IN 1997 Belle and Sebastian, fresh-faced folk-pop darlings of the era’s booming Glasgow indie music scene, released three EPs in quick succession. Dog On Wheels, Lazy Line Painter Jane and 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds Of Light weren’t off-cuts but as every bit as essential as Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister, the hugely acclaimed albums they’d just made their name on. Fuller and more confident than those records, the EPs showcased the developing flair of principle songwriter Stuart Murdoch with tracks such as The State I Am In and Lazy Line Painter Jane’s title track, a duet between him and the powerful-lunged Monica Queen quickly recognised as the eternal classics they are.

Now, 20 years later, the band are releasing How To Solve Our Human Problems, a trilogy of five-track EPs to be released between now and February.

Sitting in Tinderbox on Glasgow’s Byres Road shortly after the band’s return from playing three dates in Japan, Murdoch explains the rationale behind the release of the EPs, a format the band have returned to over their career. He also notes that the gang-of-six managed not to lose each other on the trip, unlike August’s USA tour when a show in St Paul, Minnesota, hung in the balance due to drummer Richard Colburn having been deserted at a service station in North Dakota.

“For me it just comes down to a feeling of ‘this is what we do’,” Murdoch says. “We used to do that back in the day. We’d recorded two LPs in six months and the songs just kept flowing and it was a case of: ‘this is different, this is a stand-alone single’. Felt did that – release songs that weren’t on albums; the Cocteau Twins did that, New Order sometimes did that, and I’ve still got those records. “I loved that: an EP felt like a different experience, a bite-sized thing. We did that again in the 2000s with Legal Man, Jonathan David and I’m Waking Up To Us and then with Books in 2004.”

There was a sense of creative rush too, of positive pressure. Whereas Murdoch in 1997 wanted to record as much as possible while he still had the keys to the recording studio, in early 2017 the band were keen to start work on their first material since Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance, their ninth album, released in January 2015. That also meant a conscious decision to record in Glasgow, the first time the band have recorded in their home town since 2002’s Storytelling album.

“I noticed that the band had a real appetite for work, everyone had started writing again,” Murdoch says. “After 20 years, if you’re still writing a lot, still have stuff to say, you want to get that down. You never know when it’s just going to dry up. So we decided to do it fast and lean, up here.”

A taster of the work came in October with Forest Of Black’s Glasgow-set video to We Were Beautiful, a nostalgic, big-chorused take on a significant past relationship by Murdoch, whose I’ll Be Your Pilot, a loving track about his son, is the leading track to Part 2. The songwriter largely worked with Brian McNeill at Rocket Science, a studio in the STUC building above the Stand Comedy Club, while guitarist Stevie Jackson honed a group of tracks, including Part 1’s opener Sweet Dew Lee, at the Green Door Studio in Finnieston.

That bit about being “our own producers” is mostly true. Mostly. It’s Leo Abrahams, the electro/neo classical composer the band had considered for handling the grooves of Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, who’s credited with producing Part 2’s Same Star by violinist Sarah Martin. And it’s Inflo, a producer on Michael Kiwanuka’s highly regarded Love & Hate album, who worked on Murdoch’s Show Me The Sun, the opener of Part 2, and Part 3’s r n’ b-flavoured opener Poor Boy by bassist Bobby Kildea.

During recording in the city’s Gorbals, Murdoch says, Inflo focused on the band’s rhythm section, shaping the tracks over hours with Colburn and Kildea.

“We all liked that record and we were ready for it – for someone to come in and do things differently,” he says. “We were able to make the tracks flow with the right sort of feeling and without him, it would have been a different thing entirely.”

On the seat beside Murdoch is a bag. Though partly obscured, I can see it’s part of his artwork for How To Solve Our Human Problems, which takes its name from a book by Buddhist monk Geshe Kelsang Gyatso who visited England in the late 1970s. “You can interpret it as Buddhism for westerners, for our way of thinking,” explains Murdoch, who says he doesn’t read the book so much as hears it read and discussed at the Buddhist centre he visits.

“That title really struck me. It seemed to promise something that most people in the west, or maybe most people everywhere too, are maybe too cynical for. The book is subtitled ‘The Four Noble Truths’ and the first noble truth is that there is suffering in the world. And the other three are basically: ‘so what are we going to do about it?’”

A song with Buddhist teaching, or dharma, “definitely in it” is Everything Is Now, Part 1’s symphonic closer which sets Murdoch’s lyrics to a hypnotic arrangement by keyboard-player Chris Geddes. And while there’s a hint of the madness of the outside world in the poppy Girl Doesn’t Get It, Belle and Sebastian have never been an overtly political band. Gentleness and introspection doesn’t mean apathy, however.

“Why not consider some of the other stuff as well: passion and love, and what you can personally invest in, those things you can really change?” he says. “They matter too.”

BELLE and Sebastian’s relationship with their fans has always seemed to personify that sense of care and friendship, and it’s fans who are the trilogy’s cover stars. When a call when out on their mailing list for fans to meet in London to be filmed answering the question: ‘how do you solve your human problems?’ people came from across the world, including Turkey, Mexico and Taiwan, from where a young woman just made it as the studios’ doors were closing.

“She is called Funny Sun, she was so glad to make it, and so were we,” says Murdoch, smiling. “It was great. The answers people gave were very different. Some were light, some were quite practical. There was in an article I read at the start of the year, you know, ‘consider these points to change your life’, that sort of thing. And it was: ‘how great would it be if you didn’t care what anybody thought or said about you?’ And that seems to be a cornerstone of Buddhist thinking.”

Earlier this year, Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai, a band with a similar tenure to Belle and Sebastian, told The National that a consolation of getting older was having the confidence to disregard how you imagine your peers may be judging you; of “certainly not giving a crap any more”, as he put it.

“You’d think after 21 years we’d be relaxed about things,” Murdoch says. “But I think recording and writing-wise, we’re at the peak. We’re the best we’ve ever been. We’re a troupe, like an acting troupe. We know how to work off each other, and that’s a very valuable thing. It’s like we’ve got a golden calf and we just want to keep milking it for all it’s worth.”

And still make good music?

“Well, you would hope so,” he says. “That’s what we feel anyway, that’s it’s good. But we would just carry on regardless.”

How To Solve Our Human Problems, Part 1 is out tomorrow via Matador Records

Part 2 is released on January 19, with Part 3 due on February 16. A compilation CD and vinyl box set featuring all three EPs follows on February 19, with the option of getting the box separately to house your previously bought 12 inches

Belle and Sebastian play Perth Concert Hall on March 23 (see and Edinburgh Usher Hall on March 24 (see