In Conversation with Sea Power
By Dan Knight
Ahead of their upcoming performance in Manchester, Dan Knight caught up with Sea Power guitarist Martin Noble to chat about their new album, the changing face of the music industry and more.
You were always known as British Sea Power, until last year, when you dropped the ‘British’. I’m sure you’ve dealt with this question loads since it happened, but what exactly was the thinking behind this change, and is there a wider effect you hope to achieve with it?
The initial reasons were kind of just, we felt a bit awkward saying the band name for about 20 years, perhaps being linked to some of the colonial past, we kind of intended the name to be the opposite, you know some bands pick a name which is almost ironic or the opposite of what you intend. It just started to feel uncomfortable, and then the rise in nationalism, Boris Johnson, the Tories being ahead for so long, Brexit, and how we would be seen in Europe as well, you know, the rest of Europe don’t really like us, you look at the Eurovision Song Contest and stuff, we’re always last, you’ve got to ask yourself why. So we sort of just thought, fuck it, yeah, we can change that. You know, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t change your name, apart from maybe, some people might see it as commercially stupid, but we’re not really fussed about that, we knew the risks.
UK getting 0 points at #Eurovision be like: pic.twitter.com/nnaaNRjoqU— SociallyIncapableMaxim (@TheMaxiCosi) May 23, 2021
In February, you dropped Everything Was Forever; first of all, the title comes from a lyric from the track Folly; why exactly did you choose this as the name for your album?
There’s a book that we took the name from, I haven’t read it personally but it’s about the collapse of the Soviet Union. It wasn’t because we’d all read that book and thought it was great, the full title Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More, it rang true on a lot of levels really. It was about grasping things that are around in front of you, and also loss; the two brothers in the band lost both their parents over the last three years, so there’s that, plus things to do with climate change, animals, that sort of thing. So it’s kind of rang pretty potently with us in terms of that everything was forever until there was no more, and to look at things dearly and to look after them.
Having gone around five years since your previous album release, was there anything different about the way you recorded this one? For instance, did COVID or any other present-day circumstance have an effect?
Yeah, obviously. We were well into recording the album before all that hit, so we were kind of put in limbo. We hoped to have it out in three years rather than five. One thing we did do in the meantime was a lot of the Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties with Tim Burgess (speaking of Tim, check out my review of The Charlatans gig at Gorilla here), and that made us listen back to all our albums, loads of it stuff that our producer Graham Sutton had done. We’d sort of lost touch with him, kind of ended in a weird way with him, and we rekindled our friendship and asked him to do it (the new album). It turned out he had a studio set up at home, which was perfect because we couldn’t get into studios. So we did loads of recording at home, which isn’t alien to us, we’ve done it for ages. Obviously you’ve got two band members on the Isle of Skye, one in the Lake District and three of us are here (Brighton), so we were just pinging music backwards and forwards. One thing was weird, obviously we couldn’t get into the studio to record drums, so some of the songs were recorded to software drums and the drums were recorded last, which is kind of the opposite to the way things normally happen. It was weird, but good for the drummer Woody (laughs), he said ‘oh, this isn’t bad at all’, playing to a click track, playing on his own. And you know, he could tune his drums, play the right cymbals, fit that into the mix, you’re usually working blind doing drums first so yeah he had a lot of fun recording some drums individually, not playing the whole kit. Yeah, he had a whale of a time!
At times on this album, it can sound similar to bands like Interpol & Editors – were there any particular artists, albums or individual tracks that you’d say really helped inspire this release?
Not really. I think especially in your formative years, that kind of thing, it almost creates a blueprint of your palette. When doing the computer game soundtrack, which we got a BAFTA for, we did a continuation of sort of the soundscapey stuff from that. Maybe little ideas crop up here and there, but we don’t sort of listen to stuff and get inspiration from it that way. Maybe one thing, the song ‘Transmitter’, I did a demo of it and we all thought it sounded like a reworking of ‘Foggy Notion’ by the Velvet Underground, but it turned out completely different in the end. I think as well, (Neil) Hamilton’s songs are always a lot slower, I think because he lives on the Isle of Skye, the pace of life is just super slow!
