England’s Loss Is Norway’s Gain

A friendship born in Brazil has reaped dividends for Casa Murilo.

“You’re spot on! That’s exactly how we felt,” is the immediate response from one half of Norway’s adopted sons, Casa Murilo. Sitting round a table that barely seats two people let alone three, the weather has decided to raise a smile and allow Dan Hesketh (guitar and vocals) and Chris Winfield (vocals), two British expats now living in Norway, a chance to share their fascinating story with Famous Last Words (FLW) concerning the fall and rise of Casa Murilo. The fall referred to here, led to the inception of the duo’s opening fixture ‘Wrecking Ball’, taken from second album ‘The Rise and Fall’, depicting a band not completely satisfied with their lot and sensing a lack of overall progression. Such observations are where we find ourselves when opening up a dialogue of all things Casa Murilo.

“We arrived in Norway and gave this everything we had and we got to a point where we really were at a crossroads as we were not where we wanted to be,” continues Dan seemingly in full flow and barely a minute has passed. “We had received a lot of bad news within a two week period, and it doesn’t matter about the specifics of the bad news, but everything a band needs to have was falling out from under us. For the first time we started to doubt ourselves and thought that maybe we won’t be able to do this. So we wrote the song [‘Wrecking Ball’] as an expression of that dread that maybe we aren’t as good as we thought we were and can’t do the things that we want to do. We were working so hard but not getting the traction that we wanted. Bizarrely, after writing the song, within a few weeks all of the bad stuff that left us with very little faith had suddenly been fixed, with other opportunities presenting themselves as we ended signing with a big record label and played on the main stage at the Øya Festival, which was a really big deal for us.”

Casa Murilo

Casa Murilo’s sophomore effort is packed to the rafters with songs full of despair as lyrics depict a series of broken relationships with the remnants littered at their feet. But songs also reflect feelings of frustration in the sense that maybe just maybe things might not work out as everything appeared to hinge on ‘Rise & Fall’ being a breakthrough success. It is small wonder that the appropriately titled ‘Wreaking Ball’ opened up proceedings as judging by the song’s contents Casa Murilo were hell bent on their creative output being heard even if they weren’t invited to the party. Fortunately for Casa Murilo the album was finally given the green light to proceed as Sony Music Norway offered them a deal and thus salvaged the band’s status as an ongoing concern.

“Recording it [‘The Rise and Fall’] was a great experience because we were feeling really good when we recorded the album,” says Chris with fond memories. “It was summer time and walking down to the studio in t-shirts and shorts and sitting outside in the park having lunch, and it was lovely! But I think in the months that led to even thinking about writing a new album, things were going wrong for us.”

“It was the best of times, and the worst of times,” jumps in Dan, “because on one level we were going down to the studio and working with a proper [record] label and it’s going to be released as long as it’s good. You’ve got a song that is just hitting the radio, sun shining and we are living our boyish dreams. However, we had quit our jobs just around the time of By:Larm [Casa Murilo performed at By:Larm before signing their record deal] because we thought that you only get one chance at this. We thought that if we do fail or that we do succeed, the only thing that Chris and I can do is give it absolutely everything that we’ve got. We were going down to the studio and working all day, every day. If we weren’t at the studio, then we were writing, and if neither of those then we were in the practice room with the boys. But the money started running out in the middle of the studio time, so we would go down to the studio and everyone else would go out for lunch and Chris and I would go and sit in the park and eat some dry knekkebrød! There were times when we would go into a shop and try and buy a sandwich, only to experience our cards being declined.”

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So it was becoming quite desperate then?

“It was, but at the same it’s so amazing being signed to a major [record label] and everyone around you saying, ‘You’ve f****** made it, well done!’ so we felt great but also starving and wondering how we were going to make any money,” recollects Dan. “It does give you something to write about and there are a couple of songs that were written in the studio which are from that position of desperation. So you’ve got all of this hope and belief, and getting all of this confirmation, but at the same time you look at your bank account and think I have no idea how I’m going to pay the rent! So all of that is going on at the same time and it was a strange period.”

With current tour well and truly underway, and in the process giving ‘The Rise and Fall’ a second airing on the live circuit, Casa Murilo is beginning to find its feet musically, and culturally, with the latter aspect being something both Chris and Dan have finally  come to terms with as Norway is now their adopted home. This increasing confidence, and new found love for their adopted country, was not evidently clear during the initial years when Casa Murilo was merely a name and the budding indie-pop duo had no real plan to speak of other than surrounding themselves with more talented people than themselves, as detailed in their press bio.

“I think what we meant is that we knew that we could write good songs, and the more we worked at it we’d write decent music ourselves,” explains Chris. “With only two acoustic guitars [at that point] there is only so far you can take that [sound]. When we had our first demo tape that we were sending to each other with the intention of finding out if it required anything else, we’d come up with a violin or a trumpet, and our first big falling out in the band was us arguing about whether the first band member should be a violinist or a guy playing a trumpet! So I guess we were a bit naive in that respect.”

How did you finally resolve such conflicts between the two of you at such an early stage in your career?

“It was suggested to us by our now drummer Freddie [Baden] that we should probably put the rest of the band together first with drums and bass. So we wanted people who could complete the sound if you like. We knew the direction in which we wanted to take the band and the kind of sound that we wanted to make. We just didn’t really have the ability to create the sound on our own, but we were always confident in our own abilities and our own jobs within the band,” finishes Chris.

