May 1, 2008

May Day is always day of most greatest celebration!

Well, it's that fair day of glorifying the Soviet Blogosphere. Since we don't have any tanks to roll through the square, or any terrifying bombers to cast imposing shadows on the giddy throng, we bring you...


l-r: Martin Noble, Yan Wilkinson, Hamilton Wilkinson, Matthew Wood

I caught up with guitarist Martin Noble of British Sea Power after the band's The Rock-bringing set at last weekend's Norman Music Festival, in which the band shared the bill with The Polyphonic Spree, Chainsaw Kittens, The Evangelicals, Colourmusic, and others. He had plenty to say about the show, his band's swell new album Do You Like Rock Music?, Cracker Barrel, and the perils of being a scaffold-climbing plant-man in the United Kingdom:

Slam Dunk Stalin: You guys just inaugurated the Norman Music Festival. How was the experience?

Martin Noble (guitar): Brilliant. I liked the stage down on the end of the street. It was a lot like this festival we played in London one time on Denmark St., it was open-air and free. That’s a lot of fun.

SDS: So you like playing the outdoor shows?

M: Well, yeah, except the one bad thing is you can’t always tell when your guitar pedals are on with the sunlight. But other than that…

SDS: Is Norman the smallest U.S. town you’ve ever played?

M: Yeah.

SDS: Very cool. Was the crowd reaction on the level you’re used to in this part of the world?

M: Yeah, when it’s outdoors and free and everyone’s a little drunk, it’s just a great party atmosphere.

SDS: I know you guys are friendly with The Flaming Lips. Did you run into any members on their turf?

M: No, and we had to leave the day Wayne got back to town. They’ve got this big circus tent that they’re taking to the festivals this year to play in, and I guess they played a show in Wayne’s backyard, but we missed out on that. I’m sure someone called the cops about the noise.

SDS: Speaking of cops… and people… you almost kicked me in the face riding around on [some guy’s] shoulders at the show Saturday.

M: Really? Well, that’s a big ALMOST, yeah?

SDS: Right, it’s what makes it a “funny concert story” and not a “’dammit, Martin!’ story”. But about that, do promoters ever tell you guys to tone it down live because someone might get hurt?

M: Sometimes, certainly. The worst thing like that was during this show in the UK with Polyphonic Spree – that’s how we met them, at that show – well, after our set, I was a little “out of it” and the guys taped all these branches to my arms and so I climbed up the scaffolding while Polyphonic Spree was playing and was waving at them, and they were waving back. But then when I got off the scaffolding security got me in a headlock immediately and threw me out. I was like “I’m in the band! I’m in the band!” And nobody believed me! (laughs)

SDS: Like you were just some random plant-man climbing the scaffold?

M: (laughs) Yeah!

SDS: Do they have that problem a lot or something?

M: (laughs) Right, right. But then when we played with Polyphonic Spree on Saturday, the keyboard player took out his laptop and showed me his screensaver, and it’s me up on the rigging with the branches taped to my arms.

SDS: So, about your album… “Do you like rock music?” definitely sounds like a rhetorical question when you listen to it. Was that the intention? Was it an honest question that you guys were trying to answer?

M: It’s really left open. We don’t like having single meanings to things and the title stuck on a few levels. We’re trying to bring new things into rock music, you know, with the plants on stage and stuff like that, trying to make rock music what we want it to be. Plus, you know, our other albums have had kind of pretentious titles – “The Decline and Fall of British Sea Power”, that sounds REAL serious – so we thought this would be a nice name for the album, very straightforward.

SDS: So it was kind of a riff on your other two album titles?

M: It was, I suppose, in addition to all of that.

SDS: I should ask about the lyrics. Does Yan [Wilkinson, vocals and guitar] do all of the writing or is it more collaborative?

M: Well, Yan and Hamilton [Wilkinson, bass and vocals] sing all the songs on the new album and they usually write what they sing, though sometimes they help each other out.

SDS: It seems like there’s a lot of literary and historical allusions in the songs. Do they read a lot on the road?

M: Yeah, they have these books and when they get a though they just sort of jot it down. I know back home, they listen to a lot of the science and historical programs on [BBC] Radio Four. BBC Four broadcasts these stories and, for instance, they did two stories on Canvey Island F.C. and what happened in 1953 in I think the same week, and they definitely wrote that stuff into “Canvey Island”. It’s really quite interesting.

SDS: You guys have had a really big year so far: you did Letterman, you did Noise Pop, you did South-By-Southwest. Does it feel like things are blowing up, or is it just another progression?

M: It’s another progression. We’re not one of those bands that’s going to “blow up,” I don’t think – not like we’ll have one song on the radio. We just pick up more fans with each album, which I like so far. I don’t think we’re ever going to be Celine Dion.

SDS: Well, thank God you won’t be Celine Dion (laughs).

M: But wouldn’t that be a brilliant world, if instead of Celine Dion being everywhere, it was all the bands you like?

SDS: I think part of the fun of liking a band like British Sea Power is it’s kind of like a cool thing that not everyone might know about. And if they do find out, and like it, it’s because they think it’s quality music and not just that it’s everywhere.

M: Well, still, I think it would be brilliant if all the bands you like were big instead of Celine Dion.

SDS: This is – what, your fourth U.S. tour?

M: Sixth, I believe.

SDS: Does touring America still feel kind of alien to you?

