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Interview: Bobby Kildea of Belle & Sebastian

Bobby Kildea tells us about the Scottish group’s latest album and the influence of Madonna on it

Photo: Søren Solkær

After a five-year hiatus, during which Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch focused his efforts on producing his God Help the Girl movie, the indie pop band finally released their latest album, in January 2015. Stylistically, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance differs more than just a bit from their regular indie melodies, with tracks like ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ taking on an electronic music slant. We catch up with bassist Bobby Kildea about the new record. 

‘We’re just trying to make a great pop record that’ll sound good in a club’

So, what's with the nickname ‘Belfast’, even though you’re from Bangor? Do you get a secret ‘gotcha’ thrill whenever people assume that you’re from Belfast?

I never called myself Belfast. Don’t believe what you read! Somebody wrote that 15 years ago, and it’s still on the website. That’s from a bio by my old manager who made that up. Nobody actually calls me ‘Belfast’ but it’s a good story, you know?

Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance came out just last month. How would you sum up the album?

It’s been a while since we’ve had a new album. We recorded Girls in Peacetime with a new producer, Ben Allen III, who brought something completely new to it. We have a new member who joined us in the studio – a friend of ours, Dave McGowan. He joined the tour when Mick Cooke left the band, so that gave the band a very different dynamic as well. He brought something fresh to it. I think the songs that we have written for this new album lend themselves to being played live, more so than the last record. It’s bolder, not as introspective, so we’re looking forward to doing it.

I heard that you were the man behind 'Party Line'. It's different from the tunes normally associated with Belle & Sebastian, and your fans seem a bit divided. What inspired it?

I know what you mean. Some don’t understand why we’ve gone so dance-y but if you look back at the very first record, Tiger Milk had a lot of electronic sounds on it that’s programmed and dance-y. It’s always been there. We’ve used programming a lot over the years. It just hasn’t been as in your face as a couple of tracks on this record like ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ and ‘Party Line’. We’re just trying to make a great pop record that’ll sound good in a club. Like early Madonna. It’s gotta be something that you can dance to.

Is that also your personal favourite track from Girls in Peacetime?

I don’t actually have a favourite because you spend so much time, and you give so much of yourself into every track. Everybody is expected to contribute and write. We all have our personalities in each track, so I like each individual track. I like them all for their own merits.

One of my favourite B&S tracks is ‘Belle & Sebastian’. Are the characters based on real people?

No, they’re not based on real people. The confusion started because we had a girl called Isobel Campbell in the band. We nicknamed her Belle, and everybody locks on that. They think ‘she must be Belle and Stuart must be Sebastian’ but Stuart had all these songs written before he met Isobel. I wouldn’t read too much on this being based on real people. Stuart’s a storyteller. A lot of his songs are based on fantasy. He likes to tell a story but it doesn’t necessarily have to be based on real people. 

You've done a bit of your own thing while Stuart was busy with God Help the Girl, including playing with the Vaselines. Do you foresee more side projects coming up?

When Stuart was making this movie, we all had the opportunity to explore other things and play with other people but that’s just that. It’s Belle & Sebastian time, full steam ahead for the next year, you know?

The band has been on the road for pretty long stretches. How does everyone stay sane?

We do it at a good pace. We tour for like two or three weeks, and we come home and recharge, see our families, then go away again – instead of going away for six months at a time. Those days are long gone. We do at a good level, and our management and our agents understand that. It’s very important to come back, reconnect with and care for your family. We can’t be off partying and playing guitar every night, although I would like to!

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