Stuart Murdoch recalls sad youth in new Belle and Sebastian songs 

Belle and Sebastian bandleader Stuart Murdoch chose an unusual way to open his Scottish ensemble’s latest offering, “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance.” In the iridescent pop gem “Nobody’s Empire,” he revisits his depressing youth: “From this hiding place life was way too much/ It was loud and rough ‘round the edges ... I had dreams that I would die there,” he gently croons, recalling the Chronic fatigue syndrome that sidelined him for seven years. What’s worse, no one believed he was actually sick at first. “It inspired in me a certain stubbornness and defiance that I carried forth 20 years ago into my fledgling band,” he says.

Why did you want to lyrically return to a time that sounds absolutely terrifying?

I think songwriting has a way of becoming a fable, and a fable is often quite scary, like in kids’ stories. But the curious thing is, actually that time was good for me, now that I look back on it. And the things I went through were more like an adventure that really shaped me. But part of the reason I was looking back on it was, I had a sort of relapse of the condition, so I was cognitively trying to make sense of it.

How do you grapple with it now?

Well, it’s the mental side of things that are the toughest, because basically, you’re forced to withdraw from life because you literally have no energy. So when everybody else is out having fun, you’re home resting in your room. But I got out of it before, and I’ll get out of it again. And it’s encouraged me to go down some interesting spiritual paths, like meditation. And it’s given me a new sense of empathy that I’ve never had.

Ironically, you’re at your most productive right now, with a memoir and, and the film “God Help the Girl” you wrote and directed, about a fictional Scottish group.

Yes. I think there’s an interesting correlation to what you’re going through and what you’re doing. And the movie was a very genuine inspiration – this girl’s character just came alive inside my head and stayed there, and she inspired me to write songs for her. And then the other two characters sprang into my mind, and I started writing dialogue for them and never looked back.

What does Emily Browning’s protagonist in “God Help the Girl” mean to you?

Probably the hope of youth. Because my youth was arrested when I became unwell, so I missed this large wave of having fun, in general. So she represents somebody who I perhaps wanted to be, and I wanted to write something really hopeful.


Belle and Sebastian

Where: Greek Theatre, 2001 Gayley Road, Berkeley

When: 5 p.m. April 12

Tickets: $49.50

Contact: (800) 745-3000,

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Tom Lanham

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