For almost 20 years now, Glasgow’s Belle and Sebastian have been the band of choice for indie pop fans — whenever the group releases an album it still feels like a big deal, partially because they’re still constantly evolving and changing their sound. The band’s latest, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, hits stores in North America tomorrow (January 20) and while there definitely are some signature B&S sounds on there, there’s also a much dancier (dare I say, disco-esque) element that should make their next string of live shows extra fun. The driving force behind Belle and Sebastian has always been Stuart Murdoch, but guitarist and sometimes singer/songwriter Stevie Jackson seems to be the glue that holds the group together — a charismatic and solid player whose own songs add balance to those of Murdoch and the band’s various other voices.
What fuels the guitarist in a beloved Scottish pop band? Sadly, Stevie isn’t on a constant diet of Scottish meat pies and Scotch eggs — we talked to him about keeping healthy on the road and dining in a band with an enormous membership:
Rolling Spoon: Are you much of a cook? Is it something you enjoy?
Stevie Jackson: I do like to get cookbooks out and cook things. I have increasingly been enjoying my kitchen, a year or two ago I got a new kitchen and it has paid off. I’m not a complete expert but I do enjoy cooking.
It’s funny you mention getting a new kitchen — a lot of the musicians we talk to complain that they never see their kitchens because they’re on the road all the time. But Belle and Sebastian tend to put a lot of time between albums, so maybe you’re home more often than some working musicians are?
I think so, yeah. It’s never that crazy. We make records and we go on tour, but we’re at home quite a lot.
What would you make for me if I came over to dinner?
Probably a fish pie. There’s no cream sauce in it — it’s actually a Jamie Oliver recipe that I’m very fond of. It’s amazing and really quick. There’s certain things I like that are almost like fast food really — Thai curries take no time at all, especially if you get a little jar of sauce if you’re in a hurry. You just fry off some vegetables and use that sauce with some coconut milk an coriander and you’re done in a few minutes.
I really like those Jamie Oliver books too!
Yeah, there’s one a friend got me when I got the new kitchen called Ministry of Food. I think it’s specifically designed for the layman. Sometimes I’ll open a cookbook and look at the ingredients and not even know what they are! But this book is simple and it’s just gorgeous.
When I think about British food and Scottish food, I think about pies and that kind of thing. Do you appreciate traditional Scottish food?
I didn’t eat meat for 14 years or something like that and kind of grew up with sausages and Scotch pies, but I could never eat anything like that again. I started eating meat again, but it’s more like steak and that sort of thing. I like the higher quality stuff. It’s kind of psychologically more than anything.
Do you have a chance to explore restaurants when you’re touring or are you usually having catering at the gig?
There’s never really that time to do really exploratory things unless we’re really interested. Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand wrote a book about food on the road and that was really interesting. But he actually took the time to go look for things. But personally, I’m trying to conserve my energy all of the time! Sometimes you’ve had a travel day and you have the evening free and you have to make a decision about going to eat. In the old days we’d get together, but there are so many of us and we all have so many different dietary requirements it would take about three hours to agree on anything. These days I just go for something quick and easy, find some good Italian food somewhere.
And that’s always my question with bands with large memberships: do you eat together? Is that something you’re able to do or even enjoy doing?
We do a lot together, but on a night off we go off into little groups. For that very reason — it’s too difficult for 12 people to find a place, it’s impossible. We’d die of starvation! The worst memories I have of being on the road and trying to get food have been taking bus trips across America, it’s the worst. It takes a couple of days and you’re on the freeway and you stop at these places to eat and you can’t eat any of it! It’s just junk.
And you recorded this record in Atlanta, right? How was eating there?
Yeah, we got to know it better than we would have if we were on the road, some of us were there for two months. Sometimes we’d go out for lunch and we’d go to this sort of marketplace and it had lots of different people selling stuff. It was very Southern, lots of barbeque and stuff like that. Atlanta is a big city so you can get whatever you want really, lots of all natural food and salad and fish tacos. A couple of times we went for real barbeque and, frankly, after you feel like you’ve lost a couple of years of your life. You’ve edged closer to your life. It’s good — I like it when I’m eating it, but afterwards…
When do you do go to another location like that, does the food that you eat affect your creativity or the way the band work together.
Only in the sense that the group is together. You are all really just living together, so eating is a part of that. In a way that’s interesting because we don’t really do that in Glasgow anymore. We’ve been going for 19 years, so we don’t generally tend to hang out with each other that time or meet for dinner. So in a sense eating is an example of the group just being together. Does it actually affect anything? I’m sure it does, just having that experience.
Do you have any interesting stories about eating with other musicians?
The most exciting meal that comes to mind was with this guy called Chip Taylor, he wrote “Wild Thing.” And we kind of hung out and that was exciting enough, but he brought his friend, this guy called Al Gorgoni, and it turns out he played guitar on some of my favourite songs ever. He played guitar on Simon and Garfunkel songs, he played the lead guitar on “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. I went for Indian food in the company of this guy in Glasgow. And also there was Evie Sands, a couple of times, who is this fantastic country soul singer. Evie and Chip would have been enough, but Al Gorgoni! I was just so knocked out to talk to that guy. And just asking about the ‘60s and what records he’s been on. I think that’s the most impressed I’ve been at dinner.
There’s another guy called John Herald, who’s folk, and he was in a band called the Greenbriar Boys, he was a contemporary of Dylan. And I had a few meals with him — I actually backed him up on harmonica. We had a few meals in Greenwich Village and just talked about Bob Dylan. So I like eating with the old guys — anybody my own age or younger, it’s not that interesting! I like hearing about people who are older and have done more interesting things. And I’ve been lucky to talk about that over a few meals.
As mentioned, Belle and Sebastian’s Girls in Peacetime is out today (January 19) in the U.K. and tomorrow (January 20) in North America. We do highly recommend that you pick up a copy and make one of Jamie Oliver’s fish pies to celebrate. To tide you over, here’s the video for the song “Nobody’s Empire” from the new album: