Belle and Sebastian : How To Solve Our Human Problems (3xEP set)

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by TheWarmth, Oct 10, 2017.

  1. TheWarmth

    TheWarmth Forum Resident Thread Starter

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  2. irong

    irong Well-Known Member

    Quebec, Canada
    Indeed, that song is amazingly sweet.
  3. SammyJoe

    SammyJoe Up The Irons!

    I like the new song, so definitely looking forward to these EP:s.
    Anyways, here's interview with Stuart about the upcoming ep-series:

    Q&A: Stuart Murdoch On Belle And Sebastian’s New EP Series And The State They Are In After 20 Years

    During the epochal period when Belle And Sebastian were making albums such as If You’re Feeling Sinister, Tigermilk, The Boy With The Arab Strap and winning hearts for their wistful melodies and lovelorn character studies, the Scottish indie pop group were also releasing EPs like Lazy Line Painter Jane and Dog On Wheels that allowed them to exhale a bit and offer up songs such as “The State I Am In” and “You Made Me Forget My Dreams” that were a bit more upbeat, shaggy, and self-deprecating than the finely wrought orchestral angst of their proper albums. When founding vocalist Isobel Campbell and bassist/vocalist Stuart David left the group, and Belle And Sebastian began touring more often and working with outside producers, they gradually began to focus less on EPs, but their upcoming release campaign finds them returning to their aesthetic roots.

    The Scottish indie institution will release a series of three EPs titled How To Solve Our Human Problems. The first installment comes out on December 8, and the next two in the series will be out on January 19 and February 16. In addition to re-embracing short-form releases, the project finds the group exploring an off-the-cuff, anything-goes ethos, spanning from the strutting, R&B-like “Poor Boy” to the stripped-down ballad “There Is An Everlasting Song” to “We Were Beautiful,” on which the band pushes even further into the new-wave dance influences they explored on Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance. We talked with lead singer and band founder Stuart Murdoch about why he decided to return to this format, how the band evolved from a reclusive outfit that once refused to have its photos taken, and that time when they accidentally left drummer Richard Colburn in his pajamas at a Walmart in North Dakota. And you can also check out new track “I’ll Be Your Pilot” right now.

    STEREOGUM: What was the idea behind doing an EP series instead of going back and making another album right away?

    MURDOCH: There was a number of reasons. One was that, I guess when the last LP came out… I think these days when an LP comes out, it’s kind of disappointing. Nothing seems to happen, and I thought, “we’ve got to do something different.” I hate just to tread water. I’ve been in this business now for 20 years, surely we can use our heads and do something that’s a bit more interesting that might actually pique some interest. But, you know, the main reason is musical, it’s about ideas. The main thing was just to come back to Glasgow and record in Glasgow for the first time in about a dozen years and also to sort of produce the record ourselves, and also to record in a different way, to go into the studio with a track barely written and, a little bit like James Brown’s style, just get the band in when you have a song and find a small studio that’s free and just go in there and throw it down. That was really different to the last four LPs, which have all been written and rehearsed and then recorded with one producer over an intense period of six weeks.

    STEREOGUM: You indicated that you were kind of disappointed with how Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance was received. Did it just not sell very well? Or do you feel like there wasn’t any buzz about it?

    MURDOCH: I think it was fine, I think it just was a “what I was expected to do” kind of thing. Sometimes you get bored of what’s expected and you want to shake things up a little bit. It seemed to me, to be honest, it was more to do with the current state of music. It feels like there’s hundreds of LPs, noteworthy LPs, getting released every week, whereas back in my day when I was really keeping up with music in the late ’80s or something like that, there was maybe one LP that everyone would focus on for a week, and then it would still be with you there at the end of the year, so it’s difficult to catch people’s attention these days. The other great thing is that the Smiths, another group that I love, they did this early in their career, which is to attach your hopes to one track in particular. The fun thing about an EP is we get to experiment, we get to do things that we don’t usually do in an LP, but we get to pick a single from each one and focus on that.

    STEREOGUM: You were saying you’ve been at this for 20 years, your last album was your ninth album… I think a lot of bands these days talk about how there’s so much music out there that people often pay attention only to the hot narrative or whatever’s new and buzzy. Do you feel like it’s tough for a veteran band to get attention? People can be like, “oh yeah, another Belle And Sebastian album. I’m sure it’s good, they’re always good.” Do you feel like being a band that’s been around that long, people can take you for granted?

