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For Whom the Belle Toils

Belle & Sebastian remains a word-of-mouth phenomenon.

According to Colburn, working with Horn on the tracks that make up Dear Catastrophe Waitress "was quite daunting for us at first. We realized we shouldn't be working with someone like this. It was like, 'This guy's huge, and we're not that big at all!'" Nonetheless, Horn didn't try to impose an entirely new recording method on his latest charges. "The vast majority of it was letting us get on with the way we did things before -- putting down backing tracks live and then overdubbing," Colburn says. An exception was "Step Into My Office, Baby," a lively exploration of the boss-employee dynamic with an arrangement worthy of the late Elliott Smith. "On that one, everything was recorded more separately, and Trevor almost completely remixed it, so the structure of the song was different from the way it was actually recorded." Yet the biggest breakthrough, in Colburn's view, "was the way he worked with the singers -- Stuart, Sarah and Stevie. They spent more time, more takes, pushing things out a little further, and what they came up with was brilliant. It was a breakthrough live, as well, because now they have more confidence singing together in harmony."

Such skills have come in handy given Belle & Sebastian's performing schedule, which has transformed the former hermits into globe-trotters. As Colburn notes, "We've been to Japan, we just finished a twenty-day tour of Europe, and we're coming to the States, playing a lot of places we haven't been before," including Denver. Appropriately, the concerts themselves are bigger than ever. "The shows used to be very shambolic, and we more or less tried to do everything ourselves," Colburn says, "but now there's a big production in place, and that's a lot better. The usual entourage is, like, 25 people, including the band, and in Europe, we had two tour buses and two really massive, juggernaut trucks. It isn't all that cost-effective, but it's getting better as the profile of the band goes up. We never make a profit, but we've always felt, 'If we lose a pot of money, we lose a pot of money. What the hell.' You just want to enjoy it, and hopefully other people will enjoy it as well."

Belle & Sebastian has been quietly making its mark for 
nearly a decade.
Belle & Sebastian has been quietly making its mark for nearly a decade.

If sentiments like these seem bizarre coming from a member of a band once renowned for its low-key introspection, so be it. "When we started, we did what was comfortable for us -- not really touring that much, leaving a lot of space for ourselves, and then occasionally getting together to make a record," Colburn says. "Now there's an eagerness to make better records and to play them for our fans. It's new territory, but we're finding our feet."

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