By Alexander Laurence
Another great band at this year's Noise Pop was British Sea Power. They are an exciting quintet from Brighton, England. We only know them by their first names: Hamilton, Noble, Yan, Eamon and Woody. The band was formed in 2000. Their shows are famous for their use of military outfits and trees and statues of animals. Geoff Travis (of Rough Trade) came down to one of their clubs, called Club Sea Power, and was shocked immediately, and signed them on the spot. After some shows in Europe with Interpol, Flaming Lips and Pulp, their fanbase grew. They made an impression on all the jaded industry deadbeats at SXSW in 2003. Then in June 2003 we had the release of their first album: The Decline of British Sea Power.
On their website they talk about their experiences on tour and some plans for a second album: "All of which, we can tell you, is stirring the members of British Sea Power into an implacable determination to write a song with 159 verses. (Or to record a second album). To travel to within 79 kilometers of Geneva. (Or play some concerts in Holland). To see a new face depicted on the coins of 36 countries. (Not their own, of course, but maybe the likeness of the increasingly respected actress Denise Van Outen, possibly disgraced ice queen Tonya Harding, or, best of all, the resplendent singing star Jamelia)."
I met them at the Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco, where I had previously met other people like Irvine Welsh, Mogwai, and Roni Size. It tends to be a hotspot for bands. I got to talk to a few members of the band before their two big shows at Noise Pop. Afterwards Hamilton and Eamon jumped into the nearby pool in their underwear. Eamon was sporting a pair of boxing shorts at the end of its life. Their show that night at Bottom of The Hill was one of the highlights of that week. We hope to see them play more on this side of the pond.
They will be playing at Coachella 2005. They will also be playing at The Echo on May 1st.
AL: How long have you guys been playing together?
Yan: It's been about three or four years. Hamilton is my brother. Woody over there who plays drums: we all went to school together in Kendal. We met Woody when he was about eleven years old. I am a year older than those two. We met the others at Reading University.
AL: Did you play music back then?
Yan: I wasn't into it. Those two were in all sorts of bands. Woody was like the town drummer. I saw him play at a little local club. Woody was playing in six local bands in one evening.
AL: Are you shooting some Super 8mm film?
Hamilton: Yeah. I am shooting things that happen to us. I am making a video.
AL: This will be in the next video?
Eamon: Is that what you are doing? (laughter)
AL: What music did you listen to when you were growing up?
Yan: I used to listen to a lot of rare music because I had a brother who was ten years older. He was a real music buff. He started off liking Echo and The Bunnymen and then he expanded. He had about five hundred quality albums like Sonic Youth, Pixies, Julian Cope, and Pere Ubu. Loads of alternative stuff.
AL: Did you ever get to play with any of those bands that you listened to?
Yan: Pulp was one band that I grew up liking. I was a big fan of theirs. We got to play with them on their last tour when they played all those shows in the forest. We played with The Fall. There is a chance we might play with The Pixies in London. I have never seen them. I was too young the first time around. There's a chance that they might be good.
AL: How did you write the songs on the first album?
Hamilton: Yan wrote most of the songs on the first album. Then we wrote some of them all together. I wrote a few songs. We had most of the songs around for a while. The songs developed over time.
AL: Do you have material ready for a second album?
Yan: We have just starting preparing for it, really. It will be a total group effort.
Eamon: We hired a barn out in the countryside. It's in Sussex. There's a lot of snow and mushrooms. There are some chickens.
AL: That sounds ideal. Where is that?
Yan: It's in the South. There is a guy named David Dimbleby. He produces a talk show on BBC television. He lives opposite us. We are doing some demos there. Our first album came out in June 2003 in the UK.
AL: I heard that Interpol had a lot to do with getting you guys on tour and eventually signed?
Yan: I have a lot of respect for those guys.
Eamon: We spent six weeks with them. That was the first major tour we did. We went through all the major countries in Europe.
AL: Interpol were playing big festivals in France before anyone had heard of them in America.
Yan: I think that Europe accepted Interpol with open arms. Americans are too worried about being cool.
AL: Does British Sea Power play into that?
Noble: Can't help being cool. (laughter)
Yan: It's an exotic thing. With America and Europe there is a mystique. I think that works the opposite way for us.
AL: Have you moved to London?
Yan: I am not a big fan of London. It's a bit too grim and dirty. We are an hour away. We like to stay away from any industry. It's better being at home by the sea. It's more peaceful.
AL: You are missing out on all those Soho parties and Award shows.
Eamon: I am too busy trying to start a relationship with Carrie Von Bondie. She just fell of the stage in London I heard.
AL: Has the band had any accidents?
Yan: We have had a lot of accidents. It's not that much really.
Eamon: I have scabby knees.
AL: Woody is over there on the other side of the pool ignoring us. He is reading a book. Have any of you been reading any good books recently?
Yan: I am reading one of those USA Travel books. I am reading a guide to twentieth century philosophy.
AL: Where is the after party tonight?
We were making too much noise last night. Eamon was jumping off the roof. We were thinking about coming back here to The Phoenix and have a party. Someone broke into the bar and stole drinks. We have already checked out. We might go see Super Furry Animals tonight. We don't usually have after parties. We are more likely to end up in the forest or halfway up a mountain. I like campfires.
AL: How long is this tour?
Yan: It's been about a month. We started in New York and it's ending in Texas at SXSW.