    MURDOCH: Pop music, when I was growing up, bands would reach great heights, and then they’d disappear in two years. There’s nothing to say being in a pop band, being in a rock and roll band, had to be like a pension plan. You don’t just sign up for life and then play the same chords and turn away for 20 years and expect to be paid. We’re always trying different stuff and we go in, do our solo record, go in, make film, and we go in and write prose or something like that, and then we always come back to the music and keep it interesting. Nobody deserves it on a plate. So I think it’s good that we should be forced to make it interesting. Maybe the classic era of pop and rock as we know it is kind of passed, and it’s all about singles and R&B and music which we probably wouldn’t do so well at, so maybe we can evolve in different ways while still staying loyal to our followers.

    STEREOGUM: When your band first started out, you were making almost as many EPs as you were albums, and I know plenty of fans whose favorite songs were on Dog On Wheels or Lazy Line Painter Jane. After a while did you start gravitating more towards albums because it was easier that way, or did you have less time to crank them out?

    MURDOCH: We were on a label, Jeepster, and they were super independent and we were the biggest band on the label, and so it was a real partnership with them, and I think we got away with doing a lot of stuff that many other labels wouldn’t let us do, so we’ve got to tip our hats to those guys. Then we set that precedent, and when we signed to Rough Trade in 2000 or 2001, they were quite adamant that they wanted us to try and follow a more static commercial route for a while, or at least try and embrace that, just as something different. And that was fine, so we did that and we had new singles and LPs. But actually, to be honest with you, for the first five, six years, the band was all about recording, we didn’t really tour. Back then, also, you could make money from records. The records themselves made a profit and allowed for us to keep going and make more records. So we were just delighted to keep churning out these records made in Glasgow, but when we got serious about touring, we simply didn’t have the time. So we brought in producers, but that was fun too. It was fun to do that for a while. So this was like a little backwards step, but it’s been a completely justified decision to self-produce back in Glasgow, making EPs. It’s been great.

    STEREOGUM: It seems like one of the nice things about doing it this way is you can kind of get songs out quicker after you make them, right?

    MURDOCH: If you want to, you can drop them out. You can record them and stick them up online. We work great with the guys at Matador and they embrace the project and want to do a good job and do it right, with a bit of context. I’m into that. I’m into getting the artwork just right. It feels like everything has just come together. I’ve written a lot of tape notes this time, it’s taken me a while because there are three whole vinyl records.

    STEREOGUM: The reason I say that is because I was listening to that song “The Girl Doesn’t Get It,” which seems very political for you. It seems like it’s very much about the world and America going through this moment. But maybe I’m reading into it.

    MURDOCH: Oh no, but it was, I guess that song was written… we recorded that last year. But when isn’t that stuff relevant? Just writing about angry white men and inclusivity and building walls, there’s always some prick that wants to go to war for some ludicrous reason, so it’s still as relevant as it was just a year ago.

    STEREOGUM: I remember when I first started listening to you in the late ’90s, so many of your songs seemed to exist in an idealized, more nostalgic world. As you’ve gone on, you’ve written a lot of songs that directly relate to the world we’re living in today, such as “If You Find Yourself Caught In Love.” As your career has progressed and you’ve grown as a songwriter, have you felt the need to engage with the world around you and write directly about the world you see?

    MURDOCH: That’s a good question. I think I felt as engaged as I ever would in the last record, and I think I’ve gone over the peak now. Personally as a songwriter myself, I don’t think I was ever overtly political, you know like Billy Bragg or the Clash or whatever. But I think I’m retreating into myself a little now. I think although there are some allusions to the outside world, maybe specifically on that track “The Girl Doesn’t Get It,” my philosophy these days is when other people are getting angry, consider not getting angry. I often think anger is the cause of most of the **** that goes down, so sometimes the worst thing you can do is get angry. Sometimes you end up poisoning yourself. If you turn on FOX News and you get angry at the injustice in the world, it’s not helping anyone. To an extent in the songs, I want to console the listeners and take them aside and help. I really feel this sense of purpose that I just want to be the whisper in somebody’s ear that actually takes them away from their suffering.

    STEREOGUM: You said earlier how you signed with Rough Trade and you started touring and taking the game more seriously. When the band started, part of the mystique of the group was that you didn’t give interviews, you weren’t in photos. When did that change for you? Was it when you decided to tour more often? When did you become a more outgoing guy who was more comfortable to assume the role of a frontman in a big band?

