Q&A: Yan From British Sea Power Talks a New British Invasion, Aging and Forces of Nature

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Three years have passed since British Sea Power toured the states in support of their 2008 release, Do You Like Rock Music? That's longer than the life of a lot of bands.

The time away wasn't for naught, though: The band regrouped and worked on the follow-up to the best album of their careers. The result, while not as powerful as Rock Music, features elements of all the band's past efforts rolled into one. Called Valhalla Dancehall, the January release offers the melancholy of The Decline Of British Sea Power, the pop of Open Season, and the raw energy of Do You Like Rock Music?.

It's not exactly the result that the band set out to reach, though, as I found out this morning.

Earlier today, in advance of the band's stop through town for a gig at The Loft tomorrow night, I caught up with Scott Wilkinson, also known as Yan. In our interview, Wilkinson discussed a range of topics, including a wildfire that caused the band to cancel their Marfa show earlier this week and what a collaboration between British Sea Power and The Flaming Lips would sound like.

How's the tour going?
It's good now. It's nice to be down in the sun.

I was watching your tour diary video and it looked like you had a dismal run up in the Northeast.
Yeah, I don't mind the snow, but I've been through the winter in England, and I don't need any more of it, really. We've got the opposite down here with the droughts and everything.

Yeah, and you had to cancel your Marfa show due to a wildfire, right?
It just looked impossible. The promoter canceled it. We were still up for it if it was possible, but they said it wasn't.

You've done a lot of songs in the past about nature and disaster. Do you have a song in the works about this wildfire yet?
[Laughs.] We saw a bit of it when we were driving. We've been accused of bringing the rain everywhere we've been so far. I thought maybe we should have gone and brought some with us.

What have you done with the extra time off?
Well, we had our actual first day off yesterday. All the other days off have involved 12-hour drives. I don't think that counts as a day off, really. We played swimming pool games. [Laughs.] Most of the band went out and had fun, but I ended up staying in and watched a program about Basquiat the painter. It was pretty good.

I saw you guys play at South By Southwest a few years ago, and it was quite energetic. And the first time I saw you at SXSW in 2004, it was insane, too.
[Laughs.] Oh, was that the crazy one?

Yeah, but it seems like the music and the live performance has mellowed out a little over the years. Why is that?
Well, we're getting older. We're still energetic, but it's slightly more focused. You get times like that time back in SXSW -- I don't know what got into Martin, he just had some kind of panic and before you know it he's climbing up things and almost decapitating people with the guitar. Thing is, he's a nice fellow. He means well. I just don't know what happened. I don't mind that that is less likely to happen nowadays, but we play music better so it's a trade off.

It's probably better for insurance purposes too.
It's better for everyone.

Valhalla Dancehall resembles Do You Like Rock Music? the most out of all your past albums, but there are hints of The Decline Of British Sea Power as well. Was that on purpose?
No, it was kind of the opposite of what we intended. We didn't have any ideas about what it was going to sound like. We just made puns about how we were going to do it, and we gave ourselves time to sort of experiment and do what we wanted. And we recorded all in a farmhouse, just ourselves, instead of a studio. It was really just up to us what happened. But, yeah, I think you're right, I think some of the arrangements are a lot like the first one. It has its sort of ups and downs and more scope to it, but it sounds closer to Do You Like Rock Music?

I think the way Valhalla is different from the other albums is that it's kind of a party album. Were you trying to get away from your more serious past?
You don't want to repeat yourself too much. It's kind of a party in the way that people in a J.G. Ballard book might have a party, where there is just sort of a psychosis element, and a sort of escape from reality. Seems like that's the way things were at the time in England. Everyone sort of had this stupid boom of the bubble, and had to face up to reality. In these situations, the first response is often to escape into some kind of fantasy, and I think we are no different.

This is your fifth record, and it seems like you have been working hard to break through in the U.S. for some time. Has it been a struggle?
I just take it as it comes. I have no problem with aiming for success, as I'd be happy to have more of it. We have worked hard, but I can't say we've gone crazy. It's been three years since we've been here. But we've been here quite a few times. It's kind of funny; you see yourself growing in some areas, but you can't really judge the continent as a whole, so I can't really say we've got more popular. [Laughs.] After the initial people getting to know you a bit, we've sort of held steady more or less. It seems like people have less time and money for concerts at the minute.

Seems like a British invasion happen every ten years or so in music, but BSP have existed in between the most recent ones. Would breaking into the U.S. be easier if there were other bands that Americans were fascinated with as well?
I don't know. We've never really fit in with any of the trends coming out of England. We've just survived alongside 'em. I kind of like that, really. We've followed our own path a bit. We've had a lot of fun and paid a few bills. There's always these massive new trends in England, and they only last a month or so -- maybe six months, if it's a long one. I've enjoyed having the time to develop a bit, and create different albums. We're not finished yet; we're on a slow ascendancy. [Laughs.]

What are some other British acts that we Americans should look out for?
At the minute, I think music's a bit confused in England. I think something's going to happen soon, basically. But I don't think there's any clear frontrunners. We're in between stages, which is normally when something interesting happens. I haven't really been paying much attention to it, myself.

When you initially came to the U.S. years ago, I vaguely remember some association with the Flaming Lips. Can you explain?
We did a big tour with them in England. We shared management with them years ago -- World's Fair -- but we've never played with them over here. We almost did, but it never quite happened. We're doing a show in England with them soon. It was an idea that we came up with, and we've got them involved to headline it, where there's a giant radio, like an astronomy telescope, and we're doing like a one-day festival. It's quite cool. We can send messages, and Flaming Lips seemed like a band that would be into that. And we'd both have a battle of the bands.

Flaming Lips have been doing a series of collaborations with other bands. What would a collaboration between Flaming Lips and British Sea Power sound like?
It would be really interesting because I have no idea what would happen.

Abi Fry is the newest addition to the band. Does she keep you on your best behavior when you're on the road?
I think she slightly balances things out a bit. I mean, we're not that bad. On the one hand, we do sometimes end up on month-long benders, but we're not exactly Ozzy Osbourne either. We might drink a lot or whatever, but we're nice to people. We're not all fighting and things.

You guys are pretty nice to people. When I saw you at that crazy SXSW show, there was a guy touring with the band dressed in full Australian outback garb. And he was buying everyone in the audience beer. I think he bought our group like three rounds.
He wasn't a Welsh fellow was he?

I think so.
Yeah, he's on tour with us again this time. I'll make sure to send him over with a beer.

British Sea Power perform on Thursday, April 14, at The Loft.

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