Earlier this summer, Belle and Sebastian has embarked on a tour in advance of its release. The band performs with Men I Trust at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 19, at House of Blues.
“We were already doing instrumental music for ourselves,” explains singer-violinist Sarah Martin during a call from a Brooklyn tour stop. “[Bird] got in touch, and it dovetailed in with what we had in mind. Also, we got sent the screenplay, and it’s just amazing. It was so readable, and it made you think that we could write the songs without seeing anything that was ever shot. It’s nice when you read something you connect with enough to do that. It’s nice to write for a reason as well and have the themes someone gives you. It’s enjoyable to have that stimulus.”
The soundtrack features several new Belle and Sebastian songs as well as re-recorded versions of classics “Get Me Away from Here I'm Dying,” a song that originally appeared on 1996's If You’re Feeling Sinister, and “I Know Where the Summer Goes,” from 1998's This Is Just a Modern Rock Song EP.
“The director had wanted us to edit ‘I Know Where the Summer Goes,'” says Martin. “We just said, ‘Why don’t we re-record that? It’ll be better than trying to chop it.’ He was also using ‘Get Away from Here I’m Dying,’ and he uses the original version in the film, but we wanted to re-record that in a way that it would sound contemporary. [Singer-guitarist] Stuart [Murdoch’s] voice has changed a lot. He sings like a man. He used to sing like a choirboy. We felt as though we would like to record it now that he sings like an adult man and also try not to speed up every verse. The original is pretty funny in that regard, which is part of the charm.”
Another classic Belle and Sebastian song, the soundtrack's first single, “Sister Buddha,” has already come out, and it features a crisp, Stone Roses-like guitar riff along with plaintive vocals.
“It’s a song of Stuart’s, so I wouldn’t want to be too authoritative about it,” says Martin when asked about the tune. “He goes to this meditation class a lot, and one of the Buddhist nuns who’s only just taken her vows since Stuart has known her, was originally just a Buddhist and not a nun. It’s kind of about her. That wasn’t written for the film, but we were piling stuff into the director’s Dropbox folder, and he got alerts that new files were added, and he just liked that song. I don’t think the vocal section is in the film, but it’s a really good song.”
Ultimately, “Sister Buddha” suggests the band’s music, which always had a slightly precious quality to it, has become edgier.
“Even on [1996’s] Tigermilk there were songs that had an edge and some toughness about them, but we maybe didn’t have the skills then,” says Martin. “They’re a bit more naïve. They have a toughness, but it’s a naïve toughness. For 20-odd years, things have changed a little bit. When you listen to old recordings, you flinch a little bit. I think, ‘Oh my God, we sound so quiet and wispy.’ We can still do quiet and wispy, but we can harness power a little more effectively. We’ve worked with producers and learned a lot from them about how to make things sound good on the radio, which is satisfying.”
The band’s extensive catalog makes putting setlists together challenging, something Martin acknowledges.
“Stuart tends to put the setlist together,” she says. “He’ll sometimes court opinions and things like that, but it’s generally him. There’s usually three or four that are in the sets most nights. There are songs that work particularly well at particular points in the set, and you don’t want to lose momentum. Sometimes, you need to take things down a little bit. There are options for that. It’s frustrating only to do 16 or 17 songs. We’re in the hundreds now. There are a lot that we don’t do very often. We have an embarrassment of riches in terms of songs. By the end of a tour, we quite often have 80 songs that have been played on that tour. Even then, you wish you had played others.”