    MURDOCH: I think when I’m on my deathbed and I think back on my life, I will consider that touring with this band is probably the greatest pleasure of my life. We were so lucky, because at that point, five years in, we could’ve fallen apart or just done what we did, which was get organized and shed a few people and then evolve and start touring properly. It really is a pleasure to get some gigs.

    STEREOGUM: It seems like it was around the time of Dear Catastrophe Waitress that you started touring seriously, and in a way it seemed like a career restart. Not that you weren’t taking it seriously beforehand, but it seemed like that was when you became the version of Belle And Sebastian that we all know about today.

    MURDOCH: That’s nice of you to say, because there would be some people that can’t get over the Tigermilk, Sinister era, or the Isobel era. Simply, they saw us when we came out, and everything changed after that. That was our little zeitgeist moment. After that, they don’t know what happened. But that was nice of you to say. We kept working, we really went to work. There’s a whole live thing for us, that’s what we are now, that’s what we’ve become and I’m glad that you noticed.

    STEREOGUM: This was a long time ago, but I was talking to one of your hardcore fans and I said, “I actually think Catastrophe Waitress is their best album,” and they’re a Tigermilk fanatic, they were upset with me for saying that.

    MURDOCH: I think it’s fine, everybody is entitled to an opinion, and if anybody has an opinion on something we’ve done, we’re happy that people have noticed, that people still notice us. I think you’re right, at that time our momentum got going and we learned how to play live. We started really enjoying playing live, going to new places, and doing the things we hadn’t done before. We’ve carried on.

    STEREOGUM: How much of a backlash was there? Were there a few very vocal fans who didn’t like it, or did you sort of feel that you had divided your fan base?

    MURDOCH: To be honest, there’s nothing that we’ve ever done that has caused a big backlash. Our fans are the most… it’s not like they’re violent or anything, they’re pretty laid-back, civilized people, and if people have opinions, then you know maybe that’s the sort of thing they’d keep to themselves. We’ve never really had any trouble. But I do know, because I would be saying that, I’d be saying, “oh I loved the band, I loved the first LP and then they turned into a drag.” When I was 18 or 19, I’d be the first person to do that. That’s good, that’s OK, that’s what pop music is about. But the fun thing is those kids that followed us early on, some of them come back to us later, older, and you know maybe they check out something that we’ve done more recently. That’s allowed.

    STEREOGUM: What sort of music do you listen to today as a fan?

    MURDOCH: I’m not the greatest listener of music these days, I’m kind of unapologetic about that. I listen to 6 Music on BBC and I listen to my old records. When we’re recording, especially when you’re producing yourself, you listen to your own music so much that by the end of the day you don’t wanna hear new music, I just want to crawl up and listen to some old favorites.

    STEREOGUM: Who was the last artist you Shazam-ed and really liked?

    MURDOCH: Frank Ocean probably. You know that guy? I know he’s super popular now. That stuff’s great. And production-wise, it’s a bit of an eye opener. It’s pretty sparse, it’s very engaging. It’s very easy to listen to, but at the same time, he can throw something that you don’t expect.

    STEREOGUM: How did you guys manage to lose your drummer in a Walmart?

    MURDOCH: How did we lose him? Well, easy, he just sort of got away. You know there’s a lot of us and it was late at night. What can I say? It was North Dakota, crazy things can happen [laughs]. The journey when you’re driving right across America, and you’ve got to take a day off so the driver can get some sleep and there’s nothing going on and there’s nothing to do except drink all the booze that you picked up in California, then ****’s gonna happen.

    STEREOGUM: I saw you were on social media trying to find him. Did any of your fans help find him?

    MURDOCH: There was a lot of backwards and forwards on Twitter. We were trying, most of that was a contingency, because at the same time we were trying to find somebody who could drive him to the airport, but he didn’t have any ID so we thought he wouldn’t get onto the plane. So we had somebody ready to try to drive back to Bismarck and bring him over. In the end they let him on the plane.

    STEREOGUM: I’m glad you guys are all back together.

    MURDOCH: Absolutely. So is his wife.

