Belle and Sebastian - Stuart Murdoch on "Days of the Bagnold Summer" | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, November 21st, 2019  

Belle and Sebastian - Stuart Murdoch on “Days of the Bagnold Summer”

Soundtracking Teen Angst

Oct 17, 2019 Issue #66 - My Favorite Album - Angel Olsen and Sleater-Kinney
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Not only is actor/comedian Simon Bird lucky enough to have achieved his dream of being a director, making his feature debut Days of the Bagnold Summer (due for release next year), on top of that, he also convinced his favorite band, Belle and Sebastian, to provide the soundtrack. The Scottish indie rockerswho formed in Glasgow in 1994 and are known for cutting classic albums such as Tigermilk, If You're Feeling Sinister, The Boy With the Arab Strap, and The Life Pursuitalso dug up some long lost (and even one unfinished) vintage rarities for Bird's film. The band also penned new songs for Days of the Bagnold Summer, which is Bird's directorial debut after making a name for himself in his native UK as an actor on the hit TV and movie series The Inbetweeners. Based on Joff Winterhart's graphic novel of the same name, Days of the Bagnold Summer stars Earl Cave (son of legendary rocker Nick Cave and also previously in the Netflix show The End of the F***ing World) as a embittered teen spending the summer with him mum (a librarian played by Monica Dolan of Eye in the Sky) after his father fails to deliver on his promise of a glamorous summer Stateside.

Below, Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch tells us more about soundtracking this coming of age story, along with dishing on what it's like to have a shout-out in an older time honored flick such as High Fidelity, not to mention naming the moment in Belle and Sebastian's history that is best suited for its own silver screen treatment.

Kyle Mullin (Under the Radar): This soundtrack not only has gorgeously melancholy music that suits the film's tone, it also has plenty of vivid imagery in its lyrics. For instance, the song "I'll Keep It Inside" has a great line about trying to smoke in the rain, but not being able to with such wet lips. Did watching the film inspire you to write such cinematic lyrics? 

Stuart Murdoch (Belle and Sebastian): It's one of a number of songs on the record that are older. One of the things that happened when Simon [Bird] contacted us about doing the soundtrack, I happened to be going through a case from a certain period, around 1994 or so, digging up old songs I had never done with the band before, and that was one of them, along with "Safety Valve." The mood of the songs immediately gelled with the feeling of reading the comic novel. I didn't have to do much to that one ["I'll Keep It Inside"]. The words were intact. But even when I wrote it, it's the kind of song that came from a mystical memory that probably never even happened from my school days. That's the songwriter's privilege. If you have a hazy memory of catching someone's eye, you can then extrapolate from there.

And unlike "I'll Keep It Inside," you had to put a lot more work into "Safety Valve" because it was only a fragment of a song?

Yes, that's very well researched of you! That was one that I could remember in part. It was actually because I was looking for "Safety Valve" that I dug up all these other bits and pieces from right before the band got together. But I found to my disappointment that I didn't actually have much more than I remembered. I pretty much remembered all that I had, what I'd dug up wasn't complete enough to fill in the gaps, so I had to flesh that song out a bit for the soundtrack.

What was it like to return to those early days?

I think the film gave me an excuse to do it. It was the perfect match. It was easy and went along with the recording process. We didn't try too hard, we didn't try to fill them out with an orchestra or anything. Some of them only have me with a guitar, Dave [McGowan] on standup bass, and Richard [Colburn] tapping softly along softly on the drums. And sometimes you can get a cool sound from that.

Apparently director Simon Bird is a huge fan of your band? And that he insisted on using your song "Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying"? How did it come about?

It was a typical conversation for these caseshe spoke to the producer about getting someone like Belle and Sebastian to do the music. And the producer replied, "Why don't you just ask Belle and Sebastian?" It's not like we're in a gilded palace over here, we're just sitting around. So I'm glad that he got in touch. It was just a simple phone call, and we met up pretty quickly, and we visited the film set. It was easy. I'm not sure if it was his plan to use our music in the film, but he certainly became attached to it. What often happens when you're making a film, from speaking to people, is you put in music as a marker and then you can't get rid of it, it's hard to edit the song out.

