Belle and Sebastian's latest LP may sound like a disco album but it's not

Belle and Sebastian to come down from the highlands to play Coachella.
  • Belle and Sebastian to come down from the highlands to play Coachella.
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Belle & Sebastian and Perfume Genius

Scottish indie-pop band Belle and Sebastian is coming to the Observatory North Park on April 17 for a sold-out show.

It marks the first time since 2006 the sextet has played in San Diego.

Keyboardist Chris Geddes, who has been with the band since their mid-’90s beginnings, hopes to see more of the city than he did nine years ago.

“I remember enjoying it,” Geddes, 39, tells the Reader on a Skype call from Singapore. “But we weren’t there long enough where we could hang out. But our friends rave about it.”

The San Diego gig is part of a West Coast jaunt to promote Belle and Sebastian’s new record, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, an album that adds some dance rhythms to the usual mix of quirky lyrics and classic-if-quirky songcraft.

It’s the ninth album since Tigermilk, the band’s 1996 debut.

Geddes downplays what some are calling Belle and Sebastian’s “disco album,” while admitting many of the songs did have their roots in rhythms rather than chord patterns.

“Some people think ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ sounds like the Pet Shop Boys. I was surprised by that, but [vocalists] Sarah [Martin] and Stuart [Murdoch] do really like the Pet Shop Boys,” Geddes said. “We’re still very influenced by 1960s songwriters like Bacharach and David, but we were trying to do something not like what we’ve done.

“That’s why we went to Atlanta to record the album, but it wasn’t that we were trying to do something completely dancy,” he said. “Even when we talk about ‘disco’ we have different ideas. I think of Arthur Russell and underground dance music, while Stevie likes Philadelphia soul and George McRae.”

However, Geddes points to the track “Perfect Couples” as an example of how Belle and Sebastian were more willing to let the beat influence the songs than they had been in the past. The song started with what Geddes calls “a bit of programming” that fit with an idea that guitarist Stevie Jackson was working on.

Serving the song is something Geddes has strived to do since he first met Murdoch. They were both college students in Glasgow.

“I remember when me and Stuart connected and he played me a song in his flat,” Geddes said. “Before that, I had been in punky guitar bands playing hard power chords. I had taken some piano, but I’m amazed that I was vain enough to think I could contribute to his music.”

Although Atlanta is an epicenter for dance music thanks to groups like OutKast, Geddes said there was little time in the schedule to research the city’s music scene.

“We were just there to work. We rented a house one mile from the studio, while Sarah and Stuart had apartments,” he said. “But there was nice food and drink and good people to work with.”

The recording came soon after Murdoch finished another project, writing and directing God Help the Girl, a British musical film that got positive reviews when it was released in the U.S. this past September.

Geddes thinks Murdoch’s style of songwriting lends itself to drama but feels his friend was happy to get back to Belle and Sebastian.

“I think Stuart has always written through a character. You can’t always assume the viewpoint of the character is his,” Geddes said. “But after making the movie, I think he was just relieved he could work in a quicker manner since it takes so long to make a movie, from writing the script to getting the financing to make the film.”

Geddes said that it helped knowing that the album was pre-budgeted before going into the studio.

“Matador promised us the money, so we knew we could record as soon as we were ready,” he said.

Belle and Sebastian’s San Diego performance comes the same week the band plays the Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival on April 10 and 17.

It marks the band’s second appearance at what has become one of the biggest festivals in the world.

“We played Coachella early on — around 2003,” Geddes said. “We actually played around sunset on the second stage, which is a nice slot. The last time, we felt our music was a good fit for the vibe.”

Although Steely Dan’s scheduled appearance has been the subject of some hipster ire, count Geddes as one person happy they are on the bill.

“I haven’t seen them since they’ve been active this time around, but we’ve been adding extra notes to chords like them since we began,” he said. “We’ve stolen from them so now they can come and laugh at us.”

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