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Interview with Hamilton & Noble

British Sea Power, a five-piece from Brighton, UK, are known as part performance art, part lunacy, and pure rock and roll. They are prone to demented gazes and potentially dangerous physical stage antics. But when I found them backstage at Washington, DC's Black Cat -- the final stop of their first US tour -- they looked nothing like their onstage personas. The just looked knackered. The headlining band the Libertines were loud and saucy in the next room, throwing back beers and sabotaging a fruit and cheese platter, but British Sea Power were near comatose -- splayed on tattered couches with limbs askew, eyes blurred, and Red Bull aplenty. I was surprised to find them in this condition, and delighted that they conjured up enough time and energy to talk to me for a few minutes before they took the stage, despite blackout-marred interview plans. In one beer's time I spoke with Noble (guitar) and Hamilton (bass) about gardening, trying hard, and their first impressions of America. Here's what they had to say.

So where were you during the blackout [of August 14, 2003]?
Noble: Just fucking around.

Were you in New York?
Hamilton: We were leaving for Philadelphia when it happened. We went back to New York yesterday, went out, walked around the streets. It was quite good when the lights came back on.

What did you think of it?
Noble: It was weird.
Hamilton: I think it was good for people. Made you think about when there was no electricity, what they used to do.

Did you go out at night?
Hamilton: We went out last night in New York. I was kind of hoping it would go on for a while and be a huge catastrophe. But we got to see Carlos [Carlos D. of Interpol] DJ at Lit.

Not a bad way to spend a Friday night in New York. So, can you start out by telling me where you're from, how you got together, the basic British Sea Power story?
Noble: Well, this guy [points to Hamilton] and the singer are brothers. Woody the drummer is where they're from [comes from the same home town]. I met Yan [vocals/guitar] at University.
Hamilton: We all lived together for a bit in a house in Reading. And just holed up there and knocked around.
Noble: We had a big garden. [Smiles] Tried to grow some grass.

Yeah? How did that go for you?
Noble: Well we were only there for a year, so we didn't see the fruits of it.

Yeah it takes a bit of time. I would imagine it's pretty gratifying when it um ... flowers.
Hamilton: Yeah I bet.
Noble: Have you gardened as well?

No. But I'm originally from California and I've had some friends who, um, used to garden.
Hamilton: That's all I want to do when I'm older and tired. Just have a little garden.

So why did you guys move to Brighton? It seems like it was a collective band decision.
Noble: Reading was too business orientated. Bunch of townies. Do you know what a townie is?

A local?
Noble: Yeah, just like people working then they go out on Friday or Saturday night and get drunk and try to shag. It was kind of that kind of place.

In Brighton you started Club Sea Power, a night where you play. What's different about the gigs you play here and something we'd see at Club Sea Power? At your show at Northsix on Monday you had the foliage, plastic birds, and costumes that you've come to be pretty well known for. But how would it have been different if you were performing at home?
Noble: Well, yeah, usually we choose our own bands. But we would've picked Jeffrey Lewis [the opener for the Northsix show] anyway 'cos he was great. It's good because you can just do what you want.
Hamilton: Maybe we'd do a fashion show. We do different things every month.

Is your set decoration at Club Sea Power more elaborate?
Hamilton: It's changed a lot.
Noble: We have a bunch of more birds.

Who is the bird person? Is it all of you or is there one person who's spearheading this bird obsession?
Noble: I like birds.
Hamilton: We all do. [Looking at Noble] But he's more into the names of them.

You're the ornithologist then.
Noble: Yes. I think it's cool when you see a few different ones, and you know that they are different but you're not quite sure and the more you kind of look into it then you can actually see the differences. After awhile, it's like anything, like when things are a bit foggy, then when it's clear you can see that they're different. It's obvious. Like in German they've got three names for one thing. It's like that with birds.
Hamilton: We'd like to get some sheep up there too.

Will they be plastic as well?
Hamilton: No, real sheep.

You'd have to harness them to something though, right? You don't want them messing with you while you play, right?
Hamilton: Eh, it's alright.
Noble: We'd put some earplugs in them.

That's sensitive of you to think about their ears. So what is the fate of Club Sea Power now that you're touring so much? Is it going to continue?
Hamilton: We haven't got time really have we?
Noble: No. But when we do headlining tours we can choose our own band. We're trying to bring it on tour with us, adding parts of it, more and more.
Hamilton: We're just trying to make some things special. That's all there is to it.

Hmm. Special. You've talked a lot about making things special in other interviews. I read that the reason you set up the stage the way you do is because you believe in trying hard to make every gig your best, to make them all ... special.
Hamilton: Well we'd get bored really, doing the same thing every time. It all looks the same when you walk into a black place. It's nice to have something different. And all we have really is some leaves and some plastic birds.
Noble: We think you should just try as hard as you can.

That's an unusual approach, because it seems that right now it's cool to seem like you don't care. Which is ironic when you consider how much effort a lot of bands put into trying to seem like they don't care.
Noble: Well, it's like, if someone serves you some food and does it with a smile on their face ...
Hamilton: It makes things better.
Noble: We believe that it's possible to do more than one thing at once.

Let's talk about the tour. This is your first US tour, right?
Noble: We've been here for South By Southwest.

Right, but this was your first time playing outside of Texas?
Hamilton: Yes. And it's a bit of a shock because it's most of our first times in America as well. It's been good.
Noble: There's been some strange things though. I don't know what you think but, um, we stopped on our way at a service station, and there's all these kind of burger bars. It's kind of scary.

Burger bars? You mean like along the New Jersey turnpike?
Noble: Yes. And there's just loads of junk food.
Hamilton: In England service stations are pretty depressing as well.
Noble: Really depressing.

What's depressing about our service stations exactly? The people or the fact that there's so much junk food?
Hamilton: I guess both. You get a cross section of the population, a picture.
Noble: What about all the American flags everywhere as well? What do you think about that?

I think that's a post-September 11 thing. Prior to that you didn't see as many, at least not in this part of the country. I think there's generally more national pride now.

Well despite the Irving Show being cancelled it was a pretty good tour. You played Boston, Philly, Brooklyn, and at the Bowery Showcase. Tonight DC and then what?
Noble: We go home!

What are you going to do when you get home?
Noble: Go for a long walk.
Hamilton: Yeah.

In nature, perhaps?
Hamilton: Yeah. I'll go down to a nice countryside.
Noble: It's lovely really.
Hamilton: Then we've got the festivals. Reading and Leeds.

And you're back in the fall?
Hamilton: We'll be back in the end of October I think.
Noble: And we tour Japan.
Hamilton: Then we're gonna write some new songs.


Author: Shannon Connolly
Source: Earlash
Date: 2nd August 2003

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