I think some people felt we were getting a little too comfortable. Like we were a bit set in our ways and we needed to do something different…Once you see what working with someone new can do, it becomes addictive.
BY WILLIAM LENNON
After a minor panic involving an international number was resolved with some hastily purchased Skype credits, Chicago INNERVIEW managed to get through to Belle & Sebastian singer/violinist Sarah Martin at her hotel in Bangkok, where the band is currently touring. In the past week they’ve played to crowds in Singapore and Taiwan, and a few days after our interview they’ll be in Tokyo. “It’s Chinese New Year here,” she says brightly, a Scottish lilt playing across each syllable. “I think we’re at a pretty cool part of the world.”
The band’s newest and ninth studio album is called Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance. It’s an apt title considering that the record contains some of the most club-friendly music Belle & Sebastian has ever recorded in its fabled 19-year indie rock career. Martin shrugs off the idea that the new direction might alienate longtime fans of their earlier music. “People seem to be enjoying it,” she says simply. “I mean, it’s nothing so new. The very first album has ‘Electronic Renaissance’ on it. And that’s purely pop, ya know? It’s not like a radical change.”
Some might point to the album’s producer Ben Allen (who is better known for his work with acts like M.I.A. and Cee Lo Green) as a mitigating factor in Belle and Sebastian’s newfound metamorphoses, and Martin doesn’t dispute that claim. Every producer has a unique thumbprint that can help set the tone of an album, so the fact that recording with Allen in Atlanta sent Girls In Peacetime in a more danceable direction must seem like a no-brainer.
“I’ve been very happy making the last few records with Tony Hoffer,” says Martin, referring to the band’s producer on Write About Love and The Life Pursuit. “And I would have been happy to work with him again, but I think some people felt we were getting a little too comfortable. Like we were a bit set in our ways and we needed to do something different. And I’m really glad we did, because I absolutely loved it. And I’d love to make another record with Ben but once you see what working with someone new can do, it becomes addictive.”
When asked about God Help The Girl, the Belle & Sebastian movie-musical released last summer, Martin distances herself from the melancholy little film about unrequited love and undermined ambitions as seen through the eyes of a dreamy 3-piece pop band in Glasgow. “It’s definitely [lead singer Stuart Murdoch’s] project,” she says immediately. “We were helpers rather than active participants.”
Still, Martin says her favorite use of a Belle & Sebastian song in television or film is the episode of Girls in which their song “I Don’t Love Anyone” serves as the coda to an indescribably awkward semi-nude scene. The band’s music also is featured on not one, but two tracks from the Juno soundtrack, a film Martin admits she’s “never seen.”
When the conversation is steered towards food (specifically burritos), Martin cites Sharky’s in Los Angeles and Poncho Villa’s in the Mission District of San Francisco as her favorites. “When we were making Write About Love, we would have [Sharky’s] every lunchtime,” she says. “Nobody really does it properly in Britain.”