Camera Obscura Interview
I awoke just as the first burning Molotov crashed through the bedroom window. Quickly putting on my Ramones slippers I scampered to the front door to see what the hell was going on. There was an angry mob gathered outside The Matcave!! One nameless urchin spoke up "You let us down!" Another cried, with murder in his eyes, "You shouldn't have waited until their fourth record to tell us how good Camera Obscura are!" I felt ashamed and gently nodded. A sad lonely teardrop rolled down my cheek, "I'm not the Messiah", I heroically admitted, "...I'm a very naughty boy".
Determined to make it up to 'Ver Kidz', I boarded the next train to Rockville and knocked on the gates of Ms Tracyanne Campbell - the very singer and songwriter of Camera Obscura. I wanted to discover if a fallen man could be redeemed...and whether, oh yes, close friends "do get to call her TC".
Camera Obscura's new album My Maudlin Career is clearly a personal record, you've said you don't even consider it has “lyrics” but “documentation” of your life – Has being so honest ever gotten you into trouble?
I find you have to pick and choose very carefully when to be completely honest. There's no point in being brutally honest if it's going to cause harm to anyone.
I am a self-confessed lyrical Vampire to the point where I “kick my nappy off” if the lyrics aren't printed in the CD booklet. Lyrics are obviously important to you too – Whose words inspire you?
My friends, Lloyd Cole, Arthur Miller, Paul Simon, Robert Burns, Nina Simone, Dory Previn, Randy Newman. Many more probably.
There's quite a lot of melancholia on the record but crucially it's balanced by plenty of razor sharp wit and lashings of spirited humour. When I'm handed lemons in life I call on Woody Allen or Laurel & Hardy to save me – What's your instant lift on a rainy day?
The scene in the Mike Leigh film Life Is Sweet where the character Aubrey (played by Timothy Spall) falls off the orthopedic bed makes me laugh out loud every time.
One of the things that knocked me out about this record was how romantic it is, yet still savvy enough to reflect the 'morning after' reality too. That Big L, it's fiendishly complicated!! I have a friend (cough) who's perennially unlucky in love, what pearls of wisdom would you offer me, I mean, them?
I wouldn't say I was unlucky in love, in fact it's been quite the opposite. I just happen to think that with falling in love comes falling out of love. Once you can accept this you might find you'll get on a lot better. Try to enjoy the moment and resist thinking ahead too much.
I love a lot of country music - which usually raises a Roger Moore sized eyebrow - but I can definitely hear some country lovin' on My Maudlin Career. To paraphrase Donny Osmond “You're a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll”. What record or artist would you recommend to convert anyone suffering Country-phobia?
Kris Kristofferson - "If it sounds country man, that's what it is, it's a country song"
In my review of the album, I shamefully admitted it was my first visit to Camera Obscura world. I'm a bad man but I can be redeemed - Any tips for us latecomers primed to delve through your back catalogue?
Don't ignore the b-sides if you can manage to.
I was impressed that the entire record was written by just one person - it's incredibly consistent quality wise – Is that a lot of pressure to deliver, don't you ever feel like putting your feet up and letting Lee have his “Ringo moment”?
Everyone is free to have a bash at song writing in the band and in fact Kenny and Gavin have both written songs in the past for the band. I just happen to be a bit more prolific I guess.
My Maudlin Career was recorded in Stockholm – Where there any particular Swedish traits or peculiarities you observed? I went to Germany last year and was staggered by how much graffiti there was - it was everywhere!! - some of it seemingly involving stilts and a head for heights.
I think I've been to Sweden so often now it feels like my second home. The Swedes have a wonderful way of life and I feel very comfortable there. I still don't understand their obsession with salted liquorice though.
Camera Obscura have a massive, rich sound on record with lots of elaborate heartstopping orchestral moments. How do you go about translating that big magic to say, a wintry Tuesday night at the Stiff Kitten in Belfast?
When we record we tend not to worry too much about how to recreate the songs live. We don't feel the pressure to completely match our live sound to the sound of the album. That would be pretty impossible and a little boring. The songs can still hopefully hold their own without the luxury of strings and a brass section.
I spent a large part of my youth hanging around “dusty libraries” hoping to meet like-minded beautiful dreamers and start a revolution...but it was mostly full of dozing pensioners or grumpy drunks sheltering from the rain. Where did you go for inspiration as a young 'un?
