, but it ties with the wider feeling of the album because it fits so many scenarios, whether it is things like friends or dates. It’s a big moment in the song that really encapsulates the hopeful journey and progressive mentality we try to have. The album really celebrates the people who can help you.”   Getting to this point was not as straight-forward as anticipated, thanks to the C word. Instead of disappearing off to a studio for a few weeks as planned, various lockdowns meant ‘Better With You’ had to be recorded in phases as restrictions ebbed and flowed. An unexpected upside of this piece-by-piece approach though has meant the band got the chance to work with a host of the world’s most forward-thinking producers. Joe Rubel (Maisie Peter, Benjamin Francis Leftwich), Dan Bryer (Tom Grennan, Rag'N'Bone Man), Athlete's Joel Pott, Cam Blackwood (George Ezra, Jack Savoretti) and Mark Ralph (Years & Years, Jack Jones) were among those the group drew on for production and songwriting help when recording windows emerged, but the harmonies at KAWALA’s heart ultimately ensured the finished record is anything but stop-start.   “It was quite magical the way it came together as an album,” suggests Daniel. “I’m actually glad we have a range of producers. It feels like much more of a celebration of our music than if we’d just gone away and recorded it all in one go.”      This unexpected approach to making the album also came to reflect the steps the band have taken to reach this point. From their initial partnership to celebrating community, from missing people when they couldn’t gig to just missing someone, ‘Better With You’ is no idle sentiment.      “Most of the songs are journeys,” explains Jim. “They’re about achieving something and getting to a new place. Because of Covid, we ended up doing lots of sessions and working with lots of different people, so it was an accumulation of great minds – not just the producers but everyone who has supported us. We wanted to tell not just our stories, but the stories of everyone who helped us to get where we are now. So the songs represent a much bigger journey.” The result is an album ready to create a wider connection because as anyone who appreciates harmony knows, it really is ‘Better With You’.

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