British Sea Power - Salty Water

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And two, if by sea

Blaming the full moon was really the only thing I could do. It had only been two hours since first speaking to the guys from British Sea Power, yet I could not explain the sudden shift in character, from calm to crazed. A seemingly normal Monday night show in Brooklyn, the soft-spoken, eloquent tendencies of the Brighton, England quintet disappeared, being replaced by tambourine bashing on the head, floor rolling with a drum and flag waving with a branch (one nabbed from Central Park no less -- "Jetlagged, we woke up at seven and decided to get branches from Central Park."). There had been hints, earlier that night, of their impending actions, telling me that "crazy things happen during full moons."

But slowly, the show began to make sense. British Sea Power is not your average band, full moon or not. Their debut album, The Decline of British Sea Power, released by Rough Trade, gives a glimpse of the true BSP, with songs about insects and immortality. But it's the live show, complete with branches, fake hawks and herons, and helmets, that gets the audience grinning and grooving. Yan, vocalist and guitarist, and Eamon, keyboardist (the band is exclusively on a first-name basis), while taking in the Manhattan skyline, gave Prefix a glimpse of more than just their stage antics.

You are known for your live shows. What preparations are made prior to taking the stage?
Yan: Do you mean ritual kind of thing? Sometimes we hit our heads. (Laughs.) We try to make no big deal about it at all. But then sometimes, depending on the gig -- if it's a stressful one or we've got some quite weird gigs -- we all get a bit changed and we all bash each other. (Laughs.)

Eamon: It depends on how many Red Bulls we've had.

What do you consider to be weird gigs?
British Sea Power (2003):Yan: At Bowery Ballroom, with Dido and Bowling for Soup. They were showing videos about Sanctuary Records -- it was for independent retailers -- and it was just ironic, just cheap and just horrible. They seemed like really nice people, but watching, I'd just get spasms in my hand. I was standing up on the balcony, and I just wanted start throwing things, but I was holding back because that would have been pretty rude. (Laughs.)

Are people who've only listened to the album not getting the full British Sea Power picture?
Yan: Yeah.

Eamon: Yeah, you definitely have to see us live to get the full picture. Because you are presenting something, and you've got to present it well. If you present a gig in a good way, then it will stay in their heads a lot longer.

Is there any reasoning behind picking this type of set-up, or is it just who you are, how you think, what you do?
British Sea Power (2003):Yan: It kind of officially started when we moved out to Brighton together -- we all live around there now. We wanted to get people to come out and see us and get noticed. We put on a show called Club Sea Power, which we did once a month, and we weren't anything special. So we came up with the idea that we'd fill the whole place up with trees. That's where the trees started. And with the trees, you'd start to get this feeling when you'd come into the room. You'd know it was a normal club, you'd probably been there 100 times before, and we wanted to give the feeling like you've stepped into another world, something slightly confusing and disorienting. Nowadays, the trees are just really normal. If we don't have them, I miss them. And they remind me of home as well, so it's nice.

Who else puts on a good show?
Eamon: Flaming Lips

Yan: Flaming lips instantly come to mind.

Eamon: We did a really good tour with them. It was just superb bringing us together, just great.

Yan: You don't have to have loads of gimmicks to put on a good show. There are some people who aren't pretentious, they are just really honest, and that makes it great.

When exactly did British Sea Power become British Sea Power? Was there a moment, or did it slowly happen?
Yan: It was a slow, slowly evolving thing. We didn't actually plan on ever being a band because we all had our own things going on. My brother was making films, I used to paint and that was what I was going to do. But then when we moved to Brighton, and just decided that we were going to go down there and exploit Brighton.

And that's when it all began?
Eamon: When we went to the first gig and it was like going into a wonderful forest, it was an experience.

Yan: People think that it's quite intense now, but there were psychos at those gigs. (Laughs.) The music was probably worse, but we made up for it with adrenaline.

All the hype from the shows created a lot of anticipation for the album. Did you feel you had to prove you were more than just a live show? Did you feel this pressure when recording?
Eamon: It took a long time to record the album.

Yan: Well, it did and it didn't. We did 90 percent of it really quickly. And then we had a couple of songs that we just couldn't nail. Like "Carrion," which is our last single, and that took a while. Looking back, we should have thought that we were pressured, but we didn't really. We produced it ourselves, and we had never produced an album before. And it was only done on four-track demos and stuff. I think having Rough Trade, our label, took a lot of that [pressure] off us, because they've just been happy to just let us do what we wanted. That's the main reason we went with them.

Have you been happy with Rough Trade so far?
British Sea Power (2003):Yan: I think that they're the ... the most beautiful label, and that's not a name you'd normally give to a record label. They're beautiful, the way they operate. Geoff [Travis, the label's founder] is amazing. He's got some history, everyone knows about the Smiths, but he's quiet and he just smiles and lets you get on with it. We don't even see him that much. I mean, he comes to gigs and stuff. I hear stories from all our friends in bands in Brighton and they get so much shit.

Eamon: Friends on major labels, they're just under so much pressure. [Record label executives] are telling them to cut tracks and things like this.

Yan: But then we do everything so cheap compared to most bands probably. We do everything ourselves. We don't pay designers, we don't pay video makers, and we don't have to pay producers. That probably helps.

