“We don’t do any songs that we don’t feel 100% about, we don’t have someone saying, “you need to do this, you need to do that”” – An Interview with Oli Khan of Sea Girls

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The pun has been made so many times (I know, I’m sorry) but it just has to be said: Sea Girls are making waves at the moment. From being the only band to feature on the BBC Sound of 2019 longlist to working on their debut album, this has already been a big year for the indie band known for their huge choruses and energetic sets. Just before we get to see such a set at Portsmouth’s The Wedgewood Rooms next month, we spoke to drummer Oli Khan about their latest single, playing festivals vs playing tours, and anticipating their first LP…

You recently premiered ‘Open Up Your Head’ as Annie Mac’s hottest record in the world – what’s that song about?

It’s kind of about believing in yourself. People have different kinds of issues with different things like self-esteem and it makes a difference when just one person believes in you and you can trust them and empower yourself through that trust.

Speaking of Annie Mac, how did you all react when you found out you’d been featured on the longlist for BBC’s Sound of 2019?

I don’t think we quite believed it at first. We found out before but we had to keep it hushed. Not telling anyone made it kind of not feel real. Yeah, just blown away really you know, in shock for a while.

And you were the only band in the top ten, do you have any thoughts on that? 

It’s cool. At the moment there’s such an amazing scene and all the bands we’re seeing are great, it feels like indie music is coming back again big time. Like APRE – they’re amazing, we bumped into them at a show and they asked us to join the tour and we were really happy. We’re seeing all of these amazing bands up and down the country, it just feels great at the moment. 

On March 7th you’ll be playing at The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth – have you played there before? 

We’ve not. We’ve played in Southampton twice but this is our first time in Portsmouth. We’ve heard a lot about it, it’s quite a legendary place I think.

Are you excited to play there?

Yeah really excited. My sister lives there so it will be nice to pop in and see her too. I haven’t ever been [to Portsmouth], it’s the first time for most of us.

So, for people who haven’t seen you live yet, what can they expect from your show?

Big songs, singing along hopefully! Dancing, crowd participation, joining in, just a lot of fun basically. 

Sounds great! Do you have a favourite song to play live?

We’ve got a couple of new ones that we’re really excited to start playing live. ‘Open Up Your Head’ as well, we’ve never played that live before so I’m really excited for that. I do really like doing ‘Heavenly War’ which was released about a year ago, that’s just really fun, people kind of jump around for that which is great.

So would you say it’s a very lively show?

Yeah, it’s very upbeat. There’s no like, “lets stop and play the piano”. It’s all quite, “here we go”. 

In terms of what’s next for the band, I assume you’ve got another busy festival season ahead?

Yes, we do. We’ve got a few confirmed already and quite a few that are waiting to be announced or that we’re finalising so it’s going to be a busy summer.

How would you say playing a festival is different to playing a tour?

At your own shows everyone’s there just to see you, they’re your fans, whereas [at a festival]there’s a lot more people kind of walking past so it’s almost like proving yourself. Obviously we give it 100% every time but we’re hopefully making new fans at a festival, people who might be slightly interested, and we like to introduce them to us.

You guys have a debut album coming out this year, is that right? 

Yeah, at some point this year. We’re kind of working it out at the moment, we’re still working on a couple of tracks but it’s quite exciting. We’ve got so many ideas that we’re trying. Straight after tour we’re heading back into the studio to record a couple of tracks.

What should we expect from the album – a lot of anthems? 

Yeah, a lot of big songs. There will be some old ones on there, quite a few new ones. Just a bit of flexing our muscles really, trying to show people what we’re capable of – so what we do now but also what we’re going to do in the future – and show a bit of depth hopefully.

Your music is often described as indie, how would you say Sea Girls interprets the term indie? Because we’ve had a lot of confusion over that recently.

Yeah, I guess people see it as the independent music originally but I suppose it’s kind of like guitar and English guitar sounds. Almost that kind of britpop influence. In this century you’ve got Blur and then Catfish and the Bottlemen, for example, but I think there’s a lot more than that. Electronic music, for example, is kind of indie music as well. It’s a broad term I think, you can have two bands that are totally different but both indie… Yeah, it’s an interesting label.

So you mentioned Catfish and the Bottlemen, do you have any particular bands or artists (past or present) who influence you as a band?

We just like big songs. A band like the The Killers are awesome because they are a pop band but they’re also this amazing rock band. You go to their shows and it’s this amazing production but they’re also being played on Radio 1 or these big radio stations alongside all these pop stars – something like that is what we aspire to.

There’s a lyric in ‘Open Up Your Head’ that goes “she said you won’t call it what it is” and it seems to have a similar message to ‘I Wanna Hear You Say’ – it’s all about keeping things simple and being true to yourself. How would you say that you guys keep things simple and stay true to yourselves as a band? 

We don’t do any songs that we don’t feel 100% about, we don’t have someone saying, “you need to do this, you need to do that”. If we like a song that’s what we do and all of the songs are from personal experiences – we’re not conjuring up these great big stories about made up people. People get that and from listening to it they can kind of feel what we’re feeling as well which I think is important, connecting with people.

Connecting with people is one of the things that Sea Girls is best at – and nowhere do they connect better with their audience than at a gig. Oli said it himself: expect energy, expect big songs, expect to dance – just expect a “lot of fun”!

Sea Girls’ UK tour will start in Oxford on February 25th and end in London on March 8th. Catch them at The WedgeWood Rooms, Portsmouth, on March 7th. Tickets can be bought here

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