British Sea Power makes recording an adventure

Making a record is usually a fairly mundane process. You book time at a studio, set up your gear, and start recording, spending days, weeks, or months indoors until you feel like your brain is going to melt. But when it came time to make its third album, Do You Like Rock Music?, British Sea Power had a different idea, as bassist Hamilton explains when the Straight reaches him by phone after a gig at Hamburg’s Molotow nightclub. The Brighton, England–based band had no plans to do things in a conventional fashion.

“That was one of the main objectives when we set out, to try and do as much of it ourselves as we could, and just have a bit of an adventure and get out of London,” says Hamilton (real name: Neil Wilkinson), who shares vocal duties with his guitar-playing brother Yan (aka Scott Wilkinson). “We’d done the first two records in London, and none of us like London, so it suddenly dawned on us that it’d be slightly daft to do it in London. We went to Ipswich, to this water tower, which was just a derelict concrete structure. It used to be for collecting water as a reserve, but now it’s completely defunct, just a barren, squat-ish kind of building. So we just camped down there for a month, and wrote a lot of the tunes there, actually. That’s where it started.”

And where it ended up was the Czech Republic, where the Wilkinsons, along with guitarist Martin Noble and drummer Matthew Wood, mixed Do You Like Rock Music? In between were stops in Montreal and at Tregantle Fort, a 19th-century military structure built to defend Cornwall from the French navy.

The result of all this international travel is a rock ’n’ roll album with a suitably epic feel, full of arena-sized offerings such as the impassioned “Waving Flags”, which features choral backing vocals, a searing guitar solo, and the kind of fist-pumping chorus that demands to be shouted from the cheap seats. The anthemic quality of much of Do You Like Rock Music? has earned British Sea Power comparisons—some favourable and some derisive—to U2, but Hamilton insists his band is hardly that ambitious.

“We never really set out with a plan, y’see,” he explains. “It’s just that we knew we’d like to make a few songs which would make people want to clap and wave their hands about. But I can’t imagine it in a stadium, to be honest. I just don’t think we’re that kind of band. Too complicated, really. There’s too much confusion in our music for it to ever fill a stadium.”

True enough. Take British Sea Power’s current single, “No Lucifer”, which contains the puzzling, yet oddly rousing lyrics: “To Sodom I will go/Not to Megiddo/Several Lucifers come/We can beat them all.” Hamilton says he can’t explain precisely what the song is about, but he will offer that it deals with the primal conflict between good and evil. And girls’ bicycles. And the late British pro-wrestling champ Shirley “Big Daddy” Crabtree.

“That’s what we try and do in songs—put things in there, little details, the same as you get in a lot of films or classical music,” he says. “You can listen to the record again and again and you hear different things or get different feelings out of it.”

British Sea Power plays the Plaza Club on Wednesday (March 5).