Belle and Sebastian, from Glasgow

With A Bit of Previous, Belle and Sebastian release their first studio album in seven years. Aging, confinement and reincarnation…

They were supposed to record it in sunny Los Angeles. It is finally at home in the greyness of Glasgow that the Scots of Belle and Sebastian made their tenth album. Their first full studio record since 2015.”After Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance I didn’t want to release an album anymore, admits the adorable Stuart Murdoch. I felt like people weren’t listening to it anymore. I don’t know if it’s a question of format. Maybe our record wasn’t as good as we imagined. It didn’t seem to resonate well with people. I thought maybe it was too long for the listeners.

The kings of chamber pop have released EPs, composed music for a film (Days of the Bagnold Summer), a portrait of a divorced woman and her 15-year-old son who is a metal fan. It’s on the request of their label, Matadorfriends”, that Belle and Sebastian is back to thinking big. After recording in Atlanta, Los Angeles and London, the group intended to return to work in the city of angels. “The main thing I wanted to stay away from was Glasgow. And for once, it didn’t work out very well, admits the multi-instrumentalist and singer Sarah Martin. When you stay at home, everyday life stalks you… For 15 or 20 years, each time we worked on a new album, we isolated ourselves. It was almost a monastic retreat.

The Scots had hired Shawn Everettnotably crossed with the Killers, Weezer, Har Mar Superstar… “Sometimes, our manager suggests producers in tune with the times, continues Murdoch. We don’t usually do that kind of stuff. But Shawn has worked on some great records. Stuff like Alabama Shake, both delicate and direct. I wanted to save some space for our meeting. I had left songs and ideas fallow. Also ready to write new songs. It never happened.” The virus has been there. The Belle and Sebastian found themselves under house arrest and converted their rehearsal space into a recording studio. “ When we arrived in this building in 2004, there was a blacksmith and an undertaker. Now you have a micro-brewery, a ceramist, a brownie shop and a burrito vendor… It’s become a cool place.

On the uneven fort A Bit of Previous – first disc entirely recorded by the Scottish group in Glasgow since… 1999 and Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant– There are A little bit of everything. Folk rock, chamber pop, a touch of Eurovision, a touch of gospel. More stirring pieces too. The chorus ofUnnecessary Drama almost sounds like Django Django. “People who dance and go to nightclubs would tell you that these are not songs to ignite the dancefloors, but these songs have rhythm. We will never go back I think. I couldn’t do an album just made up of ballads anymore. Sometimes, we see artists who lose their grandmother and dedicate a record to her. It was never me. Even if we write about us, people we love, people we miss.


If some have always considered it a boy scout group, Belle and Sebastian has not marked the history of pop than its music. He also paved the way for All Tomorrow’s Parties and all those festivals where artists are the programmers. Stuart Murdoch’s group had organized their own event, the bowlie weekender, at the Pontin holiday camp, in Camber Sands, in Sussex in 1999. Where the ATP would take up residence the following year. “If it was a good idea, if it has become one perhaps, it is because often the best ones are the simplest, the most obvious. I didn’t like festivals. We had the T in The Park in Glasgow. But I had the image of guys fighting and pissing each other. I didn’t really see the point. I knew our group and the people who followed us more delicate. We said to ourselves: let’s organize a festival in one of these camps and everyone can rent a small cottage.

Murdoch had once worked in one of those seaside villages in British charm. “ At the time, electricity and heating did not work by prepaid card. I had to go to all the rooms. It was my job. On Saturdays at 9 a.m., you sometimes had guys sleeping naked on the floor in their living room with beer everywhere. You had to step over the corpses.” The atmosphere of the festival was revealed unique. “People started throwing parties in the cabins. They were cooking. Even groups. I remember Mercury Rev bringing out his own barbecue. It was awesome.” As an anniversary, in 2019, Belle and Sebastian organized the Boatie Weekender, a festival on a boat. “It was something else. Definitely more posh.

Belle and Sebastian is close to its fans. He reacted to the first confinement by asking his listeners to describe their experience for a collaborative project on isolation: Protecting the Hive. “Chris (Geddes) did the music and our friend Kenny (MacLeod) filmed. When I see it now, it reminds me of when the streets were deserted. As a group, as an artist, we want to feel useful. We are aware that we have an audience and we go to them a lot to collaborate.

During the lockdown, Murdoch also gave lessons in online meditation. “I became interested in it seven or eight years ago. I had a baby. Which is great but also particularly stressful. So I started meditating. I discovered Buddhism. And when the pandemic hit, I thought I could share what I had learned.” Murdoch talks about a sick and very isolated fan he began to communicate with and who inspired the song Talk to Me, Talk to Me. He talks about the health problems that forced him as a young man to live locked up. And questions reincarnation. A love story…

Belle and Sebastian, A Bit of Previous, distributed by Matador. On 08/07 at the Cactus Festival (Bruges).


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Belle and Sebastian, from Glasgow

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