Track-by-Track: Belle and Sebastian on “Third Eye Centre” – Complete Interview | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Track-by-Track: Belle and Sebastian on “Third Eye Centre” – Complete Interview

Stuart Murdoch and Stevie Jackson on Their New Compilation

Aug 27, 2013 Belle and Sebastian Bookmark and Share

For our Track-by-Track feature, we go in-depth with an artist about each song on their new album. Last week we featured Belle and Sebastian’s Third Eye Centre, and for three days we posted commentary by the band on all of the album’s songs. Now we’ve compiled all three posts into one complete interview. Third Eye Centre is out today via Matador. Also look out for an additional article on Belle and Sebastian in Under the Radar‘s next print issue.

In the lead up to the release of Third Eye Centre, their second compilation of ephemera and B-sides, Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch and Stevie Jackson spoke to Under the Radar about the provenance, recording, and other interesting facts regarding the songs.

The record is carefully sequenced by the band, in direct opposition to 2005’s Push Barman to Open Old Wounds, which collected the act’s Jeepster singles in chronological order. This time Belle and Sebastian took painstaking steps to ensure the album sustained a mood, which it does, albeit one of the serendipity of hunting in a junk shop—you find some vintage treasure, esoteric world music flourishes, occasional detritus, and some failed experiments, but ultimately the fascinating sound of a band transitioning into a fully functioning egalitarian unit exploring myriad stylistic avenues, a contrast to Barman.

“I’m a Cuckoo (Avalanches Remix)”

Stuart Murdoch: We commissioned The Avalanches to do that, because we wanted it to be quite a lot louder than the original. We wanted it to be a single in the U.K., but the label listened to it and didn’t like it, so it was decided that it wasn’t going to be a single. It’s a completely different thing and a different take on the original, and it’s something that I appreciate vastly.

“Suicide Girl”

Stuart: That was one of the tracks intended for Write About Love. It’s a little too light in terms of the words and everything, but I like it. It has a nice feel. It’s based on the old ‘90s phenomenon of The Suicide Girls, the website, which still exists, I think. A couple of the girls made a video for it and it’s probably [our] most-watched video. The girls take their clothes off, so that probably has something to do with it.

“Love on the March”

Stuart: It has this ska kind of thing going for it, and it’s about a curious thing that happens in Glasgow called the Orange walk, which is when Protestants march against the Catholics. It goes on in the summer. It was always very ill-tempered and very bitter. You could never cross the march even though it went on for an hour or two.

Stevie Jackson: The music was written by Mick [Cooke]. I had nothing to do with it. If it ever has a samba or a big reggae inflection, it was written by Mick. I sing on it. The whole thing about writing songs changed after the first few albums. Since about 2001 it’s never entirely clear. Stuart’s still the main writer, but there are songs where others wrote the music and Stuart wrote the words, and there are cooperative things like “Step Into My Office, Baby.”

“The Last Trip”

Stevie: On the Write About Love sessions, we’d bring along bits of tunes and see what stuck. That was something I played and Sara [Martin] liked it a lot, but I didn’t think much of it. It’s kind of a companion piece to “Step Into My Office, Baby” in that it’s very indebted to John Lee Hooker. I was trying to play something he’d play, one chord, but with pop changes. With that rhythm, when you play it with a band, it starts sounding like glam rock. But in my head it was never a contender or anything. It was fun to play.

“Your Secrets”

Stuart: It kind of has wonky beats. I kind of wrote it on accident. It was a bit of an old song. I think it was from 1994. It was about meeting up in the afternoon to talk about German philosophers. There wasn’t much else to do back then.

“Your Cover’s Blown (Miaoux Miaoux Remix)”

Stuart: We recorded that a couple years ago and we were quite happy with it at the time, but we thought it could be different so we got our friend in Glasgow to remix it. We lost the original master, so we had to re-sing some of the parts, but that was fine.

“I Took a Long Hard Look”

Stevie: I really like that one. The main theme of it is about growing up and trying to create your own magic as opposed to basking in the glow of magic that’s come before. I’m thinking of this in the context of a kid who used to read a lot about musicians and watch documentaries on bands realizing that he should be living his own life and not reading about other peoples’—“I took a long hard look at the heroes of my youth/And the antics of the page they’re on can no longer sustain me.” It’s quite direct, and it’s a personal take about growing up and taking responsibility for creating things.

“Heaven in the Afternoon”

Stuart: When I wrote that song, I can’t quite remember why I didn’t sing it, but it sounds nice with Sara singing it. It’s somewhat inspired by the Edie Sedgwick biography. She just got into such a bad way with drugs and her mental state. She was stuck in her house, and the only stuff she could take in were baby stories like Winnie the Pooh. That was written for Edie.

Long Black Scarf”

Stuart: It’s one of my favorite Belle and Sebastian moments, and it doesn’t feature on any records. I know that Stevie and Chris [Geddes] clashed somewhat. It’s genuinely quite jazzy, but not in a boring way at all.

