British Sea Power
Bill Cummings 17/12/2007
Cumbrian four piece British Sea Power third album "Do You Like Rock Music?" sees the light of day early next year, its them reclaiming the idea of what and whom in the world around them really defines the phrase, for them: "It's there in Iggy and it's there in the high igneous rock formations of Helvellyn and Scafell Pike. It's there in Black Francis, but also in the Big Black Bear and in the rolling slopes of Black Sail Pass. Rock music is everywhere and nowhere. Missy Elliott, José Mourinho and Wayne Coyne are rock music. U2, Mussolini and tuberculosis are not rock music."
It was recorded in the Czech Republic, Canada and Fort Tregantle - a 19th Century fortification up on the Cornish cliffs with producers Graham Sutton (Jarvis Cocker, Bark Psychosis), Efrim Menuck (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and Howard Bilerman (Hotel2Tango studio). Juxtaposing nature and man, Good vs Evil, of the songs I've heard the dexterous instrumentation, vocal sparring and air raid sirens of "Atom"; the heart beating tale of old age flooding and bird migration, "Canvey Island"; and the sweeping choral rush of first single "Waving Flags" see them acknowledge the foundations of their previous two albums (“The Decline of British Sea Power” and “Open Season”) and clamber up to new peaks to suck up the air, and be awestruck by the view. These tracks suggest that “Do You Like Rock Music?” will be their most accessible album to date: global, thought provoking, grand yet intricate music, full to the brim with trademark moments of heart stopping beauty.
Ushered in by an air raid siren ring tone, I conversed with the band's rather lovely (softly spoken) vocalist/guitarist Yan Scott through telephonic wires on the subjects of the new British Sea Power album, drunkenness, the economic migration of Polish Plumbers, Mozart's laugh, and how Brian Clough is rock music.
You've recently played some quite small gigs, going into tiny and odd corners of the world, what motivates you to do that?
Its more intimate I guess, plus the idea for the recent tour of small and unusual places was that we hadn't really played for a long time. We weren't quite sure what kind of level we were gonna be at, in terms of how well we could play.
What was the gap between the last time you played live and your last tour?
We hadn't done much in two years really, the odd festival a couple of the smaller nice festivals….
In between were you writing and recording?
Yeah it was quite a long and full and took up all our time, it wasn't a holiday for six months and then do a week or two, it was literally about two years working on songs and then recording them.
You worked with three different producers on this album what inspired that or did it just make sense to work with different people in different environments?
We were working with Howard Bilerman from Arcade Fire and Efrim (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) probably because they come from the same place and whatever, but they just seemed to have a very healthy open sound, and the fact that they were musicians and their studio was a great big junkyard. We'd done the first two albums in London in a fairly normal way, and we thought there something was missing and it was something we took into account with our approach to where we went, to try and have a bit of an adventure.
So you were taking yourself out of your comfort zone a bit….
Yeah definitely because it was freezing! (laughs) It was meant to be finished it in Canada but it didn't quite fulfill our expectations, so we tried to refinish it ourselves for about three months adding on extra tracking and then we went to the fort in Cornwall and rerecorded two songs. Then we ended up with this massive array of tracks with some strange sounds, from big choirs to helicopters to stairwells, and we couldn't quite get that together and we were on the most basic equipment at that point so it was probably a bit naive to think we could. Everything that we'd been missing, we just took the whole lot to Graham in the Czech Republic and he finished them off.
Did you write the songs in the studio or before?
We'd kind of written most of the songs more or less, apart from the words to one….it seemed like a straight ahead thing we were going to do , record it live as a band mix it and then it world be finished, but it seemed to straight in a way.
A lot of your album's subject matter seems to be sort of anti rock music subject matter, is it important to you that you're expressing your influences outside of those narrow rock music influences…
We try to avoid the clichéd rock music thing ….To me that's what I thought everyone wanted to do…
I always think of the Smiths who were influenced by things outside of the narrow world of rock… (Oscar Wilde, 50s Kitchen Sink Films etc) If the band's influenced by other things it makes you seek out what they like….
I think it should be a bigger inclusive atmosphere with lots of details and not just a “song about feeling sad today” and that's as far as it goes, its just more interesting really. It just takes a bit more work, or a bit more enthusiasm for the song writing.
Linked to that what kind of subject matters really influenced you when writing this record?
