Belle and Sebastian

Interview: Belle and Sebastian on self produced album Late Developers

Responding to the restrictions of 2020 by building their own bespoke studio space, Belle and Sebastian’s latest record, Late Developers, is the second in under a year to have been born in this new creative HQ. We caught up with the beloved Scottish indie popsters’ keyboard-man Chris Geddes to find out more about the band’s fruitful new era…

Hugely admired by the indie-leaning press (and just about anybody who appreciates a whistle-able hook), Glasgow’s Belle and Sebastian have a long-cemented position as top-tier songwriters. On their 90’s classics, If You’re Feeling Sinister and The Boy with the Arab Strap the six-piece, led by the unmistakable feather-toned vocals of Stuart Murdoch, attracted a rapt audience of devotees. Their distinctive personality was at odds with much of the then en-vogue Britpop posturing. The band continued to produce exceptional material throughout the 2000s and 2010s, with successful work under the auspices of Tony Hoffer pushing the band into a more eclectic sonic direction.

In 2020, ahead of the pandemic, work was due to start over in Los Angeles on the band’s eleventh studio album, helmed by The Killers and The War on Drugs’ stalwart Shawn Everett. However, due to the pandemic, those plans were scuppered. Instead, the band elected to build their very own studio space and self-produce this new record in its entirety.

The resulting – two –  records, A Bit of Previous and the recently released Late Developers are quintessential Belle and Sebastian, containing some of the most affecting work in the band’s entire canon, as well as steps into wholly new territory (evidenced by epic synth-pop anthem I Don’t Know What You See In Me).

We caught up with the band’s keyboard player, Chris Geddes, to find out the full story about this studio build, the resulting creative surge and what it’s like being in a band still at the top of their game after twenty seven years.

AMI: Late Developers is such a fantastic sounding record. I understand that originally you were going to record out in LA with Shawn Everett. At that point, did you envision making two records, or was the creation of album two a consequence of those changing plans?

Chris Geddes: Yeah definitely. If Covid hadn’t happened when it did and we’d gone with our initial plan of going over to the US to record with Shawn it would have just been one album. We had the usual four or six weeks in the studio booked to do that recording. I guess it was a consequence of the change of plans, and the recording moving to our own purpose-built space in Glasgow that things became a bit more open ended. There was no immediate prospect of getting out on the road so we just kept on writing songs and bringing new songs in. We just kept working on new music for longer than we planned to.

AMI: Can you take us through that conversion process from rehearsal space to studio? At what point did you realise that’s what you were going to have to do, and what gear did you need to get in there that was essential for the band?

CG: I think it was late Summer of 2020 that we decided we were going to do it. It was a space that had been our practice room before and we had done some bits of recording there already. We had enough mics to get a mic on every instrument that people were playing. We already had headphone monitoring and a room set-up as a control room. The big thing that we did was move the control room to a different area so the room that had been the control room could become an ISO booth.

As a practice room it had just been one big space, but Brian McNeill, a producer and engineer that we’d been working with, decided to divide that up to create a drum booth separate to the rest of the live room. The other big thing was getting all the cabling in, and getting a patch bay. In the past we’d always done that in a pretty ad hoc way. When you get an opportunity to start from scratch you try to make the cabling as neat as you can. That was the big thing really.

We didn’t really have to spend loads on gear. We bought a couple of things that might have been better than what we’d used before. We bought some UA 610 mic pres and an SSL Bus Comp. We got a few better mics than what we had. Sarah [Martin] bought herself a Neumann U 87 for her vocals because she quite likes her voice to be bright sounding. We also bought a Peluso P12 off our road manager which became Stuart’s main vocal mic. It was just kind of luck, but it really flattered his voice.

AMI: Did the writing process between A Bit of Previous and Late Developers blur together, or was there a marked distinction between the writing of both albums?

CG: No there wasn’t really a distinction. I guess the way it panned out was that there were a lot of songs ready – slightly more than an album’s worth – ready to go even before that process started. Stuart especially was writing quite a lot by that point, and coming in with quite a lot of new songs. I’d say maybe more of the newer things ended up on A Bit of Previous, and the older stuff ended up on Late Developers.

Once we had 25 plus songs we knew it was at least two albums’ worth. I think we knew that we wanted to get as much of it out as we could. We decided not to do a big sprawling double album. It was only when we were deciding on potential track listings that the albums became two separate things. I think during the whole process we were just thinking of it as a bunch of songs that we were working on. In a sense it was to the detriment of meeting deadlines and releasing stuff. If we’d settled on 11 songs and worked to get them finished we could probably have released the first album earlier than it came out, but we wanted to keep our options open. In the end it worked out fine.

AMI: A key track is that first single, I Don’t Know What You See in Me. How did the collaboration with Peter ‘Wuh Oh’ Ferguson originate and how did that evolve?

