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Sweet Seventeen

For British Sea Power, the praise still hasn't sunk in

For a band that's been mentioned in the same breath as the Smiths, Joy Division and the Cure, the members of British Sea Power are incredibly humble.

"We've gotten used to it," says Yan, the band's frontman, via telephone from the U.K. "I think they're all great bands. We'd much rather be compared to the Smiths and Joy Division than to other modern rock acts. It's a compliment, really."

Bands from the U.K. are so often likened to those three legendary acts that they rarely stand a chance of living up to the hype. British Sea Power's 2003 debut, The Decline of British Sea Power, issued on Rough Trade Records, proves the comparisons to the holy trinity are totally accurate.

There's a sense of wisdom amidst the loneliness that encompasses the songs on The Decline of British Sea Power and a classic element that separates the band from its contemporaries. British Sea Power's sound is best described by Yan, who says "if rock music had been invented before 1930, then it might sound like us." But what some have perceived as arrogance and pretension on the part of British Sea Power is really unflappable confidence in its musical ability.

"I get monthly press packets that I quite enjoy," Yan says, almost laughing about the amount of praise heaped upon his young band. "There was an end-of-year poll of all the music publications in the U.K., and we finished with the seventeenth most favorite album. It doesn't really go to our head, though."

The quintet from Brighton, England, has cultivated an intellectual image to coincide with its above-average musical talents.

"It's European as much as British, and I think that gets lost in the name as much as anything," Yan says. "We're trying to find some qualities that aren't often brought up, like reading."

From record sleeves that look like book jackets, to lyrics that reference Charles Lindbergh, you'd almost expect to see the members of British Sea Power in a library before you saw them onstage at a rock club. A Precocious Autobiography - a book about Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko - is Yan's latest literary acquisition. His chief reason for buying this obscure book was because the cover picture "looks a bit like Hamilton [British Sea Power's bassist and Yan's brother]."

British Sea Power has already opened for the Flaming Lips, Interpol, Clinic and the Strokes in its homeland. It's one of many bands from the U.K. currently trying to achieve success here. The recent accomplishments of U.K. acts such as Radiohead, Coldplay and the Darkness in the U.S., might make you think we're in the middle of another British invasion. When asked about the importance of British bands breaking in the States, Yan claims that "if you're gonna do it, you get more respect. It's sort of hit-or-miss, really. There's always been scores of bands that have been huge over here but never made it in the U.S."

British Sea Power already has a firm foothold here, thanks to a successful East Coast tour in August of 2003 (before the album was even released in this country) and a full U.S. tour in October and November.

"We were quite surprised by the warm reception we received in America," Yan says.

The Grog Shop date will be the band's first visit to Cleveland. Expect to hear plenty of tracks from The Decline of British Sea Power , as well as newly recorded songs. The band recently spent time recording at a studio in the English countryside. "We're kind of demoing the second record," Yan says. "We're excited about the new material."

In keeping with the associations of its name, the band is accustomed to decorating the stage with taxidermy specimens and local flora, and often dresses in World War II-like military garb. Critics of it seemingly pay more attention to the image than the music, but Yan could care less.

"I've been happy with everything we do," he says. "It's more for the people who do get it than those who don't."


Author: Jeremy Willets
Source: The Cleveland Free Times
Date: 3rd March 2004

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