Sometimes getting to know the people behind a band can be a quite surprising and entertaining experience. For example, BRITISH SEA POWER. For a decade, these indie rockers have been one of the United Kingdom’s highest quality acts when it comes to the combination of great rock sounds and intelligent lyrics. They don’t like simple love songs, they prefer music about literature, politics and the dark aspects of human civilization. Their last album Machineries Of Joy became NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION’s album of the week when released this year, proving their musical quality.
You might expect a band like BRITISH SEA POWER to be moody and deadly serious. We met lead singer Scott and guitarist Martin at this year’s HURRICANE FESTIVAL, and we were surprised to find two very easy going, quite relaxed and extremely funny lads. A lot of laughter spread through the room as we talked about the new album, the difficulties of success and the temptations of selling out. Find their entertaining answers right here.
It’s been almost exactly ten years since your debut The Decline of British Sea Power was been released. How does this album feel for you, in retrospect?
Martin: Well, there are some very good songs on it
Scott: I haven’t listen to it for a long time I must say. (laughs) But I agree on a lot of things people say about it – especially recently due to its anniversary. And they all tell me what it meant to them personally, which is quite nice.
Martin: If you listen to it, you just think ‘well, it’s just a bunch of total different people back then.’
Scott: I don’t like listening to old songs. If we haven’t played one in a long time I always need to look up the words first. (laughs) But when I listen to one occasionally it’s normally quite a pleasant experience, I must say.
With ten years in the game, what is some advice you would give your alter egos from the year 2003?
Scott: I wouldn’t change the first album I think but maybe two years later I would start having a word with myself. But I can’t complain about the start back then.
Martin: We were just going through things by change, I must say. And maybe by the second record the circumstances weren’t that good at the time.
And still you are one of Britain’s best kept musical secrets. Is this a status you’re proud of or a are you already sick of it?
Martin: I wish a few people would tell a bit more about the secret as well. (both laugh)
Scott: I don’t mind. I always felt it would be more fun to be as big as QUEEN but … hmm. They changed a lot to make it. They started with heavy rock and then suddenly there was “I want to ride my bicycle” and everything.
Martin: That was Freddie’s personality, I think.
Scott: Yes. But you can’t really complain about it. We’ve been doing this for quite a long time and it’s been really fun.
And you’re also a quite intelligent and sophisticated band with controversial and political lyrics. Do you think this presents an obstacle to big success?
Scott: Yeah, it’s a big problem. I’m dumbing down. Well, I’m trying. (laughs) Maybe music is not meant for intelligence.
Martin: A lot of people love music for just making them happy and everything.
Scott: Maybe the music is a relief for the people. It’s like having a holiday or something, that’s what it’s today. It stops you worrying and we need to learn this.
There clearly is a lack of intelligent pop music.
Martin: Yes, it’s not a common thing.
Scott: In terms of popular bands there really aren’t many. You’ve gotta be pretty thick to do well these days. But there surely still are a lot of bands who are doing their thing although you’ve never heard of them. Like us. (laughs)
BRITISH SEA POWER: “We just constantly try to change things”
Your new album Machineries Of Joy took it’s title from a book by Ray Bradbury. Since some of us might not be familiar with his work maybe you can explain a bit about it.
Scott: I really like science fiction. Not just Star Wars and Aliens and this stuff, but looking into the future and imagining what could happen with the world and everything and what people might be. Bradbury was really good at that. He did it in the 1950s and 60s and the book was a selection of some of his short stories. He’s just one of my favourite men. Very kind, quite wise and everything. Go look him up on YouTube and listen to interviews with him when he was old. Very entertaining but also makes you wanna sleep. (laughs)
Looks like I need to do some research here.
Scott: Yes, he also did Fahrenheit 451 which was quite famous.
Yes, I remember the film.
Scott: That’s dystopian science fiction at its best. Just like George Orwell or H. G. Wells.
Your last record Valhalla Dancehall was very dark and heavy, the new one feels a bit lighter and optimistic. Was that the intention?
Scott: Yes, I didn’t wanna do that again.
Martin: We just constantly try to change things. Our drummer he worked more with brushes this time and with less drum sticks which gives it a slightly softer touch. And that’s just a little thing, to avoid habits.
Scott, you said you don’t listen much to the old records. Are you quite harsh with criticizing yourself after every album and before recording a new one?
Scott: No, the last one just had a really different approach this time. Really confusing and hard work. We did the whole album which is a whole hour and then we did another record that went with it, so we got two hours. A bit like NEIL YOUNG is doing it sometimes with his records. I mean they are good but you just don’t want to listen to them a lot. It was just something you gotta get out before having the chance to move on.
BRITISH SEA POWER: “We accepted our lack of mainstream success”
Since you are also a political band I’m interested in what’s currently the most annoying thing for you in Great Britain and its society?
Scott: Gosh, quite a lot.
Martin: It’s not that annoying specifically but in Brighton, where we live, the council stopped paying the bin men so they stopped working. And there are miles of garbage everywhere. (both laugh) Although it’s quite a sight. And we went away when it was just a few days in so we can’t really imagine what it smells like now.
Scott: And you’re annoyed by that, man?
Martin: No, not really. Just annoyed for the bin men.
You mentioned QUEEN and the way the changed their sound. BRITISH SEA POWER always managed to stay consistent. Was there ever a temptation to – I don’t know – ‘sellout’ in some form?
Scott: Oh, we tríed, we tried. (laughs) I don’t know if selling out makes sense anymore. I mean, no one buys records, you get THE VELVET UNDERGROUND on a car advert and IGGY POP doing commercials for insurance company. And if he already fell for it, what can we do?
I remember his explanation for it. I think he said: “A boy’s gotta eat”
Scott: Haha, exactly. Music doesn’t have a value of its own anymore. If you’re gonna make music you have to earn to eat.
Martin: It’s really quite different these days. If someone did something like IGGY ten or fifteen years ago people would have frowned upon it. And today they think: “‘Ah, It’s okay, he’s finally getting some money.”
Scott: We accepted our lack of mainstream success. But we have a nice life – so, nothing to complain about.
We are called “NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION” and I’m interested to hear what you think about these two elements?
Scott: I used to paint a lot and I don’t have much time for it these days. But I would love to do more so that’s my secret passion.
More optimist or more pessimist?
Martin: Well, I tend to go from one end to the other
Scott: I know everyone’s saying ‘screw it” so I’m optimistic because there is no point in being that way