Steve Thorne, Redferns British Sea Power abandoned hi-tech recording studios for…
- Posted on Dec 22nd 2010 11:00AM by Eric R. Danton
"That's how it should be," guitarist Martin Noble tells Spinner. "You want to be creative, and it's hard to be creative when you're in a more office-like environment. Sometimes you do need to get away."
Noble graciously sorted through his memories of making each of the band's albums to accompany our exclusive Full CD Listening Party streams.
'The Decline of British Sea Power' (2003)
Although the band had made early demos, sessions for 'The Decline of British Sea Power' marked the first time the musicians had recorded together in a proper studio.
"We were so used to playing together live, we started doing a few songs with just drums and tracks, but it felt a little bit weird," Noble says. "For songs like 'Apologies to Insect Life,' we recorded that live just to get that feeling. It just takes an edge off it when you're recording everything separately."
Making a record also meant learning how to tour.
"I remember those shows were particularly intense," Noble says. "We'd done a few shows in Brighton, but we'd sort of thrown out on tour facing all these strangers. We're really quite shy people, but it was something you had to do. A lot of the performances were based on blind fear."
'Open Season' (2005)
"One of the first things I remember is that we had just been touring for ages," Noble says.
All that time on the road had a direct effect on the sound of the band's second LP.
"It was almost like we had a bit of a headache from playing all this live music and going crazy, and some of the first songs we did were almost delicate and gentle," he says.
British Sea Power also paid more attention earlier in the process to the musical textures that have become a trademark of the band's sound. On the first record, the band had often added those atmospheric elements after the fact. This time, gathered in a converted barn in Sussex, England, they wrote together with a better idea of how they wanted the finished songs to sound.
"When we were writing these, the textures were coming straight away," Noble says.
There was also more delegating in putting songs together.
"It seemed like with the first record, we were all playing these parts together and working things out, and with the second record, it was like different people were overseeing different songs and adding parts," he says. "It seemed like we had to do it a lot quicker, which every band does. It can take three or four years to write that first record, and then with people putting records out every couple years or so, one of those years is touring, so you pretty much have a year to write a new record."
'Do You Like Rock Music?' (2008)
The barn experience was so positive that British Sea Power wanted something similar for their third LP.
"We decided that we liked going away and holing ourselves up somewhere, and we wanted to do it in a much more creative way than just go to a studio and record and mix straight away," Noble says.
This time, the band repaired to a cottage in the New Forest, letting inspiration follow its own course.
"We had just been mucking around and making joke songs and learning TV theme tunes and stuff like that," Noble says, laughing. "One of the jams that came out was the music to 'Canvey Island,' so it was worth its weight in gold doing things like that."
From there, the band relocated to an abandoned water tower infested by pigeons -- "It was really disgusting," Noble says -- and developed the songs the musicians had started at the New Forest. With the songs in hand, the band set up in Montreal to record with producer Howard Bilerman, but the sessions didn't yield the sound the band was looking for.
"The plan was to record it all live and that's how it would be, but when we went to mix it, we weren't really happy with it," Noble says. "It didn't have that textural stuff we needed. It was missing the magic, the ethereal sounds you get that make you think of other worlds and let you drift off."
British Sea Power reconvened in a wing of a disused military base to tweak some of the tunes, then mixed them in a studio outside Prague in the Czech Republic.
"We were just trying to find a way to get really far away," Noble says. "We wanted to make the whole thing an adventure and hopefully the music would end up reflecting that."
'Man of Aran' (2009)
After gallivanting around the globe while making its third album, British Sea Power wanted to stay put for a while.
"This time, instead of going from place to place, we thought we'd do something different, because we knew if we did, we'd get different results," Noble says.
The band's stationary location was a farmhouse in England's South Downs region, where the musicians spent 18 months. First, they recorded a score for the DVD release of the 1934 movie 'Man of Aran' as a test run for a new, non-soundtrack album that turned into 'Valhalla Dancehall.'
"Some of it, we just put the film up and tried to make something up there and then with the mood and the action happening on screen," Noble says. "Then we had little bits of music lying around that we hadn't formed into songs, and they seemed to be really suitable for the film, so we worked on those."
The cinematic scope carried over into 'Valhalla Dancehall.'
"There are a few songs that are very epic and windswept and go along at their own pace. It's a lot more mood-based than a verse-chorus thing," Noble says.
Those projects also marked the first time British Sea Power had done its own recording, which meant the musicians had something else to think about besides writing and performing the songs.
"That has its advantages and disadvantages," Noble says. "It can be a bit of a pain setting it all up, but it also means you can stick microphones anywhere to try things."