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In addition to having the reigning best band name in rock, British Sea Power puts on one of the most triumphantly bizarre shows around. After the release of their debut, The Decline of British Sea Power in 2003, the U.K. neo-punk/wavers made a name for themselves by incorporating outlandish costumes and theatrics into their concerts. This was in addition to their signature prop: tree branches, which the band members would clip from local parks before shows.
Judging from the band’s show at New York’s Bowery Ballroom in support of its second album, Open Season, British Sea Power appears to have lost none of its singular spunk. Before a frenzied show that would include keyboardist Eamon marching through the audience banging on a drum and singer Yan stroking a mechanical bird, Prefix talked to lead guitarist Noble on a tour bus strewn with old Guardians and abandoned beer bottles, seeking insight into the wacky world of British Sea Power.
Prefix Magazine: Were you all born with only one name, and is this what first drew you together?
British Sea Power: [Laughs, and takes a swig from the nearest piss-warm Corona] Yes! It got confusing. Like Yan’s first name is Yan, but everybody calls him Scott, ‘cause when he was in school, Yan was a girl’s name, so he chose to be called Scott. And Hamilton, that’s his middle name. They [the stage names] are all related to our names, all part of our names. We just wanted to have a bit of fun at the start. We didn’t realize how much trouble it would cause.
PM: You recorded your first album, The Decline of British Sea Power, pretty much on your own, right? On a four-track?
British Sea Power: We had an engineer, Mads Bjerke, who’d worked with Spiritualized and Primal Scream. He did a lot of the engineering, but what we did was put those recordings onto a sixteen-track that we had and do loads of extra noises, and then put it all back on.
PM: How was the process different this time around [on Open Season] now that you had Bill Price working with you?
British Sea Power: Well, the first album we kind of mixed ourselves, with Mads. And we didn’t really know what we were doing. We knew the sounds we wanted to make, but the songs didn’t actually sound very powerful, like if you turned them up. I really like the first album, but we thought we’d turn [Open Season] over to someone else to mix. Just to make the drums loud. And Bill Price had done the Libertines’ album, and we’d known that he’d done stuff with the Clash and the Sex Pistols, so we knew he knew his stuff. Good pedigree.
PM: Did the success of the first album change the process at all? Do you feel like once you had something that worked, you had pressure to do it the same, or specifically not the same?
British Sea Power: We didn’t have any pressure. We didn’t want to repeat what we did — we enjoy variety. We’d done a lot of touring, and we kind of holed ourselves up in this band for like a month and just started writing. It was a very peaceful atmosphere. It was that period when winter’s going into spring, and it’s quite an optimistic feel. You know, the sun’s going to start shining and all the flowers are going to come up. So it was nice, kind of really relaxing. And it was in the countryside, and the light was quite special. And I think all that just kind of seeped into the music. And I think there’s still a lot of atmosphere on this record, because we wanted the tunes to come out as well.
PM: Last time everyone was talking about how great Rough Trade was to work with. Have they still been a great label this time around?
British Sea Power: Yeah. They haven’t done anything wrong. And they haven’t told us we’ve done anything wrong.
PM: To the surprise of a lot of people, Open Season dropped a lot of the rough-edged, punkish feel of Decline, in favor of a more arena-ready, anthemic sound. I’m assuming this wasn’t just practical — you’d be playing in bigger venues and wanted to sound right for that. So what sparked the shift? Was it a conscious decision?
British Sea Power: We wanted to make the tunes stick out. I think there’s a lot of tunes on the first album that we maybe covered in feedback and layers of sound, so the tunes kind of struggled to come out. And just for variety, to make it different. To make sure the tunes stuck out, and not put too many layers in. We’re big fans of Phil Spector and the way he’d put layers and layers in, but he’d make it sound amazing. And we kind of tried to do a bit of that on the first album, but it never worked, ‘cause there’s only one Phil Spector.
PM: Everything about British Sea Power is on an epic scale, from the name, to the live show, and even to the lyrics, which deal with some big themes. Do you think a lot of bands these days are afraid to "go big"? I feel like a lot of bands wouldn’t unless they were being ironic — and you’re kind of sincere.
British Sea Power: We just try and get as many of those things in as we can. I mean, the Bravery, they go big — big hair. Steven Malkmus — he has big words.
PM: Who have you guys been listening to lately?
British Sea Power: We all really like the Joanna Newsom album. She’s amazing. And the Arcade Fire album — that’s brilliant. Feist’s really good. She’s amazing live. M.I.A. — she’s really great.
PM: What’s the best show you’ve seen recently?
British Sea Power: Feist, and Arcade Fire. I saw Arcade Fire at Coachella and M.I.A. as well.
PM: What was Coachella like?
British Sea Power: Just … the desert. Lots of gorgeous women, in not very many clothes. Chloe Sevigny, she was there.