Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch talks to Nadine McBay ahead of the release the band's seventh LP,_ The Life Pursuit_, on February 6th.
_DiS: _You're looking tired. I'm guessing this is you're seventh interview today or something. What have people been asking you?
SM: Beans (Chris Geddes, keyboards) was saying that he had two consecutive interviews yesterday and the first interviewer described the album as our ï¿½big pop albumï¿½ and the next interviewer described it as ï¿½going back to our rootsï¿½. Itï¿½s quite strange. You have to just sit back to these accusations. People seem to make up their mind about something and then interview you in such a way to back up what they already thought. I had this really intense interview last night with this American guy and halfway through the interview I realised that his piece was going to be a ï¿½Belle And Sebastian ï¿½ Where Did It All Go Wrong?ï¿½ piece. He thought that we could never better_ The Boy With The Arab Strap and that it was all downhill from there. But maybe it had something to do with him being 19 when that record came out and perhaps he was more jaded now.
When did you start writing this record? Was it written differently to _Dear Catastrophe Waitress _(2003)?
We started writing this record in November 2004 and had quite an intense period of working. By February we had 18 songs and were pretty much ready to go. During that time, we had everyone in the band clocking in at 10am every morning, it was steady work. We wrote far more specifically for this record, whereas the last record had a few older songs on it that we had wanted to take to Trevor (Horn, producer of Dear Catastrophe Waitress) and have his touch on. For this record, all but one of the tracks were written for this album.
DCW was certainly a big shift from Storytelling _(2002) and Fold Your Hands..._ (2000). And there are many elements to this new record which seem to pick up from where_ DCW_ left off. Is it fair to view_ DCW_ as some sort of transition?
Of course we couldnï¿½t have set out to make a transition record. It would have been extraordinary if weï¿½ve said, ï¿½Right, weï¿½re going to make a transition record and weï¿½ll turn into butterflies on the next recordï¿½ (laughs). But still, I think itï¿½s a fair description. This record, like that one, isn't flowery. But we left nothing to chance here. Everything was in place before we went into the studio. We already knew in the rehearsal room that the songs were working. So thatï¿½s what maybe accounts for the record sounding cohesive whilst also having lots of different kinds of tracks on there. I canï¿½t say that as much about DCW ï¿½ that had bits patched up in production, which is fine ï¿½ thatï¿½s what happens when you push yourself. But with this record we had the confidence of having done the last record and having worked everything out beforehand.
Many of the tracks have a real Seventies feel to them. There's also quite a bit of funk and glammed up guitars. In places, this record is - dare I say it - a rock record. That is, most of it should be played loud! Although you've hinted at this before, say with 'Your Cover's Blown', this is a definite shift. What's happened?
This is a side of the band that has been there for quite some time. When the band came to me and said they wanted to do a record that was arranged and written by them completely themselves, Iï¿½ve got to admit I was slightly doubtful. But this record completely vindicates everyone on the record. Everyoneï¿½s playing is great. Itï¿½ll be Richard's (Colburn) favourite record, because his drumming is so good. Itï¿½ll be Bobï¿½s (Kildea) favourite record, because the bass is brilliant. We were more open, more mature perhaps, in the way we worked on this record. I suppose you could say weï¿½ve been heading towards this point for the last five years.
_The Life Pursuit _was originally intended to be a double album. How did you go about scaling it down from 18 tracks to 13? Was it a simple case of choosing the most immediate tracks or shaping some sort of journey?
I was fighting that corner, but it was a losing battle. We almost put as much effort into fighting about the tracklisting as we did writing the tracks. It was a long drawn out and stupid process. Iï¿½m still not convinced that the tracklisting is right, although Iï¿½m quite happy with it. Stevie (Jackson, guitarist) is of the opinion that you should always put on your strongest tracks and maybe have a quieter track to finish each side of the record. But I canï¿½t help it, Iï¿½d rather be coaxed into a record and be taken by the hand on a journey. I wanted the album to tell more of a story, but the way it turned out is the way the band wanted it and Iï¿½m quite happy to go along with that. If I had been absolutely sure that my way was undoubtedly the best way, I would have put my foot down. But I wasnï¿½t. Weï¿½re the sort of band that is usually happy to go with the person who shouts the loudest and in this case it was Stevie, so we went with him. He thought my way would kill the momentum of the record.
The press release to the single, 'Funny Little Frog' (out Jan 16), suggests that it's about a portrait of the Virgin Mary.
(Laughs) This person isnï¿½t a virgin, but I donï¿½t want to say who. And it is a real person, not a religious icon. Itï¿½s about someone who thinks theyï¿½re in love with an actual person but is actually in love with an imaginary person.
The first thing I thought when I heard 'Dressed Up In You' was that this felt like a 'woman's song'.
I wrote that for a female to sing, so when I sing it, I must admit I feel a little Dame Edna. Itï¿½s about a pal whoï¿½s left a group and done onto more ï¿½successful thingsï¿½. Iï¿½ve heard a female singing it and it makes more sense. Iï¿½ve been doing another project, parallel to this record, in which Iï¿½ve written a whole album for a group of singers. I kind of clawed this track back from that. Iï¿½d like to work more on that project but Belle And Sebastian just takes up all of my time.
In recent months, Arab Strap have made their best LP, with The Last Romance, as have Mogwai, with their forthcoming_ Mr Beast_. Belle & Sebastian seem to be late bloomers too - something that doesn't seem to be allowed to happen nowadays. If your second LP flops, that's it.
Weï¿½ve never been interested in that hothouse way of doing things. Weï¿½ve made our path. Like Arab Strap and Mogwai, weï¿½ve guarded our own autonomy, weï¿½ve remained in Glasgow. We managed to do things without pandering to the London machine.