Special Report

Belle & Sebastian: Too twee or not too twee?

Co-founder Chris Geddes talks about perceptions, pop songs, and why the band’s fanbase is still going strong after 20 years

 

There has to be something wrong here. The Glasgow band that for many casual observers is the epitome of coyness, is headlining the Hollywood Bowl next month. So much for keeping your head down while singing delicate pop songs. In their wildest dreams did Belle & Sebastian ever think this would happen?

 “When we first started we definitely weren’t thinking about playing big concerts like that,” says their co-founding keyboard player, Chris Geddes. At the same time, he recalls, when his band-mate songwriter Stuart Murdoch was delivering songs such as The State I am In and The Stars of Track and Field, “we thought they were great. So in a part of our minds we probably all thought we were going to be pop stars. We’re still waiting for that, obviously.”

 Formed in 1996, Belle & Sebastian have withstood more than 20 years of music trends and changes, and by nature (and record sales statistics) remain a self-contained band adored by a committed fanbase. Chris credits this to several things, notably good luck, the craft and quality of the songs, and the enduring online community of fan-friends.

 “Despite changes of direction and periods of inconsistent activity over the years, a lot of people who discovered the band early on have stuck with us. Also, with each record we seem to pick up new listeners. We were also lucky that in the beginning we got enough support from radio stations to find an audience when many thousands of equally good records slipped under the radar.”

 The advent of the internet and email communication from the mid-1990s onwards also greatly helped. “In the early years of the band, at the start of all the online stuff, we had quite an active community, and I think a lot of friendships formed at that time are still going strong in real life. This contributed to a sense of community among fans of the group, although in reality the numbers of people active in that were only ever a small percentage of the people who would listen to our records or come to see us play.”

 Nonetheless, Belle & Sebastian is still around, continuing to snag people with adroit, smart songs new and (given that they’re just a shade over 20 years in existence) not so old. The cliche of the band being the epitome of twee and winsome isn’t so much sidestepped by Chris as rationally accepted.

 “I think sometimes people in the band have wanted to argue against it, and say we’re a rock’n’roll band or a soul group, or whatever. Sometimes we are, but we also put out songs with titles such as Dog on Wheels and Fox in the Snow – songs with major seventh chords, glockenspiels and lyrics about classroom bullying, nerds, full of book references.”

 The band want to make, Chris admits with Scottish pride, records that, quite simply, sound pretty. “In some respects, those descriptions – that we’re twee, and so on – are fair enough. But I would say there’s nothing cute about getting bullied at school.”

 Belle & Sebastian perform at Iveagh Gardens, Thursday, July 20th. Tickets from ticketmaster.ie