Features British Sea Power: Back To Basics

BSP are taking it down a notch for their fifth long-player.

“In the past we’ve gone to great lengths to try and do something adventurous, like going off to Poland or Montreal in the middle of winter. On this one I think we’ve tried to almost keep it quite domestic.” British Sea Power’s Yan (né Scott Wilkinson) is telling us all about their new record, ‘Machineries Of Joy’, and considering the influence that writing it in the Berwyn mountains in north east Wales may have had. “We recorded it in Brighton, where most of us live,” he continues. “There was almost a mindset of normality, of getting up, going to work, and then coming home again. I suppose it could’ve influenced it, but only in a sort of everyday, normal way.”

The band’s fifth album comes after the dual, gargantuan offerings of ‘Do You Believe In Rock Music’ and ‘Valhalla Dancehall’. Speaking of a change in direction that puts the new record more in line with the dignified reflection of their second album, Yan opines that; “‘Open Season’ was recorded when we were all really tired after having been on the road for ages, so we were probably excited by normal things then as well. Maybe that’s some sort of a link.” He begins to expand on the record’s conception, detailing the processes of working alongside Dan Smith and Ken Thomas (David Bowie, Sigur Ros). “We got in a good sound engineer and used the local studio, which is decent but it’s not extravagant. We had a very simple approach this time, which came after spending two weeks in Wales, spent sitting around. Playing the songs together in order to see how they were coming along and which ones were working out best, and which were most fun to play and generated a warm feeling between us. There was less of a masterplan with this one, I guess.”
“There’s enough shit going on with the world without trying to bring out more negativity.”
Following the grandiosity of the likes of ‘Valhalla Dancefloor’’s ‘Cleaning Out The Rooms’ or ‘Once More Now’, the new record takes a simpler, though no less effective, route. Asked about the differing processes used to make the two records, Yan responds candidly. “I’d say it’s almost at different ends of the spectrum in terms of how we’ve done this one. ‘Valhalla Dancehall’ took a long time and we created these huge, very dense tracks with loads of atmospherics and loads of guitar and then tried to sculpt something out of these heavy, dense compositions. You’d spend ages working on a track and reach a point where you thought it was alright and then someone would come along and put on twenty tracks of distorted animals or whatever...

“It was very experimental, you just kept going and kept adding things and in the end just tried to make sense of what you’d done. With this one we rehearsed the songs a lot, then went into the studio and recorded them fairly quickly in a sort of old-fashioned way, I suppose. I wouldn’t say ‘Valhalla Dancehall’ was a mistake as such, but we definitely learned from it and didn’t want to do a record in that way again. Perhaps it was a reaction against that., to an extent.”

Aside from their experiences in making their last long-player and the reactive change of methods as a result, Yan is quick to acknowledge their recent involvement with the hypnotic archive collage of Penny Woolcock’s film ‘From The Sea To The Land Beyond’ had some bearing on their latest offering in terms of processes. “We tested out a few methods when doing the film, which mostly consisted of taking old songs and slowing them down and removing the vocals to fit in with the film better. We did it in the same way as the new record - we all went away for a couple of weeks and just played it musically together. We recorded it in the same place as we did the album, quite quickly and as a live band. We enjoyed it a lot - if it had gone wrong badly we’d have maybe had a rethink, but as it seemed to go quite well we stuck with the plan! In a way it acted as a prototype for working methods and ideas.”

With comments angling towards a desire to make a warm, restorative record, that acts as an antidote to the trials of the current day-to-day climate, do the band think they’ve achieved their goal? “I was hoping to make a record that’d make a person feel better about their day - or lunch, or whatever time they were listening to it, rather than for it to challenge too much. It’s a bit more accessible, it’s not trying to tell you what’s wrong with your life – there’s enough shit going on with the world without wanting or trying to bring out more negativity.

“There’s a few strange things going on in the background but I’d say it’s a bit like when you listen to ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ – without thinking about it, it’s just a pleasant song you know? If you think about what the actual subject is it’s quite weird, but it’s under the surface. You’re looking at all these weird people but in a sort of friendly way and seeing what’s beautiful about them rather than ‘Oh look, scary freaks!’ or whatever! So yeah, maybe it’s a bit like that...”

British Sea Power’s new album ‘Machineries Of Joy’ is out now via Rough Trade.

Taken from the April 2013 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.

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