photo manipulation by nacrowe
sometimes bands just materialize organically.
that seems to be how SCOTTISH INDIE ROCK band BELLE & SEBASTIAN bubbled-up from obscurity as a cohort of local semi-serious musicians coalesced around the bedroom songs of leader STUART MURDOCH as depicted in the IF YOU'RE FEELING SINISTER (PITCHFORK, 2013) documentary. largely an oral history with band members STEVIE JACKSON, RICHARD COLBURN, ISOBEL CAMPBELL, CHRISTOPHER GEDDES, SARAH MARTIN, MICK COOKE, STUART DAVID as well as JEEPSTER RECORDINGS co-founders MARK JONES and STEFANO D'ANDREA and recording engineer TONY DOOGAN all contributing to the band's narrative, what becomes apparent is how these tightly constructed and highly literate songs became the focus straight away. fellow singer ISOBEL CAMPBELL was both a muse and a melodic counterpoint to that of MURDOCH. probably most important in that evolution was the addition of the more season local musician STEVIE JACKSON who helped provide a more polished sheen to the material which could have easily been construed as TWEE otherwise. in fact my argument is that BELLE & SEBASTIAN is kind of the middle point between THE SMITHS and CALVIN JOHNSON.
the music itself has a naive and intimate quality, as if written by a nebbish bookworm for a small audience of friends in a used bookstore. its almost anti-rock rock music. no swing. no posturing. just bare instrumentation with lilting, whimsically melancholic melodies draped modestly over. makes perfect sense that JACK BLACK's character in HIGH FIDELITY (BUENA VISTA, 2000) referred to them as "BELLE & SAD-BASTIAN." MURDOCH himself was once athletic and outgoing before he became unwell with CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME and largely stuck to his home with his parents. the band proved a reason to get out, physically and spiritually.
in fact, the evolution of his songs largely follows this conscious reintegration into society, to a point. his songs blossomed as he began writing more and more about everyday observations that he made riding buses around GLASGOW on the way to band practice and local shows. the songs became about normal people from perspective the perspective of a nonparticipating outside observer. this in my opinion made the lyrical content that much more potent, songs became about complicated emotions from someone attempting to understand them as if for the first time. almost childlike. conceptually it is very similar to the creative work of BRIAN WILSON, in that the lyrics are a projection of an ideal and a desire to be like the characters in the songs. its almost tragic in a sense.
what i didn't know about their collective story was that they were chosen by a local college's music business class to be the focus of a semester-long project to promote a local act. when their album TIGERMILK (JEEPSTER, 1996) was recorded with promotional and administrative assistance from this class, the students in fact found representation for the group as they met with labels. it all actually worked! how crazy is that?
the more i learn about them the more they resemble THE SMITHS to me in that they signed with an INDIE label (JEEPSTER RECORDINGS) and didn't release singles from albums, didn't appear in press photos and basically didn't do interviews (ok so that last one doesn't pan out as MORRISSEY was a media troll before that term ever got coined). for MURDOCH and the group it was all about leveraging control on their fragile project with as little outside interference as possible, be that record companies, the media or the slippery uphill chase towards fame.
great documentary that offers a personal look at a great album by a unique band at the top of their powers. definitely worth watching if you are a fan of the band, INDIE ROCK or intellectually satisfying music in general.
art by nacrowe
watch HERE our most recent episode of DEER GOD RADIO where we go all DIY and pay homage to INDIE ROCK of the 1980s, 90s and 00s. a companion piece of sorts to our 80s HARDCORE playlist back in december, this show explores the ethos of the movement and how that mindset affected musicians thereafter.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.