No longer needing other “cool enough” bands for songwriting pointers, British India are sure of their own talents, frontman Declan Melia tells Brendan Hitchens.
Twenty-seven-year-old British India frontman Declan Melia has just come back from a day of shopping. It's a Friday afternoon and he has spent the past few hours with his record label purchasing clothes for an upcoming photo shoot. By his own admission, it's an awkward situation and something he and his bandmates have never had to do before. But it's all in the name of their fourth record and something the band have been, and will continue to for the next few months, devoting their time and indeed lives to.
The afternoon excursion comes courtesy of Liberation Music, the boutique label set up by Michael Gudinski and recently renowned for their work with The Temper Trap. After much to-ing and fro-ing, what seemed on the surface as a no brainier for both parties was eventually put to paper in what Melia describes as “one of the most in-favour-of-the-band deals ever done.”
The deal will see the group release their next album on the label, for which they are currently demo-ing and recording at Sing Sing studios. Seasoned veterans, they have the process down to a fine art. “We get together in our rehearsal space at [guitarist] Nic's house and tinker out the songs. We have them about seventy per cent done and then in the studio we write the lyrics and finalise the riffs. But the structure of the songs, the melodies and the bones of it are certainly there by the time we go to the studio. We're there one or two days a week,” he says of spending time at the Richmond studio. “It takes a long time, but we enjoy the chilled approach to recording.”
To the casual observer it would appear their approach to both writing and recording is working, with the band never shy of inspiration, having released three albums in the space of three years, and 11 singles in the past seven. They are currently narrowing down the track listing for their next album. “Back in the day it wasn't that we had songs innate in us and they had to come out and be expressed, it was more that we admired these people who happened to write songs and we wanted to be like them. We were rapt on Blur and Nirvana, and we just wanted to be in a band, so you had to write songs to do that. Since then it's become a habit and it's what happens to pay our wage. I never really feel like I have these songs in me that need to come it. It's more I enjoy the craft. We all do. We enjoy what makes a song good, what makes a good hook or a good riff and we enjoy trying to put that together. It's the challenge of that that brings us back to writing.”
What started as a lunchtime jam during high school has developed into a full-time band, a band whose sound, particularly on their new songs, is completely their own. “If you piece together the different points of songwriting that made the Guillotine record it was Bloc Party, The Beatles, The Smiths and Nirvana. They weren't everything we were listening to; just the bands we thought were cool enough to sound like. But now, we're brave and sure of ourselves. All the music we listen to now is more likely to rear its head in little ways,” Melia says, making particular reference to recent recordings from Why?, Bon Iver and Japandroids.
Their sound is punk rock. It's grunge. It's rock'n'roll. It's pop music filled with melodies and it's ideal for radio. To say triple j has embraced British India would be an understatement. The national broadcaster has made each of their three albums their feature record the week of their release. Each album has spawned a single, their debut two in the top half of the Hottest 100 countdowns and current single, I Can Make You Love Me, instantly received high rotation status. Melia is grateful for the support, but admits there is now a certain pressure to create a record appropriate for the station. “I think there is,” he says, without hesitation. “It's handy that we like sounds that are friendly to radio but it's not like we were going to go and record these ten-minute, full-on heavy Blood Brothers-eqsue songs anyway. I think it's more pressure to write songs that are good.” He pauses. “We're very much aware that with triple j they're not going to play something for the sake of the name, or if they do the audience won't embrace it. That pressure is probably a good thing though, otherwise we'd get lazier than what we already are,” he laughs, at his self-deprecating best.
The success of I Can Make You Love Me is an ideal lead up to the album's release, though Melia reveals it wasn't his choice of single. “It was a weird choice because it's not particularly bright. It's quite striking, but not immediately likable – people seem to like it, so maybe I'm wrong about that,” he grins. A teaser of what is to come, Melia hints the song is generally reflective of the album. “It's pretty diverse but I think there will be some other big-sounding, darker songs on it as well.”
The single, at this stage, will sit amongst 11 other songs, to be released before the end of the year. “I think it's all written,” says Melia, with a sense of uncertainty. “We've definitely got enough songs to do it. Because we're working in the studio all the time, the problem is we'll write something new and then something will get knocked off. We've simultaneously got the most terrible attributes to be linked together – which are perfectionism and extreme laziness,” he laughs.
With the first single on the radio, label backing and a perfectionist attitude, British India could be excused for getting ahead of themselves. Not so for Melia. Remaining level-headed, he sums up studio life as “late starts and late nights, lots of beer, and The Simpsons and Monty Python playing endlessly in the background. Fertile grounds for music.”
British India will be playing the following shows:
Saturday 15 September - Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle NSW
Friday 21 September - Red Dirt Rock, Kalgoorlie WA
Saturday 22 September - Amplifier, Perth WA
Friday 12 October - The Gov, Adelaide SA
Thursday 18 October - Ferntree Gully Hotel VIC
Friday 19 October - Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 20 October - Pier Hotel, Frankston VIC
Friday 26 October - The Patch, Wollongong NSW
Saturday 27 October - The Fitzroy Hotel, Windsor NSW
Friday 2 November - Manly Fisho's, Sydney NSW
Saturday 3 November - The Standard, Sydney NSW
Friday 9 November - Kings Beach Tavern QLD
Saturday 10 November - The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
Friday 16 November - O'Dowd's, Rockhampton QLD
Saturday 17 November - Andergrove Tavern, Mackay QLD
Friday 23 November - Republic Bar, Hobart TAS
Saturday 24 November - Republic Bar, Hobart TAS
Sunday 25 November - Queenscliff Festival VIC
Thursday 29 November - Prince Of Wales, Bunbury WA
Friday 30 November - Metropolis, Fremantle WA
Saturday 31 November - Capitol, Perth WA