Interview of Stuart Murdoch by Richard Price at The
Tinderbox, Glasgow February 1 2007
SM: One two, one two; see, you can always see the little,
the little one two flicker.
RP: Oh yeah, I see. I should have known that.
SM: You see that flicker and that move, you're OK. Nothing
can go wrong.
RP: I feel I'm in safe hands now. [Backs away from
borrowed tape recorder]. Of course, of course you would know about all this
One of the things I'd like to talk about, and I realise
you've probably talked about this a lot, but it's the, the context of the first
days, which I think are in the mid nineties just before the band was forming,
how, how were you writing, how, were you in a band, what was the band scene
before Belle and Sebastian came about?
SM: Aye, I was trying to get going, I was writing an
increasing number of songs and I was very dubious and suspicious of, of bands
in general, but [also] of forming a band. You know I saw plenty of bands
around. I used to go and see a lot of groups. I used to sit on my own at the
bar and watch three or four groups a night sometimes, say, two or three times a
week. My girlfriend used to live over a bar, and so we used to get in free all
the time. You know you could actually hear the bands and any band you liked you
could simply, kind of, run downstairs and watch them, because you could hear
them coming through the floor. And so I think the early nineties was a good
time for groups. That was kind of before, in Glasgow at least, that was before
a lot of bands came out and got popular like the Delgados and Mogwai,
Arabstrap. You know they were just bubbling under, there was a lot going on. And
so I liked it but at the same time I felt outside of it.
RP: How did the people in the bands relate to each other? …
Was it a melting pot or was it pretty much a group of well-formed strands?
SM: I think it… My experience of Glasgow from the
mid-eighties onwards is that there's been different melting pots. I've seen
maybe three or four scenes or melting pots, erm, whether that be the kind of
art school scene, or the very kind of anorak scene, the mid eighties or, a kind
of artsy scene or the people that hang around the Grosvenor Café and drink
coffee all day scene. You know there, there was a variety of these melting
RP: You have some sharp things to say about the school of
art in one of your recent records [“Sukie in the Graveyard” ]. Is there a
tension between the idea of an art rock and what you've been trying to do?
SM: No, not really. I, I love art rock, I do I love it. I
think, perhaps I was painting that, that, I used that turn of phrase either for
a good rhyme, or… yeah a little dig at something or other just you know to make
the character seem like she stood out from that kinda vibe. Personally I love
so many. There's Roxy Music, they were playing in the background earlier.
They're an original art school band. I love that pretence of bands trying to
RP: Yeah, I do as well. I was struck by the paradox of it.
But I mean [back pedalling] I took it to be part of the extraordinary
storytelling propulsion there is in so many of the songs that it's actually
someone in character, it's a story that's being told and that isn't about
complete identification of the singer to the song.
SM: When you slip inside a character or slip inside a song
you do you become removed and say things that aren't you obviously and that's
fine, it's fun. I must say though our particular group was not affiliated with
art school or college. It really did feel that we were a variety of drop-outs,
people recovering from dole years or people just falling out of secondary
school really. There was a mixture and then we did, we felt this, we did put a
little shell around ourselves, sometimes that's necessary to make something
new. You do have to feel separated from all around you.
RP: Yeah. What's the Stow College connection? Were you
actually at Stow?
SM: No, I wasn't at Stow College. I was in an unemployment
training scheme [for unemployed musicians]. I went out of my way not to kind of
learn anything on this scheme and they went out of their way not to teach you
anything which was fine, it was a mutual agreement that was, that was perfect.
They paid your dole money and then you sort of amused yourself. And Stewart
[David] the bass player was on the same course. But independently Stow College happened to get a tape. I think one of the people, they used to liaise with
our course, and somebody from our course took a tape of the stuff that I was
doing, a demo tape, and they got interested at that, at Stow College for their scheme that they had every year. Richard [Cole] was on the course, that's our
drummer. He happened to be on the course and also our soon to become manager,
Neil [Robertson], was at Stow College as well, so those two were at Stow
College sitting in the classroom like oversize schoolboys. I mean really like
with their knees tucked up to their chins. It's so funny, they never changed
over the years, to me they never changed in ten, twelve years. They just looked
exactly the same.
RP: To go back to the art school thing, one of the sounds I
think I'm picking up is a kind of, it's a kind of early seventies, late sixties
it's almost a French sound. It's something that mebbe Stereolab do with female
voices behind it. It's almost a kind of pulsing, err, beautiful accompaniment
to voices. Is that part of what you feel is a kind of art school sound or
what's all that about, the French connection?
SM: The French connection, in, in our music?
RP: Yes, yes.
SM: I don't know, it's just a, just an appreciation as much
as possible of, of French pop music as opposed to British or American. It's
just a slightly different slant. I wasn't obsessed by it but I was, I was
interested more in French films than anything else. Uhm, so maybe just a little
bit of Gallic pretence.
RP: Cos it does, I mean, your interest does extend to
everything doesn't it? Uhm, there are, erm… the covers, the stories within the
albums. There's a, there's a real sense that you're trying to create a whole
atmosphere and a lot of that is a French photographic iconography as well, the
French clothes, and uhm, there's something definitely there. I'm not making it
up am I?
SM: No, no I think the important thing to emphasise is the
atmosphere thing, we're certainly trying to create an atmosphere with the
records, with the songs and with the images, absolutely.
RP: You talked, you just mentioned the 1980's as a time when
there was an important Glasgow scene. Is that the world of Postcard, the
Pastels, are they important, were they important to you at the time?
SM: Yeah, tremendously, especially Postcard. But then I was
after Postcard. So I didn't come to Glasgow til 1985 when, you know Postcard
was already a distant memory. It seemed to be a long time even though that was
only 3 years or something. It seemed that I'd missed the bus, the boat
whatever. And so I built the Postcard world up in my mind as a kind of halcyon
days of the early 80's and venerated it. The Pastels were still around and the
Pastels they were a really good group. I think they're kind of underrated from
that time because they were much more interesting than the twee groups that
were kind of becoming popular in music magazines. They had much more to them.
They had a bit of bite and decent songs. To be honest Steven, over the years I
got to know him and he's a, he was a really good support for me actually in the
early, so the song writing and what have you. He was kind of uncynical and
RP: And is he, err, is he still a presence for you? Is he
still someone you would still go to and talk about things?
SM: Oh yeah. It's more rarely these days. I see him around
quite a lot. Sometimes we meet up and have a chat, see what's going on. The
Pastels are I think, producing music much more sporadically now that they, kind
of, have families and kids and things and err but Steven is still, you know, a
centrepiece of certain Glasgow music scene. He's still working away at the
record shop and stuff like that.
RP: What about you, how do you keep the band together? How
does the band keep itself together? How does it work as a collective, if you
like, if that's what it is?
SM: Uhuh, keep our band together, erm, it's funny it's more
like gravity these days. We don't even need any glue, We just, we are, we are a
group and we stay together for reasons of necessity. Everything from what we
are going to put in our mouths to what comes out of our mouths, what we think
and feel. There's no problems there. I think, ten years, then we're taking a
break from each other but the group's never been in better form, mentally or
otherwise. So it's great, it's nice, it's good fellowship actually. You know
whenever we meet up, occasionally we meet up to discuss business matters, or
whatever, and it's just good crack, which is great. It's a rare thing.
RP: I'm struck by the way that you talk to your fans. You
have a, quite a calm and quite an enthusiastic and encouraging relationship
with your fans. It's not just that they encourage you but looking at the diary
blogs and also some of the other things to do with fans there's a, there's a
proper distance that you keep and I think everyone must have to keep with fans,
but there's also a sense that you're encouraging them to do things and poetry
and so forth, and err erm. How do you share that with the band? How do you
share your relationship with the fans?
SM: Uhm, with the…
RP: With the fans. Is there one person who does most with
the fans or.. how does it work?
