If You're Feeling Sinister 

Press those vintage corduroys: Belle and Sebastian finally play San Francisco

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Jeepster then signed B&S to record its second album, If You're Feeling Sinister, for which Murdoch was still the guiding force. "It was pretty much Stuart with the rest of the band backing him," says Colburn. "But after that it began to change; other people began to get involved in songwriting and it felt more like a band." One immediate benefit was that the haphazard live shows -- long a point of contention between the band, their fans, and the press -- have begun to gel into more cohesive performances. "Live, we've always been a wee shambolic, a bit different from the records," says Colburn. "At first, we didn't really know what we were doing. We always had this kind of attitude like, 'Whatever! We'll just do it in the way we want to, and if people like the music they'll buy the records.' We didn't want to throw it down people's throats."

As Glaswegians, the Belle bandmates take their success with a grain of salt. After all, in recent decades the once-depressed former industrial center has flourished as a British cultural mecca, in particular as the locus of an explosive indie rock scene. The catalog of well-known bands to hail from Glasgow is impressive: Orange Juice, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Teenage Fan Club, Primal Scream, and the Pastels all preceded Belle and Sebastian. In their wake the Beta Band and Travis have climbed the charts, and dozens of other bands are waiting in the wings.

"Glasgow's an absolutely fabulous place to be in a band. You walk down the street and half the people you bump into are musicians. It's a nice community here; nobody's bigger or better than anyone else -- you're just in a band. Everybody gets on with everybody else, and helps each other out." Accordingly, after years of going to other people's shows and following their friends' success, Belle and Sebastian take their moment in the sun a bit philosophically. "There are a lot of bands that might never get a chance to make a record ... it's just luck that gets you there."

After winning the prestigious Brit Award in '99 and performing on the Top of the Pops, Belle and Sebastian became more aware of the public's heightened expectations, and they began tentative forays into touring outside the UK.

"Every gig we've ever done, we get these fans who are really, really intensely into the band. I remember we were playing Philadelphia and Isobel got sick and we had to cancel that night's performance. Later we found out that there were people who had traveled over a thousand miles to get there."

Recently Belle and Sebastian has focused on tightening up its live show and adding members (the band is now a 14-piece ensemble) to match the expansive feel of its albums. While not on the road they record voraciously, and this fall the band will put the finishing touches on the soundtrack for a new Todd Solondz film, Storytelling.

Now the band is coming to America's West Coast for the first time. Although several members of the group have visited here before (popping up on stage with the BMX Bandits and the Aislers Set), this is the first time the band as a whole has visited one of the early strongholds of its devoted fan base, San Francisco.

One fan who will be in line with the poly-sweatered and bespectacled hipster hordes for this weekend's Warfield shows is KALX radio DJ Nommi De Plume, who can honestly say she knew the band back when. "I met Stuart Murdoch at a Teenage Fan Club show at the Trocadero in 1994," recalls De Plume. "We were standing upstairs on the mezzanine and just started chatting. It turned out that he was living in San Francisco for a few months. Somehow the conversation turned to my having a show on KALX, and he was really enthusiastic about it. He said, 'Oh, I've been doing a little bit of songwriting! Can I come in and play guitar and sing on your radio program?'" Even though she had no idea what Murdoch's music would sound like, De Plume was all for it, figuring, "Hey, it's only KALX!" They exchanged phone numbers, and Murdoch showed up at the station's old studio on Bowditch Street, guitar in hand, eager to play a few new songs and spin a few of his favorite records.

Two years later, KALX's informal attitude toward the music industry intersected with Belle and Sebastian's, as Stuart Murdoch -- puzzling over what to do with the hundreds of extra press copies of the new Tigermilk album -- pored through his address book and mailed off two copies to Berkeley, California. One went to Nommi De Plume, and the other to the station itself. In typical KALX fashion, the LP languished on the music director's desk for a month or two before finding its way into the station's "feature play" record bin, creating the same buzz among KALX's DJs and listeners as it had among fans in the UK. In June of '96, Tigermilk topped the KALX playlist, charting at #1 well before the band was even a gleam in the eyes of Spin magazine or the NME.

And that semi-legendary radio performance? De Plume still has it on cassette somewhere, although she confesses that she's never gone back to listen to it. "The thing is, I have so many airchecks, and I'm not hyper-organized like some other DJs, so I forget to label them right away," she says. "As a rule, I just listen to my tapes in the car while I'm driving about and then they all wind up in a pile in my closet. But Stuart was a great guest -- very enthusiastic and sort of a little goofy." She pauses, laughing, then catches herself. "Hmmm. Maybe I should start labeling those tapes after all. You never know when the next Belle and Sebastian might come along!"


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