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“There were bits that we knew that we could do well but I think certainly back then, and kind of still the case today, the most important thing was the show and that was the point,” weighs in Dan with his version of events regarding the early songwriting processes and identifying the whole experience as key to their future. “We wanted the feeling and the sensation of being a really big rock band and there are only two of us. In order to have a powerful experience, you need powerful instruments and powerful players. So we needed to put together a band who could deliver a show that made people feel something strong. You can’t just perform on acoustic guitars and expect to get powerful shows because it’s not going to happen. So that was one of the reasons why we wanted to put the band together because what we do is all about connecting with people and giving them an experience that means something and makes them want to come back again.”

Such a statement is reflected by the current stats of the ongoing Casa Murilo tour with its increasing number of attendees but also a loyal legion of followers returning for their second dose of post ‘The Rise and Fall’ blues. Such loyal devotion might also have something to do with the genuine celebratory nature inherent in the band – no doubt influenced by their hedonistic days spent in Brazil – as live sets have a tendency to build in a crescendo of sound in order to literally get audiences up and shaking their limbs. The loyalty shown by the growing hordes of fans may also have to do with a general recognition of the band’s influences, especially those of a more English nature, as Casa Murilo possess the Brit-indie sound evident in the likes of The Libertines and The Artic Monkeys, but it is as clear as day in the northern dialect of  vocalist and guitarist Dan Hesketh.

“There’s a Britpop thing in it for sure, but I don’t know if the lads are really into Britpop as everyone has got different influences,” responds Dan. “You’ve gotta say it’s a strength that we all came in and we’d never really played together so people brought their own influences and hopefully we don’t sound too much like anyone else.”

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It’s interesting you mentioned Britpop as FLW was thinking something a bit later than that such as The Libertines onwards?

“I guess the only Britpop band, and they’re not even really Britpop, was Pulp, as they are still a band that we talk about a lot and they played at Øya Festival last year,” explains Dan. “We were like kids as we got there early and right at the front! I don’t think any of the other lads really got it as they all p*****off really quickly! But being a couple of English guys writing music in Norway, I think sometimes it’s very easy for people to just grab the biggest English band of the moment and [say] Casa Murilo, they’re a bit like these guys, as we get Mumford & Sons a lot, which really doesn’t make much sense because there is a big electric guitar right in the middle of the sound. But I’m not sure how much of a Britpop or how much of a British sound we have really.”

“We both had very different musical backgrounds, which crossed over in a few places,” says Chris. “At the time we were writing, we were listening to bands like the Arcade Fire, Bruce Springsteen, The National, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and we were writing songs on a couple of acoustic guitars with that kind of grand soundscape in mind that all those bands can create. So we knew where we wanted to go, we just did not have the ability to take us there.”

Bearing this in mind, how would Casa Murilo describe their sound?

“I think there is a folk element in there,” comments Dan. “So the word folk could be used because I think there’s something about the chord progressions and the melodies as you could play all of our stuff on one acoustic guitar and it would do a good job. So I guess there’s an element of folk in there.”

Since their chance meeting through mutual friendships during a stint living and working in Brazil, Chris and Dan have come a long way to arrive at their current destination with Casa Murilo. Fortunately for all concerned, Casa Murilo is in it for the long haul as the creative wheels have been set in motion for the band’s third album, which is likely to surface at some point in the New Year. Those lucky enough to have witnessed the band on their current tour are likely to have a heard one or two new ditties from the Casa Murilo stall.

“We’ve played a couple of new songs, but that’s the good thing about being on a tour as it’s like a testing ground for some songs, not as much as we like as I’d like to be further ahead. So it won’t be this year, but early next year,” adds Dan sounding slightly deflated on the progress of the new album.

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“Songs need some time to settle though,” weighs in Chris. “Once we feel that we’ve written a finished demo, we take it to the rest of the band and then practice it and play it. Three months down the line, the song often changes quite a lot and everyone is a lot more comfortable in what they’re doing and there are some small changes and the songs improved. So we’ve been careful not to push the new stuff out too much into the crowd, even though it’s finished as it’s not perfect yet, but we’re getting there. We’ll record the bulk of the new album in September and October.”

As the Casa Murilo tour continues to perform to the masses in Norway, the journey Dan and Chris have taken to date is far from over. With a new album scheduled for an early release next year, the success achieved through sheer hard work and determination is beginning to bear fruit financially but, more importantly, the gap between band and audience is edging closer together as one due to a genuine need for interaction that lifts the Casa Murilo experience to greater heights. England’s loss is definitely Norway’s gain.

FLW - From the Tapes

Before the glory years, Casa Murilo were plying their trade at various house parties, many of which they staged themselves. Despite playing their hearts out, the audiences, however, were often a difficult bunch to convince.

“We’d stand by the door so that nobody could get out!” explains Chris laughing at the memory of trying to win over a few supporters to the Casa Murilo sound.

“It’s true, that’s exactly what happened,” follows Dan. “We became rather good at playing to six very uninterested people.”

“We really want to involve the audience when we’re playing and it’s important to us that everyone’s having a great time,” continues Chris. “We were like that when we played at the house parties. For example, there are some great videos of us playing in my house. I had a friend who was visiting and he was filming the two of us stood by the front door. We mention [in the video] that we’ve got this song called the ’19th Floor’, which we don’t really play anymore, and we’ve got this part of the song which goes ‘Ba-da-ba-ba-da-ba’, and we wanted everyone to sing with us. So we start playing and then the camera pans round and there’s six people in the living room; two of them are texting, and no one gives a s***! Someone out there must have admired that in terms of how eager we were,” he finishes laughing.

“You can see their phones lighting up their faces!” concludes Dan.

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