Interview: British Sea Power

Brighton indie rock outfit British Sea Power are back with new album Let The Dancers Inherit The Party. Covering everything from “international lunacy” to writing film scores, dream venues and persuading fans to get BSP tattoos, guitarist Martin Noble fills us in on what the band have been up to in the four years since Machineries Of Joy.

So, the new album’s out now. Can you tell us a bit about it?
It was made to a background of politicians perfecting the art of unabashed lying, of social media echo chambers, of click-bait and electronic Tonka toys to keep us entertained and befuddled. All this can easily make the individual feel futile. But I think we’ve ended up addressing this confusion in an invigorating way, rather than imprisoning the listener in melancholy. There wasn’t a plan to create an album with any particular subject matter but we’ve kind of ended up with a case of ‘think global, act local’ – an album where individuals are dealing with their domestic and personal lives against a background of uncontrollable international lunacy.

It’s been four years since your last LP, the longest break you’ve had between albums. What have you been up to in the meantime?

Yeah, it’s been a while. We’ve been busy in that time though. We’ve done a few film scores, including one for a French film called Happiness about an eight-year-old monk that desperately wants a TV. That was really fun. We also did one for a film about Captain Webb, the first man recorded to swim the English Channel [Sea to the Land Beyond: Britain’s Coast on Film]. Plus we re-released our first album, The Decline of British Sea Power, and released a compilation album of some of our more atmospheric work with Peter Wright and a full brass band called Sea of Brass.

What process do you go through before going into the studio?
We’ve been writing ever since we released our last album, Machineries of Joy, so we had amassed quite a large collection of demos. We’d been going over our old material so much with the re-release of our first LP and Sea of Brass that we were really keen to get back to recording some new material. Our producer went through all the demos we had, which was about 30-40, and picked the most coherent and melodic tracks and ideas.

You always try to do something different with every album. What was the angle you took with Let The Dancers… ?
Yeah, since we had so many demos, we were in a really good position to make our most coherent album to date. If you listen to Valhalla Dancehall, that album was all over the place. We never really thought about it back then. We wanted to make an album that was really focused and flowed well. After doing soundtracks we wanted to get back to writing classic songs.

One of the things that struck me about the album was the cover. I instantly recognised it as very Dada. What’s your relationship with the art?
In a lot of our early shows we used the sound poetry of Kurt Schwitters. Yan and Hamilton were really influenced by his style and they liked the creativity of inventing language. We actually got the opportunity to visit his home in the Lake District where he fled to from Nazi Germany. Yan and Hamilton have always loved his work so it was an obvious choice to take that style and create something inspired by that.

Was the decision to crowdfund the album necessary or was it just a different approach that you were interested in trying?
We got the idea when making Sea of Brass. We contacted our fans about doing a special box set pre-order and they were incredibly responsive. So we looked at how we could approach the next album and crowdfunding seemed like the perfect idea for us.

One of the things I enjoy about crowdfunding is the ridiculous packages you can offer people. Were there any packages you thought fans wouldn’t purchase but did?
Oh, we had fun with that. We offered the opportunity for people to get a British Sea Power tattoo that allowed them entry into every one of our shows they wanted to attend. It was really brilliant having the support from fans. Not only having them come to the shows and buying the album, but being able to directly contribute to our record.

Your videos are always incredibly distinct and very creative. Can you talk me through how you approach making them?
Well, Hamilton went to film school in Derby and he and Yan have made over half our videos. They can all a bit rough around the edges and a bit cut and paste, but they really capture what the band is and wants. They always create something that fits the ethos of the band.

One of the things that BSP is known for is the bizarre and unconventional venues you play. What has been your favourite?
We played this festival in Norway and the stage was inside this wooden church in a fishing town. It was such an atmospheric location and we played the entirety of our Man Of Aran album. It was the closest to being in the film as we could get.

Is there anywhere you’ve wanted to play but haven’t got round to yet?
Hmm, there’s an open air theatre in Cornwall called the Minack Theatre. They normally do Shakespeare there but it’s on the edge of a cliff face with the sea as a backdrop. That would be the dream venue to play. It fits with our image so well.

Let The Dancers Inherit The Party is out now –

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