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"No teenager growing up in Nashville really escapes the feeling that country music is the most pithy, embarrassing thing about where they're from."
--Laura Cantrell
Feb.15 Cover - Belle and Sebastian
Written by Glen Sarvady   
ImageBands in Peacetime Want Daddy D’z (In Moderation):
Belle and Sebastian Write About Love, Talk About Atlanta


This just in – Sarah Martin’s cell phone has an Atlanta number.

The Belle and Sebastian multi-instrumentalist and occasional vocalist got the phone when her band took up temporary residence in Atlanta last spring to record Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance, and figured they’d continue to spend enough time in the States that she might as well hang onto it. And it certainly came in handy when I caught up with her in Los Angeles, the morning after the band had performed their new “Nobody’s Empire” on Conan. It sure beat trying to navigate a wonky hotel switchboard, as I did to get in touch with guitarist Stevie Jackson.

The band has plenty of connections in LA, having recorded their prior two albums there (2006’s The Life Pursuit and 2010’s Write About Love). In fact, Martin recalls talking with friends after a summer 2013 LA show, tentatively setting social plans for when they came back to record. “One of the label bosses said ‘I don’t think so – you guys all have too viable an existence in LA; you need to go somewhere where the reason you exist is to make a record.’”

Enter Atlanta, which hadn’t been on Belle and Sebastian’s radar. “We used to have a lot of friends in Athens, but initially the idea of Atlanta wasn’t that appealing to me,” Martin admits. But the prospect of working with producer Ben H Allen III proved to be more than enough pull. According to Jackson, “We’re always looking for someone to mix it up. The fact that Ben’s training and background isn’t in pop music so much as Atlanta hip hop was appealing to us. Our manager also works with the Kaiser Chiefs (for whom Allen produced last year’s Education, Education, Education & War, a UK chart-topper) and after he met Ben in Atlanta he came back and said ‘he has to go to the top of the list – he’s so imaginative and amazing.’”

The admiration is mutual. “I’ve worked with a lot of nice people, but these are the nicest,” says Allen, who first met Belle and Sebastian over Skype and soon after flew to Glasgow to sit in on a week of rehearsals. “If seven people are going to fly over here we want to make sure we get along first,” he rationalizes. “My studio’s not very big, but it never felt cramped. (Even when they weren’t needed) they all stayed around, just wanted to hang out in the studio reading books or watching music films on their laptops.”

Although best known for his work with the likes of CeeLo Green and Animal Collective, Allen says it was already clear which of B&S’s new songs lent themselves to a beat-heavy approach before he got involved. In other words there are no acoustic versions of the synth-heavy “Enter Sylvia Plath” floating around, as Martin assures me. Allen, an Athens kid who “grew up steeped in indie rock and sneaking into the 40 Watt with a fake ID,” saw his job as to “help everything globally relate” across a stylistically disparate batch of songs.

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