Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Not minding being woken up at 8AM in the midst of a Glasgow winter, Belle and Sebastian’s drummer RICHARD COLBURN is happy to talk about band dynamics, his love of touring and Australian beer, as ANDY HAZEL excitedly discovers.

“I’m in Glasgow, in mah bed...I just woke up man,” says Colburn sighing tiredly, his Scottish burr seeming extra-thick. About to embark on an extensive global tour to promote the band’s 2010 album Write About Love, Colburn fills time between working with the group by also playing with Snow Patrol and occasionally with their singer Gary Lightbody, REM's Peter Buck and Zooey Deschanel in Tired Pony. “One album and three gigs!” He says qualifying the latter “not sure that counts as a band.”

A little more animated, Colburn brings us up to date. “I’m in the studio just now with a Spanish band; me and [Belle and Sebastian bassist] Bob [Kildea], we’re the backing band of the studio. I love working with other bands and different things with them, I’ve done it so long now I’m not qualified to do anything else besides music,” he says with a laugh. “I was over in the States for a month before I got married,” he continues casually. “We didn’t get a honeymoon in, but we’ve both just been so busy. I’ve got a baby coming at the end of July too, which complicates things. I think we’re back by then, we might stop for a little while.”

This blithe referral to life-changing events is a perfect example of the earthy realism that underpins Belle and Sebastian. Call them twee and fey but the members are from working class Glasgow and singer Stuart Murdoch, a boxer and Colburn, a champion snooker player, are as unaffected as they come, still living in the suburbs in which they were raised. Colburn still admits to being thrilled that he can travel and play music the way he does. “I am a fan of touring I love it, I really love it, I don’t think I could be happier doing anything else actually. We’ve not toured for so long which means there’ll be lots of old songs in the set by the time we get to Melbourne. We often tend to reintroduce old songs into the set after we’ve had a break. Someone will want to hear something old, You’re Just A Baby or String Bean Jean, that sort of thing.”

Excitement contained, it seems Colburn is just as enthusiastic about the time between gigs as playing them. “Well last time I was in Australia I was in Perth and we hired bikes and drove up to Bon Scott’s grave, which was cool. Me and Bob are less proactive in the ‘lets go out and find stuff to buy’ department when we tour, we’re more about going out after the gig, I’m more an advocate of that. It depends if it’s a gig day or if you have a day off, sometimes someone will go off on their own, Stuart might go and check out public transport or something. There are times like that, after 15 years it’s inevitable you get into habits.”

Besides the habit of consistently putting out acclaimed albums, Colburn is surprisingly forthcoming about the inter-band dynamics, those same ones that come to play when touring, something that will inevitably be a part of a seven-strong band with an entourage. “We always try to be as democratic as possible, but you always need one person to be decisive otherwise nothing gets done. The dynamics have shifted over the years,” he continues. “The first two records were pretty much all Stuart and quite rightly so, they were all his songs. We were almost like a backing band in the beginning, but around the time of [The Boy With The] Arab Strap, other members started having an input; Stevie or Isobel mainly, and latterly Sarah as well. At first, it was all Stuart but soon he decided he didn’t want all that pressure and we all concentrated on working together and it opened up a lot more.”

Songwriting in the band has obviously undergone a major shift since the release of debut album Tigermilk in 1996, though the band still sounds unmistakably like itself, which, it seems, is in part due to the weight given to each member's opinions. “Occasionally people will suggest things for each other, it depends who writes the songs,” he explains. “It’s got to be OK by Stuart and they have to have a really firm idea of what they want. It could be me or Bob or Beans [keyboardist Chris Geddes], sometimes songs are only half written so we just experiment together as a band. I do all my own parts but sometimes it’s the songwriter who makes suggestions, especially if it’s not quite working for some reason, we’ll change parts around and think about adding other instruments, like horns maybe.”

The opening track from Write About Love, I Didn’t See It Coming, sees Colburn kicking off the album with an atypical funk beat, introducing one of the favourite subgenres of Belle and Sebastian songs; the dance number. “On that particular song we recorded it a different way,” explains Colburn keenly. “I think there is some electronic percussion in the backing track, but even without that, it’s such a different song from anything else we recorded for that album. I’d love to go further down that route, explore more of the electronic and dance stuff,” he says before laughing. “A few years back we were going to make an entirely electronic album where we all played keyboards, like Depeche Mode. Perhaps we’ll get back to that at some point, I know Beans was keen.”

When it comes to songwriting, much has been made of the role of spirituality in some of Murdoch’s later lyrics, an aspect Colburn is happy to discuss though unable to contribute much to. “Christianity is big for Stuart yeah, and in the songs he writes there’s definitely the content inspired by Christianity. He’s always been an avid churchgoer, but as for the rest of us not so much no, that’s more of his scene and we’re happy to go along with it.”

Something he’s far happier to go along with is a chance to be introduced to is the work of some Australian microbreweries. “I enjoy Australian beer and always like the selection of alcohol we’re given in our rider when we play Australian shows, and I’d love the opportunity to try some other. Usually on a rider they just give us VB or Carlton or whatever, which is fine, but we’d love to get our hands on some microbrewed beer, we’re always up for that.” Well, you know what he’s drinking Melbourne, get your round in.

1 comment:

  1. Al diablo!! Esto es pesimo.... Buuuuuuuuuuuu!!!