SM: Everybody has their own relationship, you know, with the
fans and it's all it's all pretty pally, it's all pretty comfortable. Some
people in the group, you know, they dj a lot. The guys are away deejaying in
Japan or South America or wherever you know when we're not busy and obviously
meeting fans all the time you know and they seem to have a lot of time for them
so everyone meets them on their own sort of level. Yeah, we like to, we like to
kind of involve them sometimes and it depends whose initiative it is, for
instance there's been a few schemes, like I've done the treasure hunts in the
past before which involved liaising with the fans. I think that's part of the
privilege of becoming a semi-successful group that you can, you can sort of say
OK you guys if you're enthusiastic about this group I wanna channel your
enthusiasm into fun stuff and so we have picnics or treasure hunts or writing
homework or something [laughs].
RP: One of the things which recurs, I think on every album
and it's also some things you've been describing just now this sense of
teachers and students, pupils, students, teachers erm. A lot of the songs are
about kids who don't really fit in with their friends, or what they might hope
to be their friends, and also the teachers themselves aren't able to cope with
them. There's a kind of failure there in the teachers. I'm interested in that
from my memories of teachers being equipped with a belt and I felt that that
was a very good thing to get rid of that. I'm wondering where that, there's a
sense of distrust of teachers, of you advising kids to, erm, to shrug and keep
teachers at a distance to some degree.
SM: You know when you think about it, it's, it's almost
quite an easy picture to paint. It's almost a little bit of a cliché to rebel
against teachers because when you analyse it, I'm thinking about it now, I
myself probably would prefer the company of an average school teacher much more
than I would the company of the average citizen who has grown out of the
classroom. I mean to be honest, because teachers usually hold quite an
enlightened, liberal view. At least a lot of them do. So really it's just sort
of occurring to me it's a metaphor for something but it’s a shame it always has
to be teachers, it's almost like they are always such an easy target. It's more
like the bosses or the establishment, or somebody at work, or business, this
kind of thing. They're kind of shadier characters to draw aren't they really.
It's a more difficult relationship to represent, it's more subtle and that's
why the bastards get away with it, you know.
RP: [Laughs] Yeah I sense the, err. My take on it the songs
about work situations is that you're playing with the vocabulary of work, but
you're mebbe not really having, you're really not saying anything that much
about work. Whereas in the educational ones, yes you're using education as a
sample of how power relationships work, but you're definitely saying something
about education, and it recurs. It's there from the first record to the last.
And, err, I mean from my kind of fusty, tweedy academic, my background's in
Scottish literature, it's a classic Scottish literature subject; the role of
the teacher and of the pupil. My educational interest goes back to Neil Gunn's
novels and he respects the teacher but he also sees the teacher as someone who
might almost break into a student's self. The teacher has to be kept at arms
length to some degree and I think that tension is err… am I talking rubbish?
SM: Oh no, it's..
RP: I'm babbling aren't I?
SM: It's valid. It makes you actually… if I start to think
about the early songs then it does make you think, wow, what was I up to? Why
did I, why did that seem so important at the time. It must have been, it was
almost to be honest I think schools and colleges and that kind of thing, it's
one, it's something everyone has gone through, at least most people have gone
through, so you can relate to it instantly, rather than describing a certain
work situation where people might not be so, the school thing you can relate to
instantly. And, I wonder why else…err yeah that's possibly one of the reasons
why I framed some of these stories. I probably had a, I think I had a chip on
my shoulder as well because I was failing in, at further education all over the
RP: Is that right?
SM: Yeah, yep so I think, erm.
RP: Do you think it's just about worked out?
SM: What's that?
RP: Do you think it's just about worked out?
SM: Aye, am all right. I'm more interested in, in education
than I have been for, for years simply, you know, learning stuff. I think if I
was to talk about that kind of stuff, write a story about that kind of stuff it
would be quite different. It might be, might be about kids or kids with a real
thirst for knowledge, someone who gets on really well, or you know…erm
RP: Well there are some lovely pieces, in the whole, looking
across the whole oeuvre where there is a sense of real comfort. I mean 'Wrapped
up in books' that is actually a very, very warm feeling you're getting out of
that record and that's to do with being indoors with your nose in a book and
erm...err. A lot of the songs have the comfort of a melody, very, very
beautiful melodies but they contrast that with some quite spiky, dark subjects.
