British India is without a doubt one of the tightest, hard-working bands in the country. Over the course of their career, they’ve earned themselves four Top 10 ARIA albums, eight entries into the Hottest 100, and their single “I Can Make You Love Me“ is accredited Gold status in Australia. Straight up indie-rock pro’s, these guys have been quietly overachieving since 2004. Last month, they released their 6th album Forgetting the Future and are just getting started on a massive Aussie tour.
We had a chance to talk to top-guy Declan Melia while he waited patiently in Sydney airport that time the planes weren’t working. Declan’s insights come from years of touring and navigating the industry with one focus – the music. This is British India’s Savvy Seven…
Who was your first musical inspiration and who inspires you now?
I remember I’d been listening to a lot a music around 2003, I was starting to get into the bands like the White Stripes and The Strokes and a bit of The Hives, kind of new garage rock bands. They all seemed so exotic and distant, these guys from New York, they seemed so adult, so out of reach. But then I turned on Rage one day and there was Craig Nicholls from The Vines screaming his head off, wearing a green cardigan and just going nuts. I knew they were from Australia so it just seemed much more achievable and much more within reach of my talents. So yeah, I remember that being a massive influence.
I still get inspired by my favourite bands, the bands that I listen to all the time. It’s more likely, just little things I hear on the radio. When I’m exploring new music, I just hear little interesting ideas or little snippets of lyrics and I think, I like that idea, what if I explored it in a different way or what if I apply that sonic idea to what we do. I just kind of magpie little elements from whatever happens to be on the radio that day.
What advice do you have for someone who is about to set off on their first tour?
Don’t drink too much, you’ve got to honour the show as the most important thing above all else. Don’t get too worried about getting caught up in anything else. At the same time, and this is the delicate path you have to find, you should just have fun. What a great beautiful thing to do, to go on tour, you get to go to interesting places, it’s a real honour and it’s the funnest thing you’ll get to do. I think everyone should be lucky enough to do that. It’s a rare gift, so just embrace and enjoy it because it could go away at any moment. I was recently talking to a friend about this and I just remember saying, I’ve never heard an A and R guy from a record say “Are you guys having fun?”. It’s never something they say, they just say “We need to get this single out! And if we do this right we’ll get such and such”. Everything is kind of a means to an end where there’s some destination to reach and you just haven’t reached it yet. If you’re on tour – that is the destination, that’s the destination in itself, so just have fun.
There will be shows that are more intense and some shows that will be a bit flat, it’s impossible to predict. If we knew the circumstances that determined if the show was a blinder or what we feel was flat then we would always make sure it was good. At the risk of surrounding arrogant, I don’t think people walk away from our shows disappointed, sometimes we’re disappointed ourselves I suppose. That can happen in a massive venue in a capital city or you can have an amazing show in a little pub in a country town, there’s a number of factors which go into it. The thing about the way we perform, I’m not sure about other bands, its almost like we play to each other. The people I think about most when I play live is the other 3 guys in the band. We do get energy from the audience. We’ve played what I would call amazing shows to like 15 people. It’s more of the conversation between the 4 of us and the conversation to the audience. I wouldn’t pretend they’re out of the conversation altogether.
What has been one of your most defining moments in your career?
It’s hard not to be nostalgic about this because there are so many moments, maybe some every few years where it’s just like holy sh*t, is this real, this is amazing. I remember quite early on when we were touring our second record and played Falls Festival. It was just after it got dark and there was this enormous crowd, it was the first time it ever kind of dawned on me that our music was really affecting people. That said, I still get amazed when we play live at a small pub, on the weekend we played at Shoalhaven, maybe 300 people in the venue. When you see people that are enjoying music authentically and they’re not bashing their head against the wall or going nuts, they’re just genuinely enjoying the music. It gives me a really good feeling to know that the music is connecting emotionally. It’s not about just having a sweet groove or sweet riff, it’s about connecting with people.
How has your approach to industry practice changed over time?
It hasn’t changed overly. One thing we learned at the midpoint in our careers is that when you start out, you feel that you have to have control of everything, and everything has to be perfect. You want to know “What’s happening with the video clip, what’s happening with the drum sound, and will we get to do things this way or that way”… You learn a bit later on, it’s sometimes good to take your hand off the wheel a little bit and trust other people. Not to feel like it’s you against the world, there’s a lot of people around you working for you. That’s kind of a hard learning curve though because it does feel when you first start that you have to have control of everything. On the recent records, we didn’t worry so much about which photo they used or which clip idea they want to use. We’re just, “We’re a band we write music, you guys are a photography studio you take photos, we’ll do our job – you do yours”. When you make that decision, things become a lot easier for yourself, that’s changed! We’re a bit more, I don’t want to say hands-off, it’s not quite a hands-off approach, but it’s a bit more collaborative. We trust people more.
…what about preparing for a big tour?
It’s a tough one, this album, it wasn’t written live in a studio, it was written on computers. It wasn’t written with a live setting in mind. We’ve had to learn the songs which is a steep learning curve for us, we have to play in a way that suits our style. There’s been a lot of rehearsals, we’ve worked harder at producing this live show than we ever have before. On a more personal note, as you get older as a singer it really does just become harder. I’ve had my vocal coach say the elasticity you have in your vocal chords in your early 20’s goes away and it doesn’t come back. It’s quite challenging and distressing to hear, I just have to take extra care of my voice, more than I used to. It’s been a disheartening learning curve for me but it’s very necessary and very important.
