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Sea Power "I wanted us to capture some of the freewheeling, unhinged energy that we used to have”

We spoke to the art rock veterans formerly known as British Sea Power, who have emerged from a productive lockdown better than ever.

Sea Power Photo credit to Mayumi Hirata

Sea Power.

Mayumi Hirata.

Sea Power have never been a band to shy away from English eccentricity, innovating in the studio with indie rock albums, film scores, and a BAFTA-winning video game soundtrack and in their live shows, which have taken place in venues as diverse as the Mersey ferry, a cafe in Brighton and the Natural History Museum.

Ahead of their return to The Leadmill on 21 April, we spoke to Bury-raised guitarist Noble about trimming 'British' from the band name, Russian anthropologist Alexei Yurchak, growing agapanthus in lockdown and acclaimed new album Everything Was Forever.

Elephant in the room first. You decided a while back to trim ‘British’ from the name to avoid the antagonistic nationalism of these times. What's the reaction been?

We’ve had lots of positive support from DJs like Marc Riley, Stuart Maconie and Shaun Keaveny, presenter Richard Bacon plus Tim Burgess of The Charlatans. Some fans didn’t think it was necessary and they liked the old name, but they understood the reasoning. Many people have gotten used to it now. And some who were put off by the old name are now fans!

At a recent gig, it was reported you changed the “Carpathian” lyric in 'Waving Flags’ after extreme-right eastern European ‘ultra’ football fans of the same name caused hooligan unrest.

To be honest in the thrill of the moment it can be easy to lose your bearings, and truth be told, guitar lines can be messed up and lyrics sometimes forgotten! Another reason, one of many reasons, for me wanting to remove the nationality from our band name was seeing England football hooligans attacking Italian fans during the Euro 2020 final. I will support our country when we compete in any sport, but when it becomes this form of nationalism, its knuckle-dragging idiocy.

Everything Was Forever – can you tell us where the album title came from and the sentiment behind it?

We took the name from the book by Alexei Yurchak, which offers something to the general debate [of these times], which we liked. The album title is maybe a message to appreciate and look after things more. Your loved ones. The ecosystem. Your favourite shoes. Consumer culture is a massive con and a great big shit pit. Are we happy with the way we treat humans, animals, the planet?

Given the band’s diverse living locations, how did you go about writing, rehearsing and recording the LP?

We’d done a lot of writing and had even recorded about half the album before lockdown. We were able to record a lot at home too. At one stage we had finished some songs, but they still had programmed drums on them.

This is completely opposite to how we record normally – drums are always first. It meant Woody was playing to an almost complete song, so he could change the sound of his drum kit and percussion to suit the songs much more than he normally would. It’s always nice to work a bit differently.

Did you take any inspiration from your back catalogue, or was it a case of progression with new thinking and fresh song ideas?

We don’t look back really unless re-learning songs for a tour. However, during lockdown, we did nine ‘Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties’ where we listened back to all our old albums and chatted about memories of those times.

We hadn’t heard some of the songs for over ten years, and it made us get back in touch with Graham Sutton and invite him to produce the new album.

Any examples of how that ‘old magic’ pervaded the LP?

With a song like ‘Doppelganger’ I wanted to capture some of the freewheeling, unhinged energy that we used to have. I think we also rediscovered the softer side to our songs. On our last tour we played ‘The Lonely’ and ‘Heavenly Waters’, beautiful songs with soundscape elements, and we’re looking to include more of this in our shows.

Man of Aran (a film soundtrack) and Disco Elysium (a video game soundtrack) evidence the band's constant diversification. Is it easier or harder to write a 'straight' rock album?

We just continuously write music, some of which is more obviously suited to ‘songs’. I think before the soundtrack work we had a lot of more ambient music that wasn’t being used anywhere, so it was really great to find an outlet for all that.

Lockdown seemed to encourage musicians to explore artists they’d previously not had time to appreciate. Did that happen for you?

Yes, I got into a lot of ambient music, usually piano-based. Jon Hopkins, Bing & Ruth, Ólafur Arnalds, Brian Eno. I also really got into some of the more lovely piano masters like Erik Satie, Arvo Pärt and Claude Debussy.

I found it soothing and optimistic and it helped me enjoy the enormous spans of extra time we had. It allowed me to really appreciate the stillness, and was the perfect soundtrack to watching wildlife in the shifting light of the day.

Talking of nature, the Scottish Wildlife Trust recently used your music for advertising. How did that come about?

They approached us, as there was a Sea Power fan on their team who must have known we couldn’t turn it down. If it’s a cause we strongly believe in, we generally try and get on board if we can. We were really happy with how the collaboration turned out. We always thought our song ‘The Great Skua’ should have a beautiful video like that.

How did you and the rest of the band cope with the enforced isolation of the pandemic?

I had just moved into a rundown house, so I did a lot of renovation. Mostly I was in the garden – I completed a horticulture course and set to work on a natural wildlife garden including some tropical plants such as banana, canna, agapanthus and euphorbia mixed with more native flowers.

Hamilton continued building a recording studio next to his croft, Abi became a tai chi teacher and Woody did some graphic design work.

A new album, a new tour and a new setlist to create. Consensus or constructive debate?

Usually constructive debate, but we all seem to have a clear idea what we want to do. We are very proud of our BAFTA-winning soundtrack to Disco Elysium as much as this album, so we want to offer a bit of both of these things whilst making sure there is enough excitement in there too.

It has been a bit of a reset though. We’re approaching our April tour in a more focused way I think. I’ve noticed I get much more of a rush going on stage now. We are massively looking forward to it.

Finally, Sea Power merch is legendary in its innovation. Who takes the lead on creative development?

It’s mostly Jan and Woody who come up with it. Roy Wilkinson – our ex-manager – and our old shopkeepers Jo and Toby used to come up with ideas too, such as teabags, Brylcream and Kendal mint cake. All classics. Hamilton once hand-sculpted a figurine out of chocolate. It wasn’t a big seller.

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