CHICKENHEAD PAST: BELLE & SEBASTIAN'S MICK COOKE
interview by frank putzerelli

DURING OUR FIRST YEAR, FROM SEPTEMBER 1999 TO AUGUST 2000, WE WERE KNOWN UNDER THE MONIKER CHICKENHEAD. DURING THAT FIRST YEAR, WE INTERVIEWED A LOT OF PEOPLE. NOT ALL OF THEM WERE GREAT INTERVIEWS. YOU CAN TELL THAT WE WERE JUST STARTING TO FIGURE OUT OUR STYLE. BUT WE'VE PICKED TWELVE INTERVIEWS OUT FROM THAT FIRST YEAR THAT EPITOMIZED WHAT WE WERE TRYING TO DO. DURING JUNE, JULY, AND AUGUST WE WILL BE PLACING THESE OLD INTERVIEWS ONLINE FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE. THERE WILL BE FOUR NEW INTERVIEWS EACH MONTH. ENJOY THIS BLAST FROM TASTES LIKE CHICKEN'S PAST!

INTERVIEW: MICK COOKE OF BELLE & SEBASTIAN

ORIGINAL PRINT DATE: SEPTEMBER 2000


OVER THE PAST FOUR YEARS, BELLE & SEBASTIAN HAVE GROWN FROM SOMETHING OF A CULT PHENOMENON, TO ONE OF THE UK'S MOST CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED BANDS. THE SEVEN-PIECE ENSEMBLE WAS FOUNDED BY LEAD SINGER/SONGWRITER STUART MURDOCH AS A FINAL PROJECT FOR A BUSINESS MUSIC CLASS AT THE UNIVERSITY IN GLASGOW, SCOTLAND. WINNERS OF THE BEST NEWCOMER AWARD AT THE 1999 BRIT AWARDS, B & S HAVE RECENTLY BEGUN POPPING UP ON THE AIRWAVES ON OUR SIDE OF THE POND. THE PRESS-SHY BAND RARELY INTERVIEWS AS A GROUP, BUT CONTRIBUTING WRITER FRANK PUTZERELLI MANAGED TO GET SOME WORDS FROM B & S TRUMPET PLAYER AND ALL-AROUND NICE GUY, MICK COOKE.

Frank: In terms of lead vocals and arrangements, the new album seems to be a more diverse effort than the previous recordings. Is this more in line with where the future is taking Belle & Sebastian?

Mick: We don't know where the future is taking us, and never have. We always just do what feels right. If a string section feels right, we'll do it. We're lucky we have the opportunity to do stuff like that now. Who knows; the next album might be guitar, bass, and drums only.

F: We ask everyone we interview this question: do dogs have lips?

M: You'd have to ask my girlfriend. She's a vet. And I can be an animal sometimes, so it helps.

F: I read on one of your fan sites that Stuart was involved with a local church. The liner notes in Fold Your Hands talks about Hillhead hipsters discussing Jesus. Is this tongue-in-cheek misinformation, or does faith play a role in the band?

M: Stuart is the caretaker of a church hall, and lives in the apartment above it. He has always gone to church. Whether or not he has a strong faith is altogether a different matter. I think he mostly goes to church for the sense of community. He's really into that.

F: What's the best thing about fame? The worst?

M: The best is not having to scrub pots for a living. The worst is everyone thinking that you somehow think you're better than everyone else, or people assuming you must be a wanker.

F: What's the deal haggis?

M: It's the stomach of a sheep, filled with mutton (old sheep's meat) and oatmeal. Everyone in Scotland eats it at least once a year, on Burns Night. (Rabbie Burns is Scotland's most famous poet. Burns Night celebrates his birthday.) You kind of get used to it.

F: You've been dubbed "The Ultimate Sunday Band" by the press. What's wrong with Wednesday?

M: Every day seems pretty much the same to me, except on the weekends there are more people to play with because they're not working.

F: Judging by how friendly you've been when I've emailed you, I was kind of surprised to find that you have a reputation as being press shy. Is this due to a general dislike of the media, or do you just prefer to let the music speak for you?

M: The latter, definitely. I think judging by how the British press are treating the band right now, we're very glad we didn't play the press game right from the start. The British press are fickle. Music is not important to them. And even with the magazines to whom music is important (Mojo, being one), they're really arrogant and snobbish.

F: It seems like everyone in B & S play in other bands or is working on some other project. What can you tell us about them?

M: Chris Geddes (keyboards) DJs two or three nights a week in Glasgow and plays with V-Twin, a kind of MC5 for the 21st Century. Steve Jackson (guitar) plays a lot with Bill Wells, the future of Scottish jazz, and with loads of American modern country guys who come to Scotland to play. Isobel Campbell (cello/backing vocals) has her own side project, The Gentle Waves, and uses a lot of us on her records. Mick plays with the Amphetameanies, a ten-piece ska band based in Glasgow. Stuart Murdoch works with local bands, such as Camera Obscura, in the studio in a producer capacity. Richard Colburn (drums) DJs around the country, and guests live with Snow Patrol.

F: With so many of the band members working on other projects, and Stuart David (founding member and original bass player) leaving to work with Looper full-time, are there any concerns for the band's future?

M: No. It's always been that way. At the outset, there was an unwritten agreement that we'd never let the band totally take over our lives.

F: You've sited influences ranging from The Beach Boys to AC/DC. Is it better to have "Good VIbrations" or "Big Balls"?

M: Big balls, definitely. And we've got the biggest balls of them all.

F: B & S started to catch on while many of you were still in school or recently graduated. How difficult was it to maintain that kind of dual life?

M: Considering we hardly ever played live, it was fairly easy. We all have what could only be described as "student lifestyles".

F: What's everyone in the band reading or listening to these days?

M: I can only speak for myself-- soul, ska, '70's funk, Neil Young, Harry Potter, Afro Cuban All-Stars (saw them in Ireland last weekend, and they were mind-blowing). The new Mum and Sodastream albums.

F: What's one thing that everyone in the U.S. should know about B & S?

M: That we like to party. And if anyone wants to throw one for us when we come to the U.S., we'd be delighted to attend.

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