Camera Obscura
World Tour
July - October 2008
Questionnaire: Steve Bateman

"Camera Obscura have been making music for a decade, carried through the ups and downs of various line-up changes and the tender pain of daily life by the sweetly sad voice of Tracyanne Campbell. Their greatest achievement to date is arguably the critically acclaimed 2006 album Let's Get Out Of This Country. Let's Get Out Of This Country showcased the band's ability to produce quality heartfelt pop that can sail unselfconsciously through six impassioned choruses in Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken, alongside the stark, sweeping wails of Country Mile. The album was made in Stockholm and was ably enhanced by the production magic of Sweden's Jari Haapalainen, who was more than qualified to indulge the band's enthusiasm for reverb. The release of the album was supported by extensive touring through the UK, Europe, North America, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and has seen Camera Obscura develop from a somewhat timid live proposition into a confident, dynamic and hopefully charming spectacle. Camera Obscura's back catalogue is also a haven of treasures well worth investigation, featuring along the way the talents of Belle and Sebastian's Richard drumming on early EP Park and Ride, the aforementioned Stuart Murdoch's production sheen on Eighties Fan, and the many dulcet outings of erstwhile members John Henderson and David Skirving."
- MySpace Biography

Scotland's stately Camera Obscura - Tracyanne Campbell (vocals / guitars), Gavin Dunbar (bass), Lee Thomson (drums), Kenny McKeeve (guitars / vocals), Nigel Baillie (trumpet / percussion) and Carey Lander (piano / organ / vocals) - are a collective whose songs are as pretty as they are timeless. And if you've ever dreamt or fantasised about what it must have been like to live in a bygone era, when buying and listening to records in your bedroom was still seen by many as a form of romantic escapism, then here's a band who are triumphantly keeping the fire alive!

With 3 delectable LPs available for your listening pleasure - Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi (2001), Underachievers Please Try Harder (2003) and Let's Get Out Of This Country (2006) - there's no end to the number of well-crafted, Motown-esque, folky and lush melodic pop gems that you'll be able to wrap your ears around, a sound which has become the group's hallmark.

Although 'ear candy' could be freely used to summarise the whirling warmth of Camera Obscura's chamberpop - in reality, this wouldn't wholly be doing their incandescent music justice. As the icing on the cake is Tracyanne's radiant, and at times, downhearted sounding voice, which accentuates the emotional and moving themes of her lyrics. As a recent discovery for myself, I was keen to learn more about the band and so as a consequence, found myself writing to the their manager Francis with a R*E*P*E*A*T e-mail Q&A request, which Gavin has very thoughtfully filled in.

Also a favourite of the late, great John Peel, it proves just what impeccable taste he had…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1. Of all the Art & Music that inspires you, which is the more dominant element that they have - Truth or Joy?
"I would say that Truth dominates - there has to be honesty in what you do and I think most of the music we listen to, and the art we admire, has that quality. Joy is great, but we're a miserable bunch a lot of the time, so I think we always go for truth. We're romantic realists at heart."

2. And if Camera Obscura's music were a Season, which one would it be?
"I think Autumn for most of the time. We'd maybe have a glimpse of Summer and a taste of Winter thrown in for balance, but a lot of what we do has a golden Autumn glow about it."

3. As a band, do you fashion songs or do they develop in their own way?
"Most of the time, songs will come in a basic form that suggests how they should be played, so we all have a sympathy to how we think that is going to be. You do get quite a good feel for the songs early on and a lot of the time, they just grow organically. There have been a few where we've tried them out, and they just haven't sounded right the way we thought they would, and it's taken months of changes to get the finished version that's on the record. Either from playing them live a few times or just in the rehearsal studio, they have changed shape as we've tried different things, whether it's just been a few arrangement ideas, or a complete change of tack as to the style of the song. Some of the best known songs have changed dramatically from their inception to how they sound on the records. It's quite a good feeling after trying different ideas out and not being happy with them, to suddenly hit your stride with how it should be and everything clicks!"

