By Hamish Chapman, First Year Politics and International Relations
Cult indie songwriter Yan Wilkinson tells us about Disco Elysium, Interpol and his favourite curry.
Two minutes into my interview with Yan Wilkinson, he’s already called my parents “strange religious cultists”. I’ve made the fatal error of letting slip that my dad was a big fan of Sea Power’s 2011 classic ‘Valhalla Dancehall’, but on the plus side, I can now rest easy knowing I’ve made one of Britain’s most fearlessly idiosyncratic songwriters laugh a bit as he says it.
Sea Power’s second decade as a band has been surprisingly eventful for a group determined to be unique and self-contained. Yan and company’s brand of pastoral, atmospheric post-punk/rock/folk is utterly impossible to pin down, and yet results in one of the most cohesive, unfaltering discographies this country has ever produced. They’ve built up a fanbase of birdwatchers, gardening enthusiasts, and eccentrics that feel this band is the only one that fully gets them. I pinned down Yan for a Zoom interview and let those fans decide what questions I asked him.
Sea Power is twenty years old. What do you think about what the band has achieved?
I don’t know…we don’t worry too much about it. We’ve fitted in a little bit, but we’ve never really fitted in properly into pop scenes with trendy bands. We’ve just kept going with what we like, for better or for worse.
I don’t think we’ve been that influential either. I can only remember two people ever mentioning British Sea Power: the lead singer from Interpol was quite nice about us, and Jehnny Beth from Savages. Apart from that, I’m not aware of anyone. But it’s nice that people still like our music.
How has your songwriting evolved over the years?
I think it’s changed a bit. We’ve kept the core elements that still work – a psychedelic understanding of nature and landscapes, and how that can be interesting. Personally, after a while, I stop wanting to repeat myself. I don’t want my songs to come out automatically. Actually, I’ve been particularly thinking about that for the last five years or so – while we made ‘Everything Is Forever’. It’s been the longest gap we’ve had between albums and I think that’s probably why we decided to change our name [from British Sea Power] and refresh things. We thought it would be fun.
We like to write about the real world. A lot of things I wrote about were considered quite weird, like loving an ice shelf (which has since collapsed) or welcoming Polish people into the country. But now we realise that some people really get it. Some people just don’t understand the meaning. I’ve taken a leaf from Frank Black’s book and decided, from now on, I’m explaining nothing. Let the songs speak for themselves.
Disco Elysium has been successful beyond belief – PC Gamer called it the best game of all time. Having made the soundtrack, how do you feel about that project now it’s been a couple of years?
It’s a weird one. I heard about that article. It’s sort of unbelievable. I’m really happy for them.
We had a sort-of snobbish outlook on computer games when Robert Kurvitz first got in touch, many years ago. He was very persistent, but we didn’t expect an interesting artistic project to come out of that world. Eventually, he came to a show and I met him, and suddenly I thought “oh God – I like this guy!”. He talks almost exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
We worried that at some point we’d get the call saying that we need to make it more normal, but Robert was always pushing us to make something strange. It was constant good advice, all through the writing process.
Someone in the Sea Power Facebook group really wants to know what you’re having for tea tonight.
I do most of the cooking, but today I think I’m gonna have a takeaway curry. My favourite is chilli paneer, it’s known as being an in-between India and the further east combination curry. It’s got a lot of soy sauce in it. I’ve had to learn to cook it for my wife, so now I make a better chilli paneer than any chilli paneer that existed previously.
That’s a really good question. I’m in favour of more questions like that in interviews. If I was talking to Frank Black, I don’t really want to know what his influences are or what inspires him. I want to know what he’s having for tea, what his plans are this week. Has he got any favourite TV shows? That kind of stuff. You have to throw in a couple of questions about their music, so you don’t offend them, but I just want to know the general, day-to-day things.
Featured image: Sea Power
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