My interview with Belle & Sebastian's Stevie Jackson appears in this week's WE.
Stevie Jackson interview
By Andrea Warner
Stevie Jackson wears his heart on his cardigan sleeve. As part of Belle & Sebastian, those Scottish Titans of Twee, he’s penned some of the band’s catchier, 60s inspired ditties, but he still considers himself a romantic. Jackson lands this side of the Atlantic for the first Stanley Park Singing Exhibition, invited by his friend Carl Newman of the New Pornographers. He checked in with WE over the phone from the UK, sharing his first masterpiece, seeking advice about his set list, and waxing nostalgic about the most romantic song ever written.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote? What was it about?
Yeah, it was called “Get in the Car” and I was 14, and it was about traveling, I think, and even then I had a Beatles reference—I think it goes, actually, I’ve got the guitar here, I can sing it. At the time my voice hadn’t broke yet, so…(Sings in a slight falsetto) Get in the car and drive honey/We’re movin’ on/ Step on the gas/Let’s go honey. Actually, we got in our studio and we actually recorded it because Bobby (Kildea), our guitar player, I sang it for him one day, and he loved it. He reckons it’s the best thing I ever did. And it’s true; I don’t think I ever bettered it.
So you peaked early.
Yeah, I think it’s just the chord sequences are amazing and it was a point of discovery, and for years I never wrote another song, you know.
Have you ever written a song just to woo a love interest?
Actually, I’m working on one right now. (Laughs.) There’s this girl who I’m interested in who needs music for something, so I’m going to stick in a couple messages.
Your songs have a combination of the cheeky and beautiful. What would you say is your writing voice?
It still feels quite unformed. Maybe melancholic, reflective. I’m kind of older now, anyways, so I’m probably at the age where I reflect on things a bit. But kind of quite romantic, I think. Or, if not romantic, I’ll ponder where the romance went. A loss of innocence or something, the quest for romanticism.
What’s the most romantic song you’ve ever heard?
I really love Begin the Beguine by Cole Porter. It’s very poignant. It’s romantic, but from that loss. The actual words are just so beautiful. They’re so three dimensional, they seem to capture the human condition in some kind of way. (Goes on to recite the song’s last two verses.) It doesn’t get much better than that.
How is touring on your own different than touring with Belle & Sebastian?
Well, I’ve not really done it before. I’ve not really played much on my own—I’ve done it a bit ‘round Glasgow. How does it differ? Completely. Belle & Sebastian touring is a big machine. Although Bob’s going to come with me (to Vancouver) and I still don’t even know what I’m going to do. I’m going to try and get a rhythm section. I was on the e-mail today trying to track down one. I can send some songs down the wire and they can learn them and we can play them.
How did you spend your summer vacations as a kid?
Up until the age of 13 or so, I’d go somewhere with my mum and dad in Scotland. I wasn’t on a plane until I was 24. And, I guess after about 14, I stopped going with my parents, and just be hanging out with my friends, playing guitar, listening to records. So, I can’t say I’ve done any hunting, shooting, fishing or rock climbing. This summer I’m going to end in spectacular fashion because I’m going to Vancouver for a couple of days.
Do you get a little bit of downtime on your own here?
I’m playing on the Monday night, and I’ll be in town Saturday, so I’ll just hang out at the first day of the festival, although, if I’m playing with anyone else, I’ll probably have to be rehearsing at some point. It could just be me and Bob strummin’ guitars or something, making it up as we go along. We could just take requests from 2000 people or whatever.
The audience will fall over for you if you take requests.
Oh yeah? I know a couple Elton John numbers. Me and Bob both love “Tiny Dancer.” We can probably sing that.
Last question. Can you rank these three musical devices: handclaps, whistling, and finger snaps, from favourite to least favourite?
My favourite is finger snaps, but they’re all pretty good. When you get a few hundred people finger snapping it sounds great. Whistling was always good fun. Handclaps are great, but I’d probably put them third. It’s kind of a standard thing.