If you have no idea how many members make up the Scottish indie band Belle and Sebastian, or what the lead singer looks like, you will be forgiven. That is because the band seldom gives interviews or even takes publicity photos. But yet the band’s music has found a place in films, television series and also the UK charts. What makes the shy Belle and Sebastian successful?
Who are Belle and Sebastian?
Belle and Sebastian were formed in 1994 in Glasgow in Scotland by Stuart Murdoch and Stuart David. The duo, together with their music professor recorded some demos which were picked up by their college’s label Electric Honey. As the label was impressed with the demos, Belle and Sebastian were allowed to record a full-length album titled “Tigermilk”. Encouraged by the warm reception of their debut album, the two Stuarts decided to turn the band into a full time project, recruiting Stevie Jackson (guitar and vocals), Isobel Campbell (cello/vocals), Chris Geddes (keys) and Richard Colburn (drums) to complete the lineup.
Their second album “If you are feeling Sinister” was released in 1996 and was considered by Spin as one of the 100 greatest albums between 1985 and 2005. Just before the recording of the album, Sarah Martin joined the group. Mick Cooke joined the band a few years later.
Reaching Critical Acclaim
The reclusive band had two EPs in the Top 40 and their third album “The Boy With the Arab Strap” shot into the charts at no. 12 in the UK charts. Despite their success, many people may not have heard of their mellow and melodic music. In fact, Belle and Sebastian gained mention in the 2000 film “High Fidelity” as a sad-bastard music. The protagonist Rob Gordon, played by John Cusack was trying to string together a series of failed romantic relationships into a sort of coherent self-narrative, with the song “The Boy with the Arab Strap” playing in his record store.
Jack Black, who played his employee struts in and was appalled by the song and asked his colleague whose song is that? His colleague, played by Todd Louiso replied, “It’s the new Belle and Sebastian”. Black ripped the cassette out of the player and replaced it with Katrina and Waves' “Walking on Sunshine” and dances around the store until Rob rips the tape out of the deck.
The young Scottish band was simply creating the kind of music they wanted to. Their music has been branded as folk and even modern rock. They did not want their music to be pigeon-holed. The band’s influences are evident on the album incorporating the harmonies of the Beatles, Beach Boys coupled with the sparse rhythms of Velvet Underground.
The Songs of Belle and Sebastian
The lyrics churned out by the band are thoughtful and yes, they can be depressing. They write stories about thinking you have fallen in love when you actually didn’t. The lyrics contain existential questions and the bleakness of being a wage labourer. They married tongue-in-cheek lyrics with corny wordplay accompanied with chamber-pop melodies, sultry basslines, lush synths and the deadpan voice of Stuart Murdoch.
You can relate to their songs because they weren’t singing about you, but yet they could be you. It is easy to resonate with some of the struggles of the characters in the lyrics as all of us are trying to carry the burdens of living a dignified human life in a world constantly changing and undermining that dignity.
If you get tired of modern pop songs with trashy or unintelligent lyrics about love, you can always try tuning into Belle and Sebastian. It is like listening to a whole album of stories sung to sweet and sometimes melancholic tunes.
Want to learn to play and sing like Belle and Sebastian? Check out our Sing and Play programme and get a free trial lesson at Ritmo Music Studio.