An interview with Belle & Sebastian’s Chris Geddes

In January, after a five year hiatus, Belle & Sebastian released their ninth album Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. I caught up with the multi-talented Chris Geddes, Belle & Sebastian’s keyboard player about the band’s surprising longevity, Glasgow’s international mystique and whether the new record really is a new musical direction.

The Student: You’ve been with Belle and Sebastian since Tigermilk, did you ever think you’d reach album number nine?
Chris Geddes: No. I didn’t have any idea that we’d be around this long. Certainly, very few bands that I like have managed to last as long as we have. Take The Zombies; it was all over for them in the space of about four or five years. As soon as they had a record that wasn’t a big hit then they had to call it a day. The fact that we’ve had any career out of music and been able to play internationally is pretty amazing.

TS: You’ve only really had a couple of changes of lineup in all that time, what do you think the secret to your success has been?
CG: Well, we’ve never fallen out over money. Stuart [Murdoch, lead singer], who writes most of the songs, would be entitled to take most of the money but he’s always split things equally with everyone so there are never arguments over which songs make it onto the records, which there would be if everyone only got the publishing money from their own songs. We’ve always been able to keep these decisions artistic rather than financial which I think probably helps as well. Yeah, it probably is a big thing, because it’s meant that everybody in the band has been making a reasonable living out of it for the whole time that we’ve been going.

TS: Is Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance really a shift in direction, as has been suggested by critics, or was the precedent set in your earlier work?
CG: Yeah, I completely agree with you, I think that the very earliest albums like Tigermilk had things on them that were electronic and then “Sleep the Clock Around” on The Boy with the Arab Strap as well. It is a thing we’ve done throughout our career but maybe it’s just emphasised a bit more on this record. I think you always find when you put out a record that a critical consensus emerges about it and that’s to do with what gets put in the press release. A song like “Ever Had A Little Faith” could probably fit on any of our albums and it wouldn’t seem out of place.

TS: Stuart said in an interview that Belle & Sebastian are considered “exotic” in America, but more “average and boring” here. Do you think that’s true?
CG: Yeah it’s probably true, in recent years we’ve always gone away to record the records just because the folk in Glasgow, who’ve got family, struggle to get the amount of focus at home that you can when you’re abroad. The last few records we’ve done with American producers had their own studios and wanted to work in their own environment so we went along with that, but things always seem more glamorous looked at from afar, you meet people all around the world who are really excited about Glasgow and say ‘I came to Glasgow because of your band’ or ‘you have such a great accent’ and it’s like ‘yeah, you have an accent too and you just don’t realise it!’.

TS: Where are you looking forward to playing most during your UK tour?
CG: The Hydro in Glasgow will be exciting because it’s the biggest indoor show we’ve ever done in the UK. The fact that the orchestra is doing it with us will be great too.

TS: Lastly, have you got any plans for album number ten in the pipeline?
CG: There’s a definite intention to keep up a bit of momentum this time and maybe not disappear off into other projects once the touring is finished. I think at the moment the sentiment within the band is to get back in the rehearsal room and come up with some new music as soon as we can. So hopefully it won’t be another four or five years back in between records this time!

Photograph: Matador Records

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