It has been said that British Sea Power doesn't sound like any other band, and they don't - yet they're familiar still. Sounds from previous decades intermingle with their unique brand of epic and anthemic guitar driven rock. Nostalgia with an eccentric twist, they build up walls of sound and bravely tear them down with complex rock, breathy vocals and pedantic satire. Though their new album Open Season has a bit less wit and menace in it than their previous release (The Decline of British Sea Power), the following interview proves that guitarist Noble still has plenty of both.
British Sea Power are Yan (vocals/guitar), Noble (guitar), Hamilton (bass/vocals), Wood (drums), Eamon (keyboards and percussion) and they play two sold out shows at Bowery Ballroom this weekend.
Let's get this out of the way, where did your band name originate?
Well, it's one from the history books - like The Age Of Steam or The Enlightenment or The Disco Years. We liked the idea of naming ourselves after 400 years of history, after the period when Britannia ruled the waves. Not that we're saying this was necessarily a great idea - it's a pretty mixed idea. If you're going to think up a name for your band it might as well be a good one. The Fall or Teenage Fanclub or Franz Ferdinand are great names, while Red Hot Chili Pepper or INXS are bad beyond belief. British Sea Power is also quite rock in a way - like when all the dandy suited sailors turn up on shore and go looking for pretty locals. Don't you think them lusty boyz in The Bravery look just like sailors on shore leave? There they are, high on scurvy and gonorrhoea and looking for the best thrill in town.
What is your favorite/least favorite memory involving New York?
Our keyboard player Eamon got lost one night whilst boozed up and decided to have a little sleep on the sidewalk. He was woken up by 6 policemen with his passport in their hands. "Mr Hamilton wake up sir, 2 blocks down and take a left". Also Halloween and the Blackout were a lot of fun. We saw lots of great costumes, rabbits, see through shower curtains and lots of breasts.The worst time was when one of us were attacked in a park for pruning off tree branches for our stage show. Some guy freaked out, stole the secateurs and tried to stab us.
What is your favorite/least favorite thing about playing shows in New York?
In Europe, people bring us lots of gifts at shows - scarves, tea bags, party invitations, books, money. Or we get girls and boys dressing up in fantastic outfits. In Zurich, these three girls turned up wearing these lovely diaphanous dresses and these breast-plate things they'd made. They were actually papier mache, but they looked like bronze of something and they were decorated with the leaf designs off our first album sleeve. At a show in Norway, this guy turned with a pony tethered outside and said it was a present for us. But, we couldn't get it on the tour bus. We haven't seen that sort of thing in the US yet. We are hoping this time may be different. We spent 6 weeks in Europe with New Yorkers Interpol, so it's nice that some of them come and say hello. Mr Banks and Mr Fogarino could put more effort in though. Carlos and Mr D Kessler though, they're on the list. As is Hope Sandoval - she's always on our guestlist, even though she's never turned up once so far.
How does New York's music scene differ from England?
Musically, in New York, they are much more precise. They are very tight and musically minded. In the UK we are more amateurish. Someone once said British bands have a more conceptual approach which is true to an extent. I think that's a nice way of saying British bands can't play very well. We are shit hot players now though, but sometimes not all at the same time.
Now its time for some fill-in-the-blank action
You know you've made it when...
Kate Moss and Cate Blanchett stumble back stage screaming and fighting over Eamon while he just carries on eating his crisps. Or when you can rob people at shows by selling them hooded tops and baseball caps for $40 each. We dream of those days.
It'll be time to pack up the gear for good when...
When you call yourself Red Hot Chili Peppers. Or when a band member takes everyone's DVDs off the tour bus and pawns them for five dollars so he can but some cigarettes. Hang on, that already happened
I'll never forget the first time I...
Heard my pet dog say name. It only happened once, but he definitely said it, clear as day.
I'll never forget the first time [insert another band members name here]...
Hamilton threw his bass up ten feet in the air on stage and then looked up blissfully while it landed on his head. I'll never forget it because he continues to do it almost every concert. I don't understand. I can only assume he actually likes it banging off his bonce.
Let's have some fun with word association. Give me your immediate feelings on the following (if you've got no discernable feelings, make something up that won't embarass you in the morning).
A little boy stood on the corner with a big hat selling newspapers with headlines about a Zeppelin crashing.
A woman coming into the prime of life. The new plump and drunk Britney is a gorgeous sight.
Bridge & Tunnel
Standing hopefully by the railway sidings at the age of 12 , expectant of slight but startling sexual gratification.
Thin Lizzy and some men with both skill and courage.
Never been, but heard it's real cool and you now even have electricity in America.
Bloomberg/Noise Laws/Smoking Ban
Is he the new Pope? Noise should definitely be banned, particularly when it's being made by Elton John.
Questions inspired by movies
If you will, a brief justification of the ontological necessity of modern man's existential dilemma (in less than 10 words). (Reality Bites)
Winona Rider is very pretty in that film.
What came first, the music or the misery. (High Fidelity)
Misery, in this case. Nick Hornby should be shot.
A few quickies on the music tip
Who would be in your ultimate music supergroup, your all-star Olympic team of rock?
Django Reinhardt on guitar, Freddie Mercury and Sean Ryder on vocals,
Peter Hook on Bass and Mark E Smith on Drums.
If you released a 7", what would you put on the cover?
We have released seven-inches. And CDs too. The most recent seven-inch had a big stag on the front being circled by aeroplanes. The animal is fighting the machines, but which will win?
What's the first/last album you bought on the day it was released?
First was Salt-N-Pepa's debut LP. The last was that new Brian Wilson Smile thing.
And finally...If Josh Schwartz, creator of the OC, asked your band to perform on his TV show (as Modest Mouse, the Killers and the Walkmen recently have) would you?
Definitely, mate. We'd have Super Eamon serenading a naked hot-tub of buff hotties with first-rate dentition. Now that's what you call public-service broadcasting.
Photograph by Danelle Manthey for Prefix.