Incendiary text British Sea Power


A funny interview this, I suppose you could say it's more of a fitful correspondence. And it came about as a result of bad timing. Incendiary missed both Yan and Hamilton when they came to Holland to undergo their round of interviews for the Dutch press: (we were boarding the ferry as they touched down in Amsterdam). We were a bit pissed by this, as chewing the cud over a drink with BSP is one of the highlights of a year for us. Moreover, as we feel quite strongly that this is an important album in more than one way for the band, we decided to contact Yan and Noble (Hammy having disappeared back to whatever underground bunker he disapears into) to see if we could cobble something together between us. The message relay, undertaken (from our side) in the Saloon bar of the Royal, Great Harwood, Lancs., resulted in some whopping questions and some adroit answers from Noble, (we're still waiting on Yan's sequel) not to mention some funny looks from the afternoon drinker crowd...

Now read on, and sorry for the indigestible questions...


IN: Don’t you get pissed off about being viewed as an “Institution”, i.e. “BSP, they’re an institution”? I always equate institutions with madhouses or places where control was exerted over the will. The individual’s expression being moulded by some form of surveillance. Even worse, some safe house where you go through the motions and act in a beneficial way: like Last Night of the Proms. You don’t want to be an “institution”, do you, or be a band to feel safe about?


N: I've not heard us being described as an institution much to be honest. Where did you hear it? A few places have mentioned the phrase 'National Institution', but we aren't really up there with the likes of Stephen Fry are we?


IN: On a couple of radio reviews, Wonderful Radio 1 (or 6Music) was one I think. And yes, you were cast as a National Institution, not as a mental house. I mean, it's never meant in a bad way of course. But maybe I'm being miserable and personally I'd hate it if you were up there with Stephen Fry... I always saw you as far more sinister & naughty than S Fry esq.


N: I bet Willy Wonkas Chocolate Factory would be described as an institution too, and look at all the stuff he spewed out.


IN: I feel this new record is on one level, all about control. I have a new theory about BSP: I believe you are – through your recent releases, especially this one - trying to change the public perception of the band’s essence. I think you are trying to draw up a new “creative” contract between the band and the audience.

N: I'd agree with that in a way. There are things written, and assumed, about us, that we think are over represented. Some reviews we read, you'd think we crawled around fields in Scout uniforms with toy Tommy guns, or that we made music to go camping to. We tried to have a joke about it with the last release by pretending we would call the album "Now That's What I call WWII Joy Division". We don't want to get caught into a 'nature/military' box. You get trapped in a box anyway, I guess most bands battle to try and shape the box they are in. I've witnessed some bands play up to the way people perceive them. It's cartoon-like. In our own confused way, we try to avoid that, but perhaps not very well.

IN: And here are the steps of my theory, please feel free to amend or distort where necessary!

a. The image of the band and its creative content has undergone a complete ‘volte face’. In the past your lyrics and image were very mannered, very clear musical and cultural hints, mainly to do with things past and things rural. You created a very clear fantasy world for your audience to populate with their own memories; either of past great bands, or youthful aspirations. It was very easy to fall into a rôle.

b. But I always felt that somewhere the lyrics were a touch impersonal. They were more like lines being delivered in a play.

c. I think over the last year or so, all that has changed. I think that you now look to be much more opaque with your image. You suggest more, you are less precocious, you like playing tricks with people as to what you’re about. You experiment with your sound and artwork. And your lyrics are much, much more personal, (at times blatantly, luridly so). The styles and sounds you use are much more suggestive of the personalities within the band, too.

N: Yes I'd agree with a lot of that. For example, we were a bit disappointed with Do You Like Rock Music?'s artwork. It partially didn't come out the way we wanted, but we kind of shot ourselves in the foot, what with it being an old medical box. The idea was supposed to be a tongue in cheek 'cultural first aid', or the idea that some things need to be mended. This time we went for something opposite. A white, wipe-clean surface, with simple bright primary colours. We wanted to avoid anything 'ye olde world'. Lyrically I can't comment. But I know in order to not tread the same path, to not get stuck, we tried to avoid things we'd done in the past, as a way of rejuvenation. Out with some of the old, in with the new. I think it's a similar viewpoint, but it's through a new framework. And sonically, we tried to expand things. It's not re-inventing the wheel, but it keeps us on our toes, and I think we've made a great album.


IN: You’re playing at some form of pop-shamanism, aren’t you? It accounts for the dressing up in one way doesn’t it? It accounts for the “Lee Perry has a piss in Hilda Ogden’s outside lavvy” stuff you feed the press. If I didn’t know better Id say you’d been hanging out with journalists.

It's a bit of fun. Much better than not dressing up. This is entertainment. Sometimes we really wish we'd be like Queen you know, but we can't. We're not as positive as Freddy and the gang. It's providing another channel that is entertaining and which means something too. Even amongst all the ridiculous elements, they still have meaning. Unfortunately I think we put off just as many people as we make fans with our press releases, dress, etc. It really rubs people up the wrong way, or the confusion is just irritating. I read a review of VD in Uncut and they were clearly expecting some exotic record, and it didn't match the expectations we'd set up.


IN: To the LP, Valhalla Dancehall: Of a time and of no time, looking forwards and back, quiet and loud, maximal meets minimal, angry and content; it’s a record of dualism. Do you see or feel this?

N: It's not dualism. Not just black and white. That implies it's just two things. It is a many headed beast. Many thoughts, and many emotions.... maybe too many!! But with the way music is listened too these days, people cherry pick songs and make playlists etc, and still expect albums to still be presented in the traditional way.


IN: It’s an LP that also conjures up an astonishing array of images for me; gateways, doors (of perception?), two headed gods (interesting by the way you release the record in January, Janus’s allotted time), dances, perving at socialites. It’s your most impressionistic work. But the feel is rhythmic, circular, like a dance… It’s a massive work, like a dance. Fair comment?

Yeah fair comment. It seems more immediate, though at times it sounds to me sometimes like a "stream of consciousness" collection of thoughts, especially on the likes of MongkII and Baby, but I think that relates to all the songs.


IN: I also think it’s a record that should be a vinyl only release, if ever an LP was created for vinyl this is it. Agreed?

N: Now your're being daft!. This album can't be the only album made for vinyl! Also, having it on CD allows you to appreciate the full sonics, which Graham Sutton helped lovingly create. Record players are like a filter, or an effect in some respects. It is on a double vinyl though, which is a lovely thing. Actually, it probably works best on the double vinyl. It demands a lot of attention. It's a beast of an album. As a double vinyl release, it is broken up into 4 sides.


IN: Looking back – now I’ve been listening to Valhalla Dancehall - it seems that Man of Aran was a very important record for you: the one that finally persuaded people in the “industry” and “media” that you were a different entity to other bands? MOA was the moment where doors were opened for you?

Yes I agree. We had songs such as Lately, The Great Skua, North Hanging Rock, True Adventures, Heavenly Waters. Though I think that side of us hadn't been noticed to people who just heard Please Stand Up, Carrion, Waving Flags etc. With Man of Aran I guess it brought a lot more focus to that side of us. Since Man of Aran we've played The Great Skua and True Adventures in 40 minute sets, and it feels quite natural.


IN: Do you ever feel that a recorded work will capture BSP’s headspace?

N: I think each song captures a 'headspace' at any given moment. Each song has different levels of personalities in them, different emotions. There is a lot more stuff we record that we don't finish or release, for many reasons. Perhaps we'd need to include these to reach the true headspace. Frankly though, it would probably be a crap record and you might think we've gone mad.