“Seymour Stein” by Belle and Sebastian
Belle and Sebastian is not a musical duo but rather a band which, when this track (“Seymour Stein”) was dropped on 7 September 1998, was eight members’ deep, with none of the participants being named “Belle” or “Sebastian”.
The group’s stage name was ultimately derived from a 1968 French novel titled Belle et Sébastien. And interestingly five of the bandmates who participated on Seymour Stein – Stuart Murdoch (frontman), Stevie Jackson (guitarist), Sarah Martin (violinist), Chris Geddes (keyboardist) and Richard Colburn (drummer) – are still down with Belle and Sebastian to this day.
Back when this song came out, they were joined by trumpeter Mick Cooke, cellist/vocalist Isobel Campbell and bassist Stuart David.
To note, it is Stevie Jackson who serves as the lead vocalist on this track. And it is derived from the band’s third LP, “The Boy with the Arab Strap”, which managed to peak at number 12 on the UK Albums Chart.
The aforementioned members of Belle and Sebastian – Murdoch, Jackson, Martin, Geddes, Colburn, Cooke, Campbell and David – are credited with writing this song alongside Roy Moller, and its producer is Tony Doogan.
Who was Seymour Stein?
Seymour Stein (1942-2023) was a music industry mogul who passed away, at the age 80, just a couple of days prior to the writing of this post. He was one of the two co-founders of Sire Records, a label that went on to sign some of the biggest names in the game such as Blondie, Boney M, Madonna, Fleetwood Mac, The Smiths (with Johnny Marr being namedropped in this song) and many others.
And as the story goes, Stein went about personally meeting with Belle and Sebastian, in their homeland of Scotland, in an attempt to sign the band.
As for Belle and Sebastian, they aren’t exactly what we would refer to as household names as far as the music industry is concerned, though they have experienced notable success, even into the 2020s. But sometimes when you see artists like this that aren’t really that famous, it may be because they made a conscientious choice to tone things down a bit.
Stein’s Unsuccessful Attempt to Sign Belle and Sebastian
So to make a long story short, Seymour Stein tried to allure the band with visions of the grandeur they could achieve under his label. His pitch included “promise of fame [and] fortune” in the United States, i.e. the biggest music market on Earth.
But what can also be gleaned from the lyrics is, once again, the vocalist not being on it like that. Yes, as presented from the onset he may be lonely and depressed, i.e. in a vulnerable state. But his “thoughts are far away”, seemingly not on the allure of L.A. and New York but rather being centered on humbler aspirations, such as locking down a “north country girl”.
So this narrative is in fact actually biographical to Belle and Sebastian’s history. Their first album, 1996’s “Tigermilk”, was issued through an obscure label known as Electric Honey. But upon its release, according to Stuart David they were wined and dined by Seymour Stein himself, who flew over to Scotland in an attempt to get them to sign with Sire.
But as the end of this song strongly implies, they turned the offer down. And once again going back to David’s telling, they did so because it was as if Stein’s pitch was too opulent for their tastes.