It’s not a mere name and British Sea Power’s quest for travel is nothing to be sneezed at. While the band was gearing up for their latest album Valhalla Dancehall, which marks a decade of their existence, they gleaned inspiration from visiting a few far off places, plunking down guitars to play in remote locales such as atop the Great Wall of China and inside the Arctic Circle.

These were but a few of the adventures that led to their latest set of mood-swinging, monumental and challenging songs that range from grand overtures and experimental tone-shifters to sweet, earnest ballads. Singer/guitarist Scott Wilkinson recently chatted about the studio wizardry that went into creating the album, while also envisioning a mega dance party with an unusual VIP who would be among the dream guests celebrating their tenth anniversary as the almighty British Sea Power.

Did you experiment with different studio settings and different equipment when  recording Valhalla Dancehall?

We continued [by using] an approach that had developed from demos to b-sides and recording ourselves more and more often until we did, some which got onto Do You Like Rock Music?. We decided to push on through with this way of doing things and so moved into an isolated farmhouse in the countryside. For a few months, we experimented recording and writing and testing the set up. Then Graham Sutton, (who we’ve worked with several times), joined us and set up a vast array of digital equipment. He would work upstairs in the room of doom.

Meanwhile, instruments and singing would be taking place in the main rooms or even the kitchen, pig shed or garden. Added to this, Neil [Hamilton Wilkinson] was also recording for months on a Scottish Isle. There wasn’t really a plan. There was a kind of cyclical process between recording and mixing. We basically just pushed on, adding, revising, changing, but mostly adding.

How long did all this take and how many songs did you create in the process?

After about ten months, we calculated we would could fill around 5 CDs with music. So brutally, we culled and chopped and then added more until the only place we could imagine containing this array of songs would have to be something grand and with many rooms, hence, Valhalla Dancehall. Some of the songs we didn’t use we put on the Zeus EP. By the end, it seemed like what was fun, but slow and difficult, was becoming quick until songs would go from scratch to finished in no time. Several songs came like this just in the last month or two, filling in what was missing from the whole thing. I hope it’s all come together as a whole in the end, as it was good working out there in the quiet, even when we ran out of oil and the temperatures plummeted.

The album is even more expansive and eclectic than your prior releases. Did your travels to faraway places like China or the Arctic Circle open you up to new ideas for this work?

I think it’s true that travel broadens you mentally, but I’m not sure if this gets into the music, or maybe it does, I’m not sure. There was enough expanse in the Sussex skies passing over the nearby downs. It was peaceful making all that noise in the quiet for weeks at a time, and then you would have bursts of adventure like playing up by the Arctic in 24-hour daylight in a tiny church on a tiny island, or a weekend of festival frivolity.

Did working on the Man of Aran soundtrack also get your epic soundtrack blood flowing for songs like “Once More Now” on the new album?

Quite possibly. That song was mostly Neil’s work. I can’t really take much credit there, [but] I can see some similarities. It seems sort of bleak yet reassuring, or something like that. I don’t even know how he makes some of the noises I heard when they were mixing. There’s some very strange stuff going on in there.

Does it get easier to write songs now that BSP has been together all this time?

It’s easier in practical ways and we play pretty easily together these days, but of course it’s important to always try and do things afresh as if you don’t know how.

Is there a guest vocalist on the song “Baby” that comes in at midpoint in the disc? It really stands out– quite a lovely one to bring the pace down between all the epic swells.

Do you mean Abi [Fry], a girl’s voice? Yep, she plays viola and other bits, but has started adding her quite strange and lovely voice more often to our songs. Often she’s less exposed though, and harder to pick out on songs like “Luna” and “Bear” off the EP.

Have the ten years of being a band flown by for you?  Are you going to hold a great fête to celebrate your BSP decade?

Well, it seems like a very brief moment, but then I think off all the people, places, experiences and wonder how they can fit in it. they’ve been an odd ten years, but I wouldn’t swap them. Maybe we’ll have a fête that turns into a dance party at night.

Who would be some of your top choices of historical figures, living or dead, that you’d invite to the party?

I’m not sure. I don’t know if it’s good to meet heroes, etc. I sat next to Frank Black once, [who was] having noodles in Japan. I was a big big fan, especially when I first got into music, but I thought it best not to ruin his noodles with my interference. He seemed to be enjoying them. I think I’d invite the WikiLeaks guy, forgot his name [Julian Assange --ed.]. But he’s either very brave or foolish, pissing off all those governments, and they seem to be giving him a right bashing. Hopefully he’s innocent about those rape accusations though, otherwise, I wouldn’t invite him.

Top photo by Dan Dennison

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sentimentalist. Sentimentalist said: British Sea Power: The Dance of a Decade Begins [...]

  2. Great that BSP is still kicking! Thanks for the story.