Camera Obscura Interview

Siobhán Kane spoke with Camera Obscura‘s Carey Lander ahead of their appearance at Harmonic in Cork this Friday alongside Grizzly BearMidlake and Villagers.

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The Glaswegian band have been producing the most wondrous sounds for well over a decade, and amidst a few line-up changes over the years, they have never lost their true-hearted nature. It is this nature that has anchored all of their work, Biggest Bluest Hi Fi (2001), Underachievers Please Try Harder (2003), Let’s Get Out of This Country (2006) and last year’s My Maudlin Career. They are often termed ‘indie-pop’ but they are so much more, just think of a song like ‘Country Mile’ from Let’s Get Out of This Country – a simple, sad lyric such as ‘I don’t believe in true love anyway/ Who’s being pessimistic now/ I could document this as our first, as our last row’ is set within such a sweeping musical atmosphere, that before you know it, your heart has been taken and torn, and as you lay there bleeding, you know that the way they make you feel lost feels like the only way to be.

There is something gloriously earthy and yet serene about their work; their last two records have been produced by Jari Haapaleinen (The Bear Quartet) which partly explains the even more luscious sound to their sorrow, and makes the best use of Traceyanne Campbell’s sweet yet worldly vocal. The country miles they have walked have included precious time spent with the inimitable John Peel, and there is a lineage in there that is always being honoured in some way by this brilliant band. Now perhaps the only thing left for them to do is to collaborate on an alternative soundtrack to Gregory’s Girl with Belle & Sebastian and Teenage Fanclub.

Siobhán Kane talks to Carey Lander ahead of their Cork date.

Your most recent record was also produced by Jari Haapaleinen – what do you love about working with him, and has the relationship evolved very much over the last two records?
He’s a very inspiring person; eccentric and committed and obsessed by music. Working with him was great for us because he was able to push us into producing better performances and generating the confidence to arrange songs with a proper vision of the finished product. He’s very hands-on as a producer; he helped shape the songs before the recording process started, but he’s also respectful of the band’s sound and dynamic and knows how to help us be more ambitious, without changing what is fundamentally particular to the band. We were able to approach the recent album with greater confidence in him and ourselves because of an increased sense of mutual trust and the desire to do something different.

I have always taken away a sense of hope from the records, though heartbreak weighs heavy within them.
I imagine the perceived prominence of a sense of hope in the music probably lies with the listener. There’s always something of a contrast between the sadness and occasional seriousness of the lyrics and the music, when it is upbeat. I think this is something of a trademark for us. I suppose there is some element of hope in that the songs, the lyrics and stories keep on rolling on. Life, and the songs, don’t stop with heartbreak.

The title of the record (though humorous) brings to mind the trials of being a musician and yet it still being your passion, amidst the grind of daily life, after all these years.
The album title is, to some extent, supposed to be vaguely humorous and tongue-in-cheek. We do not take ourselves entirely seriously. We are making a point about the perceived glamour of the job and disparity of its often unglamorous realities. Whilst the song, ‘My Maudlin Career’ is a heartfelt exploration of the difficulties of experiencing and keeping happiness, the title in terms of the album is a little more lighthearted. We’re amused by the precious absurdity that our everyday is job is to propagate songs of heartbreak.
I was delighted to see that the Scottish Arts Council provided some funding for the record.
We were very grateful for financial help from the Arts Council when we trying to fund the recording of our album. It’s great that there are some grants available for artists though the recent change in government suggests a less optimistic future for funds like this.

As a band you have always had kind of a nurturing quality, as well as being nurtured (by people like John Peel for example), do you feel that?
I don’t think we’ve ever particularly felt part of any community within music, despite the strength of the Glasgow music scene and having a number of friends within it. Having said that, it’s a positive thing to be able to encourage new bands where possible and to give them the benefit of any exposure you can bring them.

I really miss John Peel, mainly because he had such a poetic and true approach to life, so all of his music choices were from the heart, whether The Fall or yourselves or Rakim, and there was a cohesiveness there because of the genuine enthusiasm. It must have been such a pleasure to spend some time with him.
We were very lucky to meet him on several occasions, and his support was a massive encouragement in the early days. He was a truly special individual with a multitude of incredible, funny and moving stories to tell, and to have heard some of these firsthand is an honour I will never forget. The band is very proud to have played at his 65th birthday party shortly before he died.

The artwork for the records is always beautiful – with the last being no exception, what is the story behind it?

All the artwork for this record has been done by an artist called Julie Annis. Tracyanne’s boyfriend has some of her paintings and we really like her work so we approached her about producing work for us. She’s fantastic as we can give her the song, the lyrics and any ideas and she’s able to produce images to reflect this. I think there’s an inherent sense of femininity on the album cover particularly, that really suits the female perspective in the music. I think everything she’s done for us is beautiful, and indeed worthy of framing. You can visit her website at

How did the performance at the Brooklyn Flea in New York go a few weeks ago? It sounded amazing. And you got your own flavour of ice-cream.
It was a fun thing to be involved in, and we were proud to be something of pioneers of live music at the market. Of course the reality for us was that it was hard work, settting up for and performing a show on our day off, but the fact that it was a success and we played to a packed room was great and rewarding. The ice cream was incredible but I had to queue-jump as we were leaving in order to get some or I would have been left without. We are taking the summer off from live performing, more or less, in order to have a break and to start writing for the next record.

What bands are you listening at to at the moment that perhaps people might not have heard of, or anyone in Glasgow that you find really interesting?
I haven’t had time to see any local bands for ages but hopefully I’ll be able to go to some gigs over the summer. There’s a band called Sparrow and the Workshop from Glasgow who seem promising and are worth investigation. I have been listening to Skeeter Davis, Brenda Lee, Yo La Tengo, Avi Buffalo, M. Ward, and playlists made by friends.

I constantly go back to Teenage Fanclub, they recently played in Dublin again, and I often think of you in relation to them, in terms of a sense and approach to music, which is so full of life and truth and artistry. How important have the band been to you?
They are a band that everybody in Camera Obscura likes and they are an inspiration in terms of career longevity, though as bands we’ve had very different experiences. I was sad to miss their recent tour as we were away ourselves and they are always a joy to watch. They are masters of producing sweet pop.

My Maudlin Career is out on now on 4AD. Camera Obscura perform as part of Harmonic with Grizzly Bear, Midlake and Villagers in the Marquee in Cork on Friday 25th June.

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