Like any young rock band, Scotland’s Belle and Sebastian were excited for their first visit to New York. But in some ways, it didn’t live up to one band member’s expectations.
“I think by the time we came to New York, which was like ‘97 or ‘98, we’d already seen Manhattan had cleaned up a lot. Gentrified,” says Belle and Sebastian keyboard player Chris Geddes, a founding member of the Glasgow collective. “I think I was kind of disappointed there wasn’t graffiti on the subway train, kind of like how you see New York portrayed in the movies.”
Despite the kindler, gentler Gotham that greeted them, the indie pop band has made the city a memorable stop on its tours, including a very hot night at Forest Hills Stadium in June of 2018 — “we really enjoyed the vibe of the stadium and watching people in the tennis club at night,” says Geddes — and will return to the area on Wednesday for a show at Brooklyn Steel.
Belle and Sebastian’s most recent traditional, full-length album release came in 2015 with “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance,” which they followed up in 2018 with three EPs — “How to Solve our Human Problems,” parts one through three. Last week they announced the Sept. 13 release of their soundtrack to the upcoming film “Days of the Bagnold Summer” and shared a single from the album, “Sister Buddha.” The soundtrack work follows on frontman Stuart Murdoch’s 2014 film, “God Help the Girl.”
Visual accompaniment — on album covers and in music videos — has been a cornerstone of the band’s art since 1996’s debut album “Tigermilk” (the cover features a topless Joanne Kenney in a bathtub cradling a toy tiger, photographed by Murdoch). The dreamy, two-tone aesthetic is down to Murdoch’s vision, says Geddes.
“Stuart’s definitely the person who has the visual ideas for each cover,” he says. “I suppose it’s interesting, I think sometimes he consciously tries to do something different. With the one for ‘Girls in Peacetime’ it was a conscious effort to do something a bit more futuristic. I think Stuart’s definitely got a take on life and he’s got a kind of sensibility, and even when he wants it to be different it kind of falls within that field. I feel like with every project he follows his muse, but you always know it’s him.”
For the third B&S album, “The Boy with the Arab Strap” (1998), that meant a solo appearance for Geddes on the cover.
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“The way the actual image came about was we were filming a video for Isobel’s song ‘Is It Wicked Not To Care?’ and it involved sword fighting,” Geddes recalls, referring to former band member Isobel Campbell. “We got a bit too enthusiastic with the swords, and one of them got broken, so that’s how we ended up with the image. … I didn’t really think about it that much, but seeing a poster of you up on the wall is funny.”
As part of Belle and Sebastian’s North American tour — which starts at Brooklyn Steel — they’ll play their critically beloved “If You’re Feeling Sinister” album from front to back at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago on July 20.
Another important date for hardcore B&S fans — Aug. 8, when the band will set sail from Barcelona, Spain, to Sardinia on the Boaty Weekender, its first waterborne event, with a who’s who of indie rock shipmates including Mogwai, Yo La Tengo, Camera Obscura, Buzzcocks, Alvvays and Japanese Breakfast. Geddes says it’s an excursion they wanted to do “almost since the outset of the band.”
Before we wrapped up our interview, we had to ask Geddes about the song “Piazza, New York Catcher,” from 2003’s standout album “Dear Catastrophe Waitress,” with the key lyric, “Piazza, New York catcher, are you straight or are you gay?” inspired by the Mets legend calling a press conference in 2002 to announce, “I’m not gay,” in response to an item in The Post.
In 2016, Murdoch told Rolling Stone he didn’t know if the Hall of Famer had heard the song. Geddes updates, “I’m not aware of him having any reaction to it or the band.” It’s hard to believe Piazza hasn’t heard the song, but there’s a good chance he’ll hear it if he comes to Brooklyn Steel on Wednesday — which just happens to fall one night after the 2019 MLB All-Star Game.