British Sea Power, Interview
Interview with British Sea Power
We caught up with Yan, Noble, Hamilton, Phil, and Wood from British Sea Power before their show at Manchester's Ruby Lounge to chat about their new record 'Valhalla Dancehall', bringing back nuclear power, and their desire to play on The X-Factor.
Hi guys, how are you all doing today?
All: Very good thanks!
So, the new album, 'Valhalla Dancehall' is set for release in January. First and foremost, why the title? What or where is the Valhalla Dancehall?
Noble: It's just a made up place really. It's kind of to do with Norse mythology, and also 'bump and grind' Caribbean stuff.
Yan: We like Vikings and we also like Lee Scratch Perry, so we thought we'd try and make a place where they could both get together.
Noble: It's absolutely finished. It's been finished a while now. It's been mastered and everything and it'll be out in January.
So what was the thinking behind the Zeus EP. were they leftover songs from the Valhalla Dancehall sessions?
Yan: You've hit the nail on the head there really. They were all leftover from the album.
Noble: Well, we always intended to do an EP, like the Krankenhaus EP that we put out. That record seemed to do pretty well.
Yan: Yeah that did pretty well but most of the songs on there were just kind of b-sides. With the Zeus EP it's more like just odds and sods really. The track 'Zeus' could probably have got on the album but we just thought it was too long.it's seven minutes long, and the album clocks already clocks in at one hour, with thirteen tracks, so it was just finding the right mix really.
Noble: I mean, it's not really a matter of whether the songs on the Zeus EP were up-to-scratch or not, it's just sometimes you go. 'well, there's too many slow songs on this record', it's generally and overall balance thing, maybe a tactical move.
Did your record label Rough Trade have any say on the tracklisting and what was there view on releasing the EP?
Noble: Well, the only input they had really was...well, we said to them we wanted to do a nine-track EP, and they said that was an album. So they said to do five tracks on the EP and then release the album separately, and I think we found a compromise with seven or eight tracks, which became the Zeus EP.
The last album, 'Do You Like Rock Music' was probably your most commercially successful to date - do you think your sound has become more accessible since the first couple of records?
Noble: We're not scared of making a pop song. If you go back to stuff like 'Carrion'.that was pop really, that was arguably radio friendly. We're don't mind making that kind of music. We've got better at it actually.
Yan: In terms of the last one being the most successful, it's a strange one really because record sales are going down, so it's hard to predict what it would have done maybe a few years ago. But I suppose it has been our most 'successful' album, not by a lot though.
Noble: Yeah, I mean, if 'Do You Like Rock Music' had been released at the same time as 'Open Season', I think it would have probably done better than that.
Yan: I think it would have done twice as well as Open Season. Eight or nine years ago people used to buy twice as many records as they do now, so you just have to look at other ways to get noticed.
Noble: A lot more people know us now from the Mercury Music Prize nomination but I don't know if that's just a cumulative thing,
How was the whole Mercury Prize experience?
Noble: I enjoyed it, it was all good fun. Some of it was pretty surreal and bizarre, like when we were in a line with all the other artists and interviewers were coming round and saying 'how does it feel to be nominated?' But generally it was a very good feeling. It's good when you're included in the list and quite shit when you're not.
Yan: I mean, the whole concept of it, with everyone retiring to a room and deciding who has the best album, that should be ridiculous.but it's generally positive. I like how it gets music into the whole 'sports scenario' (laughs) there's a competitive nature to it all, there's winners and losers and that's what I like about it.
You've just finished touring with the Manic Street Preachers, how was that?
Noble: Yep it was good, very easy going. We just played 45 minutes and they looked after us. We've put on a lot of weight because they have like touring caterers, so they fed us up.
Yan: It was great, we played new stuff, the Manic Street Preachers crowd liked 'Glitter'.
Phil: Yeah they seemed to like the new stuff, but in terms of playing to someone else's crowd.it wasn't really that bad, because there was no pressure on us, nobody had heard the new songs so we could just go in there and play them with no expectations, generally though the response was really positive.
In terms of your own fans - you have a dedicated legion of followers that travel around the country to watch you, do you tend to see the same faces in the crowd each night?
Hamilton: Yeah you get the odd character that turns up and you just feel their presence and some of them are pretty crazy. There's this Scottish guy called 'Bill' who comes to our shows and he has a red line on his face (laughs).