Inside my own head.
My 7-year old niece recently decided she is going to be a “rock star” but probably “when she is 20”. Have you got any advice for those following in your musical footsteps?
By all means she should do it but I'd probably recommend she finds an alternative route too, because it's tough to make a living in the music world.
America was always the magical place of dreams for me from Bogart to Kerouac to Springsteen. Some of your new songs lust for an escape to The Promised Land – you're also touring there fairly extensively this summer – Were you as obsessed by American pop culture growing up and how do the U.S. fans respond to your sound which in itself echoes part of its classic soundtrack from Motown to Country?
Most of these songs on My Maudlin Career were written on tour in the States, or at least are about the times spent on tour in the States.
I suppose I've always been a bit of a fan of North American culture. From an early age I have always loved artists like Elvis and Patsy Cline, films like The Wanderers and Grease and TV shows like Cagney and Lacey and The Wonder Years. I guess as a child American culture seemed more attractive to me than British culture.
I'm not sure if our U.S fans like us because it's clear we are influenced by what is essentially their music, but I'm sure they're aware it. It's hard to know why they like us so much actually.
When I die I hope to go to SXSW. It's the Valhalla for music fanatics. You played this year's, please pur-lease tell me it is as jaw-dropping as I imagine?
I think that the spectator has a very different experience to the artist when at SXSW. When I've been, I've been working so it's maybe harder for me to get a real sense of the festival. Let's just say you won't be lonely or bored there.
I've heard millions of nightmarish tales of bands on tour in America being chased out of town by loopy Sheriffs, angry mobs and Rednecks with shotguns. Admittedly they mostly involved the band Motley Crue, but what's Camera Obscura's most hair-raising tour tale?
There was an episode that involved 'the law' but I don't think I'm allowed to go into it.
I feel the ghosts of some classic strong female singers walking around My Maudlin Career, from Patsy Cline and June Carter to Loretta Lynn. It sounds like Hollywood will soon be fighting over the rights to film the inevitable Camera Obscura biopic...The music! The tears! The heartbreak! The tequila! – Which actresses / actors should be at the top of the list to play each band member?
Tom Baker, Robert Mitchum, James Gandolfini, Debrah Winger and Ingrid Bergman.
I notice you're big Dylan fans too – For me I always run back into the arms of those mid-70's heartbreakers “Desire” and “Blood On The Tracks” – What's your top Bob?
I Want You, Sooner Or Later, Just Like A Woman, Sara, Visions of Johanna, Tangled Up In Blue, I Threw It All Away.......
You've recently moved to the 4AD label which is one of THE special life-changing record labels for us music junkies – Pixies, Breeders, Bon Iver, Kristin Hersh, Scott Walker, Cocteau Twins, etc. [Drools] Are they as unique as they seem and what's your favourite 4AD classic?
My favourite would be something / anything by The Cocteau Twins. I'm so happy we'll be filed under C next to them. Our 4AD experience has been great so far. Long may it continue.
The new album has had support from the Scottish Arts Council and on your Myspace page Carey declares the band a “Non-profit making organisation” . Most people naively imagine all bands are instantly filthy rich and sit around downing Champagne on private jets but it seems this is rarely the case. How difficult is it to be a career musician, especially in our rapidly changing internet age?
We're only now supporting ourselves financially after 10 years so that's an indication as to how inaccurate it is to believe people in bands are filthy rich.
On stage you sport a sharp “classic” image clothes-wise and thankfully make a bit more effort than most modern popstars who, frankly, look like plumbers mostly. Before you nailed the haute couture were there any dodgy experiments 'threadwise' – Silver spandex jumpsuits? Red codpieces? Capes?
Some people would say my style is one big dodgy experiment. I've always dressed this way and I suppose we like to make an effort. Besides we'd never fit into those size zero jeans the rest of bands like to sport.
Finally – Is there any question you're really, really glad I didn't ask you?
Yeah, "Tell me about the Glasgow music scene". Thanks for not asking that, cheers!
God bless you Tracyanne! Now c'mon let's hug it out and go and have a beer.
My Maudlin Career is out now on 4AD records. It's bloody marvellous y'know. For more info on Camera Obscura go visit their website.