British India’s Declan Melia on an ever changing sound, their new album and mental health in the music industry

With their latest album Forgetting the Future finally released, British India have once again taken over the airwaves with their signature indie rock sound. Emerging from the underground of Melbourne’s independent scene back in 2007, the four piece have become one of the most sought after bands for their brutally honest lyrics and dynamic onstage performances. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with front man Declan Melia about British India’s ever changing sound, their new album and mental health in the music industry.

Your latest album Forgetting the Future seems to have an epic feel about, with heavy riffs and intense percussion at points. How do you think that your sound has changed since your first album Thieves?

I think that if we’d made the Thieves like the most recent record, it would’ve really seemed disingenuous and turned people off. I think the reason that we’ve been able change our sound so much is because it all occurred so slowly. For the first record, the feeling of being in the studio was so unnatural to us that there wasn’t much of a chance for experimentation, or scope for it. As we got used to being in the studio and started working with great people, we starting feeling more comfortable doing different things. It’s important to remember that the studio and the production can’t make the songs.

I know you’re not supposed to pick favourites, but are there any albums or tracks that you’ve particularly proud of or that really resonate with you?

I really like the Thieves record, because it was just such a happy time for us; it was kind of like being with your first girlfriend. It didn’t seem like there was any kind of life outside the four of us and it was a little idealistic. I don’t listen to the record; I probably wouldn’t like it if I did. Every song we made felt like we’d really learnt something new and had achieved something we hadn’t before. It’s such an incredible feeling when you start to learn the outer limits of what you’re able to do and stretch out in different directions; it’s incredibly exciting and rewarding. 

Golden Years is one of my favourite tracks by you guys; how do you manage to continually write such heart wrenching ballads?

When I write songs the music will already be there; all the recordings, or at least some of them are there so I can already hear the song. You listen to it and you feel a certain way, so then I just put words on top of that to fit that emotion. But you have to let it happen by accident, you can’t premeditate it and push the song in a certain direction because you think it’s going to be a hit or that’s what’s going to turn people on. You’ve got to obey the song itself.

Now you’ve just announced a mammoth national tour, what’s your favourite city or venue to play at?

In Newcastle, the Cambridge Hotel of course *laughs*

*laughs* Good Answer

It’s just so consistent; anytime I’m on stage there, it’s always been the same. It’s always been packed full of great people screaming our songs at us. We’ve been playing there for years so we stand on stage there and I have to think, ‘Fuck what year is this?’. Some days I’ll be freaking out about my voice and it’s not that I’m not nervous, it’s just that I always know that the show is going to go great; by that third song I can start to have a good time on stage and trust me, it doesn’t happen every time.

Newcastle seems to get a bit of a bad rapt in terms of violence and aggression in the live music scene, with a number of bands refusing to play here because of it. What’s you take on the gig scene here and have you actually had any bad experiences?

Yeah we have, and it’s a really delicate and complex situation. I feel it puts us in a difficult position because the people in the front row, they’re our favourite people; they’re what makes us able to do what we do. If some dude with big boots on kicks them in the back of the head while they’re crowd surfing, that’s not cool. It’s really tempting to say, “what the fuck man?”, but then when you see this guy he’s not trying to hurt anyone either; that’s the way he chooses to express himself at a show. It definitely bums us out because we don’t want anyone to get hurt, but also we like to see people letting loose and having a great time in a darkened room with loud noises; that’s what we like to do, and it’s what we grew up doing. So it’s a question without a clear answer, I’m sorry.

Definitely. For me I think the way that I look at it is, you should really enjoy yourself but in a way that you’re not effecting someone else’s fun. I think it’s a hard balance to reach in such an environment.

It’s a hard balance to reach, you’re exactly right.

Over the past couple of years there’s been a lot of talk about mental health in the music industry and the effects that touring has on artists. As a band that performs quite often across a number of cities, how have you dealt with the pressures and long hours that come with your extensive tours?

I think we deal with this by relying on each other. We’re really good friends, and I feel like we can talk about anything with each other. I’ve always felt bad for artists like Vance Joy, because even though he’s got a touring band, there’s still only one Vance Joy; with British India it’s always been the four of us. This question is really relevant because at the start of the year I had to say to one of the band members, that if you don’t want to tour, we won’t; you being healthy and happy is the most important thing. Don’t feel like you owe it to us to have to go out and promote a record and play live music if it’s making you upset or anxious. There’s nothing more important than you being well. So anytime you want to say time out that’s your call and we’ll respect that.

Thank you for a really genuine answer.

That’s no problem.

On a lighter note, have you got any under the radar bands or tracks that you’ve been listening to lately?

I just came back from Bigsound and saw Horror My Friend, some friends of ours from Adelaide. I was just fucking flabbergasted at how good they’ve become and I just can’t understand why they’re not completely massive. It’s just this really gnarly, chord rock that you can just sit down and play with an acoustic guitar. It’s so vicious and exciting; I was really, really impressed and I wish them the best.

Bree Smith

Bree is a Newcastle import who survives off British television and hummus. She spends the majority of her time chasing bands up and down the east coast or lost in a wormhole of related artists on Spotify.

Written by Bree Smith

Bree is a Newcastle import who survives off British television and hummus. She spends the majority of her time chasing bands up and down the east coast and one day hopes to impress people by being able to play more than one song on guitar.