You released your first album almost 20 years ago now – how would you say you’ve progressed and evolved as a band in that time?
I think we’ve become better musicians, better songwriters. Again with the Disco Elysium soundtrack, we’ve expanded the palette. I guess we became more interested in that side of things, maybe more confident to know what we want to do. We might have gone into the studio on the first couple of records not really having a clear idea of how to record and what the end result was going to be, it was kind of just recorded as a band. We’re now more certain about what we want to do.
What would you say personally your favourite track was on the new album, and why is this?
It changes all the time. At the moment, ‘We Only Want to Make You Happy’, that’s the last track off the album. There’s a few reasons really. It was one of the last ones we brought to the album. Graham, who mixed it all, he basically chose the tracks and then towards the end sort of goes ‘oh no, I think we should do this one’. It didn’t have any singing on it so he got both the brothers to try different stuff. It ended up being Yan doing the verse, Hamilton doing the chorus. I really like when they both sing together. There’s a really lovely brass piece in it too. I just think it’s a goodie!
How would you argue the industry has changed since you entered it; have things like streaming and social media altered the way you as a band choose to release new music?
Yeah well, it’s changed massively. I mean when we first started, streaming was just sort of coming into play. I think in the Britpop era there was just money flying around. I was speaking to my mate, he said ‘if you were around in the Britpop era, you’d be super rich’ – yeah, thanks for that! Yeah definitely. Record sales are massively down. With every album released, we get told ‘oh yeah, by the way, record sales are down by this percentage, forty percent of that, fifty percent of that, sixty percent of that’, fuck! And yeah, everyone streams now, everybody just expects to listen to music instantly. There’s a lot of fans out there who do want to buy and support the band – they do buy a vinyl, a CD – there’s a load of fans who help you out like that. But yeah, a casual fan will just stream. Why not stream? I stream loads, if I don’t know a band, you can just check it out first. Back in the day as well, for bands, you used to see a tour as something that you wouldn’t even make money on. All the money would be in records. It’s kind of the opposite way round now. You need the live gigs for bands to exist so yeah, touring, festivals, selling merch, it’s the lifeline now. It’s changed massively.
Your shows have always been famous for manic behaviour and outrageous costumes & props, is this something you plan to keep up with the current tour or is it something you’ve decided to move away from?
I think, as the years have gone on, there’s been less and less. I mean we used to be doing headstands and piggybacks and swinging ourselves everywhere. We’re no spring chickens anymore but occasionally it happens when we get too excited. I remember one tour we were flinging each other round, I ended up in the audience and got flung back on a monitor and knackered my ribs! I don’t know if you’ve ever knackered your ribs but you can’t cough, you can’t laugh it hurts so much. No one’s died, I mean Phil jumped off a speaker set once with a brass instrument in his mouth, landed on the instrument, smashed his teeth, cut his jaw open. I think once you do that once, you don’t do it again!
You’re obviously well-established on the UK scene at this point. Are there any up-and-coming acts you enjoy and would recommend?
Yeah, we’ve got Penelope Isles supporting us on all the tour, except Manchester actually, who I really love. They’re from Brighton, we’re really into them. We’re doing our own festival in August up in the Lake District so it’s good, we’re getting to pick loads of bands. There’s a Welsh band called the Book Club who are really cool. Pale Blue Eyes, they’re a band from Totnes who our old manager sort of manages/helps out, they’re really good, they might be supporting us in Manchester. In fact, we’re still looking for a support act in Manchester. Two bands from there we’ve heard about are Blanketman and Document, check them out!
Sea Power play the Albert Hall on Saturday 23rd April. Tickets can be bought via the link here.