[Part 1 of 2]
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.
Prefix Magazine: You are known for your live shows. What preparations are made prior to taking the stage?
British Sea Power (2003): 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.
PM: 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.)
PM: Are people who’ve only listened to the album not getting the full British Sea Power picture?
British Sea Power (2003): 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.
PM: 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.
PM: Who else puts on a good show?
British Sea Power (2003): 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.
PM: When exactly did British Sea Power become British Sea Power? Was there a moment, or did it slowly happen?
British Sea Power (2003): 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.
PM: And that’s when it all began?
British Sea Power (2003): 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.
PM: 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?
British Sea Power (2003): 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.