Eamon: SXSW is the best festival. We played at it last year. It's like one street with forty venues.
AL: When people come to see British Sea Power what should they expect?
Yan: They should expect not to be bored.
AL: How do you deal with hecklers?
Yan: I quiet them down. The worse thing is when everyone looks blank. You think that maybe they are enjoying it or maybe they wish that they were home shagging their girlfriends. You can never understand what anyone is saying. I think that someone was offering us "Free Monkeys" at the last gig. I was confused.
AL: What is your set like now?
Yan: The majority of it is the album. Then there are some favorites that never made the album and are b-sides. We have one or two new songs creeping in. It's a slow process bringing in new songs.
AL: Are there any other contemporary bands that you like?
Noble: We like The Cooper Family. They have been playing for two hundred years. They have tour America. They have played at the White House. We played with them a few times.
Yan: They are good beer drinkers. We also had a good time with The Flaming Lips for a week. It was their last tour in England. They were good guys.
AL: Did you jump up there onstage with a animal costume?
Yan: I got to be a rabbit for a little while.
Hamilton: We were helping out people in the back because it was very hot. They were roasting in those suits. So we were spraying them with water.
AL: You called him Uncle Wayne?
Yan: He put a curse on us accidentally. Hamilton kept on falling off the stage. Wayne Coyne came over like a concerned uncle and said "We like what you boys are doing, but you have to look after yourselves. You are going to end up getting injured." So a few weeks later when we went on our own tour, that was when a couple of us busted our ankles. We ended up on crutches. Wayne told us that we would end up like that Superman dude in the wheelchair. We almost did.
Hamilton: I think that we have broken out of the curse now.
AL: The Flaming Lips used to set cymbals on fire.
Eamon: They know danger.
Noble: I set my guitar on fire once. It snapped in half.
AL: When will the second record come out?
Yan: If all goes well it will come out in September 2004, or a few months later. We are pretty busy. Everything is going to have to go perfectly.
AL: Did you win any music awards this year?
Eamon: Not really. I think our record was number 15 on the combined "Best Of" list. We did win an award from Time Out Magazine as best live band.
AL: What is your favorite part of music?
Hamilton: Writing a good song is nice.
AL: Have you seen any movies recently?
Yan: We just watched The Last Waltz by Martin Scorcese. We watched it on the bus the other night. I have read about it. I couldn't believe that I haven't seen it before. It was amazing.
AL: It was filmed at The Fillmore which isn't too far from here.
Yan: The way they set up the stage was interesting. The performances themselves were amazing. It's proper film quality.
AL: Have you seen any other films?
Hamilton: We saw Lost In Translation on the plane.
Eamon: Do you know what Bill Murray said to her at the end?
AL: I don't know. Maybe he said, "I am a homosexual." I don't think you are supposed to know.
Noble: "Have you ever seen Caddyshack?"
AL: You have been playing a lot of shows with the band Kaito. What do you think of them?
Noble: They are good. I think that enjoy them more the more I drink. I don't know why. I like all the strange noises that Nikki makes when she is singing.
AL: Do you play with those sorts of bands that have no commercial interest?
Yan: Have you heard of The 80s Matchbox B-line Disaster?
AL: Yeah. They haven't played over here yet. The guy from Cooper Temple Clause liked them too.
Yan: We played one of our first shows with them in Brighton. I don't know where they are at now. I know that they are absolutely fucking crazy. They started out sounding like some shambolic group like The Fall, but they get faster and heavier every time I see them.
Eamon: They are the only band at the moment who make me want to pogo dance.
AL: What is the hardest thing about being in a band?
Yan: Staying mentally functional. We have been getting bus psychosis.
AL: Does anyone have any hobbies?
Yan: I did a lot of painting before the band. Painting for me is something you have to do every day to get anything out of it.
AL: Did anyone in your family have a musical background?
Noble: My granddad used to play the piano. He played a church organ during the war.
Yan: My background is perfectly unmusical.
AL: What do your parents think of the band?
Yan: They love it now. It's probably their main interest in life now. My dad is about eighty years old now. The last five years he has really been getting interested in music. He has been getting into us and The Butthole Surfers, and Nirvana. He has good taste for an eighty year old.
AL: He'll probably be buying some Ministry this week. Does your parents come to shows?
Yan: yeah. I think that parents either hate the fact that you are wasting your life in a rock band or they become fanatical.
AL: Who does your website?
Hamilton: Woody does it. He doesn't talk very much.
AL: If he was over here talking to me, what would he sat?
Yan: I don't know. He could get quite paranoid. We do it all ourselves. It started off really good but it has become lame because we haven't had time to do it. We do all our own videos and album covers.
AL: What are some of the conspiracy theories on the message board?
Eamon: They were wondering how old we are. They were saying that we are really old.
Yan: There was that and who is the sexiest member of British Sea Power. You want to know? It's was you, Eamon. They like your matureness. There are a cult group of people who come to a lot of shows. They used to talk about us. Now they just talk about what they got up to. How drunk they got. All about their stupid activities. It's like a self-help group for mentally challenged.
AL: What does your average British Sea Power fan look like?
Noble: Like a dwarf.
Yan: It is all country related. In Japan, they are all girls. Screaming girls. In England, there used to be a lot of men in overcoats. That is changing. This guy who was in The Goodies has been coming to, our shows.
AL: Do you think that the government would use your music for a commercial about the Royal Navy?
Yan: Like "Don't go in!"
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