Yan: Yep and then you've got the daft lads up North, they are really daft. They wear beanie hats, and they came to a Manics gig the other day covered in tin foil and wearing miners flashlights on their heads. They'd seen me do it the previous night. They were really going for it before we even came on and eventually got their lights switched off by the bouncers.
Phil: Subsequently one of them was kicked out, but somehow he managed to get back in..but then he was kicked out again. Good lads though. Those guys in particular don't need any encouragement whatsoever.
Noble: Afterwards they were really apologetic to us, saying 'sorry lads, we had triple vodka red bulls before we got to the gig'.
You've almost become renown now for choosing unique venues for your gigs. Is that part of the makeup of the band now? I can't imagine you playing a tour of University unions and then going home.
Noble: Well, it's not like we're adverse to that, I mean we do play the standard kind of venues, we have to..we're a working band..so we need to do that stuff, but the weird and wonderful venues we've done, we hardly get paid anything for those. I mean we play some places and we basically do it for nothing, so, if we kept doing stuff like that we wouldn't be able to exist.
Phil: In some people's minds, you go out on tour, and then you go home, and then you come back and start it all again. But there's no surprises in doing that, you do the universities and that's it. It's all the same thing.
Noble: Yeah, we just try and slot in the unique places between the standard stuff. We sometimes get recommendations of where to play. We play at the 'Tan Hill Inn' every year now, which is the highest Inn in Britain, but it got a bit claustrophobic last time. They get all the water from a bore hole, so if too many people use the water, it just goes off.
You make no secret of the fact that you take inspiration from various sources, much of which are non-musical. What would you say is your biggest influence outside of music?
Yan: Our van. It's what the song 'Zeus' is about. (laughs) Yep unfortunately it's not really about Greek mythology and stuff, it's just about a transit van really.
Noble: Yep, and the van was named Zeus after a Sunderland based lager that was really cheap. Zeus Lager. Tell them the story Paul!
Paul (roadie): I'll tell the story! A group of my friends used to meet up regularly and get a tray of Zeus lager. And they'd all put a bit of money in, you know, everyone chips in. But on one occasion, this one lad didn't put in. So my friend, shit in his own hand, and wiped it on this lad's face. And this lad, who hadn't put in for the Zeus, figured he'd just sit there anyway and drink the lager. So he sat there all night. And that's why my van is called Zeus. From then on, anything that was considered 'good' was 'Zeus'.
Recently, you've been quite vocal in your opposition to the privatisation of some of Britain's forests. If British Sea Power had its own political party, what would be in your manifesto?
Noble: I'd just make things fair.
Yan: I'd just bring in a sort of 'Mad Max' style system of government. I'd have special gangs that look after the forests. I'd bring back nuclear power.
Noble: I'd bring back wild wolves.
Yan: Nuclear power and more wolves. More power and more danger. Forget oil, I'd just have nuclear power.
Noble: You have to understand that this plan of government is very much in its infancy. Very basic at the moment. But yeah, this current government, I mean, they've done a few good things I suppose. I mean, they've realised there's a big debt and that we could end up going the way of Greece.
Yan: But they're doing it all wrong though.
That line in your new song 'Bear', 'I Saw you reading the Daily Star/ I saw you watching the X Factor / and I was wondering how could you fall so far?' Does that line refer to anyone specifically?
Yan: Me. It refers to me actually (laughs) I quite like both of those things. I read the Daily Star, it's very entertaining, and some of the language is quite spectacular. If they stopped being slightly racist I think I'd be a proper fan. And I watch the X Factor. They're both bad things, but I do like them.
Would you ever play live on the X Factor?
Yan: If we got asked, yeah, of course.
Noble: It'd be a great laugh.
Phil: I watched JK from Jamiroquai on it the other day, and he was rubbish. So on that fact alone, I think we could play it and do a better job than they did. They actually played 'Waving Flags' on the X Factor a few weeks back. In the bit where everyone goes crackers at the start. Yeah, they played it. I think we get paid about 50p for that. Well, maybe £1.50 or something.
Yan: If we were on it as contestants..and made it through to the heats.who would everyone want as their 'mentor'?
Phil: I'd have Cheryl, I actually do think I'd get on with her.
Yan: Yeah, I bet you would. I'd probably go for Louis, he seems like a laugh.