British Sea Power finds freedom in farmhouse recording sessions
You would be forgiven for mistaking British Sea Power’s latest single, “ Who’s in Control”, for a rabble-rousing call to action. With its rock-anthem guitars and scream-along chorus, it sure sounds like one. And then there’s the video, in which a group of freshly scrubbed 20-somethings participates in a riot (via footage shot in Toronto during last year’s G20 summit protests), followed by a hedonistic, clothing-optional house party. There is blood, there is fire, and there are lithe young bodies, with a killer song underscoring it all.
“There’s so much in the world to be annoyed with at the moment, you know,” British Sea Power singer-guitarist Scott “Yan” Wilkinson says when the Straight reaches him en route to Cleveland in the band’s dodgy van. “You can look left or right or anywhere and find that something daft is going on. People have called it a protest song. But it isn’t, really. If anything, it was inspired by reading a lot of J. G. Ballard books, about people going mental in gated-off communities. Super-Cannes, and things like that, where the violence and everything all turns into some kind of entertainment, and they all start doing porn and stuff, because they’re bored.”
Thankfully, British Sea Power itself has never spiralled into that sort of madness. The six-piece band—which includes Yan’s brother Hamilton on bass, guitar, and vocals; Martin Noble on guitar; Matthew Wood on drums; cornetist-keyboardist Phil Sumner; and violist Abi Fry—has been known to cloister itself in out-of-the-way places for extended periods of time. To make its newest album, Valhalla Dancehall, the group decamped to a farmhouse in the countryside an hour away from its home base of Brighton, England.
Valhalla Dancehall is a fine entry into the BSP canon, building upon the group’s signature brand of off-centre but always melodic rock and even taking it in some welcome new directions. “Stunde Null”, for instance, is shot through with bursts of noise-rock guitar, while “Mongk II” sets shoegazing atmospherics to a steady krautrock pulse. It’s a great-sounding production that stands up to the sonic quality of any studio recording.
Yan admits that he and his bandmates could have captured the same sounds just about anywhere, but he says there are other benefits to sequestering oneself in a live-in recording facility. “I think psychologically it affects you, and it affects your working patterns and that sort of thing,” he asserts. “In studios, there’s often a lot of people there, and you’ve got set hours and that sort of thing. When you’re in a farmhouse on your own, you can have three-day benders where you can go pretty much nonstop. There’s all different kinds of ways to work. You can be on your own for quite a long time and then the whole band turns up. You can set your own rules a bit more. You could easily get lazy, I suppose.”
This, it should be noted, was definitely not an issue in Yan’s case.
“I sort of went the opposite way,” the frontman says. “I’d do 12- and 15-hour recording stints, because once I get going I forget about everything else and just sort of go off on one that way.”