Interview: Camera Obscura set for Rockness 2013
Glasgow band whose recent history takes US recording sessions, cancer and pregnancy
‘It’s the ultimate test,’ begins Camera Obscura singer and songwriter Tracyanne Campbell, in describing how the band assessed the roadworthiness (literally) of new album Desire Lines. ‘The studio intern Michael had this crappy little car. Every time we finished a mix, we all squeezed in. We sat outside the studio, in an industrial area, listening: five big lumps squashed in. We’d get out and tweak the mix, then get back in the car and listen again.’
Such are the lengths to which these Glasgow laureates of lovelorn indie went in ensuring their fifth set won’t be the one to sink a steady upwards career curve extending from 2001’s janglesome Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi through to 2009’s magnificently swooning My Maudlin Career. Recorded in Portland with Grammy nominee Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, REM), Desire Lines is their ‘American record,’ as Campbell puts it. their first LP made in a country with which they share a special affinity. The States’ sweeping landscape, sprawling freeways and long history of yearningly melodic pop music are reflected through a prism of droll Scottish melancholy.
For reasons both self-imposed and not, making Desire Lines proved the hardest undertaking of the band’s now 17-year career. After a lengthy period on the My Maudlin Career tour – which landed everywhere from the US, Brazil, China and Indonesia, with headline shows at Barrowlands at either end – the band exhaustedly returned home only to receive troubling news. In early 2011, keyboardist Carey Lander was diagnosed with cancer. She responded well to treatment, but it threw everything into sharp perspective. ‘You’re writing these daft wee songs and someone’s sick,’ Campbell reflects soberly.
Active again after a long 18-months out, it spurred Camera Obscura on to do something both special and outside of their comfort zone. Their previous two albums were recorded in Sweden with Jari Haapalainen – whose rich, reverb-laden, strings-washed stewardship was practically the making of the band. The temptation was strong to repeat the formula, but they resisted, instead forcing themselves to feel ‘vulnerable’, by decamping to Portland, living in a spooky old house and working with an unfamiliar producer. The payoff is plain to hear in the pulse-quickeningly frisky ‘Do it Again’, or ‘Break it to You Gently’, suggestive of some lost early 80s Springsteen number.
A busy summer schedule follows, which includes a US tour with She & Him, and a handful of festival dates, among them RockNess. Camera Obscura aren’t an obvious fit for the dance-orientated weekender, but winning over an unnatural audience seems somehow appropriate considering the band’s current mood for a challenge. ‘When we were announced there were a few outraged tweets like “who the fuck are they? I’m selling my ticket!”’ recounts Campbell. ‘Which made us laugh our heads off and want to do it even more.’ Speaking of challenges, Campbell happily reveals another impending one when asked what happens once Camera Obscura’s live schedule abruptly ends in July. ‘Well, I’m pregnant,’ Campbell smiles. ‘So that’s another thing to kick us up the arse. Never smooth sailing,’ she jokes. ‘But maybe that’s a good thing.’
Camera Obscura play Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh, Tue 4 Jun; and RockNess, Sun 9 Jun.