What's going on there?
SM: I think that was, if there was any conceit or any
preconceived notion of what the group or what my songs should be about then,
right from the start, then it was to think up the prettiest melody and, but,
set spiky words to them. Set people thinking, maybe have people nodding off on
the melody and then second, third time round suddenly think what is this person
talking about? You know what, it, the character is having a dark night of the
soul but the melody is very major and pretty. So that was something that did
occur to me. Not too much, I mean, I was swept up with song writing around 94,
95 and didn't really tend to think about stuff. I just kept moving forward,
trying to write better songs and then when the group came along there was no
time to think either. So there… really be emphasised I didn't think about stuff
too much, just got on with it but that was one thought that did occur to me was
contrasted prettiest melodies with the, with the darkest notions.
RP: Coming from a place where I've got a kind of toe in the
water, interested in text based art I suppose it would be called, someone who
reminds me very much of some of the things that are going on in Belle and
Sebastian and that is Ian Hamilton Finlay.
SM: Ian Hamilton…
RP: Ian Hamilton Finlay
SM: Right uhha.
RP: In the early 60's he had a poetry book called The
dancers inherit the party and then after that he had a book called Glasgow
beasts where each animal speaks with a Glasweigian accent. And, but he is very
interested in France, very interested in, there is a mordulant [sic], almost a
violent undercurrent to a lot of his work as well, it comes a bit later. And
erm, I'm a librarian I do taxonomies, I classify, and I realise that that's my
thing, it's not your thing, but I would see that, I would see you as being
quite close to that sense of producing very, very beautiful things. He's a, he
was a book artist and he always worked with excellent typographers and artists
but quite often there's a sinister undercurrent there. And err… Do you know his
stuff at all?
SM: No I don't actually, I don't. I'm not…
RP: Oh that's good. I'll get you some because you might be
interested in that.
SM: Sure, yeah.
RP: Oh good, that's even better. I was looking at one of the
dvd's where you're playing with, erm, I mean I don't know if it's you whose
playing with it, but the video is playing with erm it's a little action man in
a parachute and you're throwing it off a bridge.
SM: oh yeah.
RP: And again, he's very interested in all like, model
soldiers and things like that. And on the one hand it's a step back into
childhood, on another obviously it's got the cast of something sinister. He's
suggesting a connection between childhood and violence and how we teach
children and stuff like that. Nothing creepy, there's nothing creepy going on
but err, it's err, I was really struck by that. It was doing different things
within it. It isn't an influence picking out thing I'm doing here. I'm just
SM: Yeah. I never read anything by him, or heard his name
RP: Right. He died erm I think last year. He's become more
famous in the world of sculpture and gardening and landscape gardening.
SM: Right, OK
RP: He's got a big garden out near Edinburgh called Little
Sparta. And people go and visit and he's set up this delightful ponds and
inscriptions and like he's got an aircraft carrier which is, which is a bird
bath and things like that and you know he plays with all that. I think you'd
RP: On the other hand you might not. Anyway. One of the
things I suppose you've had to, well I know you will have to cope with is the
idea of celebrity. And that is one of the themes in your songs as well. There's
err, in a recent song it's the idea of I hate to see you as someone who almost
made it. There's also people who couldn't make it because they had a stroke,
and that, there's err, the so called Stars of track and field. It's almost like
you're using, you're not really interested in celebrity, you're interested in
people who feel the loss of celebrity, or the, erm, the inability to be a
celebrity. And there's a kind of farm or a kind of comfort in the records about
trying to retune people away from the whole idea of celebrity. Is that a fair reading?
SM: Not really sure. Never, never thought about it too much.
Personally I'm, personally I am interested, interested in people doing good,
good stuff. I love reading about people, you know, the lives of artists. I love
reading about, you know, the lives of athletes. I love people doing good stuff.
