Checking in with Sarah Martin from Belle and Sebastian

Sarah Martin from Belle and Sebastian (with her pal Beryl)

Of course we interviewed the smart, wonderful, luminous Sarah Martin from Belle and Sebastian in Glasgow in 1997 when the band rarely did interviews and barely even shared photos of themselves! She is on the cover of CF11 along with Isobel Campbell. But we wanted to check in with her as she makes her way across the U.S. while on tour about the band, dogs, food, and her other life as someone who works on the Revelator! Interview by Gail / Photographs courtesy of Sarah

Get tickets here / Buy merch here

B&S in Chicago / Photograph by Sarah Martin

chickfactor: What are you up to today? Where are you?
Sarah Martin: I’m in Brooklyn, on a bus, moving at a fraction of walking pace towards today’s venue.

And now I’m in Chicago in an unusually comfortable backstage situation, listening to the rain, with our call to the stage coming in a couple of minutes. The sky looked pretty Glasgow-ish earlier, a downpour was brewing.

What are the best things about touring the U.S.? And the most unpleasant things?
One of my favourite things is getting to see friends who I never do the rest of the time. Getting to sit in kitchens across America, especially if the kitchen comes with a dog I can roll about with. Even cats will do. I had high hopes of meeting a pet squirrel in New York, but it didn’t quite happen.

The unpleasant things … well I’m relieved this time to be avoiding the stretch of absurdly high temperatures we had a couple of summers ago, from Pioneertown through Phoenix, Austin, Oklahoma City, Santa Fe. I went to Taliesin West on the day off in Phoenix which was incredible—definitely a highlight of all my visits to North America—but it makes much more sense in the context of being Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter residence—I’m sure it’s lovelier then.

Favorite places to eat or visit while on tour?
Sweetgreen, Tender Greens, Tacombi

What are some of your most memorable shows?
There was one at the zoo in Portland which I remember you were at; the elephants were having a wander around watching the primates and the lights – I loved it.

The first Coachella, the second Benicassim. Iceland in 2006 was amazing.

Photograph by Stephen Skrynka

Tell us about the Revelator. What is it? How did you get involved? What do you do there? Is it a job? A hobby?
The Revelator is my magical, otherworldly other world. It takes the form of a Wall of Death (a wooden cylinder for a motorbike riding display) but it is so much more besides: a theatre, cinema, art space, and an artwork in its own right. When I first saw pictures, it was a wooden skeleton and I knew I had to touch it. By the time I met it in real life, late in 2021, it was a big drum. There was still a lot of work to do, but Stephen Skrynka, the artist whose idea it all was, had already held a group art show inside, and was showing a series of films over one of the weekends during COP26. I went along for a short film called Lambing, and I was the only person who showed up; by the time I left I had offered to help with the build for a couple of weeks over Christmas and new year before touring geared up. But then Covid laid waste to the tours, so I stuck around. It became like another band, seven people with a common purpose. It became a home.

It’s not a job, and it’s not a hobby. It’s work but it’s also play. It can be anything we want it to be. We have built it tucked in the corner of a huge shipyard building on Red Clydeside, in the great tradition of the work-in, the sense of purpose is our reward.

As for the work itself, it can be anything. The build is more or less finished, but my first task was grinding sharp corners and excess weld off steel brackets. There’s been lots of woodwork, obviously. Being the projectionist, singing, getting a meal on the table, entertaining the dog. Sometimes the jobs are menial, but sometimes they are matters of life and death.

Two Sarahs and a Stephen, fitting the balustrades / artwork by Annabel Wright

Tell us about the community you found there, and how that is different from your musical one.
Soon after I became a part of it, I realised there are more similarities with the band than differences really. It is a creative endeavour after all, and we solve problems together and generally do what we can to make things happen. Having been a part of both is a privilege I don’t take for granted.

The Revelator-in-Chief is Stephen (pictured below), an artist, who built the wall having learned to ride it the hard way. I do music and sewing; there is an oncologist, a theatre designer, a production manager from a local music venue, a property developer in the core team, and various others who come and go. Half of us aren’t even into motorbikes. We really are a community though, far greater than the sum of our parts.

The other day before the show in Royal Oak, MI, we accepted an invitation to have a tour of the pressing plant at Third Man Records in Detroit, and obviously that was quite an amazing place, but I also recognised the same sort of collective pride that we have at the Revelator, and ways that it is symbolised in the space the machines inhabit. It felt like a functional work of art, which is a familiar thing. That can go down as another memorable highlight from touring in the US.

