Ten years on from the release of their debut LP and with a new album due on April Fool’s Day, British Sea Power, reveal how “French female bodybuilders turned erotic movie stars” and “Franciscan Monks” have helped create a “beautiful” and “joyous” new record.
The group’s fifth studio LP, Machineries of Joy, “reflects spring” and has a “playful” feel according to guitarist, Noble, marking a departure from their last album, Valhalla Rising.
The band openly admits that album was a challenging listen for fans – Yan (vocals) likens it to “mining diamonds in a granite rock face” – but they are confident when they say their upcoming release is more accessible.
Yan: “I think this record is more enjoyable and shorter. One could easily get lost in Valhalla and not necessarily in a good way.”
Noble: “We wanted a short, concise and cohesive record too as Valhalla Dancehall was a monster album. Various things are touched on in the words – Franciscan monks, ketamine, French female bodybuilders turned erotic movie stars. There was a quiet determination to keep things simple I think. We rehearsed the songs a lot and recorded it in 2 weeks. It was mixed by Ken Thomas without us being there. That was the opposite of how Valhalla Dancehall was made, and it’s a definite improvement.”
The creative process for the new album had its roots firmly planted in Brighton, where the band is based.
The new songs were recorded and demoed in the city; a departure for the band who have a penchant for adventurous locations (they have played gigs at unique venues such as the Great Wall of China, down a Cornish slate mine and inside the Natural History Museum).
Yan: “We normally go somewhere a little adventurous but this time making the recording of the album part of normal life seemed more interesting. It’s a record you can enjoy in normal everyday life so maybe it was a good idea. It was probably a reaction against previous ways we’ve done things.”
During the writing and recording period last year the band had a monthly residency at Brighton’s ‘The Haunt’. The club night named ‘Krankenhaus’ (the hospital) kept their live skills up to scratch while they worked on the new material.
Yan: “They were a lot of fun. We had Y Nwil, Pictish Trail, Savages & Palma Violets, and that was just one night! On other nights we had a Japanese Queen tribute, Bo Ningen, Sean from BBC6 doing all creatures great and small, a brass band, Marc Riley’s ventriloquism act, racehorses, Jock Scott and many more. I’m tired just thinking about it. We need a new slightly bigger venue to do another really. It was too hot being the main problem. We wanted to play songs every month without having to drive around on motorways and get to our own beds at the end of the night.”
Noble: “We played almost our entire back catalogue too which was great to revisit. Some of the ones we’ve avoided playing for years turned out not so bad after all!”
British Sea Power have played many gigs in their adopted home town over the years and as you’d expect from a band renowned for their frenzied live shows they have been a mixed bag.
Noble: “The crowds are pretty good. You get the odd chin stroking night, but people generally realise it’s a 2-way thing. If we both give out then we feed off each other and it’s a better night. I remember one of our first gigs which we played with The Tenderfoot, Eighties Matchbox B-line Disaster, and The Electric Soft Parade. Hamilton (bass) jumped off a balcony and knackered his ankle which Guy McKnight (Eighties Matchbox congratulated. Early day, good days.”
Yan: “I’ll always remember the early Club Sea Powers at what is now The Hope but was The Lift. We were new and full of adrenaline if not always musical competence. The crowd generally derided and liked us in equal exaggerated measures. I don’t know where else you could see Eighties Matchbox and The Copper Family in the same venue.”
When they hit the road in support of Machineries of Joy this March they plan to play two distinct gigs on the same night – a quieter filmic set followed by an amped up louder set. They will also play a mix of old and new material.
To prepare for the next chapter of their musical journey they will be premiering the new tracks at a gig in The Old Market later this month.
The gig on the 25th March will see the band tear through the new songs properly for the first time.
Yan: “It’s always a bit exciting and scary playing new songs at first. Oh we’re trying to find a new life-like polar bear outfit if anyone can help. Our old bear is unreliable due to too much boozing.”
If you want to catch the band doing what they do best then tickets for the upcoming tour are on sale now and they will be making festival appearances this summer at T in the Park, Kendall Calling and many more.
Interview and words: Dan Cain