Belle & Sebastian: Through the Decades
Written by Michaela Stock.


Scottish indie band Belle and Sebastian began with a recording they cut at their college campus in the mid-90’s. Nearly 30 years later, they’ve built a legacy career through their sharp-yet-whimsical songwriting and word-of-mouth promotion.

Drummer Richard Colburn has been with Belle and Sebastian since the start, and while the passing of time can leave some artists uninspired, Colburn’s love for drumming has only just begun. Revue had a chat with the drummer about the band's impressive history.

Thinking back to before you became a drummer, did you ever predict you’d be where you are now? 

I'm a fourth generation drummer in my family. My great uncle, my grandfather, and my father before me were drummers. I come from a very, very musical family, but I kind of rebelled at an early age. You know how sometimes when something's not forced upon you but it surrounds you, you either jump on it, or you do the opposite? Well, I kind of did the opposite, and I thought, ‘Right, oh, it's not for me.’

I moved to Glasgow to do a music business course, and I had my sights on maybe working in the industry, whether it be with a record label or something on that side, rather than performing. I had no visions of being in a band or playing music. It was kind of a hobby, and by the point of moving to Glasgow, I had almost given up.

And now you’ve made drumming your career. When it comes to your artistry, how has your craft evolved by playing with Belle and Sebastian? 

When I first started, I had no real aspirations to do anything extracurricular apart from playing in the band. But as time's gone on, I want to learn more and more. I’m studying other drummers, and other techniques, and different things. As I get older, I have a bigger thirst for knowledge of the instrument.

You’re touring quite a bit these days and have 80 songs in your repertoire. How do you narrow down your setlists for each show?

That's a good question. We actually break it down to four blocks of three or four, maybe five songs. Each block has a job to do with the ebb and flow of the set. We have certain songs that are key, that are always there, like staples of the set list. And we have other ones that flow in and out, that do the same job at the same part of the set, but can be exchanged. 

Belle and Sebastian has been a band since 1995. Most bands can’t survive multiple albums, let alone decades. How does it feel to be part of a band with such a lasting legacy?

It feels amazing, although personally I never think about it because I'm always looking forward. I think we're all like that actually, we're always forward looking, and our mindset is what's next rather than what was before us. We don't like to linger.

Ironically, the band was formed with an intent to release two albums and break up. How has your journey been growing as artists together?

Most of us hadn't known each other prior to starting the band, so there were varying levels of musicianship and experience. I'd never really recorded in a studio. Most of us hadn't, in fact, done that before we did Tigermilk. We were kind of thrown in at the deep end in a lot of ways, and you had to kind of learn quite quickly. 

But, we've built up this great chemistry with each other. If you were to go into the studio and solo any single instrument on one of our records, it might sound a bit odd, but together it really works.

What has been the secret to keeping Belle and Sebastian together for all this time? 

We're a family really, and we're so used to each other that we give each other space when we need it, especially musically when a decision is to be made, or we're in the studio and somebody has an idea for something. We're very good at being our own critics, so we try and make it as democratic as possible. We try and be as ego-less as possible, although everybody has an ego, obviously, but we try and make sure that we give enough respect to each other. 

Your band used to have a reputation for avoiding press and interviews. Why?

We kind of shunned the limelight. It was our lead singer Stuart’s vision all along to just let the music do the talking, and not the promotion, because at that point in the U.K., Britpop was probably at its peak.It was so bombastic, so press driven, and so on and so forth about, that it was a lot less about the music and a lot more about the individuals, or characters, or bands, or image, and all that. So Stuart was like, ‘Let's do the antithesis of that and just simply do the music.’

It was an interesting few years from the start, because we stipulated to the record label and everybody else around us. We are our own thing and our own way, and we're definitely not playing the game.

What story is Belle and Sebastian trying to tell today? 

We're just always happy to be doing what we're doing. We've been so fortunate to have a fantastic fan base that has stuck with us no matter what. We're still on the road, and we're still enjoying it, and we still get on, and you know, all the rest of it. We still have a passion and eagerness to make new music and not dwell on the past, past sounds or whatever it may be, but just to keep going forward. 

It's kind of funny; if you're never in fashion, you're never out of fashion.

Belle & Sebastian
Bell's Eccentric Cafe
May 6