Love Letters

Belle & Sebastian's long-distance romance continues with The Boy With the Arab Strap

"To be honest, I'm still very uneasy about it," he says. "We've sold a few records now, but I think the distinctive element of the band is the songs. A friend of mine kind of rationalized it for me -- I suppose my favorite group's the Beatles, and he said, 'Just think of yourself as the Harrison of the band.' "

He ended up tailoring "Seymour Stein" for Belle & Sebastian, to the point where it's mostly explicitly about the group. It concerns what happened when Stein, the man behind Sire Records, came to Glasgow and bought them dinner. (Jackson couldn't make it since he had a dishwashing shift at another restaurant around the corner.) "I heard dinner went well," he sings. "You liked Chris's jacket/ It reminded you of Johnny/ Before he went electronic." Both of the other two songwriters on the album have been recording independently, too. Stuart David has a band of his own, Looper, which released a single a few months ago (including an alternate version of "Spaceboy Dream"); some solo songs by Campbell have been featured on a Web site David runs, the Treehouse, at www.treehouse.clara.net. (Mick Cooke also plays in a ska band, the Amphetameanies.) Still, Jackson is anxious to get on with more Belle & Sebastian stuff.

"I think the next one we're gonna put out very quickly," he says. "The first two LPs had five months between them, and we just wanted to do an LP every six months."

The new records can't come fast enough for the cultists. There's a crumpled piece of paper mounted on the wall behind the counter at Other Music in New York City, a record store where Sinister was among the top sellers for many months and where anything with a Belle connection (like Michael Shelley's new album, part of which was recorded with Jackson and Geddes in Scotland) is carefully noted on the racks. Inspection reveals it to be the set list from Belle & Sebastian's second show at the synagogue. It's placed there like some kind of trophy, some kind of good luck emblem. And if a lot of the songs that the store's customers remember fondly from that show don't appear on a record for a while yet, it gives them something to look forward to. Their loved ones will come back someday.

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