From the release of their debut EP up until their third album, Melbourne’s British India came across as a music nerd’s band. That is, a bunch of dudes with massive record collections making music for people with similarly obsessive listening habits. However, on the band’s fourth LP, 2013’s Controller, they seemed to be targeting a more general audience. This impression continues on British India’s new album Nothing Touches Me. Reflecting on this transition, frontman Declan Melia says it was inevitable.
“It comes down to nothing more or less than us being more comfortable in the studio and being in a position to dictate what we want more. If you listen to the early records, to a song like ‘Tie Up My Hands’ or ‘Run The Red Light’, if they weren’t so sparse in their production then it would sound just as populist as some of the new songs. It’s not that we’ve said ‘Let’s make something more populist and more slick.’ Since the inception of the band that’s been our goal, but because we were so inept in the studio we weren’t able to realise it.”
Melia’s self-professed ineptitude hasn’t prevented British India from fostering a diehard following. The band’s first full length, 2007’s Guillotine – produced by Easybeats legend Harry Vanda – was loaded with shouty vocals, loose instrumentation and a sense of brash recklessness. But it also contained enough memorable tunes to fast-track British India onto many a summer festival stage.
“Working with Harry when we were 19 or so, we weren’t in a position to say ‘This is what we want,’” Melia says. “And it’s a good thing. I think those records were masterfully produced for where we were at the time. I look back on them really fondly. At the time of [Guillotine] coming out, all of the big bands on triple j were like the anti-riff-rock kind of thing. It was Cut Copy and Van She – these very slick sounds. Then we came out with this really sparse, jangly, garagey record and it was a nice counterpoint, which is obviously not something that we planned.”
These days, Vanda’s no longer the guy British India call on for a hand in the studio. Nothing Touches Me was recorded in two segments, with two different producers. First off, the band took a trip to Golden Retriever Studios in Berlin to work with Simon Berckelman (AKA Philadelphia Grand Jury’s Berkfinger). “Obviously we like the stuff he did with Art vs Science and Velociraptor,” says Melia. “He also did stuff with friends of ours Red Ink. They’re maybe less well known, but he did great production with them so we sought him out.
“A lot of the stuff from the Berlin sessions isn’t what you hear on the record,” he adds, “but the Berlin trip really affected the record, and not in an abstract or casual way. It was a really different record before we went to Berlin and it was a very important part of the record’s maturing process.” Having straightened their vision in Berlin, the band returned to Melbourne and finished the record with a little help from Glenn Goldsmith. “He actually produced [2010’s] Avalanche and Controller,” says Melia. “I wouldn’t say it’s a good working relationship, but it’s a successful working relationship.”
A major sign of British India’s shifting intent came in the form of Controller’s lead single ‘I Can Make You Love Me’. Not only were the distortion pedals shifted to the sidelines, but also Melia embraced melodic niceties and a tone of vulnerability in his vocals. Even more so than on its predecessor, Melia’s singing distinguishes Nothing Touches Me.
“It’s really down to the two producers,” he says. “They were just saying ‘Stop bellowing, sing this well, I’ve heard you do it before.’ It’s not something that comes naturally to me – you can tell by our first four records – but there’s a big difference between writing a line and how you sing it. That really determines how it’s felt by the listener.” Given that his vocals sit boldly out front, Melia no doubt felt extra pressure as a lyricist. However, he says he’s always been a conscientious wordsmith.
“At the start of the band, not being an awesome guitarist, not being an awesome singer, lyrics were where I could justify my position. I’m obsessed with lyrics and I always thought, right from Guillotine, that our credo was that post-Strokes rock bands have had terrible lyrics, especially in this country. So it was something I’d always made a point of.” Perhaps it’s due to Melia’s vocals being the record’s centrepiece, but the lyrics on Nothing Touches Me seem to tug at the heartstrings more so than in the past.
“With Controller, the more successful songs were the songs like ‘Summer Forgive Me’ and ‘I Can Make You Love Me’, with the really confessional, dark lyrics,” he agrees. “That was really encouraging for me to carry on further down that path. I wanted to make an emotional record for sure.
“Being in your late-‘20s, you kind of know who you are and ‘This is what I want to do,’” he adds. “In some ways British India have always been a little ashamed of our guitary, rocky kind of sound. The fight between what we are and what we wanted to be, I can hear on every record. But with this one, we really knew exactly what kind of record we wanted to make.”
April 16 - The Gap View Hotel, Alice Springs, NT
April 17 - Discovery, Darwin, NT
April 18 - The Gov, Adelaide, SA
April 23 - Paddy's, Albury, NSW
April 24 - Romano's, Wagga Wagga, NSW
April 25 - Area Hotel, Griffith NSW
May 1 - Sound Lounge, Gold Coast, QLD
May 2 - Urban Music Festival, Caboolture, QLD
May 6 - Karova Lounge, Ballarat, VIC
May 7 - Club 54, Launceston, TAS
May 8 - Republic Bar, Hobart, TAS
May 9 - Republic Bar, Hobart, TAS
May 15 - Dunsborough Tavern, Dunsborough, WA
May 16 - Capitol, Perth, WA
May 17 -Newport, Fremantle, WA
May 22 - The Metro, Sydney, NSW
May 23 - Cambridge, Newcastle, NSW
May 28 - Corner Hotel, Melbourne, VIC
May 29 - 170 Russell, Melbourne, VIC
May 30 - Workers Club, Geelong, VIC
June 5 - Pelly Bar, Frankston, VIC
June 6 - Riverview Hotel, Tarwin Lower, VIC
June 7 - Spirit Bar, Traralgon, VIC