When it comes to getting an honest answer, there may be no better member of Belle and Sebastian than guitarist Stevie Jackson. He was there from the start. And even if he recalls spending just one afternoon in a pub with Scottish journalist Paul Whitelaw, his voice always seems to pop up as a stabilizing presence at crucial junctures in Whitelaw’s new band bio, Belle and Sebastian: Just a Modern Rock Story (St. Martin’s/Griffin) . Reached at home in Glasgow, the guitarist traced the evolution of his own relationship to the Belle and Sebastian myth.
MATT ASHARE: I have to ask how you feel about Paul Whitelaw’s book . . .
STEVIE JACKSON: It is full of mistakes. But it’s also quite good. It’s a weird hybrid, really. It’s not an authorized biography. But Stuart designed the cover — he can never resist the temptation to design a cover. And we all, except Richard, participated. But when I first saw it, we were in the studio recording and a box of them came in, and me and Stuart burst out laughing. So that’s a good thing. I think it captures people quite well. The idea that it’s definitive is silly. For a start, we’re not dead. So how could it be definitive?
MA: It’s harder to sort the truth from the myth with Belle and Sebastian than with most bands, don’t you think?
SJ: Let me tell you something: in practically every interview I did for a long time, I tried to puncture the myth. And then I’d see the piece written, and they’d print the myth. It used to annoy me so much that I tried to puncture the myth even more. But then I realized that the myth might be more interesting than reality. It’s like the Wild West: the myth really is more interesting than the real story. So it’s not something that annoys me anymore.
MA: There are never even any credits on the album. I think that’s you singing lead on “To Be Myself Completely” because it’s not Stuart. But I don’t know.
SJ: Okay. I’ll give you that. The records have never had any credits, and maybe that’s confusing. And that is me singing that song and playing the guitar. But one of the key things for us is that it’s always been about the group, about the songs, about the characters and stories in the songs. It’s not about who plays what instrument. And I think that’s quite telling.
The nature of the group is different from other bands in that we didn’t meet in school, rehearse, play in pubs, get a record deal, and then go out to try to get people to like us. We formed to make one record. When people liked it and the prospect of making inroads into success came, we weren’t ready for it.
MA: But I sense that there was a lot of ambition in the group from the very start.