Image by Mayumi Hirata
For the best past of the last fifteen years, British Sea Power have expertly constructed their own living, breathing universe, with their paeans to nature, wildlife, literature and internationalism singling them out as one of the most distinctive voices in British guitar music. However, on their new record, Let the Dancers Inherit the Party, British Sea Power turn their crosshairs outwards, stepping out of their comfort zone to make the most direct, politicised album of their career.
“We really wanted to do something very direct as a response to making fairly melancholic music for films,” explains guitarist Martin Noble. “We’d been making music for a couple of film soundtracks, and all the while you’re doing that, you’re accumulating tunes – we must have had about thirty or forty to choose from. This put us in a very privileged position for making this record, it allowed us to carefully consider the shape of it. I don’t think we’ve ever succeeded so well in making a record that is so consistent in tone.”
In conversation, Noble’s as warm, affable and witty as the band’s music. It doesn’t take long before the lyrical directness of the new album is addressed. “It’s not really within our nature to be overtly political. But at the minute it’s completely unavoidable. The lyrics were written over the last year or so: with Brexit, and now you’ve got a bare-faced liar in the White House, it’s inevitably going to inform what you do.’
The record is peppered with references to the disorientating, insular, anti-intellectual triumphs of Trump and Brexit. Where previous records have been inhabited by the likes of George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, and Canvey Island F.C., the characters that litter Let the Dancers Inherit the Party inform the dystopian, foreboding feel of the record. There are references Saint Jerome (the patron saint of academics, translators and libraries) and the godfather of modern PR on The Voice Of Ivy Lee. Noble is keen to point out though that “we didn’t want to address everything that is going on at the minute with melancholy. I think there’s a passive optimism to it.” This sentiment certainly shines though, with the album eschewing the band’s usual melancholy pastoralism for pop melodies akin to the Psychedelic Furs and The Cure.
The change to the approach in song writing hasn’t been the only shift for the band on Let the Dancers Inherit the Party. It’s their first album of new material to come out on the band’s own Golden Chariot label, and the first to be financed directly through crowd funding. “It was so heartening to realise that crowd funding was feasible because we had a fan base out there who were willing to invest in the record before they’d heard a note.”
Though the band admit that they don’t relish communicating with the world through social media, British Sea Power’s relationship with their fan base remains as notoriously rabid, dedicated and personalised as ever. “We thought some of the ideas wouldn’t quite take off, and we couldn’t really believe it when five people committed to getting BSP tattoos! [part of a package granting fans, among other things, unlimited access to BSP gigs for the rest of their lives] When we meet these people, I think it’s our obligation to just ply them with food and wine!”
British Sea Power are no strangers to a DIY mentality, which feeds into the band’s incredibly coherent, idiosyncratic aesthetic. “Yan and Wood have always done the artwork; and thinking about it, Yan and Hamilton have made a good fifty per cent of the videos as well. We’re quite bloody-minded in that way. I suppose the crowd funding and recording everything ourselves is just a natural extension of that. Things have changed so much in the last ten years, and this feels like a really positive way of doing things.”
“When we first signed to Rough Trade, they put a lot of money into sending us out on tour – and a lot of labels, particularly indie labels, can’t really afford to do that anymore. All the little festivals that are popping up now are such a lifeline for bands like us. It’s bizarre to think that when our first record came out, file-sharing was still something of a novelty. Now you’ve got streaming as some sort of industry half-way house. It’s much harder to carve a niche for yourself. Saying that, I really believe that the way we’ve gone about making this record is the way forward. If you’re an established band, it’s a model that really works.”
Looking to the future, Noble hints that British Sea Power’s forward trajectory is as free-wheeling as ever. “We’ve been making music for an Estonian computer game. The designer came to meet us with stills, all beautifully hand painted. That really won us over. It’s still in development: at the minute, it’s a little bit H.R. Giger, a little bit Wild West.”
As an idiosyncratic force, they’ve become hard to pin down, brimming with more energy and ideas than bands half their age. Fittingly, as I wind up our interview, Martin is fizzing with interest in everything from Polish cinema (with the band set to provide a live soundtrack at an Eastern European film festival at the Barbican in April) to his recently adopted second team Brighton and Hove Albion (“The crowds at the home games are wonderful! It’s like a carnival…a comedy club!”), he’s chipper, with a seemingly insatiable hunger for knowledge and experience, reflecting the wide-eyed exuberance of a band in rude health. Here’s to the next fifteen years of British Sea Power.
British Sea Power play Riverside on Saturday 8th April. Let the Dancers Inherit the Party is out now on Golden Chariot.