I do like famous people, I'd say, people, politicians or kings or people who
had interesting lives. I like it. I like reading about them. That's probably as
far as it gets for me. And you mentioned those individual songs and they
probably, each of them have a different take and were written from a different
time. And I'm sure the first one is simply from venerating somebody, or a group
of people, that were above me in the social echelon at the time and still
feeling this feeling, maybe 10, 15 years on and it being poignant enough to put
into a song, that was, you know, Stars of track and field. But err and then the
more recent one Dress up in you is certainly written from the perspective of
one female singing about another female so it's… probably we'll produce a
record with a female singing that sometime, that song.
RP: So you don't feel you're cross-dressing in that, err, I
mean it's quite funny to hear you hear you talk about knitting jumpers. You see
that as a very gendered song.
SM: No I… yes, I, um, well as I say it was written from the
perspective of a female singing and sometimes when we do, it wasn't really
meant to be on the last record, and when it cropped up sometimes when we do it
live I feel cross-gendered I've ever felt you know which is fine. Like I say,
I'd like to, my friend sang it, a girl called Alex. She sang it and it was
really nice to see her singing it with the group and stuff like that.
RP: Do you see yourself as that might be one way to go as to
write more for other people?
SM: Yeah, yeah, as long as it's on my own terms. I'm not
interested so much in trying to hawk songs around the pop world. Mind you
saying that I'd be quite happy if somebody picked one up, you know. You know I
think the songs are too quirky for people to pick up. You'd have to box it in
somehow. But, yes it certainly gives you a wonderful freedom. I started a
project in parallel with the last LP and it kept me really fresh during that
period of writing the Life pursuit [this became God Help the Girl, released in 2009 - RP]. I was writing for specifically female
singers. So I was writing a batch of songs along with it. It was a productive
time and each time I would write a song for somebody else and it was like a
break, it was a complete break and I'd come back to something that I thought
was Belle and Sebastian and then I would go back to the girl group. And in
terms of how I was hearing the songs in production
[end of first side of tape]
RP: So poetry is part of what you're interested in? You are
a poetry reader?
SM: Not greatly, I must admit, not erm, not hugely. I'm not
even that great a reader these days to be quite frank, which might shock you,
RP: Not really
SM: For instance to go even further, I met a girl in a shop
yesterday. I was getting dvd's and this girl came up and said that she was a
big fan of the group. And she said what are you doing. And I said, well I'm
looking for a film that's going to turn my day around, you know. And she said
well what film. And I said I don't know, when I find it I'll tell you. And err
she said well why not try the records. I said I don't buy records. I really…her
face dropped. I thought she was like pretty shocked or something and erm and
then I felt like apologising. But it's just the way it is. If you're concerned
with making records then you don't really want to hear a load of new records or
sometimes poetry feels like too hard work especially when you're concerned with
any form of writing during the day then just to be frank. Books I end up going
back to the ones these days more books that I loved because you want to be
guaranteed a good time and I tend to watch more films that anything else.
RP: I feel pretty much the same way but it's records that I
like and love the most and erm people if they ever interviewed me, if they ever
asked about the poetry books I'd be reading, I'd be saying 'Oh it's not the
poetry, it's records' and err, I think erm, err, academics and literary critics
don't quite get that. That people are making things out of the things that
excite them and energise them and that is by no means a linear line back
through a specific art form. It's a complete misconception. I am struck that
poetry comes up now and again in the songs. And I'm also wondering whether
rhyme, some of the rhyme's very, very funny and some of them you just, you
can't quite believe you've said it. Do they lead you into a storytelling
situation that suddenly opens another door? Are you led to some degree by
rhymes and by the rhythm that the song is making into a different story?
