The Ninth Wave saw themselves be at one with their remote surroundings when recording their latest EP Happy Days!.
The electro gothic post-punk four-piece headed out to Black Bay studio on the island of Great Bernera in the Outer Hebrides to craft their first raw, dazzling effort since AIM Award nominated debut album Infancy.
“We used quite a lot of metal scraps we found on the fishing docks right outside the recording studio”, says bassist Millie Kidd when discussing Happy Days!’s creation. “We used them as the percussion tracks. There were old chains and old bits of fishing boats.”
It’s this attention to broadening their dream-pop soundscapes which transforms Happy Days! into a cathartic listen; traveling through the synth-driven opener And the Weight to the more pop-leaning I’m Only Going to Hurt You, before stunning EP centrepiece Abattoir enchants with suspenseful piano and empowering drum crashes.
Lyrically, they are more vital than ever, with Millie and co-singer Haydn Park Patterson tackling issues including mental health and the fragility of male masculinity, while The Horrors’ influential frontman Faris Badwan cast his spell over the record during production.
Millie told Daily Star Online: “Sometimes it’s most important to be 100% honest and that’s exactly what Faris was. He wasn’t afraid to say ‘that’s s***’ or ‘that’s great’.”
Buoyed the inclusion of new members Kyalo Searle-Mbullu and Callum Stewart, Happy Days! showcases The Ninth Wave’s potential as one of the UK’s most important rising acts.
Daily Star Online caught up with Millie to chat about the creation of Happy Days!, working with Faris, its themes and how they’ve navigated lockdown.
Hi Millie, how has lockdown been for you? How have you navigated it as a band?
“It’s kind of been good in a way because we’ve been able to completely devote ourselves to the EP campaign. We’ve been thinking of new ways to connect fans because we can’t do gigs.
“It’s getting that intimacy with the tracks, with the fans, so we’ve been making videos and video supplements to see inside our heads with each track and sending out things we’ve made like drawings or short stories we’ve made for the tracks. It’s actually been really really creative.
“We’ve not just been concentrating on the music but concentrating on the piece as a whole to add more meaning to it. It’s been pretty good.
“We would have loved to have played these live gigs but it is something you need to adapt to and change. It’s been good to try something different and see how far we can push our creativity.”
You’ve released your new EP Happy Days! – what was its writing and recording process like?
“We got Kyalo and Callum on board, who were already playing for us as session musicians. We started writing together and it just clicked.
“We went up to record in Great Bernera in the Outer Hebrides. There was nobody else there. It felt so vast and lonely. It was a really good backdrop to the EP.
“When we were up there it was one week before lockdown. We got up there and were thinking ‘the media have blown this out of proportion’ and then one day we were going to the shops and there was no toilet roll or pasta! We are on this island with 200 people and there was just nothing.
“It set a really nice tone to the EP, this air of uncertainty, not really knowing what was going on in the world. It was quite apocalyptic at the same time.”
Do you think the location helped hone the sound and rawness of the EP?
“Definitely. On the EP we used quite a lot of metal scraps we found on the fishing docks right outside the recording studio. We used them as the percussion tracks. There were old chains and old bits of fishing boats.
“We took them to the studio, hung them up in different ways and hit them different pieces of metal.
“They are the basis of all the drum tracks of all the songs. It really captures the brutality of the landscape.”
It’s been produced by Faris from The Horrors. What was it like working with him and what did he instil in to the process?
“He was amazing deciphering what was really good and what was OK.
“Sometimes it’s the most important to be 100% honest and that’s exactly what Faris was. He wasn’t afraid to say ‘that’s s***’ or ‘that’s great’. It was really good to have somebody there who wasn’t going to bulls*** you and tell you straight.
“He wasn’t driven by ego or anything. You think such a massive figure in the music scene would have some sort of ego to him but he was just like ‘I want you to have complete control – I want you to be honest with yourselves’. That’s a really important attribute to have.
“I think we’re a lot harsher on ourselves after working with Faris, even thinking in different ways.”
It’s a sonically varied effort, with I’m Only Going To Hurt You being a real rousing pop number, Abattoir a piano-driven ballad, Happy Days itself is a brooding closer, did you set out to have a variety of sounds and styles on this one?
“I think we always wanted it to be this journey or flow of thought, varied emotions. To show we can do music from all angles but make it creative. All of the tracks fit together, they all have the same elements.
“They all have the same themes, they all sound like one body of work. If you sound to them individually, they sound incredibly individual. That’s something we’ve want to do from the outset to show we’re not just a one trick pony.”
Are there any songs from the EP you’re particularly proud of?
“I would have to say I’m Only Going To Hurt You because it went through so many periods of demos. It’s gone through about seven different structures. Getting to a place we were finally happy with is the best feeling. We chucked it in the bin five times. We preserved and got there in the end.”
Do you think the EP shows an evolution from your debut, and how do you think you have grown?
“I think it feels a lot more mature. We’re not playing it safe with our sound. It would be easy to release a debut album and go here’s another album of exactly the same thing because we know we can do it.
“We wanted to push ourselves and do something we wouldn’t necessarily do or release, but still keep it very much within our own sound. We wanted to get more experimental but still be accessible for everybody.
“We played with sounds and textures a lot more. We really want dot use a lot less layers on our tracks. Before it was reverb and five synths on top of each other.
“For this EP, we wanted to focus in on what one sound could work for us and not layer it for the sake of it.
“We wanted to really hone in on what sounds work together and what instruments work together. I think in that way it’s definitely more mature sounding from our debut. I’m not putting down our debut! It’s just a different way of working.”
Infancy was also nominated at the AIM Awards for best debut – what does that mean to the band?
“It was such a strange thing for me. We’re in the same category as Nick Cave, Laura Marling, and Everything Is Recorded.
“These are people that have shaped my entire musical career! It was very heartwarming to get that nomination.”
Does it give you that drive to keep progressing?
“Definitely. It makes you realise that people are listening and want you to get your name out there. It’s a big push in the right direction.”
Its name is Happy Days!, almost tongue-in-cheek in a sense. What was the decision to name the EP that during such turbulent times?
“We wanted it to be tongue-in-cheek because our songs aren’t exactly happy. The EP touches on the fragility of masculinity, mental health….we wanted to encompass this, almost, mask that everything’s OK that you see quite a lot embodying mental health. It just so happened that the world turned into an apocalyptic nightmare in the release of the EP, so maybe it seems a little bit too satire!”
When you are writing these songs, how do you get into the mindset of songwriting and tackling issues like mental health?
“It’s really important for us to write about things that we feel strongly about. Everything that’s spoken about on the EP are all issues we’ve dealt with ourselves and come from real life situations.
“It’s something we want to get out in the world and be normalised so it can be spoken about. We’ve never written a song about something we don’t feel strongly about.
“We want our songs to be able to connect to our fans on a personal level in the way that some more poppier songs don’t quite get there. There are songs about falling in love and that’s nice but tackling the issues that aren’t really spoken about in song is important because that’s where people do really connect on a personal level.”
Your Scottish accents are more pronounced this time around. How important was this move for you?
“It definitely makes it a lot more recognisable. It came from being comfortable in yourself and it was a very natural progression. We don’t really know how it happened!”
What are the next steps for The Ninth Wave? Is there an album on the cards?
“We’ve been writing songs over lockdown and we have a bunch of songs that we’re very happy with where they’re at. Who knows what’s going to come next? But we’re ready to move forward.”
The Ninth Wave’s Happy Days! EP is out now via Distiller Records