In the lead-up to their forthcoming eighth album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, veteran indie pop troupe Belle and Sebastian have rolled out both a filtered house-influenced disco banger and a promise that their new full-length was inspired by "vintage Detroit techno and Giorgio Moroder." But as frontman Stuart Murdoch tells Exclaim!, all that brightness was wrought from dark times.
"We had a good time working on these songs, but I was in a bad place for the six or nine months we were writing this record," he explains from Glasgow. "I got a virus on tour; I couldn't shake it off for that whole time, and I was always weak. It put me right back to my darkest days, so I was definitely writing from that perspective. I wasn't wallowing; you never wallow in that darkness. You're always looking for the light. That's definitely where these songs are coming from: 'Nobody's Empire' and 'Play for Today,' etc."
As you'll hear in Exclaim.ca's newly premiered album stream of Girls in Peacetime, there's a dark through-line in the record, too: the spectre of war, which lingers over everyday life.
"It does provide a powerful metaphor. But you know, I'm just acknowledging that war, it's all around us in the media; we can't escape it even though we'd like to. I'm interested in how this constant bombardment of energies of violence and humans doing terrible things to other humans, how this affects characters."
Part of this pervasive, worldlier perspective on the album comes, according to Murdoch, with "maturity, growing up and looking at the world," but he also insists that, as a songwriter, "it would be a dereliction of duty if you didn't somehow comment on the world around you."
The band's story- and character-based songwriting style, meanwhile, remains intact.
"I can't seem to get rid of characters. Say, for instance, I want to write about a very political subject, or a 24-hour news cycle, or something more worldly — it's not until I think of a character and how a character feels about that that it becomes interesting enough to me to write a song about it. That's where 'Allie' came from, that's where 'Cat with the Cream' came from, songs like that. It's not until I saw Allie sitting at the kitchen table that I managed to write a couple of songs for her."
Many of the songs on Girls in Peacetime surpass the five-minute mark, and two — disco epic "Enter Sylvia Plath" and the groovy "Play for Today" — average seven minutes apiece.
"There's a lot of writing on that record," Murdoch explains, which he chalks up to the album being an important, "make-or-break" effort. "From time to time, somebody explains to you, 'You know, you're this far away from going bust' or 'You're this far away from never making a record again' or 'You're this blah blah blah.' You know, someone takes you aside and explains the context of where the band is in the world, and every five years this happens.
"This time it's because I went off for ages making a film [God Help the Girl]. I was away from the band for quite a while and in that time the record company sort of lost interest in us, and our publishers, our managers left us; everything came to a halt. It's a bit of a tightrope walk, and we realized when we all got back together again, with a new record company, publisher and management, that we really had to come up with the goods. But you know, it's fun to get that, to feel like there's something at stake. You're not just working away in a vacuum. It'd be horrible if nobody actually cared at all what you come up with."
The pressure, he says, has been galvanizing for the band, and helped them rally to make Girls in Peacetime. "It's a good thing. We're not fazed. We know what our business is, we know each others' strengths and weaknesses. We're not scared."
Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is out January 20 through Matador, and you can stream it here on Exclaim.ca. Find their upcoming tour dates here and watch the video for "The Party Line" below.