Rattlesnakes and airplanes

Glasgow's Camera Obscura makes a safe landing

| July 05, 2006
Melodic overachievers, please frown harder. Camera Obscura plays the Cat's Cradle on Tuesday, July 11.
  • Melodic overachievers, please frown harder. Camera Obscura plays the Cat's Cradle on Tuesday, July 11.

With her first British tour in four years barely complete and her second ever American tour just around the corner, Tracyanne Campbell--the face of Camera Obscura, Glasgow, Scotland's second most famous twee pop ensemble--is more than weary.

Tonight she'll stay at home, alone, and watch the World Cup match between Sweden and England. She'll pull for Sweden. The producer of Camera Obscura's latest record, Let's Get Out of This Country, is Swedish and her song "Country Mile" was written in a van en route to the Stockholm airport for a return flight home from holiday. She's skipping out on a special evening of Swedish music at her local pub. She's just too tired. But somewhere within her apartment, amid the exhaustion, Campbell feels something changing.

Country's first single, "Lloyd, I'm Ready to be Heartbroken," a response to Glasgow native Lloyd Cole's Rattlesnakes call "Are You Ready to be Heartbroken?", is receiving more airplay, both at home and abroad, than any song in the band's three-album history. The British tour surpassed expectations and the band's upcoming round of American dates is longer, with bigger clubs and better ticket sales, than the one before.

But then again, things haven't really changed. At least not yet.

"Everything's pretty much the same except, at this moment in time, I feel like I'm in Limbo Land," Campbell says. "You know, you go out touring and you're doing your music and then you come back to reality."

Reality, not just for Campbell but for all of her Obscura bandmates, means keeping a day job and securing a steady paycheck.

"I'm too busy with the band to work," she acknowledges, "but it feels like we're making a step. Something has definitely shifted, and it's kind of felt like that since we started to prepare to make this album.

"Of course, it's exciting because things are happening in the way we need them to," she continues, "but also it's very scary because everybody's worried about their jobs and losing their flats and stuff, but I can't do this for the length of time I've been doing it and then not take a chance."

This is a hard statement for Campbell. While she possesses a near-atomic sense of irony, Campbell is also the most endearingly self-conscious songwriter in indie pop today. Picture the quiet, demure female in the front row of class, the one who makes an A on every test and never says a word. Self-confidence has never been her strength. Thankfully, Campbell's songwriting gives her a voice, reflecting deadly irony and self-deprecating charm.

Take the country-tinged "Dory Previn": The song is not so much about the ill-fated and fabled singer-songwriter as it is about Campbell herself. By story's end, she has made a mantra of "I think it's time/ I put him out of my mind." Then there's the closing twist: "I think it's time/ I let my love for him die." Except Campbell isn't done there: Even with the lyrics sung, Campbell hammers a final sardonic nail in the relationship coffin, the song's instrumental conclusion unabashedly copping the introductory lick to Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man."

But Campbell's ironic muscle pulls her back into a shell of insecurity like a frightened turtle. "I feel lost" serves as the refrain of "Country Mile," and the protagonist in Let's Get Out of This Country's title track heartbreakingly fantasizes about running away to a place where her companion can convince her that she's pretty.

"You know," Campbell says, "a lot of the songs and a lot of the record is about exactly me analyzing my life and thinking about how I don't want to be too scared to live it. And when I say that I mean I need to take chances and be courageous."

This has taken some practice. As recently as the group's previous tour of the States, Campbell would describe her onstage experience as "kind of torturing."

"I hated playing live," she says, "because I was just so nervous. The nerves would get hold of me and it would spoil everything. They would just walk all over everything that you could ever enjoy about it."

All of these nerves may explain the connection Campbell feels to the genesis of what might very well serve as the final boarding pass from her day job.

"I know that Lloyd Cole's a wee bit before my time," Campbell says. "But I got into him, I guess, in my early 20s and I admire his songwriting. And you know they got back together to do that Rattlesnakes reunion and I'd been to see them a couple of times.

"Also, I'd been watching a live video of the band, one of their early performances, and they looked so nervous on stage. And, you know, me thinking a lot about the weight of my own stage presence and feeling really self-conscious about it, I found that video quite inspiring because Lloyd looked very nervous. But he was still quite charming and I guess he made me see that I don't have to put on a big act. I don't have to be jumping about crazy to be appealing."

Camera Obscura plays Cat's Cradle with Georgie James on Tuesday, July 11 at 8:45 p.m. Tickets are $12.

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