Glasgow, the English city located on the banks of the River Clyde, in the Scottish Lowlands, can seem extremely distant in many ways. Although musically it is all too familiar to indie rock fans of the last three decades.
It is enough to remember names like Primal Scream, Simple Minds, Franz Ferdinand, CHVRCHES, Travis or Mogwai, to bring to mind some of the musical wonders that this city, the third largest in the United Kingdom, has given the world since then.
Although that list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Belle and Sebastian, the essential nerd ensemble that just turned its first quarter of a century producing a fusion of folk rock, indie and chamber pop of impeccable manufacture, and with which the band commanded by Stuart Murdoch has earned the status of living legends of independent music.
This 2022, the band is back with A Bit of Previous, their tenth studio album and first full-length in seven years. And it is an album worth noting because it keeps the band’s recognizable style intact and at the same time sounds fresh and pertinent, something that not everyone can achieve, much less with a 25-year career in tow.
Produced and recorded by the band themselves, their record label Matador Records boasts this work as “A classic Belle and Sebastian album that cares about songs and melodies that won’t leave your head and lyrics that can make you smile but also make you melancholy”.
And it is that dichotomy between happiness and nostalgia is the seal that has identified them for at least the last five albums; a feature that apparently is here to stay since 2003, when they launched the already classic Dear Catastrophe Waitress.
But we are in the 21st century, and to find out more about this new opus we connect via Zoom with its keyboardist Chris Geddes and its vocalist/violinist Sarah Martin, who turn on their camera and offer us their warmest smile before starting the chat:
A Bit of Previous It is their first album in seven years, but also the first they have recorded in their native Glasgow in 20 years. How do you feel about it?
Sarah: I’m excited that it’s finally coming out, because I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment, but the whole process was also really nice. It was definitely good to work together on an album again after such a long time.
Chris: Yeah, although since we were busy with other projects as well, I guess that made it not feel like we had stopped working for a long time since the last record.
The band says that the pandemic made them abort their plans to record in California, but that this situation caused a dynamic that was more refreshing for them, without having to be subject to studio schedule restrictions and enjoying long walks through the streets. and the parks of Glasgow, all of which resulted in seemingly positive creative decisions.
There is some nostalgia in these songs but also energy and optimism, continuing the tradition that they started almost two decades ago.
Sarah: Yes! There is quite a bit of energy.
Chris: I think from the beginning of the band, optimism has always been kind of at the core between us, because the key to the band started with the energy of writing songs and being creative, it’s always been about that.
Before the official release of the album, the band had released three previews of it, which were the singles “Unnecessary drama”, “If they’re shooting at you” and “Young and stupid”, the latter a kind of instant classic. that prays between its lines:
Now we’re old with creaky bones / Some with mates, some alone / Some with kids and some with dogs / Getting through night work / Everything’s fine when you’re young and dumb / Everything’s divine when you’re young and dumb…
The song, which musically they consider a kind of surrender to T.Rex, we interpret as a message to young people that problems at that age are not so bad, although Sarah and Chris clarify that they actually made it thinking of those of us who are older:
“I love that song, I think it’s great. But I think it speaks more to older people who maybe look back when things were inconsequential, but then you see that you have to face the consequences of your actions, “argues Sarah.
“Yeah I agree, at least I look back and remember my younger self, which I think was pretty dumb, so I can relate to that,” adds Chris.
In the most vigorous part of the album stand out tracks like “Talk to me talk to me” and “Reclaim the night”; the first a euphoric suite of more than 140 bpm full of synthesizers and trumpets, and the second a happy cut that speaks of an intergenerational restlessness of women in the middle of 2022.
What was it that made us listen to them so renewed in songs like “Talk to me talk to me” and “Reclaim the night”? Were you aware that this happened?
Sarah: Well, on “Reclaim the night” we worked with the producer Matt Wiggins, who came from London and during the sessions he told us that he didn’t know how to make that song sound modern… I just thought that I didn’t want it to become a retro pastiche, but in the end we saw that we had new tones ringing in our palette.
Chris: Yeah, it’s like making an ancient instrument sound modern. We had already incorporated electronic elements before, but I think in a different way. On the other hand, I think Bob (Bobby Kildea, the band’s guitarist) has become more tonal and adventurous over the years; I think he’s now less interested in playing straight guitar tones and more interested in using pedals and finding different combinations than he’s done before, and that definitely helps us change direction sometimes.
On the other side of the coin are some of the most moving ballads of the band’s new era, such as “Do it for your country” and “Sea of sorrow” that reveal Murdoch’s endless genius, as well as the contribution a little more country from Stevie Jackson in “Deathbed of my dreams”. That said: the two best facets of B&S remain intact.
What is your favorite song on this album and why?
Sarah: The one I like the most is “Working boy in New York City”, I remember a lot the day we did that song; It was such a lovely feeling and I particularly enjoyed playing the flute, with a very distilled spirit that I think made it amazing and hopeful. It’s a comforting song, with a nice positive message.
Chris: If I had to pick just one I’d say the same one as Sarah, but for the sake of diversity I’ll say “Reclaim the night” because, as she said, working on that with Matt and coming up with a synth arrangement was really cool.
I’ve always wanted to ask you: How do you choose the people who appear on your album covers? Are they people who only appear in random photos or where do they come from?
Sarah: We’re not really involved in that, it’s hard to tell (smiles).
This summer they will tour North America, although it saddens me to see that Mexico is not yet included in that tour.
Sarah: Yes, but we hope that it will be added soon.
Chris: Sure, the thing is that at the time we were planning this tour it wasn’t quite clear yet how things would go with the whole pandemic thing. But obviously we are also looking forward to going back to Mexico. Hopefully that will come true very soon.
And while we’re at it, what is your best memory of Mexico?
Chris: Maybe the day we ended up jumping out of the audience and back onstage.
Sarah: Ah, that was brilliant, yes I remember… Good time!
In 2023 it will be 20 years since the departure of Dear Catastrophe Waitressan album that I think was a turning point in your career, because from then on you became a happier combo, do you agree with that?
Chris: Absolutely, because that was the first album that revolved around the whole band and that definitely marked a distinctive point in the band.
This is what B&S has prepared for us in A Bit of Previous, a sign that genius is inexhaustible, especially when the art of music is practiced with inspiration, empathy and, of course, a certain dose of sarcasm. Welcome back to the old Belle and Sebastian, the one that has never left since 1996.
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