Rough Trade, in the bio they created for you, said that British Sea Power "aims to return honor and diligence to a depleted art form." How has music become a depleted art form?
Yan: It seems like a lot of music now is similar to something like a grocery. It's like something you buy, and it's packaged up to different forms to appeal to the different groups. But it's basically just a business. So, I read about when it was being made, before we were born, and it just seems like it had such a tremendous power that it doesn't have now. Whether it's the Beatles or Joe Meek or Julian Cope or someone like that. It just doesn't seem to have that kind of basic connection that it used to have with people. It used to be a rallying focus for people, and nowadays it's...

Eamon: It's like seeing the latest blockbuster or something.

How are going to bring back this art form? Have you already?
Yan: I think it happens during individual moments. It could just be a gig, or one song, or occasionally it's when Noble goes on a mental climbing spree, which he's been trying to back off. People get so used to going to gigs and standing there and watching, and then just going home again. And you look around, and people look like they're probably thinking about something else, like what they're going to be having for dinner, or an argument they just had with their girlfriend or something like that. And for me, the best moments are when the whole room is locked into the same kind of thought, and they are all there, in the present. And it's in that moment, that's when it happens.

Have either of you ever been to a show when it's been like that. When all of the sudden everything seems to fall into place?
Eamon: The first band I ever saw was the Pixies, when I was 13 or 14, and I remember that it was stunning. That was really stunning.

Yan: I saw Iggy Pop in Leeds when I was about 15. When he played old stuff with the Stooges, like Raw Power, I hadn't seen it originally, but it seemed like it had that same power. The new stuff sucked, basically. I'm a massive fan of the guy, but he just doesn't have that same strength any more. But the old stuff does.

Who, or what, inspires your music?
Yan: We don't just get inspired by music. We could be reading a book about how Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic for the first time in a tiny plane, and he only took a compass and a sandwich with him because of the weight. There was a big thing going on, like who's going to be the first guy to do this? People tried in big planes with four engines and died doing it. And then he set off with a compass and a pack of sandwiches, and went 44 hours straight or something without sleeping, and arrived in France as the most famous man in the world at that time. So it could be that [which inspires].

Eamon: We also all grew up in villages around Britain. I grew up in West Country. Yan, Hamilton, and Woody grew up in the Lake District. Noble grew up just near the Yorkshire Dove National Park. And that inspired us, and was an emphasis on all of us, the space of the countryside really.

Is that where the whole stage setup comes in?
Eamon: We like the outdoors.

Yan: It's a cross between that and a strange David Lynch scene.

Many bands today seem to be really dumbed down, yet you've been billed as the new favorite band for the "intelligent, nonconformist listener" according to Mojo. Is that how you'd describe yourselves?
Yan: Well, apparently.

Eamon: That's the people who we are. We all love reading; we all swap books. There's Thor Heyerdahl, who crossed from South America to the Polynesian Islands in a balsa wood raft in 1946, on the Kon-Tiki Expedition.

Yan: We're big on explorers.

Eamon: Yeah, explorers.

Yan: Especially if they do it in a real good style. Like he went across on a balsa wood raft he copied from one of the few drawings they had back from hundreds of years ago. And people were telling him, professional sailors and stuff, that if you set out you're going to die, you're not going to get across in that tiny little thing. And then it was the perfect vessel. It just was different.

Different has also been a word to describe you. Or even weird. Would you agree with that?
Eamon: Are you calling us freaks? (Laughs.)

Yan: Yeah. I'd be glad to be a bit different in this world.

Have you attracted any really strange people to your shows?
Yan: Our most loyal fan base is pretty odd. There is this bloke called Captain Riot. For our last single, we individually named each one, handwritten after a different coastal feature or place, and our next single is people who have inspired us. Some of them are people we know, like Captain Riot, who comes to our gigs and has invaded the stage several times. (Laughs.) He's about 40 and works for the Council, but then he lives this other life where he comes to the shows.

Eamon: Then we also have Cathy Freeman, who has been an inspiration. She's amazing but she's unhinged sometimes.

Yan: She's just brilliant.

Eamon: We're just trying to celebrate people who have done things that are outside.

Yan: I guess it's the norm to just blend in nowadays. And it can be a bad thing.

So now that you've reached a certain level, are you not going to do the classic "sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll" thing?
Yan: Less than I used to. I never considered us reaching that level of fame. But I take my pleasures swimming. I've been getting into swimming in the ocean lately. I moved into a house by the sea, about 20 minutes away from the English Channel, and that gives more of a chance at peace than getting out of my mind on dope or speed.

Eamon: Rock 'n' roll is really good, and that's what we do.

Yan: As far as I can tell, Eamon's never lived a safe life. He hasn't changed.

Now that the album's out in the UK and is coming out in the US, what's next? What are the plans?
Yan: We're trying to do a tour of England by boat, setting off from Brighton, heading west, around the whole coast, and arriving back in Brighton.

So would each gig actually be on the boat, or would you land?
Yan: For some of them we would make the effort to go to a coastal venue, and then others we'd hopefully just pull up on the beach, put the ramps down --

Eamon: And rock out --

Yan: Rock out and go with it. I don't think there has to be an audience, but if there is one, they have to be involved as much as you can get it that way. Even if no one was there, I'd be happy to play a gig to some seagulls.

Author: Rebecca Willa Davis
Source: prefixmag
Date: 1st September 2003

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