As a fan of your band, he must've had an interesting reaction to you digging up old half finished songs like "Safety Valve" and providing them for his soundtrack.

I kept telling him how lucky he was. In all seriousness, he was really pleased. He had a lot to choose from, songs that we quickly worked up for him, but we also had been working on instrumentals for our own amusement, which he got to choose from, like "Jill Pole."

Was the feeling mutual? Did you like projects of his like The Inbetweeners or Friday Night Dinner? 

I'd never seen them, though it might've been a generation thing because The Inbetweeners I know is such a huge show. But I was a fan of his when I met him, because it was clear his sensibilities were in the right place. It didn't take much convincing for me to get involved, because I liked the comic novel as soon as I read it. The day I met Simon he gave me a copy, and I couldn't put it down.

What was it about the graphic novel that spoke to you?

I do like comic novels. I don't read them voraciously, but I'm a big fan of the Optic Nerve comics, because they have so much comedy in them. They have a similar sensibility to Days of the Bagnold Summer. Sort of angsty, coming of age books. And it was just really well written.

Can you relate to the angsty youngster Daniel in the story?

I think I could understand him at least. Anybody whose gone through puberty could understand these kind of frustrations. He's angry at his mom who doesn't deserve it, she did nothing but bring him up, but his dad left for a more glamorous life, and he was meant to go visit him over the summer, but when his dad cancels it's when the story begins.

The mother seems quite understandable too, especially after I saw this charming clip of one of her key scenes.

The mom is really the main character. The son acts like a typical angry youth. But it's the mom who has all the emotional legwork. She plays it beautifully in the film. There's a lot going on there. The son probably doesn't think of it but the mom is probably feeling lonely, and is struggling without a partner, and we really get to explore her story throughout the course of the movie.

And when you're working on a soundtrack like this, you're able to see a rough cut without any soundtrack and fill in the music?

Yeah we get to see the scenes. We basically saw it, got inspired and record enough stuff for him to work with. It wasn't like working on a film score, where each piece of music has to fit on a technical level with what's happening on the screen.

Were you not only inspired by the film, but also keeping your all time favorite soundtracks in mind as benchmarks? What are some of your favorite film soundtracks?

Something like Harold and Maude was something we talked about a lot while working on this soundtrack. Cat Steven did the music, and I remember reading about the process, he and the writer/director took a whole week before shooting and got a real feel for the movie. So their thoughts and efforts were intertwined. That's a great benchmark for me, going into a soundtrack project.

And this isn't your first soundtrack. You did another in 2002 for the film Storytelling?

Yes, it was a very different project. We came out of the end of that process and were desperate to give our best effort, but the movie was already done and the director just wanted some simple pieces of music for filler, he didn't need much of what we came up with. So in a sense, we invented our own soundtrack to a movie that doesn't exist. We made this album based on the movie, with a little of it used in the movie.

So you're happier with how Days of the Bagnold Summer turned out?

This was a more satisfying experience. I mean, I'm fond of the Storytelling record, but this was definitely better, to come in earlier before the film was even made. And we wanted to give people their money's worth, so we packed it full of old songs too.

I wanted to ask you about another film, High Fidelity, which has characters not only listening to your music but singing your praises in the dialogue. What was that like?

I remember going to see it when it came out, and I was a big fan of the movie. It was fun to see, and nice to get the shout-out in the film.

Lastly, I wanted to ask about your band's early days, like in 1997 when you recorded music in a church that you were living in. Do you look back on that fondly, or was it tough at the time?

I moved into the church when the band started actually, and it went very much hand in hand with the story of the band at the start. We rehearsed everything there, and because I liked the acoustics we ended up recording there as well, because we were chasing a particular sound. So it was a really interesting time. One of these days I could maybe see dramatizing it. For years I couldn't even get a band together, and then all of a sudden I had these people, just as I got a job living and working as a janitor at the church; trying to juggle practice with the band while the local retirees had their bridge club in the next room and didn't want to be disturbed. It feels like a bit of a movie now, looking back.

www.belleandsebastian.com

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