The “Catholic question” comes up pretty early when talking to Declan Melia, a man who is not afraid to drop God and the idea of faith in something/someone into songs, and whose songs on the new British India album ponder a world that might legitimately be called fucked.
That goes for big, international events as well as smaller, personal relationships: Forgetting The Future, made by Melia, guitarist Nic Wilson, bassist Will Drummond and drummer Matt O’Gorman, is an album of mixed blessings.
But here’s where that question comes up because while Catholics can happily do guilt as much as any Protestant or Jew who may also lay claim to the mantle of world’s most guilt-ridden, there is an accompanying sense of optimism out of that guilt.
Maybe it’s confession freeing us to live (or sin) afresh, maybe here it’s Melia just not being prepared to give up, but on Forgetting The Future, the groups sixth album and one which takes a further step back from the full guitar assault of their early days, hope really does spring eternal.
“I’m not sure I have got a sense of optimism,” says Melia, dressed realistically rather than optimistically for uncertain Melbourne weather in a hoodie under a denim jacket. “But there is a tension between belief and unbelief. I don’t just mean between belief and atheism, and I shy away from political statements, but though I don’t think the world is going to hell in a handbasket by any means, there seems to be a real sense of ‘whose side are you on?’
“It’s hard to understand these things because we’ve just come to adulthood, turning 30 or whatever, so am I just realising this because now I feel like I have a life to protect? Or has this been around [longer]?”
He looks around now and sees that “no one can exist in the borders; you have to be one side or the other”, and be prepared to hold all of the beliefs of your chosen side. Calling this Manichean approach “deluded” – mocking it at one point with the line “my god is better than your fake god” - he addresses it in the track We’re Not The Future, a song he ruefully but not with any embarrassment describes as “the first song where we’ve made a grandiose statement”.
Permeating the record for the band formed when the four members were 16, is British India’s view that while things around us may be seriously troubled, there might still be a route out because whether it’s a relationship or the climate, we don’t have to be that stupid. We can choose better.
“This is heading into real clichéd territory but singing about anything often enough is an act of optimism itself,” says Melia. “To sing about anything is to fight.”
Not that Forgetting The Future, produced by Holy Holy’s Oscar Dawson, should be mistaken for a message album, that’s one thing Melia in particular would fight against. However, it’s a rare record these days – hello Taylor Swift! – which doesn’t address a few bits of the existential dramas the world has witnessed in recent times.
“I think this is an idea that I’d like to think has run through our whole discography, that there might be 6 billion people in the world, and counting, but what you do makes a difference,” says the Melburnian who arrived at his label’s offices today from morning lectures at university.
“From a solipsistic point of view, what happens to you is the most important thing and it wasn’t expected to come out this way but I think I can hear the interrelation between the personal and the political and the global [in the new songs]. It all is impactful.”
Which is a pretty Catholic thing to say, and do, if you think about it.
British India are on tour, from Ballarat on November 9 to Adelaide on December 15. Full dates, venues and tickets available here: