Belle & Sebastian formed in 1996 and have released nine albums, earning their legacy as the reigning darlings of indie. This status is reflected by some of this summer’s landmark shows - from their London Royal Chelsea Hospital headliner to their biggest gig to date at Glasgow’s TRNSMT festival. Since then, they’ve toured in North America, Europe and Asia and have released two new songs.
Clash spoke multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Sarah Martin in the Belles’ home city Glasgow, where all six members of Belle & Sebastian still live. As many of them have young families, it was convenient to record their new material here, “...this is the first time in a long time we’ve stayed to record,” she says. “It’s been quite a long drawn out process.”
Taking over a year and a half to complete, across six different studios, recording at home wasn’t quite as comfortable as it may seem. For Martin, the time-consuming process proved to be both frustrating and challenging at times, “If you aren’t in a studio all day, it is easy to lose track of where you are with a song—especially when the next time you come back to it could be a month or two later” she says. “It took me a long time to see the way the new material was going.”
- - -
- - -
The decision to record in Glasgow wasn’t made just out of convenience. Despite the obstacles, staying in the city gave the band creative freedom as they sought to escape the time pressures and rigidity of making a conventional, cohesive album. They instead took their time in crafting a series of three EPs, “We have always had this knee-jerk response to go away make records,” says Martin. “You go somewhere, you concentrate and come home after six weeks with a finished album.”
Straying away from that formula allowed for a flexibility to explore different styles, “…there is a mixture, a serious mixture of songs,” she says of the EPs, “There are some very sparse melodic tracks, a couple things that are a bit dance...”
This versatility is already evident through the contrast of the first two tracks released; ‘We Were Beautiful’ and ‘I’ll Be Your Pilot’. ‘We Were Beautiful’, from EP 1, combines the Belles’ trademark jaunty, indie-pop sounds with an electro-edge courtesy of a digitized drum-loop, whereas EP 2’s ‘I’ll Be Your Pilot’ is a quiet, melodic song layered with sleepy oboe notes.
- - -
There is a mixture, a serious mixture of songs...
- - -
This isn’t the first time the band have released a trilogy of EPs; some of their earliest material was released on 1997’s ‘Dog on Wheels’, ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’, and ‘3.. 6.. 9 Seconds of Light’. This stylistic return to the Belles’ cult recordings may be welcomed news to the fans who have struggled to embrace more recent material, such as 2015’s dance-influenced album ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’.
Each containing five tracks, the new EPs fall under the collective title ‘How to Solve Our Human Problems’. The name is taken from a book on modern Buddhism, which inspired singer Stuart Murdoch’s lyrical themes on human spirituality and emotion—specifically concentrated on the subtle yet profound sentiments of feeling. During the radio premiere of ‘I’ll Be Your Pilot’ on BBC Radio 6 Music, Murdoch revealed that the track was inspired by the birth of his firstborn son, when he associated the feeling of fatherhood to the warm, affectionate companionship of the pilot and prince in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
- - -
- - -
‘How to Solve Our Human Problems’ will be released over three months: EP 1 on December 8th, EP 2 on January 19th and EP 3 on February 26th. According to BBC Radio 6 Music, the band plan to release the EPs as a limited-edition Vinyl and CD in February 2018.
Words: Charis McGowan
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.