It is testament to Belle and Sebastian’s supremacy of reputation that the explosion of public excitement around the line-up announcement for 2015’s bigger, beefier Sound City almost seems to have been revolving solely around their name, especially when compared with fellow headliners The Flaming Lips. They are, in short, a special band; inspirers of a distinct kind of Smiths-esque devotion that seizes on sensitivity and transforms it into a kind of self-conscious sublimity, and most incredibly of all they continue to do so as they approach their third decade as a group.

“I’m sure there are people that have grown out of us, but there are other people that have grown up and into us, and that’s maybe the thing,” says vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Martin when we catch up, speaking of the lasting love that still lingers for the Glasgow twee-poppers. “We’re reasonably young at heart, too, I suppose…  I think the thing is that [the music is still] relevant to us. If we were trying to consciously be something specific, trying to consciously be relevant, we’d just be transparent. I think that if what you’re playing and singing about is relevant to you, then it’s probably going to be relevant to somebody else.”

It’s been years – a decade in fact – since the love-in came Liverpool’s way. “I think it might have been as far back as 2004,” she remembers, and that might have something to do with the fervour that surrounds this clamorous local build-up for what feels like a gig on a level beyond most. So what exactly can we expect from the Belles on their long-awaited return then? “I just couldn’t predict it!” says Martin of the prospective setlist. “It’s always done on the day, pretty much,” she continues. “Usually pre-soundcheck there’ll be a kind of ‘draft set’, and then after we’ve soundchecked we’ll nail it down properly.”

It’s a prospective setlist that’s got a veritable indie pop goldmine to draw on, a bounty of classics that’s only bolstered by their latest album Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, which saw the six-piece make a full foray into crisp, modish electronica. Yet that marked shift in style seems to have slotted right in with their back catalogue on stage. “We’ve not really had to change anything, everything [new on that album] has kind of been there all along. I mean, I don’t think it’s that huge of a change of sound. It’s a change of producer, and that brings a certain energy in, but we’ve not actually had to bring in any actual new instruments apart from the keytar that Stuart [Murdoch, Belle And Sebastian frontman] is playing these days!”

"I think that if what you’re playing and singing about is relevant to you, then it’s probably going to be relevant to somebody else.” Sarah Martin, Belle and Sebastian

Hitting the right mix between the classics and new material seems little problem too, according to Martin, who explains that, “The more variety we have the better. It’s easy to get ebb and flow and a shape to the set if you’ve got plenty of variety. It’d be very boring if everything sounded like Fox In The Snow or something, or if everything was just exactly the same palette. I think it’s easy, really. We draw on everything throughout the set. Some of the new songs when we first played them actually felt like they had an energy similar to a lot of the older ones as well, so it’s not been a struggle at all, really.”

Given the length of wait the city has had for a Belle And Sebastian headline show, it’ll be fair to assume there will a be core of “Scotland’s For Me” die-hards in the crowd come the final night of Sound City, and the band are lining up some rarities especially for them. “Because of the two compilation records – Push Barman [To Open Old Wounds] and The Third Eye Centre – there’s quite a lot of singles that weren’t on albums, B-sides and stuff, and a lot of them are favourites to do live now, actually,” Martin confirms. And as for her own personal favourites? “Oh God… it’s just too hard… I really love doing We Are The Sleepyheads at the moment, which is on The Life Pursuit. I also love Women’s Realm, and I love doing Enter Sylvia Plath, which is an amazing one to play.”

It’s worth remembering, too, that the group will have been constantly touring their new material for over half a year come that fateful May weekend, after a US tour that preceded the new album release saw the new tunes get their debut airings. “When we first played the new ones on tour that was last year, maybe like September and October, in the States. Enter Sylvia Plath went down really well,” Sarah remembers. “Ally could have been on any of our records really, that’s such a strum-along, it really fits in. I remember the first time we did The Book Of You and that felt like we were doing an old tune, really.”

“We’re still kind of figuring out which of the new ones really work best,” Martin continues. “We did five songs when we were in America last October before the record was out, but on the recent tour we were in the Far East and Australia, and we didn’t really get soundchecks, so we didn’t really have the opportunity to dig in and explore a little bit with the new songs.” Fortunately for us the band’s current tour is already well underway, so they should be in a good groove to find the perfect blend for Sound City 2015’s closing performance. “On the tour I think things will develop quite a bit,” Sarah agrees, before adding “so I think we’ll be firing on all cylinders by Liverpool. We’ll have been solidly at it for eight weeks by that point – we should be quite good by then!”

Words: Paddy Clarke / @paddyclarke

belleandsebastian.com

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