The rise and rise of Melbourne’s British India has been something to behold. They’ve gone from their first release in 2005, the rough and ready Counter Culture EP, to 2007’s incendiary debut Guillotine, and from feted Triple J acts to top five chart placings with second album Thieves. We stole some time with guitarist Nic Wilson and drummer Matt O’Gorman about the genesis and recording of Thieves, the importance of recognition by peers and their humble beginnings covering Blur songs.
The Zoo, Brisbane mid 2008
The Zoo is filled to capacity with a sea of teens and twentysomethings. There’s no dominant subculture as indie kids, alternative rockers, normals and even emos all mull around the packed venue. British India enter and swiftly propel themselves into a new song and the crowd metaphorses into one visceral organism. In all my years of seeing acts at the Zoo I’ve never witnessed a crowd lose it quite like this. British India are white heat raging. Even near the outer edge of the main viewing area, normally a safe haven, hands are thrust upwards while bodies are bumped and grinded. If we get out without a fracture or major abrasion we’ll be doing very well.
An hour earlier Webcuts was in the decidedly insalubrious backstreet of the Zoo waving our horribly out of date tape recorder under the faces of one half of the band, uber-talented lead guitarist Nic Wilson and staunchly reliably drummer Matt O’Gorman (singer/gutarist Declan Melia and bassist Will Drummond are the other half). Thieves was being recorded in Sydney but the band was implementing the commendable work ethic of playing gigs in various parts of the country during their weekends “off”. Released thirteen months after Guillotine, Thieves would refine that album’s garage rock and indie rock features by developing the band’s pop hooks without sacrificing any of their energy or anger. Melia’s lyric writing would also evolve displaying surprising maturity and depth with topics of celebrity, commercialism, youth culture and suicide not your average choices for most 22 year old songwriters.
British India’s perma-touring and Triple J approved recordings were rewarded when Thieves reached number five on the Australian charts and garnered an ARIA award nomination for best independent release (they lost to Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu). Having recently released the second single from Thieves, the thunderous “God is Dead, Meet the Kids”, the band are again in the midst of an all encompassing Australian tour which will also take them back to England for a second round after sold out shows late last year. While their band name will do them no favours when dealing with the notoriously fickle UK press they at least have the perseverance, songs and looks to stand a fighting chance.
Back to the alley…
As with Guillotine, Harry Vanda was once again in production chair for the new album. Was that an automatic decision?
Nic: I think it was an unspoken decision, especially with the second album coming out so quickly after the first. We couldn’t imagine working with anyone else.
Matt: He’s just the best producer, especially for us. We get on so well.
Nic: I think just because the first and second albums were quite a close progression, it wouldn’t have made sense having someone else do it. Thieves is a continuation of the first album.
Are any of the songs on Thieves cuts that didn’t make Guillotine?
Nic: No. We only put one previously released track on Guillotine because it was only ever on released on vinyl. So we thought we may as well chuck it on there. We don’t like when bands do an EP and then the entire EP ends up on the album. We just like to write really. There was plenty of stuff lying around. We believe that if was good enough to be included on the first album it should’ve been there and if it wasn’t good enough then it shouldn’t have been.
The saying goes that bands have their whole lives to write their debut album but only six months to write their second. Was that true for British India?
Nic: That’s true for anybody. We matured a lot in that year and we had time to write what I like to think of as, which is a cliché too, a mature album.
Matt: It certainly helped playing live a lot. We’re playing live almost every weekend. We never really had that break we’re it would be just writing. We’re always sort of playing so we’re always fresh with ideas.
How does the songwriting process work, do songs start off as jams?
Nic: Normally one of us will come with a fragment and we’ll keep kicking it around until it starts looking like a song really.
You’re obviously a band which utilises riffs a great deal. How important is it to get a good riff going?
Nic: Very important normally with us. That’s usually the fragment. It can also be that the melody comes first and the riff has to come later, which I normally find a lot harder. It’s a lot easier creating a riff than having to create a riff. Riffs are pretty important but not as important as melody. We believe in melody above everything else.
At what point are the lyrics written?
Nick: Declan likes to do them the very last thing, the night before he records them. He just likes them to be as relevant as possible when they are finally captured. Normally Dec and I are the last people in Sydney when we’re recording, so we normally kick around ideas the week or night before. I like doing it that way.
Do you think coming from Melbourne has influenced your songwriting? Would the songs be much different if you came from Brisbane instead?
Matt: I think it did at the start but as we’ve kept playing…
Nic: I don’t know. I don’t think we think of ourselves as Melbourne songwriters or anything like that. It is true that whatever we’re surrounded by does influence who you are and who we are influences our songwriting. Maybe if we were brought up in Brisbane we’d be different people who would be writing different music but that’s a big hypothetical. I’d like to imagine it doesn’t affect us but it might.