The prime sonic export of Scotland and the poster children for the fey, fragile and insular, Belle and Sebastian have created some of the most delicate and important indie rock music of the past two decades. Now, after nearly 20 years as a band, they’ve turned their sound upside down.
With the recent release of their ninth record, “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance,” the sextet has not only taken on more socially conscious topics, but they seem to have turned to disco and dance.
“It just gives me a feeling,” says founding member/guitarist/vocalist Stevie Jackson. “It goes with the cover and it comes with the music. There is a message. I think as we went along, the songs became more outward looking and affected by current events and things happening in the world. Maybe now that we’re not in our 20s anymore — maybe that’s just growing up.”
Accompanied by a powerful album cover featuring a woman with crutches and another with a machine gun, the band manages to mix their signature lyrics of the internal struggle with mentions of borrowed guns and bombs in the Middle East, but they do so by burying the heaviness in a backdrop of beats and bouncy, uptempo rhythms.
“I think that’d be called juxtaposition,” says Stevie. “When you’re just writing songs, you don’t really analyze while you’re creating them. Certainly I think rhythm has become more important, but I feel like there was just a need to dance, more than a need for rhythm. It wasn’t like the songs were written on guitar with words and melody and we would say ‘Let’s make it funky or make it disco.’ It was intrinsic within the songs as we were writing them. Maybe because we’ve been doing it for so long that it just sounds better than just a guitar again. It’s also just in the air — with any record it’s what’s in the air at the time. You can’t really calculate that. Sometimes you make a record and it’s introspective, sometimes you make a record that’s outward looking. There’s definitely a pulse and rhythm going through this one.”
How to make an iconic album cover
“I think with one exception, or maybe two, generally the album titles come after the photos have been taken. I think the idea begins with a great cover. On this occasion, we had the idea for the photograph. It’s interesting because between snapping away Stuart turns to me and says, ‘I want to call the album “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance”‘… I think he had the name as a potential song title and then when he was taking photographs it seemed to make sense and he turned to me and said, ‘What about that?’ Our previous records are pretty literal; there’s no real room for interpretation, but this record is wide open. Every time I take a look at it I ponder it,” explains Jackson.