British Sea Power - Salty Water

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Interview with Yan

Straight outta Cumbria, British Sea Power are poised to break like a wave over 2002 when their much-anticipated debut album hits this spring. Frontman Yan explained their tactics for the year ahead.

Can you tell us how British Sea Power came together to make music?
Yan [singer]: "It all started off with Hamilton [bass] and Woody [drums], they were in an indie-grunge band in Kendal, in the Lake District, at school. And then I met Martin [guitar] in Reading at university and obviously I was still in touch with Hamilton, because he's my brother, so we all decided to give it a trial go for a month in Kendal in one of our summer breaks. We all enjoyed it straight away…although we probably weren't that good [laughs]. After that we all wanted to keep it going so everyone moved down to Reading for a year and that's when it really started, that's when we had our first gig. We converted the garage for practice, covered all the walls with carpets - that didn't do anything, a real waste of time - and came up with the name and the uniforms and a lot of the ideas.

"At the time, most bands had one-word names - there're quite a lot of long names now - so we wanted to be different, and we kind of wanted something that sounded really powerful, or something that we'd have to live up to, and also kind of a little bit ridiculous as well. Someone just kind of got the phrase from somewhere, it was a song to start with, which we don't do anymore, but the name of the song stuck around. It works on different levels; literally, it kind of describes our band, if you take the words separately [the band are now resident in Brighton], and then it's got the historical aspect to it…also, a lot of people don't know what it means, so it's quite good for the imagination as well."

What do you have planned for the year ahead?
"Right at the moment we've been really busy trying to get really good demos for our whole album, and we're maybe even going to use some of the recordings on it. We're going to have a new single out in, probably, late January or early February - it's 90% certain that it's going to be a song called 'Just Like Liberace' - then we're hoping to have an album out by the end of Spring. We've got all the material for it and we're getting quite a good idea about how we're putting it together, how we want to do a lot of collaging with sounds and stuff in between the tracks. Kind of make it into a narrative rather than just have ten separate songs on there, make it sound really interesting as a whole piece."

What do you do outside the band?
"It's pretty much full-time now, really. The only other thing I do, and even that has been absolutely knocked sideways now by the time that I'm spending on the band, is painting. I left university to paint as much as be in a band, really. I started selling a few and it's something I take as seriously as the music, it's just I can't do both at the moment, it's just time and I haven't got a studio now either. They're a bit like [Mark] Rothko [Russian-born painter of abstract murals] but they're kind of more detailed and stranger. I don't think they would work as album sleeves, really, but I design the sleeves anyway and I quite enjoy the theme we've got going at the moment, which is that each sleeve is linked with an old book. Like out first single, 'Fear Of Drowning', that came from a book called 'The Wooden Horse' [by Eric Williams], which co-incidentally had the same name as the B-side, which was about a prisoner of war escaping in a really ingenious way. And then 'Remember Me' was from an old version of HG Well's 'The Time Machine', so we try and get a theme between them, as well as it being something nice to look at."

What are you most looking forward to in the next 12 months?
"Probably the album, really, but right at the moment it's just getting this demo for the single completely finished because our manager wants to hear it and Geoff Travis [Rough Trade label boss]'s been wanting to hear it - I kept telling him that it'll be a few more days and then that we all got flu. So that'll be a real weight off me when we can get that finished."

What bands have you been into recently?
"I've been collecting a lot of records from charity shops like Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison and some classical stuff and The Shadows, I haven't been listening to very much modern music. To start with it was pretty much, 'That looks pretty good, that must be a good record,' and then you start learning and you kind of get tips from here and there. I like a lot of rock 'n' roll stuff, and I got into Joe Meek and country…I'm not into any one kind of music, really, it's just got to kind of be special in some way."

Is establishing yourselves in London a priority for you?
"If nothing else, just in a practical way. It's not a big deal that we think we have to be cool in London but we'd like it if we were. But London has such a fast turnover of what it's into and what it's not, that I wouldn't really want my career to depend on it. I'd really like it if I could be big in the kind of small towns and villages that are all a few years behind London, probably because that's where I grew up, really."

Who do you consider to be your peers?
"[Laughs] I don't think anyone's really coming from where we're coming from. There's one band in Brighton that I quite like, I wouldn't really say that they're like us but we both kind of appreciate each other, we play together quite a lot - they're called 80s Matchbox Beeline Disaster. They're quite heavy, a bit like The Fall if you turned up all the guitars, quite dark, but they just have a really good feeling to the noise that they do. They're bringing out their first single soon, I think they'll do well. We'd probably be rivals if we weren't friends; one of their first gigs was one of our first gigs in Brighton."

What do you think is British Sea Power's best song?
"I think my favourite song's probably 'Fear Of Drowning', but I don't think we've done the best recording of it yet. It's probably as much the way it was written as anything, it came really quickly, I wrote it in about ten minutes. It was one of those things where it just kind of flows out of you and it wasn't completely finished but it was all kind of there, just waiting to be brought out. I think it shows off the band's most natural style, in a way. Woody's getting his own style going with the drumming and everyone kind of contributed something to the song as well, it wasn't just one that I wrote and people copied either so it was the start of something, I suppose."

What would you like to achieved at the end of this year?
"Spearheading world peace [laughs]. Ideally. Or maybe just having released the best album in years, a really classic album that sums up the times as well as being timeless, I suppose. We're not fussed if we don't have a massive response at first, we've been doing it a while and we'd carry on anyway, just as long as we keep getting better, because we keep getting better at the moment; recording and songs and live. We've been making improvements and changing. So if we can just sum all that up in an album and be really happy with it ourselves, we'll be quite happy."

Author: Emma Morgan
Source: Xfm
Date: 1st December 2001

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