    Q&A: Belle And Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch On The State They're In After 20 Years
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2017
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  4. hutlock

    hutlock Forum Resident

    Cleveland, OH, USA
    Thanks for posting. I'm in. Looking forward to these.
  5. Guy E

    Guy E Forum Resident

    Antalya, Turkey
    Nice song. Good interview. Thanks. I'm in too.
  6. skyjelly

    skyjelly Well-Known Member

    Portland, Maine
    Looking forward to this. I like both of the new songs. I'm eager to see what the vinyl price is going to be and what, if anything, is going to be different about the box set compilation version. I've played the "Girls In Peacetime" box more than the regular version
  7. BeardedSteven

    BeardedSteven Forum Resident

    Southern Indiana
    I kind of like the EP idea but they're really coming out on the same day if you buy the box and they all have the same title. Why not just call it the new LP? But I am eager to hear the music. The new songs that they played live recently were quite good.
  8. Rob Hughes

    Rob Hughes Forum Resident

    Such a consistently strong group, B&S, but, yeah, I can see that 'just another great B&S album' is not really a buzzy kind of marketing tag. When I listen to their last couple albums, I am always surprised how much I like them -- surprised because these albums don't really have a strong identity as releases, so they get kind of overlooked in my affections unless I'm actually listening to them in the moment. One of the perils, I guess, of post-peak albums by major artists: they can still be very good, but they have a hard time grabbing one's attention and engraving themselves in memory, since they're neither young and current nor the monumental peaks of the artist's career. One of the ways to escape that (to some degree) is to have a narrative that attaches to the project and makes it stand out for critics and listeners: this is Lennon's back-to-the-studio album, this is McCartney's re-awakening with Elvis Costello or Nigel Godrich, this is Dylan overcoming his 80s doldrums, this is Radiohead bringing their new explorations into line with their classic sound. If the quality of the material is up for the comparison, maybe B&S's EP set will make a successful narrative reconnection to the great Matador EPs that were so special (I myself got into B&S after picking up Push Barman to Open Old Wounds and have followed them ever since). I wish them luck! RH
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  9. PretzelLogic

    PretzelLogic Forum Resident

    London, England
    I gave up after Write About Love, which was itself the last gasp of a slowly-dying fandom, but bought the 4-Disc version of the last album out of loyalty. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would (but also thought it had some of their weakest material by a long way), but what I’ve heard from this new set (however they present it) isn’t doing anything for me.

    There’s no problem from me about their style- I like it when they stretch songs into something like ‘Stay Loose’ or ‘Your Cover’s Blown’ as much as the Isobel-era stuff- but they just seem to be boring and a bit lazy now. Maybe they’ll be able to prove me wrong?
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  10. Summer of Malcontent

    Summer of Malcontent Forum Resident

    I enjoyed the ‘box of EPs’ version of the last album a lot more than the straight version, so I’m glad they’re carrying on with that idea.
  11. TheWarmth

    TheWarmth Forum Resident Thread Starter

    This seems a bit harsh. Both of the new songs are fairly complex and interesting, in my opinion. I certainly wouldn't call it the work of a lazy band, especially considering the last album only came out 2 years ago.
  12. skyjelly

    skyjelly Well-Known Member

    Portland, Maine
    Bullmoose has the vinyl for first EP up for pre-order at $10.97. Reasonable. No Cd listing yet.
  13. BeardedSteven

    BeardedSteven Forum Resident

    Southern Indiana
    The CD version(of the whole set) comes out when the third EP arrives in February only apparently. Just digital and 12" at first for the first 2 EPs.
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  14. PretzelLogic

    PretzelLogic Forum Resident

    London, England
    There're some ambitious moments on the last record that won me over (I can't remember if 'A Politician's Silence' and 'The Cat With The Cream' are on the proper album, but both are superb arrangements), but as I said above, there're some horrible moments too, like 'Enter Sylvia Plath' and 'Power Of Three'.

    What I've heard so far suggests that this is their new route- it doesn't sound very band-like as Bob, Richard and Stevie seemed to be pushed right into the background. Stevie isn't my favourite guitarist, but he definitely adds something special to their sound which I'm not hearing on this new stuff.
  15. HeydayKilbey

    HeydayKilbey Member

    Woodland Hills, CA
    I didn't see this mentioned yet:

    Buy How To Solve Our Human Problems Parts 1-3 now from

    Multiple ways of buying. I'm in for the vinyl box for sure, just not sure if I do the subscription version and pay a little extra, or just wait for it all in February. I'll get the cd version too but can wait until that comes out.

