British India need no introduction to consumers of Australian music. They’ve stood the test of time, maintaining national recognition and admiration consistently ever since their 2007 single Tie Up My Hands was picked up by triple j, blasting them into the stratosphere of country-wide fame. Their fifth studio album, Nothing Touches Me, was released on March 13th and has already garnered praise from the likes of Tone Deaf and The Sydney Morning Herald, as well as debuting at an impressive #5 on the ARIAS chart. Ahead of their gargantuan nation-wide album tour, which will begin in the Northern Territory on April 16th, Liz Ansley spoke on the phone with guitarist Nic Wilson, catching him on a rare day off to reflect on the longevity of his band’s success, responses to their new album, and why he refuses to go onstage with change in his pockets.
Nothing Touches Me debuted at #5 on the ARIAS chart, congrats!
Yay! How good is it?! We’re all so happy.
How are you feeling about the responses you’ve had so far?
It’s a weight off the shoulders for sure. Just the fact that it equals what our second album came out at, on our fifth (album), it just sort of shows that there’s some life in this old dog!
Were you expecting it to do as well as it’s done?
It’s exceeded the expectations, we were just sort of nervously waiting to hear if we got in the top ten. But to crack the top five was… yeah, well, that’s great.
Absolutely! You guys have said that you’re really proud of this album in particular – what about this one makes it so special to you?
I think because bands do have a shelf life, it seems, or can do… and to be putting out something that seems as creatively interesting and strong on our fifth album just shows that we’re growing as songwriters, as opposed to running out of ideas. That’s the main thing that we’re chuffed about – just the fact that it’s a strong album.
What are you trying to say with this album; or, what does it say about you, if that’s more pertinent? Does the title, Nothing Touches Me, hold any clues?
I think Nothing Touches Me is about unity. It’s about the four of us, really. When we’re together, it does feel like we’re unbeatable in a sense. But in terms of the album, there’s a lot of themes about trouble and loneliness, and in the time (that the album was being created) there were relationships started and relationships ended, and there’s a few home truths that come through. It’s sort of bittersweet in some of the messages. Sort of a look into the fishbowl over the last couple of years of our lives.
You guys worked on the album mostly in Melbourne, but briefly in Berlin – what sort of influences did both cities have on its creation?
Berlin was a chance to sort of step away, work with someone else for once. When we were writing, we were recording at our home studio, and that’s why, I think, this album’s got a lot more texture to it – because we were able to spend more time just thinking about the song(s), and not just being forced to do it when you get to the studio. So Berlin was sort of like a continuation of that, a chance to sort of just think about the songs a lot more. And when we came home, we wrote three or four more songs that made the album more of what it already was. So yeah, when we got back home it was time to get business done, and get it out.
What inspired you to go to Berlin in particular?
It was a chance to work with this guy Simon Berckelman, who used to be in the Philadelphia Grand Jury, and we know Simon from back when we used to be labelmates at Shock. There was that, and that was why we picked Berlin, but it was just nice to go overseas and not just cut an album like we always have… even though, ultimately, we came back and did it the way we always did! But it was good to have a bit of isolation, an improved vibe, just like, “let’s make this a really good one”.
What advice would you give to up and coming acts who aspire to have the same sort of longevity you’ve enjoyed?
I think the best advice I can ever give to young bands is: just keep writing. At the end of the day, that’s what it all comes down to. Having a good song, and getting it on the radio. That’s the only way that you can do it in this country, I think. Don’t get disheartened, just keep writing, keep writing, keep writing, and hopefully something good will come out of it.
You’ve also delved into the world of film – can you tell us about that? How did you get into it?
It’s sort of a thing that I do, as sort of a moonlighting thing. I’ve made a few of the band’s clips, and some documentaries and stuff like that. It’s another opportunity to be creative. I’m just a massive lover of film, I love music and movies in equal portions. Film clips are a weird one, I don’t think I’d be the best film clip maker in the world, but I did enjoy doing them. But finding the time to do both (film and music) is hard, because this will always be the number one priority. It’s a good little avenue to still be creative.
The tour you guys have got coming up is such a long one – you don’t ever really seem to stop! How do you manage to keep the energy up? No partying at all?
Oh, if only that was true! (laughs) No, we all like a tipple amongst the band. I think we’ve developed a pretty good constitution. It is important to know your limits, if you’re starting to get burnt out maybe don’t party after tonight’s gig, maybe just turn in a bit early tonight. Especially for Declan (Melia), who has to sing every night – if you start getting burnt out, you blow your voice out and then there can’t be a show. So you just gotta be careful, know your limitations.
As part of your tour, you’re playing the Urban Country Music Festival in May – what spurred that decision? I suppose it’s pretty outside of your usual wheelhouse!
Yeah it’s weird – we don’t really have much of a say in what we do, things sometimes just get handed down, so when that one got handed down, we were sort of like, “Huh? What?? Why?” (laughs). But the right questions get asked, and if it can be justified that this will be a good thing for us then it’s fine! It’s another show for us to play, and we’ll play as well as we can. Admittedly, it’s like, yeah, we’re not exactly Lee Kernaghan, but hopefully there’s enough people that like loud rock that can enjoy us there. Either way, we’ll enjoy playing it.
I’m sure there will be, too – there’s a really decent “indie”, whatever that means, lineup.
Yeah! I definitely hope so. And even if nobody else enjoys us, we’ll enjoy us! (laughs)
You guys have been going so strong for such a long time now, especially by the Australian music landscape’s standards. Where do you see British India in 5, 10, 20 years? Ideally, even?
It’s so hard to say! Even if you had’ve asked me on our last album, like, “where do you see the next album going”, I wouldn’t have had any idea – I wouldn’t have predicted (its debut success) at all. I don’t think there will ever be a time when British India will officially say, you know, “that’s it, no more”. But in terms of 20 years from now, I don’t know! Maybe playing some dirty 30’s or something like that? Picking up cash playing covers?! (laughs) I don’t know! But in the short term, we’re already getting together and writing songs for the next album, which is something that’s happened between every single album. Like, one album ends, it doesn’t mean you’ve stopped writing, it’s just sort of like, “see you guys on Monday!”. It’s the way it’s always been. Just because one album’s done, it’s sort of like, railroad barriers go down but they’ll be back up in a second and we’ve gotta just keep writing. So that’s the short term, we’ll just keep plugging away at it, and I imagine there’ll be a sixth album in the next couple of years.
Is there anything, after all this time, that nobody knows about British India that you want to share with me? Maybe a weird show ritual, or shared pet hate or guilty listening pleasure?
This probably won’t make much sense to a Queenslander like yourself – but there used to be a football player called Nicky Winmar who played for my team, St Kilda, who always went out onto the oval last. I’ve got a very big superstition that I’ve got to be the last person on stage. That, and I like to not have anything in my pockets. Like, even coins or something like that. Or a wallet. I like my pockets empty, and to be the last person on stage.
Sort of like a good luck charm! Has it been working?
(laughs) Yeah! Little things like that, they obviously mean nothing, but if you know that twenty cent piece is in your pocket, it might be enough to distract you! So ridiculous, but in a way it’s good to have superstitions, just to keep it like – you know what you’re doing, this is what you’re doing and how you do it every night. Just get it done.
You can catch British India on the Gold Coast on Friday 1st May at Soundlounge.