“Sometimes you just want your life to turn into a pop song,” Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch said this past weekend at Sundance when he introduced the themes of his first feature, God Help the Girl. The film took more than 10 years to make and is a musical set over one whimsical summer in Glasgow, centering on three new friends starting a band. Rolling Stone spoke with Murdoch about his first foray into filmmaking, being inspired by John Hughes and Belle and Sebastian’s plans for their ninth album.
Did you always want to make a film or was it a natural outgrowth from music videos?
I think it was a natural outgrowth of making music videos. [Belle and Sebastian guitarist Stevie Jackson] and I used to talk about making a film with the band, but then it ended up being something more
formal, and something with more of a fictional narrative.
The tormented young woman in the film Eve reminded me of the girl from the Belle and Sebastian song “Expectations” who makes “models of the Velvet Underground in clay.” Who is that girl? She seems to run through a lot of your work.
I don’t really know, it’s something that I guess came through natural to me from a young age when I was writing the Belle and Sebastian stuff. I don’t know if it’s the person you desire, or it’s the person you want to be, like a shadow of somebody from your youth. It was suddenly either writing about a girl like that, or writing from her perspective, so maybe a little bit of both.
Do you know a girl like that?
There is an Eve, and what I mean by that is that Eve in my mind is so firmly fixed, she’s a real character though she’s not a real person. There’s a very definite Eve, and she was the one that was driving all of that.
I just wrote this new song for Belle and Sebastian called “The Everlasting Muse” and maybe it’s Eve’s last song, the last little thing that I heard from her. She could in some sense be the classical muse that visits you and inspires you and is a companion.
What other films were you thinking about while you were making the film? Hedwig and the Angry Inch?
I would suggest that the films that you maybe thought, I haven’t seen. I’ve never seen Hedwig, I’ve never seen Once. I’ve specifically never seen Once. When I was writing this, Once came out, and I knew I didn’t want to see it. I don’t love musicals but I love movies. Some of the benchmarks were just regular movies, all the John Hughes stuff. Pretty In Pink, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, American Graffiti. But a bunch of British films, like Billy Liar. I had to lean much harder on films that I’d liked than records that I’d liked, because it was so new to me. If there was a trick that I saw someone doing in a film, I’d take it, and I’d steal it and I’d use it.
And now you’re back in the studio with Belle and Sebastian?
Yes, we’ve been writing in Glasgow and we will start the record in March. I hope it will be out by autumn. If not, we will have failed. One of the things I wanted to explore – this might seem a bit facetious, but we have this thing called a Eurovision Song Contest. For example, Abba won in 1974, and that’s how they got their big break. And that was really the last great song from Eurovision. Since then it’s been kind of a train wreck, but it gives you a window into every little country, and it’s the only time that Europe gets together for this big party, and now, especially now, we have all the Russian block, eastern block countries, it’s all shifted to the East. So in a sense, I remember saying to the band, I want to do an album that one song feels like it could be the Cyprus entry for 1974. And then next song would be the German entry for 1989, or something like that. You might not see that in the finished songs, but somewhere that’s been an inspiration.