SM: Very rarely. I couldn't no, I couldn't honestly think,
no, I don't think so. Maybe more the, maybe more the rhythm, the rhythm of the
record. But then you'll know yourself it's something that when you have a
rhythm in a, you've thought a rhythm in a poem you're led on and then you find
a space and then you just keep going at it and what comes out is, you never
think, you never planned it. It just comes out. I often think that, err, that
being a songwriter and being able to dress up words with a tune you get away
with far more than you would. I often look at the words. The words, believe it
or not, they're more important to me, they always have been. The blueprint for
anything that you're doing, the substance of what you're doing. But recently I
sometimes look at the lyrics and think could I stand up and speak this like a
poem and the answer's almost always no. And then again you have to ask yourself
why would you. But then sometimes, even more worryingly sometimes you stand up
and go could I get up like I used to in the bar, the whole bar and sing this as
an acoustic number and strip it down and then sometimes the answer's maybe and
then sometimes the answer's no. But then I guess what happens is you have moved
on and then when your thinking of a song perhaps you're thinking of a complete
pop song and maybe that's what you're in love with. You're in love with a
complete finished shiny, shiny pop song and you've been able to think about
that because you've had 10 years training at it. And so, and maybe if you were
to start with a song, a folky song that you could get up at a pub and
completely entertain people with this would never become that shiny pop song.
So it's interesting the way things evolve.
RP: Do you think your voice has changed as well? I hear kind
of, mebbe, Nick Drakey, Donovan flavours at the beginning of the story of Belle
and Sebastian but I don't really hear those so much now. Is that because your
voice itself has changed, or because your interests have changed?
SM: A little bit of both probably. My interests have changed
and that's led to my singing changing and being put in a different place. And
sing a little bit harder and sometimes singing a little bit in character so
stylistically it changes. I'm not you know, I don't, if there's some pretence
there then that's completely fine you know because it's all part of the fun. I
can remember coming in one morning with a new song and […?] guys I'm going to
sing this kind of funny. I hope it doesn't put you off. But it, I'd heard, I'd
woken up with the song. I'd heard it in my sleep and I knew the way I was going
to have to sing it to make it sound any good and so, that's all part of the
RP: How are songs built up in the studio? How are they, how
are the different instruments and the different members of the band, how do
they cohere? How is a song made together?
SM: Well, if you take the last LP for instance. That was the
most recent LP erm. A variety of things can happen but we form the sound in the
practice room. Sometimes the songwriter will hear a completed sound, finished,
and we will aim towards that with the guidance of the songwriter and then
sometimes the sound will be a mesh of what people bring to the song. So it's a
mixture of that but a song's pretty much finished in the practice room. And
then the idea is you go and try to make the best job of it in the recording
studio. So, sometimes when you hear people saying 'Oh Trevor Horn did this with
this record' or he's done that, or this person's done that, and just think
well, actually it's all done in the practice room. But that doesn't mean their
job is any less valid and we're completely thankful but people are off when
they think oh, it was this producer that made this sound or this. It doesn't
happen in a 4 week period or a 2 week period in the studio. It happens months
before when you're writing the bloody thing.
RP: I'm turning the page.
SM: Bloody hell.
RP: One of the things that strikes me as someone whose erm
not really a religious person, I'm not a, I don't think, I'm an anti religious
person, that is that there is a real sense of soul to the records, and I mean
soul records. And one of the roots of soul is in a testifying religious music.
It's about testifying that God exists, that God is to be celebrated and I think
that is there in some of your lyrics. But there is also that dry wit, that
quite hard sometimes even a cruel wit. How, how do you square those things?
SM: Erm, well again, I don't think of it so much. I think
maybe it's a, it's a cliché that people perhaps think that religion, or
organised religion, doesn't contain wit and is a, is a sort of boring thing. I
believe pretty much that all good stuff comes from God, including wit. And I
think God is around us egging us on to create heights of endeavour, or fun, or
cheekiness. All these kinds of things are good I think is… I remember Stewart
David in our group, the bass player, he was, I just got from him that he
thought he would have nothing to do with religion, which is fine, but he just
thought it was so boring. He thought it equalled everything boring. Over the
years I've come to think that it equals everything non-boring, that God is
everywhere pushing the buttons when you're making something when you're getting
on with somebody, you know when you're having a drink, when you're having a
laugh. You know it's just a different way of looking at it.
RP: It's funny that we're hearing the Charlotte Gainsburg
record, erm, that's because that's a record that is made with Charlotte and
Jarvis Cocker. And erm, and the lyrics are written by someone for a women
singer. Do you want to talk about the project that you've been working on for a
woman singer, using your lyrics?
SM: Sure, yeah.
RP: So how did it all start?
SM: Start well… actually I've been thinking about.. no, no.
The girl thing properly started, I was in Sheffield, a few years ago, I was
playing a concert and I was on a run, out running. I was out running, I do a
lot of running, and I was out running off up some canal, and it was dark. I
really enjoy these circumstances, being in the middle of a strange city, in the
middle of the night, in the middle of winter running up a canal and I like to
get lost and all that kind of stuff. So I got a tune going in my head which
sometimes happens, it just arrives and it seemed like a pretty good upbeat 60's
pop tune and erm then I suddenly realised that it wasn't me that was singing
it. I could hear somebody else singing and so I wrote the words down and that
was the first so-called girl group song. That was, well, it was actually 4
years ago now, is that 2003? Yeah 4 years ago so it's been err, erm what's the
word, generating, or just..?
SM: Evolving since then, yep.
RP: And do you think you've got an albums worth of songs
SM: Oh yeah, definitely. But it's evolved further. I mean I
could have made an album. I could have made a so-called girl group album
instead of the Life pursuit at that time, you know that was coming together and
I wanted to at two different stages in the last 4 years but the band always
came in and took up too much time. So by the time I had real free time, which
was in September there, and the songs were all kicking about I realised that
the songs had a, enough of a common theme or thread, or came from the same
world, that they demanded to be joined together with a narrative and so that's
what I've been trying to do recently.
RP: Do you mean a connecting narrative, or that it's a
sequence of songs? There won't be someone speaking between the songs, joining
SM: No I'm talking about film. Yeah
RP: Ah, film
SM: I'm talking about musical film. And so, so, yeah. I've
never written a film before but I've had some [..?] to guide me and it feels,
it almost feels that it's been my destination for a while.
RP: But you've been involved in a soundtrack though before
SM: Yeah but I think that has maybe 3% relevance to what I'm
trying to do just now.
RP: And how on earth are you going to do it? I mean a film
is a completely different thing. What, what's the next step to get that made?
SM: Just pick up your camera you know and get some people
together. I'm not being completely flippant, I've made pop videos. It doesn't
have to have the production, it doesn't have to have Hollywood production on
it, but I would like it to. But I think maybe I'll make the, I said recently
I'll make the record first, I'll make a record first. Hawk the songs and then
see what happens from there. I finish, I want to finish a draft of the script,
make a record of the songs, erm, and anything could happen from that point, you
know. I could get a degree of funding from somewhere.
RP: What's Scotland like now to you? What does it mean to
you? What's do you think is going on that's affecting you and you're interested
in as a Scottish thing?
SM: I'm completely, I'm absolutely enraptured with Glasgow since I came home. I love it. I love it here. I just, maybe that would be the same
for any city, having travelled so much, but I love being at home. I eat it up
every day, I sort of consume it, geographically and otherwise. I've got to, I
almost have to run every day or go for a long walk every day and I take the
train out to sort of funny places and then I run back, or I cycle back and I
[…?] with Glasgow. So I'm doing a lot of that kind of stuff really trying to
soak up mop up my city like a sponge and I constantly feel like I'm
eavesdropping or recording sort of mental pictures. So that's .. you know I
feel optimistic about the present time. Much more optimistic than for instance
the average news bulletin would make you believe. I think there's a hysteria to
news, I think that's one down side to the world of communications becoming so
vast and easy is that we hear bad stuff from all over the world at all times
and it feeds a kind of hysteria. It's almost like if there's any kind of them
and us situation this will be fuelled to hatreds. Sometimes you're better just
switching off and looking around you and realising that people aren't hateful
at all. Generally I feel very good about stuff.