Stevie: Chris brought that in, and I started singing over it. I have a CD of the rehearsal. A lot of jazzy changes, which appeals to me. I just like the idea of a long black scarf. I suppose it’s because when I was a kid there was always an article of clothing, maybe a jacket or shirt that could make you feel attractive, a piece of clothing that you think’s really cool and makes you feel good about yourself. It’s the same idea of a long black scarf. I had one as a teenager, and taking the idea further, it has magical powers. In my charged teenage life I think it had magic powers, in a sense. It enables you to have a power, but it backfires on you. It’s kind of fantasy with a touch of reality.

“The Eighth Station of the Cross Kebab House”

Stuart: I do like songs with long song titles, like with Felt. This is based on a trip Chris and I took to Israel-Palestine to go to check out the situation. They were building more and walls between communities in Palestine five our six years ago when they were going through a particularly rough patch. We went there with a magazine and they took our pictures and we were there to report back and see what good we could do. You can watch as much television as you like, but it’s not until you visit the area and speak to some of the people and you feel their anger that you realize what’s going on. Gaza’s like a big prison camp, really, and so many people live there and they’re so restricted, and 20 miles away, Israel’s so tiny, and in Tel Aviv, everyone’s very nice there, and they’re very welcoming, and you have this conflict that’s very distinct. In Jerusalem we met up with these people at this kebab house, and that’s what I wrote the song about when I got home.

“I Didn’t See It Coming (Richard X Mix)”

Stuart: [The original version] was on Write About Love, but we featured it on an EP because we thought the remix was sort of distinctive. Distinctive enough that we wanted to include it.

”(I Believe In) Travelin’ Light”

Stevie: It was my take on a Cliff Richards song called “Traveling Light.” The song’s about not traveling with very much luggage. I just like the idea of traveling light. I just wrote it one morning. The chord sequence isn’t far away from “Mother’s Nature’s Son” by The Beatles—just picking a D chord and D minor, and it has that kind of feel to it. Chris and Mick wrote the string arrangement, and there’s a spaceship sound in the middle of it. I can’t remember who came up with it. I think Stuart took it off [the album] because there were stronger songs, but we still play it live occasionally. Just a folk song. It’s a good quality B-side.

“Stop, Look, and Listen”

Stuart: The band was in a great rush between LPs, after we’d returned from tour, and needed to record an easy track from the past. So we spruced it up a bit. I think I wrote the last couple of verses just at that time, added them on, and then we recorded it.

Stevie: It’s a very early Stuart song. I think he had it back in 1995, and we recorded it all completely live. It’s a great memory of playing acoustic guitar on it live back in 2003 or 2004 again.

“Passion Fruit”

Stuart: That’s just an instrumental written by Mick. Not a lot I can say about that one.

“Desperation Made a Fool of Me”

Stuart: It had this kind of laidback quality. One of the very old songs I had written with the band at the time, who were playing really well. Nothing really much to add. Just the spirit of a young boy and a life and relationship song.

“Blue Eyes of a Millionaire”

Stuart: A Tony Hoffer production. I love the production. It had a quality for a while where something moved, and it lost it. If it had that movement, a sort of funk thing to it, it would’ve made the LP, but it didn’t so we left it off. The lyrics were about a girl I used to know in Glasgow. A girl I didn’t know that well. She was quite the opposite of a millionaire. Rich people can buy many things but that can’t buy grace and beauty, which this girl had in spades.

“Mr. Richard”

Stevie: A lot of these songs are more experimental pieces that were always meant to end up as B-sides. This one has the stamp of Mick because it has the odd time signature, 3/4 then 4/4. The melody, which sounds kind of Latin, was one of the first things I wrote on my guitar when I was 14. It just came into my head. And it needed some words, and it’s really just a companion piece to “Long Black Scarf” in that it’s about being a teenager. It’s looking back on being a huge Rolling Stones fan. I must’ve been in a reflective period at that time.

“Meat and Potatoes”

Stuart: It was a candidate for Dear Catastrophe Waitress. I remember talking to Tony Hoffer and I thought it was a candidate for the LP, but I don’t think the band cared for it all that much. I realize at the time hearing a few comments as to why I didn’t write songs from an adult perspective than a student’s sort of look at life, so I wrote a song about the practicalities of sex in an existing relationship and some of the pitfalls that arrive, and actually I was kind of criticized for that more. [Laughs] Sometimes you can’t win.

“The Life Pursuit”

Stuart: Quite predictably that was meant to be on the record The Life Pursuit, and Tony was a big fan of it, and we spent a lot of time working on the structure of that song, possibly more than any other song, but by the time it was worked out everybody was fed up with it. But I think it does what I wanted to do, to start off with the trivialities and annoyances of life, and it tries to soothe the listener and take them to a slightly spiritual place. It was a good one to fit on the end of the record.


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