Belle and Sebastian: “Some of my favourite recordings ended up on Late Developers

The seminal Scottish band's keyboardist and founding member Chris Geddes on the making of the new album, feeling nostalgia and the loss of Alan Rankine

Though indie fans of several generations may still be reeling from Belle and Sebastian’s 11th studio album A Bit Of Previous, the Scots are back with another surprise. Its follow-up, Late Developers, will be released in a matter of days, delivering another set of new material recorded at the same time in their makeshift pandemic studio in Glasgow.

We sat down with founding member and keyboardist Chris Geddes ahead the release of the new Belle and Sebastian record as well as the band’s long awaited return to UK stages in the summer.

A Bit Of Previous was your first release in quite a few years, and you were writing and recording this new album simultaneously. How significant was that time for you?

At the time it was good just to be doing something! We talked a lot when A Bit Of Previous came out about how we should have gone to LA and done the record with [producer] Shawn Everett in March of 2020, and obviously that didn’t get to happen. It took us longer than we planned to get the studio ready; we’d hoped we’d get back in and get to work at the end o summer 2020 but it was actually closer to Christmas. But once we were back in and properly working it felt good, which I guess is why we kept going and kept recording more songs rather than knocking it on the head when we had the first album’s worth done. 

The reason I have to really think back to that period to talk about it is because at the time there was no separation between them. We hadn’t really settled on the tracklist; it wasn’t like we finished the songs for Previous and then started on Late Developers. We worked on them concurrently and the tracklisting was up in the air almost as late as it could be. With vinyl releases there are long deadlines, so we had to settle on it a good while before it came out, but there were definitely songs that were in contention for either record. 

Were there any thematic frameworks you used to separate them at the time?

When you’re working on the music you’re really thinking of it in musical terms rather than lyrical themes, but I will say it definitely wasn’t a case of putting what we thought were the best songs on Previous and holding stuff back for Late Developers. There’re a few times that albums have felt all over the place. I think we were conscious that on a couple of records we’d put a few too many tracks on them that maybe made them weaker overall. Definitely, for me, some of my favourite stuff from the whole batch of recording has ended up on Late Developers

Chris Geddes by Marisa Privatera Murdoch

How important was it to return to Glasgow for its recording, the first time in over two decades I believe?

It was done out of necessity in the circumstances, but I think there’d definitely been a divide in the band between people who preferred going away to record and those who preferred staying at home. So over the previous several album cycles the people in the former had got their way, as it were. I was definitely in the stay at home camp, which we had done in previous years, just not for what was considered a proper album. We did the EPs and the Days Of The Bagnold Summer soundtrack in Glasgow.

When we were working with Inflo on the EPs he came into our rehearsal space and as soon as he walked in he was like, ‘You guys could make records here, you don’t need to go anywhere else!’. I had kinda always thought that, so it was good to put that into practice. A lot of my favourite music was made by groups of people who built their own studios in the place that they lived. Motown, Stax, Studio One in Jamaica, these people didn’t go away to LA to work in a proper studio, they did what they could with what they could put together themselves.

Keeping on the production side of things, you mentioned the original plan was to go out and work with Shawn Everett; did you try and emulate a similar kind of sound to him or go about it your own way?

We just did it our own way. We did most of it with our friend Brian McNeil engineering and co-producing with us, and he’s someone who’s worked with us a lot on previous recordings in Glasgow. We sent a few tracks to Shawn to mix, a couple of which ended up on Previous, but that was also the new title track, ‘Late Developers’.

Definitely, when we’re producing ourselves you don’t think ‘what would somebody else do here?’. When you work with someone like Inflo, you learn a lot from how he works and you try and absorb that into your own work and carry it forward, but I don’t think there was a point where we thought, what would Shawn do?

Sonically, the return last year and here on Late Developers marks a bit of a shift from the disco, synth pop that had been developing on Girls In Peacetime. Do you think or talk consciously together about changes in your sound?

There was definitely a period when we worked with people who pushed us away from our earlier sound. Certainly the second record that we did with Tony Hoffer [Belle and Sebastian Write About Love]… he was keen to get things more synthy. It generally comes with the writing as well; ‘The Party Line’, for example, was written as a disco song, not an old school Belle and Sebastian style song. Even though a producer might push things or take things in a slightly different direction, usually the stylistic choices are in the writing.

But it has been interesting for me over these past few years. This shift has changed the role of the keyboards. I still really love just playing piano and organ and I’m glad that I got to do that a bit more on this lot of recordings, but I do enjoy the programming and sound design stuff too. From my point of view, I got to do all of the things that I enjoy.

You brought in young Glasgow musician Pete Ferguson as a co-write on one of the songs. Do you as a band ever feel like custodians or leading figure in Glasgow’s rich scene? Does Belle and Sebastian ever think about it like that?

Yeah, in the sense that we’re aware of the bands who came before us. I can remember being a kid and being really looking up to Teenage Fanclub, The Pastels, Eugene Kelly and people like that, and I never imagined that they would one day be my friends. When you’re in it, it does just feel normal – they’re your friends, the people you see in the pub. So in a way it makes you think maybe we could do more to support younger bands and give them the benefit of our experience. I guess we always try and have more up-and-coming bands open for us, but it’s interesting… you like to think you’re engaged in the community, but there probably is more we could be doing.

Belle and Sebastian - "A Bit of Previous" (Official Video)

There’s an older song on Late Developers, ‘When The Cynics Stare Back From The Wall’, which pre-dates Belle and Sebastian. Do you ever feel nostalgic as a band? I’d say nostalgia is something many of your fans would associate you with.

Yeah, I would say we probably do. It’s not like we get together and talk about the old times a lot, but when you get into middle age you look back on when you were younger. I think everyone does. I was doing something the other day when I had to watch some old video footage of the band, and it’s kind of normal isn’t it? Looking back and thinking, ‘Oh god we had it all in front of us then’!

We recently lost Alan Rankine. The obituaries have poured in, but could you tell us a little bit more about him? He was obviously quite instrumental to the formation of Belle and Sebastian.

Yeah, it’s really sad. It’s no age at all. At the time when we first met him I kinda didn’t appreciate how important and talented he was, because I’d been a little bit young to be into The Associates. But he was just super supportive of us. The idea that he heard Stuart’s music and thought ‘this guy’s got something about him, let’s make an album’. To go back to what we were saying earlier about a sense of community, it’s brilliant that a guy who’d had the success he had was teaching a college course and mentoring a new generation of people. That speaks volumes for the person he was.

Get tickets for Belle and Sebastian’s July 2023 UK tour here. Late Developers is released Friday 13 January