Interview: Carey Lander of Camera Obscura
When I was asked to interview Camera Obscura, my utter excitement was immediately trumped by nervousness. I’ve always been under the impression that if the members of the band could do away with interviews, they would, which was somewhat confirmed during my interview with Carey Lander.
Camera Obscura have been in existence since 1996, and have recently released their fourth full-length album, My Maudlin Career. Lander, primarily on organ and piano, with some vocals on the side, was kind enough to take some time to answer my questions.
You guys have been touring quite a bit. Do you miss home while you’re on tour? Is there anything you do or bring with you to keep you connected to your hometown, or helps you feel comfortable being away for so long?
It is hard to be away from home so much — losing touch with friends, missing special occasions, living out of a suitcase, missing partners — but we know we’re really lucky to be in this position, and we generally really enjoy touring and traveling. I get a little obsessive about packing for big tours; I start about a week before we leave and iron everything and spray it with lavender. Tracy and I take our own pillowcase on bus tours — a small home comfort. Tragically, I took photographs of my bedroom once before we went away so that I could remember what it looked like. I tend to miss the solitude of home more than people. This is probably not a good thing.
Is there a specific place that you want to tour but haven’t yet?
I would really like to go to Iceland someday, I think it would be beautiful, and I would like to tour in more of South America. We are about to visit Brazil for the first time, and I’d love to be able to play more cities there as well as Chile, Argentina, etc. I know people would like us to play there but it’s hard to make it financially viable.
Do you have a favorite place that you’ve played — a specific city or venue?
Not a single [place stands] out, but Mexico has been an amazing place for us to play. The crowds there are like no other. Playing the Seaport in Manhattan was pretty special, too; it was a free outdoor show right on the water in front of a moonlit ship. It was really beautiful and the crowds were great.
If you were to collaborate with another musician or band, is there anyone specific you would want it to be?
Well, we’ve just partially realized one of our dreams by collaborating with Richard Hawley. We’ve been talking about working together for years and it’s always been too hard to schedule. We were grateful to him for taking the time to remix “The Sweetest Thing” and we had a bash at covering one of his songs. I’d love to do something with Matt Ward too someday; his is one of my favorite voices in contemporary music. Just gorgeous.
Your first album was produced by Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian — how did that come about? Did you guys know him personally before then, or was it just a music/business relationship?
Stuart only produced “Eighties Fan” and helped with some string arrangements; I wouldn’t want to lumber him with responsibility for the whole album, which had no producer. Glasgow is a small place — the band had known him for a while. We used to rehearse in the church hall that he lived above, and he was very supportive and encouraged us to go into a proper studio for the first time.
In terms of songwriting, do you all contribute equally, or does one person do most of the writing? How do you collaborate when writing a song?
Tracyanne [Campbell] is the main songwriter in the band. She tends to write on her own as ideas come to her. She brings rough songs to the band and we work together on finding a feel for the songs and arranging them. It becomes a communal project.
In your recent video for “The Sweetest Thing,” you guys were dressed up in a variety of costumes, including Tracyanne sporting a dashing mustache. It looked like it was a lot of fun to shoot. Where did the idea for this video come from?
Hmm…I think it was sort of an idea borne of many tired minds. We had a meeting and it seemed like a good idea to arrange something informal and fun for the video. When the freezing, rainy early morning shoot began, dressing in a blonde afro was not so appealing. We’re always reluctant to take ourselves too seriously in videos, though — that is solely for naive, pretty boy bands with fringes to shake. Literally speaking, there is a line in the song about a Paul Simon song and a friend and I dressed up as Simon and Garfunkel for Halloween once before, so I guess the idea was already planted in our minds.
Tracyanne has mentioned before that she’s able to become more personal through performing than through interviews. Have interviews gotten easier as time goes on, or would you be happier without them?
I’m pretty confident I can answer for Tracyanne here and say that she would definitely rather not do interviews, though she accepts that they’re part of what we do. It’s hard to answer questions about what songs are about, either because the answer is complicated or because it feels too personal to give any more explanation than is contained in the song lyrics. It’s really hard not to come across as an idiot and to feel like an interesting enough subject to be interviewed.
Have you ever answered a question you regretted or wish you could take back?
All the time, though I can’t remember an example. Mostly I just regret being obvious and boring. Some interviewers are brilliant at putting you at ease so you relax and say too much. Maybe you need a bit more of an ego to be a good interviewee.