British Sea Power on “Let the Dancers Inherit the Party”

Always Going Their Own Way

Apr 21, 2017 Photography by Mayumi Hirata Issue #60 - Father John Misty
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Fourteen years have passed since the release of British Sea Power's debut album, The Decline of British Sea Power, and the band remain as resolutely eccentric as ever. They continue to play odd venues, draw inspiration from a ridiculously wide range of influences, and turn to the unexpected during shows.

As a live act they have a fearsome reputation. It's not uncommon to find them wandering around the audience banging drums, or wrestling stuffed animals on stage. Recent years have also seen the now six-piece branch off musically into hypnotic soundtracks and the use of a brass band to re-record a number of tracks.

For all the diversions, the release of Let the Dancers Inherit the Party four years after their last regular studio album (2013's Machineries of Joy) is a welcome one, returning the Brighton-based group closer to the enticingly offbeat energy of their debut. Fist-pumping, buoyant indie rock and leftfield intellectual references find them in a confident mood, buttressed by the dreamier sound deployed in their soundtracks. Co-songwriter and bassist Neil Hamilton Wilkinson (one word names are the style in the band: he goes by Hamilton) provides blunt tongue-in-cheek reasoning for heading back to the studio. "Gotta eat right?"

For their sixth regular full-length, British Sea Power turned to crowd-funding to finance the project. Wilkinson is delighted with how it worked out. "We unfortunately aren't a band with a big pot of money," he says. "We offered the 'pay up front, get the stuff later' idea, and luckily people who like Sea Power are lovely enough to trust us to deliver."

During the interlude between albums, British Sea Power put out two soundtracks (2013's From the Sea to the Land Beyond and 2014's Happiness) and the brass recordings (2015's Sea of Brass), but Wilkinson doesn't see them bleeding into each other. "We have always been a multiple-headed beast," he says. "Soundtracks allow some of the more peaceful ambient stuff to be out there. I don't think it affects the regular stuff much, but it allows us to breathe slowly for a spell."

Wilkinson doesn't like to categorize just what it is he describes as their regular output either. "We never really tried to define a sound; others do that for us. Like pigeons we try to stay free to munch on any crumbs of beauty we find in this strange world."

It's certainly true British Sea Power have never been confined to narrow interests. "We've always enjoyed the right to roam through different musical landscapes; from Czech folk stories to heavy metal," Wilkinson reflects. There's a lack of pretension in their intellectual pursuits as well. "It's just a reasonable and healthy interest in art and different cultures. We've been lucky enough to travel around a lot of the world which is a huge eye opener and we've always been open to new things and new cultures."

Let the Dancers Inherit the Party continues this path, mixing the distant grinding guitars of "Don't Let the Sun Get in the Way" with a toe-tapping anthem such as "Keep on Trying (Sechs Freunde)" and the more radio friendly "Bad Bohemian." The album also draws heavily on German artist Kurt Schwitters, who moved through Dadaism to Surrealism, poetry, and sound and installation art. References are laced in via lyrics, eclectic musical choices, and even the artwork. "Some things like Schwitters stick with us, partly because he made weird noises we enjoy, and partly because he spent a lot of his life in the Lake District where some of us sprouted up into men of sorts."

Wilkinson grew up in Kendal in the Lake District in England with his brother Jan Scott Wilkinson, who goes by Yan and takes lead vocals in the band. Although they moved to Brighton on the south coast, the Lake District stayed with them. "It's hard to forget the immense awe of places like Hellvellyn, or the gentle winding lanes of South Lakeland. There's nowhere quite like it. It's a place to go to regenerate the primal batteries," he says, making it clear the landscapes of his youth infiltrate the music. "Being brought up and living in fairly remote or rural places has given us all a love of the wilds of nature which has affected our music and lyrics, but mainly subconsciously."

The soundtracks they've created have been for films far from urban life but British Sea Power have been careful to avoid getting stuck in any one area. The new record contains inspiration from more than just Schwitters, also showcasing songs about American public relations pioneer Ivy Lee and the International Space Station, amongst many diverse influences. Next they will jump off in another direction. "We don't want to get typecast. We are now doing music for a futuristic Estonian computer game," Wilkinson reveals.

Scoring Baltic games should come as no surprise. It's in keeping with the experimentation British Sea Power has continued to display since that 2003 debut. If restless curiosity remains, time has changed them, as Wilkinson acknowledges. "It was always life and death at the start. We had a youthful invincibility in the early days, and a scorn of anything half-arsed. Like a good Madeira wine, we've got a bit mellower as we ripened, though a top layer of aromatic scum is forming."

[Note: This article originally appeared in the digital version (for tablets and smart phones) of Under the Radar's Spring 2017 Issue (April/May/June 2017). This is its debut online.]

 

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