Belle & Sebastian
A friend of mine who happens to be quite the fan of Belle & Sebastian likes to tell a story about when one night, after a show, she plucked up the courage to approach the band and introduce herself. Obviously, as many have learnt over the course of rock history, many bands can be aloof and unfriendly in person; not so the Scottish indie poppers - they ended up staying out late with her for a boozy night of pints and pool. Is that kind of fan interaction typical for the band, one may wonder? "Yeah, it has happened quite a bit in the past," drummer Richard Colburn replies. "It obviously depends on the show and where you are and your schedule, but it's not uncommon, especially if after the show you want to go do something else rather than go back to your hotel. It's always good to have an experience with people you don't know when you're away from home."
Belle & Sebastian's gregariousness has gotten them in trouble in the past, Colburn relates. "I've had a lot of phone calls from our tour manager at 4am saying 'we're on the bus and we have to get to the next show, where the hell are you?'," he laughs, "and I've just said 'I'm not too sure ... I'm in a bath'," he grins.
"If the tour manager sees anyone in the band heading out to a bar after the show," the drummer adds with a chuckle, "I'm sure he just thinks 'oh Christ, here we go again ...'"
Colburn assures, though, that the band's behaviour has improved over time. "We're pretty good at that now, actually. There was a time when being our tour manager would have been the worst job on earth!" he smiles "We're pretty conscientious now in terms of being in the right place at the right time, because over the years, we've come to see the consequences that occur when that doesn't happen. It can be quite major; it can really make a mess of everybody's day. There was a time when people slept in and didn't make it to airports on time, and that was the least of it."
The four year gap between 2006 album The Life Pursuit and last year's effusive Write About Love is the longest break that Belle & Sebastian have ever taken between records, and many fans were concerned that the group may have drifted apart permanently. It's asked of Colburn exactly why the band took such a long hiatus, and if there was any one inciting event that made they decide to get back together and record again. "Well, at the end of 2006, we were coming off the biggest tour we'd ever done, and we were all feeling pretty tired and in need of a break," he explains.
"We thought we'd do that and would come back after a couple of months and see what was what, but that break just kept on extending itself.
"Stuart," he adds of the band's co-frontperson Stuart Murdoch, "had a couple of projects he wanted to do and he took the opportunity to do them, and as time wore on, we all just started doing other stuff," he continues.
"I think after a while, we just realised we really had to get back and do stuff, because if we didn't, it would have been too much time apart, and we would have gotten too wrapped up in the other things we were doing. I'm glad that point came, though."
Any fears that Belle & Sebastian may have disbanded can be put to rest; Colburn, in fact, sees the band as a life-long enterprise.
"The whole thing's about chemistry," he figures of the relationships that keep the band together. "I've just got a feeling that we'll be playing forever, taking two or three year breaks here and there. Belle & Sebastian is just the kind of thing that draws you back in no matter what you're doing. It's a funny thing, it's almost like there's no other option. Over the years, we've all just been drawn back to it."
The arrangements on Write About Love are lush and luxurious, a trend that has been present in Belle & Sebastian's music since 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress, a collaboration with pop producer Trevor Horn. Colburn and the band credit Horn for opening their eyes to new ways of making music.
"Working with him was the first time in the studio where control was relinquished, and someone else took the rains," he recalls. "Up until then, we were used to calling all the shots in the studio, recording-wise and arrangement-wise, and that was the first time that somebody questioned it all, saying, 'well, why don't you try this instead?' That experience has definitely informed the two albums we've made since, though.
"It was a transition, and it showed us that we could actually give up some control in the studio. We've gotten used to the idea of working with producers now."
Before letting Colburn go, it's hard to be compelled to ask about his curious absence during Belle & Sebastian's performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Drummer Questlove, from Fallon's house band The Roots, filled in for him, leading some to speculate that there had been some sort of falling-out within the group.
The reason, it turns out, is actually quite mundane. "That whole thing had to do with visas," Colburn laughs. "I play with another band called Tired Pony, and in a nutshell, I had a two-year visa organised to play shows with them in America, but they didn't tell us until the last minute that, with that visa, I couldn't legally go on television and play with another band! That meant no Jimmy Fallon for me," he sighs.
"I played the Letterman show the very next night with Tired Pony, and I was just taken aback that I could play Letterman… but because of that visa issue, I couldn't play Fallon.
"I like to tour the 'States," he shakes his head, "I like to play music, so I was a bit put out that I was stuck in the audience for that show, but that's why."
- BELLE & SEBASTIAN finally return to Australia to play GOLDEN PLAINS at the Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre over the Labour Day long weekend - March 12-14. They headline alongside Os Mutantes, Hawkwind, The Hold Steady, Wavves, Joanna Newsom, Best Coast, The Clean, Architecture In Helsinki and more. Tickets and info from goldeplains.com.au.
Better still, BELLE & SEBASTIAN play two sideshows at The Forum on Saturday March 12 (sold out) and Monday March 14 - tickets from ticketmaster.com.au and 136 100.
Write About Love is out now through Remote Control.
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN