Q&A with Stevie Jackson and Richard Colburn
The album features the sound of Stuart Murdoch’s zip on ‘I Could Be Dreaming’. Are there any other similiar features on the record?
RC: “If you listen with the bass turned up you can hear this bumping noise. That’s Stuart. He used to like doing his vocal sitting on a chair, then he’d get into the song and start jumping up and down. Occasionally you hear this little rumble on the record and think, ‘What’s that then? Oh yeah, that’s Stuart and his wee chair’.”
How does it feel to see ‘Tigermilk’ re-emerging?
SJ: “Oh, it’s a nice feeling. It’s so long since it came out that it almost feels like it’s being releaed for the first time – 1000 copies were made, but a lot of those were given away. I remember at the launch party, they were just lying about all over the room covered in beer.”
Given the choice would you change anything?
RC: “No, it’d be trying to change an old photo.”
SJ: “I think the mistakes come to be part of what defines the album. After having it sitting there for three years, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Is it true that Stuart Murdoch’s dad owns the ‘Tigermilk’ tapes?
RC: “Stow College paid for the recording and then Stuart’s dad bought the tapes. We all own it now – Mr Murdoch still owns a big chunk of it, but he was kind enough to sell some of it back to us.”
The album features ‘The State I Am In’, which was also on 1997’s ‘Dog On Wheels’ EP. Is it true the EP version was actually recorded first?
RC: “Yeah. Actually, the version on the EP doesn’t have the band on it. Stuart was on one those music courses you get sent on if you’ve been unemployed for six months. The people on the EP are Stuart Murdoch and Stuart David and whoever else was on the course.”
How do you look back on the Bowlie Weekender?
SJ: “It was a bulls eye. What I remeber most are all the American groups. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Flaming Lips… They all looked like rock stars, which I really admired [laughs]. It was the biggest crowd we’ve really played to and it went OK, so I was happy.”
When you busked at Bowlie, what did you play?
SJ: “‘Rhinestone Cowboy’, ‘Maggie May’, ‘Suspicious Minds’ and ‘Keep The Customer Satisfied’ by Simon & Garfunkel. We’d have done more but we got moved on by security.”
Whose idea was it to play ‘The Kids Are Alright’?
SJ: “One day me, Chris and Richard were rehearsing, Chris picked up the bass and we started playing a load of Who songs. Then Stuart came in and started jamming on ‘The Kids Are Alright’ on melodica. We thought it would be a good idea to do it at Bowlie. We all love The Who, y’know.”
Once again, Glasgow has provided the world with something special. BELLE AND SEBASTIAN will become one of the most important bands of the Nineties. Oh yes. And if they don’t, well, we’ll force-feed all veggies with haggis every day for a year.
EVERYONE wants to talk to Stuart Murdoch, the boy with the lilting voice and perversely romantic imagination who sings for Belle And Sebastian. They want to ask him how he and his band have managed to fill a gap in their lives that they didn’t even know existed, a gap fashioned from love and obsession and all of the sweet indulgences of passion. They’re keen to hear the stories behind the songs on the “lf You’re Feeling Sinister” album that made them cry in strange places and besotted with the idea of an icon: someone who could mean as much as to them as Robert Forster and Morrissey meant to the dreamers of the Eighties.
But Stuart doesn’t want his personality to cloud what Belle And Sebastian mean as a collective group. And he doesn’t want the others to feel left out or overlooked. He worries, so he keeps quiet. He’s doing the right thing, he’s sure.
“The band Belle And Sebastian is really not about me,” he says, sipping tea in his Glasgow flat. “The interesting things happen when it goes beyond me. I do like talking. I like meeting new people and chatting away and I like talking about the band. But l am sitting here desperately trying to deflect all the questions.”
STUART isn’t being difficult here, just true to himself and his ideals. Belle And Sebastian has, after all, been a long time coming for him. He describes his life before the band as “average” and “directionless” and freely admits that he was a late starter on the creative front.
“I really was pretty hopeless up until three years ago,” he smiles. “I didn’t do very much at all. And short stories or pictures or songs or poems all come from the same little seed of inspiration and so I couldn’t write a story until I could write a song and I couldn’t write a song until three years ago. It just came.”
Are your songs autobiographical at all?
“Only as much as a biography is a reflection of what you know. Some people say they like to remain in a vacuum and create something new but I don’t believe it can be done. It’s all your experiences. A wee bit autobiographical, a wee bit not. Sometimes they’re based on the lives of other people, sometimes they’re just imagined situations. It’s all an indulgence.”
One of the short stories Stuart wrote was called “Belle And Sebastian”. Is Belle, Isobel the band’s violin player?
“No. I wrote that before I met Isobel. It was about a girl, and this boy teaches her how to play guitar. I used to imagine him writing songs and this would be a Belle song and this would be a Sebastian song. And I would arrange my tapes in Belle and Sebastian songs and it got a bit daft when it came to playing music to real people. I’ll probably put that story on a record sometime.”
That’s quite a romantic story. Are you a romantic person?
“In the old sense of the word, probably, utterly, yes. Completely. A hopeless romantic? I’m a romantic and probably pretty hopeless at certain things. NO,f*** that. I’m not hopeless. I get things done. I made two LPs last year.”
Someone who always falls for romance, then?
“I’m trying less and less,” he nods. “I think being involved in this record made me wake up fast. You have to. You can’t just think about yourself any more, you have to think about other people. You have to be less romantic.”
Do you fall in love easily?
“Not really, no. Certain things you love. It’s a different notion to falling in love.”
BELLE And Sebastian’s new single, the effortlessly gorgeous “Lazy Line Painter Jane”, has Stuart singing, “You will have a boy tonight on the first bus out of town”. Buses seem to figure fairly largely in the Belle And Sebastian world, with adolescent graffiti being scrawled on bus stops and lovelorn boys having to admit that “Riding on city buses for a hobby is sad”. Why buses, Stuart?
“I don’t really know. I’d like to be a bus driver. Shouting at people and driving past their stops.”
It’s quite a solitary thing.
“Yeah. Maybe that’s it. There’s only a certain amount of human contact you get. Am I a solitary person? In lots of ways, yes. In a selfish way. I’m sounding like a class one mambo here.”
When Stuart wasn’t daydreaming his life away on the Glasgow’s orange buses, he would occasionally hitch his was around the country. And his wandering days aren’t over apparently.
“I hitchhike down to London quite a lot. Me and my friend hitch together and it’s easier. People don’t mind picking up a couple. It’s fine because you hitch from the middle of Glasgow and it’s no effort because you can see the hipsters and the doleys walking by and it’s a nice place to sit”
Do you not have to talk to the person driving?
“Oh incessantly,” Stuart laughs. “That’s the thing. l’m this really quiet guy from Glasgow, but as soon as you get in that car you’ve get this broad Scots accent going, ‘F***ing right, mate. Ah, the lassies.’ Bollocks like that”
Stuart smiles in a way that has you rejoicing that Belle And Sebastian can be so down to earth. As drummer Chris Geddes points out, they’re “human beings, not sensitivity machines”, flesh and blood thinkers and lovers who just happen to create some of the most inspiring, euphoric and tender songs eveer. Like “Get Me Away From Herel’m Dying”, where Stuart bemoans the fact that their unphotogenic looks will hinder their chances of stardom.
“That’s a bit tongue in cheek, although I really thought we didn’t stand a chance. I didn’t mean that because I’m quite a hard person to know, but when we made our first little forays, I thought we’d get shot down in flames.”
Is that why you don’t like to appear in your photos?
“I think if you think you have to pose and see your own sickening face then you’re in a bad way.”
BELLE And Sebastian are rapidly becoming the most important thing in my and many other people’s lives, a poetic balm in an age of thuggish bluster. And, with the likes of Radiohead as fans (Thom asked B&S to support them on their world tour, but Stuart and co opted for their own dignified way), they’re set to become much much more popular. What are your hopes for B&S, Stuart?
“That we remain friends. That we can still look each other in the eye at three week intervals. Just to get on. But they’re very good. I couldn’t wish for better players.”
And we couldn’t wish for a better band.
Keyboard player Chris Geddes and drummer Richard Colburn on life in “The New Smiths”
Singer Stuart Murdoch often refuses to do interviews. Why?
Chris: “Stuart doesn’t like being pinned down. When a songwriter is asked to provide a definite interpretation, it can spoil it. That said, I’m not that keen on ambiguity. I think the deliberate air of evasiveness around us had led to some annoying misrepresentations of what we’re like as people. The Sunday Times said it was great to find a band that don’t like football. But we do. We’re human beings, not sensitivity machines.”
B&S have been compared to The Smiths, in terms of inspiring passion. Do you see any similarities?
Chris: “Yeah. Maybe not in the music — though I know Stuart and Isobel really like them, Stuart especially because he’s a fair bit older – but in some of the ways we go about things. Like the way we want our gigs to be. The places we play in and everything. lt’s a bit different to normal. I went through a phase of listening to The Smiths at college but now I think they’re one of the most objectionable bands on earth.”
You played with the Tindersticks last year. Are they important to you?
Chris: “I hadn’t listened to the Tindersticks that much before we played with them. But I was totally, totally blown away. It’s a total illustration of how far we’ve got to go. Not so much the music and style but the emotional impact of it. It’s like the first time you go to a Northern Soul club. you think, ‘That’s what music ought to sound like.'”
Do you get bizarre fan mail?
Richard: “Stuart David [bass] gets that stuff because he runs the web page. There’s a couple in New York who’ve named their kids after us.”