Gimme Your Answers: An Interview w/ Belle and Sebastian

Belle and Sebastian
Photo by Søren Solkær

A Music Blog, Yea? named Belle and Sebastian‘s Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance “their most inspired album to date”. Released back in January, the Glasgow sextet’s ninth studio record bring fans on a wide-reaching ride as the album features infectious glimmers of dance, disco, gloom, and a whole lot of raw emotion. To our pleasure, we recently had the opportunity of giving Belle and Sebastian’s Chris Geddes a call to discuss the inspiration of electronic music, their producer Ben H. Allen, culture shock, and friendship. Enjoy:

AMBY: Hey Chris, welcome to AMBY and thanks for chatting with us today.

Belle and Sebastian: You’re welcome.

AMBY: Earlier this year you released your ninth studio record Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance and the album’s genre really expanded since you recorded 2010’s Write About Love. What sparked your interest in Giorgio Moroder and vintage Detroit techno?

Belle and Sebastian: I think electronic music is something that people in the band have always had an interest in. I think this time it was serendipity to a certain extent. Before we even got together to start working on songs for the new record, different people in the band were already going in that direction. Richard DJs a lot and has been playing a lot of electronic music in his sets. Myself, I’ve been interested in synthesizer music for a long time, so a lot of the instruments I had have been in storage and I finally got to start working on some of those. It was nice having these instruments at my disposal again and getting to work on them.

AMBY: The record was produced and mixed by Ben H. Allen who has worked on Gnarls Barkley and Animal Collective records. Was there a particular reason you decided to choose to work with him?

Belle and Sebastian: Speaking personally, there are a lot of records that he’s worked on that I really liked. I’m a big fan of a lot of the work he’s done.

AMBY: How did you enjoy the experience of working together on the album?

Belle and Sebastian: A lot of it was based on chemistry. I think we knew that he was going to push us to work in a slightly different way than how we had worked before. With the band, it’s six or seven people, all with strong personalities. A lot of it comes down to personal chemistry and we felt it there which made it more productive. At times, when we were working in the control room and he was playing with effects while I was working on something, it was probably the most enjoying music-making experience I can recall having.

AMBY: As you mentioned, there are a lot of you in the studio at once, all with these “strong personalities”. What’s that like? Does it often get hectic?

Belle and Sebastian: I really, really enjoyed working on this record. I felt like I was at the studio all of the time, I did a bit more playing on the album than I have on the previous ones. Even if I wasn’t directly playing something, I felt like I was learning stuff. I felt myself wanting to be in the studio all of the time that we were there. I find it’s very inspiring to collaborate with the band.

AMBY: There is a definite sense that this is the most inspired album to date from you. Did you know going into the album that it was going to turn out this way and have so many nuances?

Belle and Sebastian: I think before we went over to Atlanta, we roughly knew the direction each song was going in. We worked quite a lot in our rehearsal room in Glasgow by ourselves before we settled on Ben as our producer and started working with him. Most of the songs, the overall directions, were already set early on. There weren’t many that took a big left turn! Apart from maybe Sarah’s The Power of Three, that was the one that kind of changed a lot after we started on it. I think we knew we had a fairly diverse bunch of songs, so I guess we went to Atlanta knowing that Ben would make sense of it all.

AMBY: I’m glad you brought up The Power of Three – that’s my favourite song on the record. If you had to sell the album on one track, which one would it be, and could you tell us a little about that track?

Belle and Sebastian: Ohh. That’s…

AMBY: It’s like choosing your favourite child, but I’m going to make you do it anyways. Sorry [laughs].

Belle and Sebastian: [laughs] It’s a really difficult one to think of, especially because the album is quite diverse. It’s hard. If I had to pick, it might be Ever Had a Little Faith?, but in some ways it might not be as representative of the album as a whole. There’s something quite magical about that song. It’s one that grabbed me instantly when we went to play it as a band. Maybe that one. Or maybe Play for Today

AMBY and Belle and Sebastian: [laughs]

Belle and Sebastian: Perhaps I’d choose that song as it kind of sums up the record. It kind of captures the spontaneity of the way we worked with Ben. It also reflects a poppier side of us on this record.

AMBY: About a week ago, you posted a photograph stating you were about to “hop aboard your 16th flight in 35 days”. That’s quite intense! How was the touring circuit for you this time around?

Belle and Sebastian: Yea, it’s been good. The one that we just got back from, where we were in Asia, was a really great trip and we got to go to some really fantastic places. I mean, a couple of shows that should have happened in the middle of the trip got pulled, so it felt like a lot of travelling for the amount of playing time that we got to do. I’m looking forward to doing a couple of more North American and British tours. It will be nice to properly be on the road and start playing again.

AMBY: You played some shows in Taiwan, China, Singapore, and Australia while on that leg of the tour. Have you ever encountered culture shock while playing in these areas?

Belle and Sebastian: When you go to a place like Asia, it’s shocking what type of music connects with people. There’s an audience to come and see you. It’s totally fascinating and being there is quite overwhelming in terms of the number of people that are there. At the same time, you’re also struck almost everywhere in the world.

AMBY: What about the people there? The fans?

Belle and Sebastian: People are similar in different places. Almost anywhere we go, people are polite and nice and go out of their way to help you. Maybe we’ve just been lucky, but we’ve found that everywhere we’ve gone.

AMBY: You recently started to announce some festival dates you’ll be playing this summer. If you could curate your own festival, who would you like to be in the line-up?

Belle and Sebastian: Some of the shows we played in Asia had ourselves with Tune Yards and Caribou on the bill. That felt like a really good combination of bands. I’d play with them again.

AMBY: And to wrap things up, after being in this band for almost two decades, what would you say is the best part of being in Belle and Sebastian?

Belle and Sebastian: Getting to work with my friends, hanging out with them, having a good laugh, and being able to call it “work”. I suppose, it’s getting to do creative stuff. All of the above.

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Thank you Belle and Sebastian, for giving us your answers!

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Interview by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout

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