CG: It came through management as far as I know. Stuart has always been open to collaborating with younger, up-and-coming artists and Pete’s a fan of the band – his parents were Belle and Sebastian fans. When Pete and Stuart met they really clicked. I think maybe the way we’d envisaged a collaboration going might have been us writing for another artist and it turned out more the other way round, where Pete was writing for us, but it was good fun.

We all got on really well, the song is great. I learned a great deal about modern synth production from Pete. I’m listening to the stems a lot right now to learn to play it live. Figuring out what patches he used to make it sound so big. The way he’s programmed it and layered it gives it real size.

It is interesting, we did have I Don’t Know What You See In Me in time to have gone on the previous album, but on that one it just did stick out a bit too much sonically. On that album we wanted to keep it a bit more unified.

AMI: On that note, with Late Developers there’s quite a range of genre-nods, The Evening Star sounds quite soul-like, while Do You Follow has a funkier spine – but it all feels consistent. Do you feel like the band has more freedom now to be stylistically flexible?

CG: I think we’re in a sweet spot where we can do different stuff but we always sound like us. I guess because Stuart and Stevie and Sarah all have pretty recognisable voices, so as long as it’s one of them singing it always kind of sounds like us.

I think The Evening Star sounds similar to stuff we’ve done before, but I think we’ve got better at it now. We might have tried to make older things a bit soul-y but it still would sound like us, we’d put strummed acoustic guitars on it and stuff, whereas with these tracks, we’ve kind of locked in on a soul groove, and let it breathe a bit more.

AMI: In terms of arrangements, there’s some really sumptuous choices. There’s that shimmering organ underpinning the title track and the flute work on So In The Moment – and is that a harpsichord on Will I Tell You A Secret? At what stage do those decisions get made?

CG: Yeah, it’s not a real one, it’s a sampled one. In terms of deciding what instrument gets used, it tends to be pretty early. Usually the songwriter will have a fair idea of what kinds of things they want people to play. Then there is flexibility to try a part on a different instrument, we’re always open like that. I think especially over these two records, there’s maybe less full-band live performances than there used to be, and more things that were built up one instrument at a time.

AMI: Which members of the band are involved in the mix process?

CG: Well I’m there, but normally the principal writer of the song will be there with the mix engineer giving notes. In the past it was whenever we heard a rough mix of a song everyone in the band would have notes on it. But you can’t really do that. You can’t mix by committee too much.

With these two records there’s three or four distinct mixing processes because there were the songs we did completely in our own place, which Brian would have recorded and mixed. Then, there were songs that we recorded with Brian but then sent to Shawn Everett for mixing. Then there were three tracks that Matt Wiggins did with us. He’s a really great producer.

AMI: Which tracks changed the most would you say from their starting point?

CG: Probably Do You Follow as it pre-dated the album recordings. It was one which we’d actually demoed for our 2019 album Days of the Bagnold Summer but it didn’t really fit the vibe. We’d kind of got it to a certain place but we were never quite happy with the final arrangement and mix. Shawn Everett had a go at mixing it and improved its groove. We took that idea and did another version of it which ended up being the final one. That was a fairly convoluted process. A lot of the others were reasonably straightforward.

AMI: How much of the production of the record relied on software, and did you use many plugins or software tools to shape the sonics, or did you keep things largely in the physical realm?

CG: It was a mixture. In terms of the band stuff, if it sounds like a band playing then it probably is. We tracked all the guitars through real amps. We used a little bit of sample replacement on drums sometimes just to bring the kick and snare up above the level of cymbals and stuff like that. In terms of the keyboard stuff, it’s a mixture because I do have all my synths in the studio. I’ve got some nice stuff – a Roland Jupiter-8 and a newer Oberheim Prophet as well as some nice mono-synths. Sometimes I’ll use an in-the-box sound for the first run through of something just for speed. Usually I would go back and try and replace it with something different, though sometimes that original sound is better! I had the Hammond and Wurli in the studio, so they’re both real.

It’s nice to have all my own gear to hand, for the first time. I’ve found a good tech in Glasgow who’s fixed a lot of things for me.

AMI: With the Glasgow studio established, is this going to continue to be your HQ, and how often are you all in there together these days?

CG: We’re planning to go back in soon, I think we would hope to carry on in there. Having gone through the process of getting it up and running it would be nice to keep it on and create more than these first two albums in the space.

AMI: So you’ve got a tour coming up in July this year, which tracks from these albums are you most looking forward to playing live?

CG: I think I Don’t Know What You See In Me is going to be really good fun. I spent quite a lot of time working on that before Christmas to try and work out how many of the parts I can physically play before I run out of hands. That one will be fun. When we toured in the US last year we started playing tracks from A Bit of Previous –  Unnecessary Drama and If They’re Shooting At You were both really fun to play. We’re excited to get back out there.

Late Developers is available now. Find out more about Belle and Sebastian’s upcoming Summer tour at