Mind you I must say though today I was looking online - this
isn't specifically Scotland this is say for instance Britain, but I was looking
online. You know they published a large environmental report today, the work of
many scientists over all the years. A big deal, meant to be for once and for
all recommendation about what we should do about global warming and all that
kind of stuff. The economic cost of doing nothing will far outstrip if we
simply don't do anything we are going to be in big, big trouble anyway,
financially or any other way. So I went online and you know you can add
comments to BBC articles and I wondered if anybody's commented on this and
there was like 100 pages of comments. And I couldn't believe it when I read
down the comments that people were, and the majority, the vast majority. I
thought it was going to be full of people saying why haven't we done anything
sooner, we should be doing this, we should be doing that. And it was absolutely
full of people saying, you know the scientists are wrong, global warming is
just, we'll adapt, and who are these people to tell us what we. And it seemed
it was full, it seemed to be, absolutely wracked with arch conservatism, or not
in my back yard and I, I, it depressed me, it depressed me. I don't often get
depressed by people, you know, but it did for once I was oh is this what people
RP: It is actually quite worrying.
SM: Absolutely. I mean, don't… And it really was. It's a
case of like there's this huge worldwide problem that we could do something
about. And that actually it could turn out to be a great thing for humanity if
we did something about it. Because then people in Africa and stuff would get a
fair deal and all that kind of stuff. It could be all good and these people are
talking about grabbing their bags and running to the hills, building a
fortress, moving north, sunbathing you know, like if Spain and France become
deserts. All this kind of stuff, you know. What do these people do? Do any of
these people have children? Do any of these people think about the future or
RP: Yikes. Have you ever felt that you might want to do a
kind of Bono and become a kind of eco-spokesman, or on any other subject?
SM: No, I think there's plenty of kind of eco-spokesmen or
women. No I don't I think if you're meant to do something it will, it will
occur to you and it will be, fate will be waving a large flag. But I'm not
scared, I'm not scared of that kind of stuff. Why shouldn't I, why shouldn't I
have a say as much as the next guy.
RP: There is an occasional kind of leafiness in the lyrics.
When you first hear the records you think this is within the art school world,
this is quite an urban, it's witty, it's talking about all sorts of different
lives within essentially, essentially an urban world. Then there are kind of,
trips out, there are trips up the hill, there are trips on ferries, there's. Do
you think that something that has developed over the years? That you were
talking earlier about taking a train out and cycling back. Do you think that's
beginning to happen in the songs as well, that you're moving further out of the
SM: Yeah, mm, well. I love living in the city but I love to
get out. I don't think I could, I wouldn't want to live outside the city, I
love it too much but I love my day trips. I think maybe it is something I
haven't been able to do. And when I was younger for years I didn't have the
energy to get out at all so it's something that I think I felt I was trapped in
houses for years and years and so I think I'm still…
RP: Is that a kind of fatigue thing?
SM: I had a kind of infirmity that lasted for maybe 7 or 8
years and it completely sort of dogged my twenties, you know. My whole twenties
were taken up. And so I think I'm still reacting to that. Any chance and I will
get out and now that I've recovered. So, erm which helps you to.. I've
romanticised the outside world, romanticised the active world and romanticised
the working world and it's partly because I couldn't take any part of it.
RP: That must have been extremely debilitating in itself,
that length of time. Was that an ME type thing?
SM: Yeah, absolutely. That's what it was. Uhuh. Post viral
or whatever they call it. Oh yeah, it was a dominant feature of my early life.
RP: It's good to hear that you got through it and I think
other people who are still in it that would be good for them to hear that
people can get through it.
SM: Yep. I get a lot of letters from people because I was
talking about it on an American radio programme which I didn't realise had
quite a large circulation. But because I was just talking in a room, and I was
just blah, blah, blah, and then I had so many emails from people and I didn't
really know for what.. To be honest I didn't really want to revisit it, so it's
kind of tricky.
RP: So Belle and Sebastian take a bit of a break but it's
not, err, it's not a major break, it's a rest. There will be another record,
SM: I could make another Belle and Sebastian record
tomorrow. We could go to work instantly. We could rustle up something
instantly. Erm but like I said I want to do this thing first, got to do this
RP: OK well I think I've, err, I've exhausted my questions.
SM: Good stuff
RP: Just to thank you for doing it.
SM: You're most welcome.
RP: I've enjoyed myself. It's been a privilege.
SM: Thank you very much.
[end of tape]