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The Sun in Glasgow

Belle and Sebastian's Radiant Soul

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Marisa Pritivera
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN Stars of stripes and solids.

Belle and Sebastian have at last put out an entire album you can dance to in your underwear. The Life Pursuit has the melodies, the words1, the wicked phrases2, the ruefulness, the sex appeal3, the catchiness, the Scottish accents, and the obsessions—with girls, school, trees, and churches4—that you find on all their records, but this seventh one bounces. It's chewy, buoyant pop. "I wanted it to sound like someone's first album," says guitarist Stevie Jackson (who's pretending to play harmonica in the photo). "It's kind of a party album I suppose. It goes bang, bang, bang."

In the time since your previous album, we've seen tsunamis, hurricanes, chaos in Iraq, avian flu, terrorist bombings in London, an earthquake in Pakistan—what is there to be so exuberant about?

I think The Life Pursuit is our most soulful record. And soul music is exuberant, but I could go track for track and say, "Well, the subject matter's not that happy." "Funny Little Frog" is about stalking someone for God's sake. "We Are the Sleepyheads"—God, I mean, that song sings to me. There's a line that goes, "We've been in this town so long we might as well be dead." I quite like up music, which isn't necessarily, "I'm in love and I'm happy and everything's quite groovy."

Why a soul record?

It's just the way we were feeling. I think maybe we're just getting confidence. We aspire to make great pop records. People call If You're Feeling Sinister a classic but you know, it sounds terrible, it's got terrible production. We want to make a record as good as a great Blondie single, or an ABBA record, something that good, you know, something truly great.

Did recording in L.A. influence the album?

The reason we were in L.A. is because that's where [producer] Tony Hoffer and [engineer] Todd Burke were, the people we wanted to work with. I tell you this—walking to work every morning with sunshine, it was good for my mood. It rains a lot where we come from5, so I really, really loved it. But I can't say that L.A. had a huge effect on the actual music. We had everything prepared before we got on the plane, all the songs written, all the arrangements, every harmony—we've never been more prepared going into the studio. But others have said it sounds sort of sunny and Californian.6

I listened to The Boy with the Arab Strap the other night lying on the floor of a friend's apartment, staring at her ceiling.

That's a great way to listen to music. Definitely. On your back. Looking at the ceiling or, even better, looking at the sky. I think my most joyful experiences listening to music have been lying on grass, looking up at the sky. You can practically go to another planet when you're in that kind of mood.

1. Stuart Murdoch, the one standing in the photo, sings "herbaceous" on track two.

2. Nothing can match the throwaway phrase on 1996's Tigermilk "She has everything to gain 'cause she's a fat girl with a lisp," but track five of The Life Pursuit begins with the sweetly sung "I'm the singer, I'm the singer in the band/You're the loser..."

3. There are seven members of the band, all relentlessly heterosexual, in spite of many sexually ambiguous lyrics. Murdoch describes himself in a recent book about the band as "straight to the point of boring myself."

4. On the subject of the band's religious motifs, I ask Jackson if he believes in heaven; his answer is so long it has to go in this small font down here: "Not the traditional version of heaven. I don't think so. But I hope I'm wrong. I've got notions about invisible worlds. You know, parallel universes, which they can sort of scientifically prove exist." What? "You know, parallel dimensions, parallel universes." Huh? "They can sort of prove that, you know, the atom travels so fast, it actually vibrates, so it's actually possible for it to be in two places at once. Things like that are kind of intriguing. I can't pretend to any great knowledge on it. But as for heaven, like, you die and your spirit floats out of your body and goes to this place, that exact definition I can't say I definitely believe in that. But as I get older, sometimes I think maybe there's something missing from my life. It's possible that I'll reach for more spiritual impulses. I'm not totally cynical to any of it. I think it would be wonderful if there were an all-good force in the universe, but... I think it was Woody Allen who said, 'At best, the universe is indifferent.' Maybe I can't help but feel that way a wee bit. But if the universe is indifferent I think human beings are intrinsically good, or at least they have the power to be, but it's just unfortunate that some of our impulses are about, you know, gaining shelter and food and protecting your family, which brings out negative things, which mean that the greedy people in the world seem to rule it, which is very unfortunate. But what can you do?"

5. Glasgow, Scotland.

6. We also discuss Morrissey living in California, and I mention that the line on The Life Pursuit "It's a nice way to die, she's so easy on the eyes" is a lot like "To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die." Jackson replies, "Oh yeah, is that the Smiths? I think our line's better, to be honest, if that's not heresy. That's one of my favorite lines on the whole album."

frizzelle@thestranger.com
 

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