Scotland Week: Throwback Thursday: God Help the Girl Interview from 2009 | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Stuart Murdoch and Catherine Ireton

Scotland Week: Throwback Thursday: God Help the Girl Interview from 2009

Stuart Murdoch's Celluloid Dream

Sep 04, 2014 Scotland Week Photography by Anna Isola Crolla Bookmark and Share

For Throwback Thursdays we are posting classic interviews from the Under the Radar print archives to our website. Under the Radar used to keep its print articles exclusive to the print magazine and so there are a lot of older articles that aren’t to be found on our website. In honor of Scotland Week, for this Throwback Thursday we revisit our 2009 article on the genesis of Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian’s God Help the Girl project. This Friday God Help the Girl, the feature film writing and directing debut of frontman Stuart Murdoch, is released. But back in 2009 Murdoch had done things in reverse, recording the soundtrack to a film that didn’t exist yet. With the film now finally being released we thought it would be interesting to revisit this article. Read on as Murdoch discusses how he was inspired to write a musical and the challenges of finding the right vocalist to realize his vision.

Even though great musicians often suffer from the unique delusion that because they can write a pop hook they can also be actors, painters, poets, and novelists, there are very few outside of Rob Zombie and Wayne Coyne who have been brazen enough to actually attempt to write and direct a film. Undoubtedly, much of the reason for that is not a lack of audacity but rather the sheer amount of money and time that must be poured into such projects can be prohibitive for anyone who doesn’t have generous access to both. But as someone who has always had a cinematic sense of character development and narrative vignettes, Stuart Murdoch would seem to be a perfect candidate for testing this conventional wisdom as indie musicians are, by definition, modestly paid and horribly overworked. But in a typically quirky approach to the business of filmmaking, the Belle and Sebastian leader has started off by sticking with what he knowsthe soundtrack.

“The title track came along when I was on tour with the group, and it just sort of leapt up fully formed in my head and I jotted it down,” Murdoch says from his home in Glasgow. “I had this girl singing her little biography, an introduction to herself, and I immediately felt that the song was a theme to something, in the same way that the song ‘Gregory’s Girl’ is the theme to the film Gregory’s Girl. I love those kinds of upbeat songs that feel like the start of some sort of great film. I’m not saying that my song is particularly great, but it had that kind of feeling, that it could start something. And there she was immediately. I had the chorus ‘God help the girl/She needs all the help she can get.’ So I had the title of the song and the title of the whole project.”

Though he admits to not being a fan of musicals, Murdoch always dreamed of making a film and quickly realized that the voice he heard singing this first new song (think ‘60s girl-group stars Martha Reeves or Little Eva) was not his own. Soon, the songs started pouring out of him, and what was originally conceptualized as a girl-group project morphed into the seed of a film, its characters leading him through a series of musical scenes involving two girls and a boy (Eve, Cass, and James) who share a summer and an innocent love affair with each other. He could see it all in his headthe scenes, the characters, the singersbut he didn’t know anyone who actually possessed the voice he heard. He looked around Glasgow, but no one fit the bill. He held open auditions over the Internet, and after 450 applicants, he found some supporting players but not his leading lady. Little did he know, she was with him from the start.

“In fact, I resisted everything to do with Catherine,” Murdoch says of Catherine Ireton, vocalist for folk-pop duo The Go Away Birds and the singer of 10 of the album’s 14 songs. (Belle and Sebastian fans will also recognize her from the cover of their 2006 “White Collar Boy” single, and Murdoch has known her since 2004.) “To me, her voice was wrong for it. At the start, I thought she sounded a lot like Julie Andrews, and I didn’t want Julie Andrews. I wanted someone stronger, someone less innocent. But the thing Catherine had was that she was enthusiastic. She persevered and she had an underlying quality. And she was also very, very good at picking up things and changing. So, as time went along, she simply didn’t go away. My wife loved her voice straightaway, and every time I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to try this person,’ she’d say, ‘Well, what about Catherine?’ So, suddenly, I went back to Catherine, and I saw her qualities, and for once I thought, well, let’s give her a song that matches her qualities and see what she can do with it. Then I gave her a bit of instruction. She was quite chameleon-like.”

Having compromised with his bandmates to make the more straightforward The Life Pursuit, he decided that his next project would be entirely his own undertaking, and this time around he wanted to make an elaborate orchestral pop album that might not be quite so accessible. Luckily, he had a road-tested backing band that already knew how to effortlessly follow him through his arrangements. While the final product was never intended to tell a complete story, he ended up with the perfect primer for a film that didn’t existone that could be either his crowning achievement or greatest failure.

“I don’t even know if I’ll manage it physically, because I’m getting an idea of how demanding it will be,” he says. “For me, recording music is a much more intuitive process, but films are much more complex, and I didn’t know anything about them. So, for instance, I watched the film Withnail and I. It’s a famous English film from the 1980s, and I realized that in that film, there are two main characters, and not too much happens to them. I always lean on that. I know that, okay, if these guys don’t do too much, then I can get my guys not to do too much either,” he laughs. “It’s possible.”


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December 18th 2014

Now I’m like, well duh! Truly thfukanl for your help.