As far as tour prep goes, there’s not much preparation we do, other than focus on the music. We are very lucky, we’re surrounded by hard-working people who put the tour together for us. We just have to be in the right head space and know the songs back to front.
What’s your top business tip for new artists?
That’s a hard question because what we do is so far removed from business. I’ll give you an anecdote, there’s a kind of some wisdom in it but there’s also not. Our first two records were released through a record label called Shock. We love the people at Shock, we had a good relationship with them, they gave us creative control. After releasing our third record Avalanche, which we had paid for ourselves, they went into receivership and went bankrupt. I think we were owed something like 30 grand or something like that. Of course, we had a decision to make, they couldn’t pay for it because they were in receivership, we could have gone down legal avenues to demand the money, but we made a collective decision about it. They put the record out, they worked hard for us, we decided, let’s just cut that as a loss. It was a pretty big loss to swallow, obviously I think if people are owed money they should demand it. For us, at the time we were in a very lucky position because we knew we could make it back and we’d be ok without it. The important thing was the music, we didn’t do it for the money and we knew we weren’t going to diverge our career by getting into legal chicanery. We decided to make a clean break and that’s what we did. Once again that doesn’t apply to every artist, I’m not saying everyone should go out there completely dispassionate about money and not care about it. I just think it’s not a good a headspace to be in creatively or just in life to feel entitled. To feel like because you sell a few records and because you play live you deserve to be rich is not ok. It’s an honour to play live and an honour to make records, that should be kind of the payment, that’s just me and I might be wrong. There’s a lot of people I know who disagree with that.
Have you made any big career mistakes?
Yeah, I have made them. It goes against what I said earlier. Our career has really been about not doing things by the book. We’ve done things in unconventional ways, I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re still here. Our career hasn’t followed the normal avenues, we didn’t sign with a major label straight away, we didn’t tour in a conventional sense. We didn’t have a crew, we just went by ourselves, we didn’t support bands and we went to places no one else went. I think the longevities like expanding fan base was something we could’ve done better or could’ve been done more strategically. I think we just did things our own way and enjoyed ourselves. That’s part of the reason we’re still here. If we’d been a bit more strategic and clever in the first few years of the band we probably could’ve been considerably bigger but it’s not really what’s it’s all about.
Is there a major issue within the industry?
I don’t think there’s a major issue affecting the industry, I think there’s maybe a few specific ones. The industry needs to find a new way to make money, it’s been very slow to do that. I don’t think musicians/anyone should feel like they owe the industry anything. If you look at the way the industry was operated in the 80’s and 90’s, people were just pillaging and burning. There was no thought for longevity or thought for the future, it was an unsustainable model, I don’t think it deserved to carry on like that. They spent the 80’s and 90’s giving us things like the Spice Girls and hoovering cocaine and spending millions of dollars on Celine Dion albums, the fact that it no longer exists because it doesn’t make money anymore is not necessarily the worst thing. I think it’s good for the music industry to have to fend for itself, it has to be reborn and evolve and cope with the changing ways we consume music. That’s neither here nor there for musicians, I don’t think the fact that you make less money now means there’ll be less music. People make music because they’ve got something to express, they don’t make music for a market, at least I hope they don’t. Music will keep being made, music is still great, there’s just not as much of an industry around it, in a lot of ways that’s a good thing.
FORGETTING THE FUTURE TOUR
Fri 20 Oct – Hotel Brunswick, Brunswick Heads, NSW
Sat 21 Oct – Grass Is Greener Festival, Mackay, QLD
Thu 26 Oct – Arcade Nightclub, Joondalup, WA
Fri 27 Oct – Badlands, Perth, WA
Sat 28 Oct – Badlands, Perth, WA
Sun 29 Oct – Newport Hotel, Fremantle, WA
Thu 02 Nov – Prince Of Wales, Bunbury, WA
Fri 03 Nov – Rollercoaster, Mandurah, WA
Sat 04 Nov – Dunsborough Tavern, Dunsborough, WA
Sun 05 Nov – The Gate, Success, WA
Thu 9 Nov – Karova Lounge, Ballarat, VIC
Fri 10 Nov – 170 Russell, Melbourne, VIC
Sat 11 Nov – The Wool Exchange, Geelong, VIC
Fri 17 Nov – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle, NSW
Sat 18 Nov – Entrance Leagues Club, Central Coast, NSW
Fri 24 Nov – Soundlounge, Gold Coast, QLD
Sat 25 Nov – The Triffid, Brisbane, QLD
Fri 1 Dec – Discovery, Darwin, NT
Sat 2 Dec – Gap View Hotel, Alice Springs, NT
Thu 7 Dec – The Basement, Canberra, ACT
Fri 8 Dec – Uni Bar, Wollongong, NSW
Sat 9 Dec – The Metro, Sydney, NSW
Fri 15 Dec – The Gov, Adelaide, SA
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