In general they're quite big things really that a lot of people are interested in at the moment. My own idea was to capture something of the present day in the record, even if the song is about something else, set it in the environment of the present day. I find the weather and everything fascinating, the science of it and the way people talk about it and things like that. The strange thing that nowadays the world's completely connected up and yet there seem to be quite ignorant reactions about people from different places. People sort of fight or whatever just because things aren't going so well.
Is that what the first single off the album "Waving Flags" is about?
I guess so, it's about migration and the Polish plumbers who come over here and how people object to it. We welcome the Polish and other migrating Eastern Europeans with open arms! We're interested and admire these people and cultures.
Why is beer and drunkenness central to the lyrics of Waving Flags? (“Beer is not dark/ Beer is not light/ It just tastes good especially tonight.”)
It's central to everything in life I guess (laughs). I guess when people are drunk their personalities are more extreme.
Their real feelings come out!
Do you feel lonely in your melodic plight, as there's so much incoherent tuneless shouty rave stuff in the mainstream now?
Yeah I guess so when we started we thought we'd have more kindred spirits but bands come and go....
Why did you get rid of the foliage on stage?
It got a bit dangerous we were in New York and one of our managers was gathering sticks and hurt himself, also I had a few closes shaves on stage (laughs)... I guess you do something for a while and you feel like you need to move on.
What about the WW1 outfits?
I think originally we had this idea that we were using decommissioned army gear, we only all came on in full military uniform a few times, I had a tin hat.... and on the first album, but I think it got talked about a bit more than it was used in reality.
Is “Remember Me” still the best track for getting the crowd 'jigging'?
I don't think it has been for a while, I think its "Carrion" at the moment, and the medley of "Spirit of St.Louis” with “Gale Warnings in Viking North" has been going down well recently.
Do you embrace or shun technology for recording and distributing music?
Its probably bad in some ways for acts just coming up, but it kind of filters out a lot of people who are just in it for the money, because if your just starting out you have to do it for yourself. But I don't think I go along with this whole old vs. new technology really, it's happening, you can't stop it. I mean the whole new album was recorded digitally, in terms of distribution the track “Atom” from our last EP was downloadable...
Where did the title "Do You Like Rock Music?" come from?
It came at the end of recording it was almost us trying to define what rock music was for us, not just music, but people and things in the wider world. There's always a person asking us to listen to this or that. We were saying Brian Clough is rock music, and Sven Goran Erickson isn't. But then Mark Riley was coming up with reasons why he is!
That's coz he's a Man city fan!
Yeah I guess so (laughs)...He's got this mystical aura around him that attracts some women.
He looks like an Evil professor or something!
Do you have any plans to play any covers on tour? Ever thought of "Money for Nothing" By Dire Straits, done Bavarian style?
(laughs) We haven't yet but we'll bear in it in mind. We're actually covering "Rock Music" by the Pixies for an XFM session, they ask you to record four tracks and one has to be a cover, my ears are hurting from playing it for two hours!
Were you a fan of theirs?
Yeah growing up they were one of my favourite bands but I don't listen to them much now, I think there's a point where you've listened to a band too much and you can't do it anymore....
Why is Bach better than Buxtehude even though Buxtehude is magnificent?
(laughs)I don't even know who Buxtehude is. I think our fans think I know more than I do. I like Bach, and I've been listening to a lot of Mozart lately. When we were in Montreal we were watching the film about Mozart called "Amadeus," we were all copying his funny laugh on it. It lifted our spirits at the time.
You've got this headline tour coming up in January, are there any places left you'd like to play?
I'd like to go back to Russia, and there are some European festivals we'd like to do too.
What are you hopes for your new album? I read that one music industry bod was tipping you to be the breakout band at Glastonbury this year....
I used to be more ambitious when we started. Now I'd be happy if I had enough coins to put in the gas meter, after two albums I guess you're more realistic, I'd be happy if we are allowed to make another record really and have two years to make it again.
The single “Waving Flags” is out on the 7th of January. The album “Do You Like Rock Music?” is out on the 14th of January.
British Sea Power play the following dates in the New Year:
Thu 17 Jan BELFAST Limelight
Fri 18 Jan DUBLIN Whealans
Sun 20 Jan NORWICH Waterfront
Mon 21 Jan PORTSMOUTH Wedgewood Rooms
Tue 22 Jan NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms
Wed 23 Jan LEEDS Irish Centre
Thu 24 Jan KENDAL Brewery
Sat 26 Jan GLASGOW Oran Mor
Sun 27 Jan MANCHESTER Academy 2
Mon 28 Jan OXFORD Zodiac
Tue 29 Jan BRIGHTON Komedia
Thu 31 Jan LONDON Koko