M: Well, this is the longest tour we’ve ever done. We’re here three months. But yeah, I mean, we’re always getting used to little differences in the language and things, expressions we don’t recognize. And from state to state there’s such a different attitude. But I guess since we’re here so long this time it feels like we’re a part of it and not just touring through, so that helps. I used to get mad at truck stops because there’s no fucking fruit ANYWHERE.

SDS: I know! Everything they sell is either made of meat or sugar.

M: Right, and so I was like, “where can I get a banana?” But now they have these Naked juices and things, so it’s easier to eat healthy on the road.

SDS: And when you’re on the road, how do you guys entertain yourselves?

M: Well, we have a DVD player in the van so we watch movies… we do these exercises, which we call “vannercize”, to try to stay in good shape and everything. Oh, and any time we see a Cracker Barrel out the window we yell “CRAAAAACKER BAAAAAARRELL” and we get a good laugh out of that.

SDS: You must yell that a lot in this part of the world.

M: Yeah, I notice that.

SDS: I’m pretty sure the Cracker Barrel image came from slavery…

M: Really?!

SDS: Yeah, unless I’m wrong, they started out as this really down-home restaurant chain, only the whole “country” thing was tied to images of the antebellum South and so they had caricatures of African-Americans up on the walls and stuff. And then, in about 10 years in the 1970’s, that became really un-PC and they had to take it down.

M: (laughs) That’s crazy. I wouldn’t think if you walked into Cracker Barrel…

SDS: Yeah, you won’t see, like, replica yokes for slaves up on the walls.

M: That might make yelling it funnier.

SDS: Now, was there a conscious thought process on Rock Music to make it sound big and epic, or would consider it more an elaboration on the other records’ sounds?

M: I think it’s an elaboration. There are songs on the first two albums, you know, that have those big choruses and things. It’s kind of like…

You know, bands from cities tend to play really angular, kind of straightforward, tight rock. Bands from London and Detroit and all that. Well, some of the guys in the band are from the Lake District in southwest England, where there’s these big spaces with mountains and lakes and things. So these big, open spaces that sound kind of grandiose… that’s just the sound of where we came from. Like, Wordsworth, the poet – he was from the Lake District. He tried to do that with all his poetry about the countryside.

SDS: Does it seem like it’s translating well live?

M: Yeah, we’ve got lots of reverb pedals (laughs)

We were rehearsing and writing in these big towers back home, like, 30 meters tall and made of concrete, and we got great reverb [on the demos] and so when we went into the studio, we tried to get the record to sound kind of like that.

SDS: It seems like there’s a lot of positive buzz on the album lately. Is it meeting your expectations?

M: Yeah. We didn’t have massive expectations, you know, but we always hope we don’t bomb.

SDS: I meant more along the lines of “is this a pleasant surprise?”

M: Sure. You always start off with low expectations and hope for the best (laughs). Like, with the first album, we had no idea what to expect. And then as you put out more albums, you hope that people who bought the last record will buy this one, and you’ll attract more people.

SDS: It would be hard to consider this album a critical disappointment, anyway, huh?

M: Absolutely.

SDS: Okay, since we’re winding up here… what’s your best tour story so far from this trip?

M: It’s not really exciting, but there was this day off we had in Florida and we went down to the beach. And I saw a sea osprey, which are really rare, and a whole bunch of pelicans were there and they dug a massive hole in the beach. So when the tide came in, we sat in there like it was kind of a Jacuzzi and tried to get some girls to come sit with us, but they didn’t.

SDS: I imagine it’s not usual that girls on the beach in Florida have British guys yelling at them to come sit in a hole in the ground.

M: (laughs) When you put it THAT way…

SDS: “We’re rock stars! We promise!”

***British Sea Power: State Heroes of the Great Patriotic Media Blog***

Unfortunately, due to a bad case of tendinitis for drummer Matthew Wood, the band was teetering on the brink of cancelling their Columbia, MO show when I got ahold of them. However, the band sails bravely on in their trek across the United States, with upcoming dates out the stern:
May 1 Columbia, MO @ Mojo’s w/ The Rosebuds, Jeffrey Lewis* possibly cancelled
May 2 Oxford, MS @ Proud Larry’s w/ The Rosebuds, Jeffrey Lewis
May 3 Nashville, TN @ Mercy Lounge w/ The Rosebuds, Jeffrey Lewis
May 4 Asheville, NC @ Grey Eagle w/ The Rosebuds, Jeffrey Lewis
May 6 Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle w/ The Rosebuds, Jeffrey Lewis
May 7 Charlottesville, VA @ Satelite Ballroom w/ The Rosebuds, Jeffrey Lewis
May 8 Washington, DC @ Black Cat w/ The Rosebuds, Jeffrey Lewis
May 9 Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s w/ The Rosebuds, Jeffrey Lewis
May 10 New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom w/ The Rosebuds, Jeffrey Lewis (sold out)
May 11 Brooklyn @ Music Hall of Williamsburg w/The Rosebuds, Jeffrey Lewis
May 13 Boston, MA @ Paradise w/ The Rosebuds, Jeffrey Lewis
May 15 Montreal, QUE @ La Sala Rossa w/ The Rosebuds
May 16 Toronto, ONT @ Lee’s Palace w/ The Rosebuds
May 17 Buffalo, NY @ The Tralf w/ The Rosebuds
May 18 Pittsburgh, Pa @ Mr Smalls Theatre w/ The Rosebuds
May 19 Hoboken, NJ @ Maxwell’s

Martin getting a lift, 3/21/2008
@ The Triple Rock Social Club
(all photos courtesy of World's Fair Promotions)

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