4. For you personally, what makes a good group and is it fair to say that you're all kindred spirits?
"I think there is something about a kind of 'band as gang' mentality, although we're more a group than a gang - we're maybe a bit old to be hanging about round the shops these days! You have to have an understanding of each other as people as well as musicians, and I think we have that. Most of the groups we love have a real tightness about them, you can see it as people, they just fit together and it transfers over musically too. I think we are definitely kindred spirits, we all have the same way of looking at life and what we want to do, and have an understanding of each other. We've been together for so long now, that we're very used to how we all work."

5. The late, great John Peel championed your music very early on in your career, and also invited you to perform several sessions on his show. But do you have a particular fond memory, or warm story about John, that you may be willing to share with us?
"We were lucky enough to be asked to do two Maida Vale sessions for John and played live from Peel Acres three times. I think our favourite was the Burn's Night live session we did for him. We all sat down to have a Burn's Supper, and having been down a couple of times, we weren't so nervous and silent. The first couple of times we were down, I think they thought we were really rude, because we barely spoke, but we were all just nervous beyond belief being in John's house. We played at John's 65th Birthday Party about a month before he died, and it was such a lovely evening. After a couple of glasses of wine, I wandered over to talk to John and asked him if, in the highly unlikely, hypothetical situation that Camera Obscura ever got onto Top Of The Pops, if he would come on with us and mime mandolin like he did with the Faces. He just smiled and said, "Of course I will."

6. Are there any musicians who you wished were still alive and creating?

"As much as I'm a fan of New Order, it would have been nice to get a bit more Joy Division. I'd love to hear what Greig was doing these days."

7. Camera Obscura songs are renowned for their catchy pop hooks - but which song hooks have most stuck in your head?
"I absolutely adored the intro to New Order's Age of Consent… should have been a single, should have been Number 1. An absolute classic pop song! I kind of ruined it for myself by putting it on my phone as a ringtone, so I started associating it with people phoning me up to annoy me, which was unfortunate."

8. Are there any bands' or songwriters' lyrics that you admire, or songs that you wish you had written?
"Too many to go into really. I'd love to have written The Best That You Can Do (Arthur's Theme)."

9. If you had to go shopping for someone and buy a record, a book and a film - what would they be and why?
"I'd buy The Pastels' Mobile Safari album, because it's such a great record - they really hit their stride on that album and everyone should have a copy in their music library. Iain Banks, The Crow Road, would be the book. I really like Banks and The Crow Road was the first book of his I read. I used to live just off Crow Road in Glasgow, and I was curious about it. It's probably the straightest book he's written, but it's a great introduction to his work, and it's still my favourite. For a film, it would be nice to think an Arthouse film, or maybe some Spanish Cinema would be the way to go, but realistically, it's going to be Trading Places 2-Disc Special Edition. The world needs laughter, and you'll be hard pushed to find a more laughter-soaked film than Trading Places!"

10. How do you find life on the road / touring?
"We love playing live! Getting to play your songs to people who want to hear them is what it's all about as musicians. Some of the aspects of touring can be a real grind - being away from home for long periods of time, missing our partners, being stuck in vans for half the day and long haul flights, and who wants to spend any time at all in an airport? Airports seem to instantly turn people into idiots. And the hanging around, we could represent Scotland at hanging around waiting for things to happen, we've done so much of it on the road. Getting pulled over by the police in foreign countries and having your passports taken from you, and not knowing what's going on. Being stung on the head by a wasp in the night in a strange hotel room, or bitten by strange insects abroad that leave you looking like you have the plague for a week. But you put up with it all, because that hour and a bit you're on stage playing to the audience is worth every minute (most of the time)."

11. What are your biggest hopes for Camera Obscura long-term?
"We just want to keep making the best music we can for as long as we feel we can do it justice. We're really proud of the new album, so I guess we'd like to see it do really well and we hope people get as excited about it as we are."

12. Lastly, chips or cream buns?

"This is Glasgow, we would take the cream bun, cover it in batter, deep-fry it, and serve it with the chips!"

A very special thanks to Gavin and to Camera Obscura's Manager Franics, for all of their time and help.

"I promise hidden words of tenderness in every single line that I write"