The late Lottie and Stephen / Photograph by Sarah Martin

You seem like a dog person. Are there any special mutts in your life right now?
If I never had to go on tour again I think I would have a special dog of my own again, but for now there’s a young poodle called Beryl who calls the Revelator one of her homes – she’s about 7 months old, and I miss having her bouncing round the neighbourhood with me at the other end of her lead. The original Revelator dog Lottie was a very special girl; she died last September and is much missed. And Frank the lurcher who is getting on a bit is another wonderful dog friend.

What’s a typical day like in the B&S recording studio or rehearsal space?
In late 2020 / throughout 2021 it was unpredictable but brilliant, while we were recording the last couple of albums – often there would only be Stuart, Chris and me around, but we’d get the others in to do their parts on songs when they could fit it in. Since we set the rehearsal space up for recording, we’ve tended to record songs as they come together, rather than rehearsing them in advance.

When we’re rehearsing for tour, I must admit it’s fairly workmanlike! We come in at 10ish usually, try to remember a couple of songs, then we form a line at the microwave with our tubs of ready meals and leftovers from home. Lunch always stretches out longer than planned, and most of the dads head off to collect their offspring from school so we don’t go too late into the afternoon.

Work in progress quilt, on show with others in the set, in June at the Revelator / Photograph by Stephen Skrynka

If I come to Glasgow this summer, what should I do there?
If you come in August, come to the B&S weekender at SWG3 – we’ll be playing in the yard, both nights, watching the trains go over the viaduct – it’s such a great place, some other great bands playing too, including the Tenementals who I will also be singing with. If you come in June, come to the Revelator’s salon des refusés “Feed The Hand That Bites You” – I’ll be showing a series of quilts I’m making as part of that, but each day there’ll be something different from an artist or group whose proposal was rejected by Glasgow International. Eat at Sugo and Ka Pao! Maybe we could go to the seaside, chips and ice cream? Visit the Alasdair Gray Archive. Go for a sunset swim at Gourock Pool on a Wednesday night.

Who is the comedian in the band?
Bob’s the funniest

Does everyone meditate on the road?
No! Only Stuart, I think.

The Tenementals (Sarah on far right) / Photo by Stephen Skrynka

How did the pandemic change the band?
I think it has left most of us more firmly rooted to home, to be honest. I feel sure the effects are still emerging, so we’ll see what else…

For a couple of us, the fact that being a working band became more difficult, opened up space in our lives for other creative projects which have become equally important, so there are competing demands on our attention.

What was it like being on The Simpsons
Being asked to do a song for The Simpsons was a real shot in the arm for the band, to be honest – and to have been animated into the episode was particularly special. On my birthday everyone wore pin badges of my Simpsons character… it was a bit like Being John Malkovich at the go-karting!

What are you eating, cooking, reading, watching these days?
I binged Ripley with Andrew Scott the other week, which was amazing. Rewatched Fleabag series 2 after that… I also started rewatching Humans, which was on Channel 4 in the UK maybe 10 years ago, and it is very good. I don’t watch much telly though really. I saw – and loved – Poor Things, at the cinema.

A friend gave me Conversations on Love by Natasha Lunn for my birthday which I’ve been reading on tour.

Cooking—it’s been a while, for one reason or another, but a while ago I was regularly making Ukrainian stuffed cabbage rolls, with veggie haggis, mushrooms, rice and lots of herbs. Really good! If I’m at home, and eating out, it’ll often be at Sugo, or Ka Pao, or Lotus in Scotstoun for Lebanese food as good as any I’ve ever had, or Suissi for vegan Asian food.

16mm film screening at the Revelator / Photograph by Sarah Martin

Records Sarah cannot live without

The Partisan – Leonard Cohen

Come ‘Round Here (I’m The One You Need) by the Miracles, in mono on a 7”. It just isn’t the same on any other format I have heard.

Somebody – Depeche Mode

The Story of a Soldier – Ennio Morricone

On Battleship Hill – PJ Harvey

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – Them

Stoned Love – the Supremes

That Summer Feeling – Jonathan Richman

Tip Toe – Sault

They Don’t Know – Kirsty MacColl

Photograph by Sarah Martin
Photograph by Sarah Martin