Melbourne rockers British India had to go back to their roots and exorcise a few demons in order to record and release their long-awaited fourth album, ‘Controller’.
Coming out of a particularly dark period for the band, British India have come through hard times and heartache to become a stronger, more cohesive unit.
“When we started the band, we were quite young, as has been well-documented,” says vocalist and lead guitarist, Declan Melia. “We're not so young anymore; after we finished the ‘Avalanche’ tour it was the first time we took a break and really took stock of what we were doing; it was as if we'd been spat out at the other end, you know?
“We weren’t 18 anymore and we were in this band and everything had fallen by the wayside: girlfriends, careers, education and that was the first time we ever really had to make any decisions regarding the band: what kind of band do we want to be? To what extent do we want to go forward? Do we still love each other? All these things sort of came to the surface and we were very different people without realising it.
“We agreed that if we were going to do this, we were going to fucking do it full-on — that was a very big step in our growth, easily as big as the first time we listened to Blur: it was defining.”
After the release of ‘Avalanche’ in 2010, British India’s distributor went into receivership and despite strong sales of the record, the band still suffered heavy losses which put them under significant strain both financially and emotionally.
“The money thing was a crisis and a bummer obviously, but it was more of a spiritual crisis for the four of us,” Declan says.
The band felt that before they could continue forward, they had to look back to where they had come from and reconnect with what brought them together in the first place.
“We had to remind ourselves how lucky we were to be in this position in the first place,” Declan says, “and as sad as this may sound, we had to get back in the headspace of the four sixteen year olds smoking bongs in the garage, listening to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or what have you and remind ourselves how happy we were to be even thinking about making a fourth record.”
While the band admits they’ve matured and the new album is representative of their spiritual and emotional growth, Declan is loath to call it a ‘coming-of-age’ record.
“If I was 15 reading an article about a band and heard it was a ‘coming-of-age’ album, I would vomit in my mouth,” he says with a laugh.
Nonetheless, it’s obvious British India have grown as a band over the past few years and even Declan can’t deny the new album shows they’ve matured and been shaped by their recent personal experiences.
“Any pop psychologist could sit down and say the record came from a pretty dark place and that dark place was a result of the growth, or a growth spurt at least. It’s a bit of a growing pains record — it was very hard to make but really strangely, the result’s been fabulous.”
At the heart of the album is the concept of control and the ways in which people become subservient to external societal forces.
“It's sort of about the ways in which we're controlled, in as much how the young people of the world who were born in the ‘80s and ‘90s and brought up being told how beautiful and unique they were and how every opportunity has been made available to them,” Declan explains. “Then they post a picture of themselves on Facebook and they get 1000 people fawning over them and this constant gratification; it's supposed to be an expression of 'freedom' I imagine.
“It kind of comes from this idea that we've got so much privilege and we're completely free in a way that perhaps our parents weren't in times of depression or war. It's to do with to what extent is that an illusion and how you're never really free from the confines of your society or your culture. When I say society and culture I don't mean the society and culture of Australia, I mean the society and culture of being young and being in that mindset. Every character in the songs is controlled usually by their profession, usually by love, and that's what we're trying to get at with this album.”
However, British India didn’t set out to deliberately write the album that way; rather it was an organic result of their combined experiences.
“You must remember, we never sat down and said 'let's make a record about these themes’ — it just bubbled to the surface.”
As for the upcoming tour, fans can look forward to the same rock-solid live show they’ve come to expect from British India.
“The live show has been and will continue to be in a happy situation of arrested development,” Declan says. “We’re certainly not going to bring a fucking keyboard on the road or anything like that.
“The best shows we do are always little punk shows; we like to be in smaller places and we like it to be loose and stupid. We don’t have enough finesse; people don’t come to a British India show to see Nick play the solos note-for-note or to have a drum lesson, they just want to swear at each other and bang their heads into a wall.”
That’s not to say British India have become stilted or stale, more they’ve found their groove and intend to make it work for them the best they can.
“It’s just that every time we’ve had an opportunity to change the live show it just comes up lacking so we’re starting to learn what we do best and what we should offer.”
British India is also a band that has come to live for the sheer thrill of facing stiff opposition, especially when the odds are against them.
“The more memorable moments on stage are when we’re playing in really rural places where no band has ever seemed to have gone before and no one knows what to expect – we have moments of real brilliance,” Declan says.
“Also in the UK when we get this feeling of us against them. We like this idea of having to rise to a challenge, having to prove ourselves. If we’re a support band or we’re on a festival where we’re the least cool band on the bill — we thrive in opposition!”
In the end, all British India really want is to fight what they see as mediocrity in music and not be remembered as a pop gimmick.
“I’m quite happy to be here and quite happy to be, hopefully, standing out against the Gangam Styles of this world — if British India achieves one thing in our black hole of a career, I’d like that to be it.”
British India play The Surfers Paradise Beer Garden Friday April 5 and The Hi-Fi Saturday April 6. ‘Controller’ Is released Friday March 22.