    I'm a huge fan and have pretty much loved everything they've ever done, been a fan since Sinister came out. I thought Write About Love was a bit of a let down, but still had about 7 strong songs so overall I still enjoy it. I really don't like the duet with Nora Jones though, that song I skip every time! But I thought Girls In Peacetime was great, pretty much all of it, and love that box set version as well. It was more on form and in line with the Life Pursuit, which I absolutely love. I think if you only liked the early stuff with Isobel maybe the new stuff won't be for you, but I'm still in love with this band so I'm excited about a new one.
  16. Ivan

    Ivan Active Member

    The first EP is out now.

    1 - Sweet Dew Lee (6:29)
    2 - We Were Beautiful (5:37)
    3 - Fickle Season (4:03)
    4 - The Girl Doesn't Get It (4:49)
    5 - Everything is Now (Instrumental) (5:29)

    I really don't know. There's some good bits in there, but on the whole I'm not impressed. The biggest problem is some of the songs are just way too long. There's a 4:25 edit of We Were Beautiful available that is better than the one they've issued here, this version is a bit of a drag in places. Sweet Dew Lee and The Girl Doesn't Get It are the best of the bunch IMO. Sweet Dew Lee in particular is a nice duet between Stevie and Stuart, and reminds me of both Play For Today off the last album. Everything Is Now is listed as an instrumental, but features singing over the start and end... makes sense.
  17. TheWarmth

    TheWarmth Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I've been listening and I just received the 12" in the mail. I really like the longer version of "We Were Beautiful." I thought it was a pretty clever move to release a radio edit as a single, but not label it as such. The first time I listened I was pleasantly surprised to hear a new section in the song. It's a fantastic B&S track.

    "Sweet Dew" is pretty good and I love the build up in the ending, but Stevie Jackson's voice grates on me a bit and I wish Stuart had sang the whole thing. The other three songs are decent, but nothing special. Honestly, I was hoping for stronger material, too, but that doesn't mean I won't keep listening to this.
  18. Ivan

    Ivan Active Member

    Yep. I like Stevie singing pop stuff like The Wrong Girl and Jonathan David, and I thought he was alright after the chorus kicked in. But that first verse in particular is a bit cringeworthy, it reminds me of Long Black Scarf (one of my least favourite B&S tracks).
  19. TheWarmth

    TheWarmth Forum Resident Thread Starter

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  20. skyjelly

    skyjelly Well-Known Member

    Portland, Maine
    I like the backing on "The Same Star", but the lyrics? Any song that starts out with "Mirror mirror on the wall" is asking a lot of me. With half the songs from these EP's released so far, apart from a couple of tracks it's shaping up to be my least favorite B&S release. I'm really hoping the other half help change my opinion.
  21. TheWarmth

    TheWarmth Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Anyone listen to the new EP yet? I like it a lot.
    whisper3978 likes this.
  22. Mazzy

    Mazzy Forum Resident

    I like the first one. I saw the second one in a shop yesterday.
  23. BeardedSteven

    BeardedSteven Forum Resident

    Southern Indiana
    My store was not able to answer if I'd be able to buy the box with the 3rd 12" if I bought the first 2 separately or not so I'm waiting for the whole thing at once next month still...
  24. whisper3978

    whisper3978 Well-Known Member

    Cary, NC
    I thought the first one was a snooze, but this second one is more my thing.
  25. Ivan

    Ivan Active Member

    I Am Your Pilot is easily the best of the latest batch for me. Which is a shame, particularly since they also released The Same Star early, maybe they could have held off on Pilot. It would've made for a nice surprise after the lacklustre first EP. Show Me The Sun and A Plague On Other Boys are quite good. Haven't liked The Same Star since I first heard it (see below), and Cornflakes is rubbish. Boy, there is a lot of Sarah and Stevie songs on these EPs. It reminds me of their stuff - mainly Stevie's - from the Life Pursuit sessions that were relegated to B-side status.

    The last of Sarah's songs that I really liked was I Can See Your Future on the Write About Love album. The Same Star reminds me a lot of The Power of Three... the potential is there, but the lyrics are cringeworthy. At least The Power of Three has a really cool 80's vibe, The Same Star makes me cringe - far too busy in places.

    So far it's my least favorite B&S stuff, aside from Storytelling. A shame since I LOVE Girls in Peacetime. I'm considering not even buying the CD set, which is a first for me when it comes to B&S. I'll just make a condensed Spotify playlist of the best stuff.
    skyjelly likes this.

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