Indietracks interview # 16: Camera Obscura

Today’s the first day of July, which means that the festival is taking place this month! It seems like forever ago when we announced back in February that Camera Obscura would be one of this year’s headliners, so it’s brilliant that we only have to wait another few more weeks to see them play as the sun sets on the Saturday night.

Camera Obscura have become such household names that on a recent trip to the US, we found a feature on them in every newspaper we looked at (here’s Tracyanne on the cover of the Boston Metro!). The band were formed in 1996 by Tracyanne Campbell, John Henderson, and Gavin Dunbar, and have since received high acclaim for their sophisticated, melancholic and uplifting pop songs. They released their debut album Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi in 2001, and a second album, Underachievers Please Try Harder, on Elefant Records the following year.

In 2006, the band released Let’s Get out of This Country, produced by Jari Haapalainen and again released on Elefant Records. The album appeared high up in many critical lists of the ‘best albums of 2006’ and featured the classic floor-filling pop anthem Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken. In February 2009, it was announced that Camera Obscura had signed to the legendary indie label 4AD, who released their fourth album, called My Maudlin Career, in April 2009.

Gavin Dunbar, the band’s bassist (and guest DJ at a 2007 Indietracks Christmas event!), joins us for today’s interview.

Hi Gavin, Elefant Records are curating a stage at this year’s festival. What was it like being part of the Elefant family?
We felt very lucky when we signed to Elefant, they were big fans of our first record, having licensed it for Spain, and welcomed us into the label. They became good friends of ours. It is inspiring to see people so genuinely enthusiastic about music and the bands they release records by. They put in so much effort to what they do, and you can tell that from the artwork of the releases and packaging to they way they keep in touch with the fans of the label. It really is like a family there.

How did you approach the recording of the new album, following the success of Let’s Get Out Of This Country?
We knew we’d made a substantial jump forward with Let’s Get Out Of This Country, being the first time we’d made a whole album with a producer, and feeling that we’d progressed a fair bit both as a band and as players. The basic approach was the same as it usually is, getting a collection of songs we’re happy with together and rehearsing them up to the point where we feel ready to go into a studio. We knew we wanted to work with Jari the producer again, partly because we felt he brought out the best in us, and partly because we knew he wouldn’t want to just make another record the same as the last. We worked away on the songs in Glasgow and then Jari came over a few times for pre-production work in rehearsals, and suggested a few things, then it was off to Sweden to record over a fairly intense two week period. We’ve always basically recorded live, and then added a few overdubs if they were required, so we’re quite used to going in and getting the basic tracks down as live takes, including the vocals. It seems the best way to work for us, you can tell fairly quickly when you get a take with the best feel for the song.

You’re very active Tweeters! Has the relationship between the band and its fans changed as a result?
I think we’ve always been quite good at trying to keep in touch with the folk who come and see us or buy the records. I guess as ways to keep fans up to date with what you’re up to evolve, it’s nice to be on top of them. We do like to have active myspace, facebook and twitter things going on as well as the band website. And for those people not keen on technology, we still keep the snail mail PO Box alive so folk can correspond to us in the old fashioned way.

We hear the band have recently given up their jobs to pursue the band full-time. How easy has it been to adapt to being a full-time band?
It’s been great for us. We’ve been through long period of basically being full-time, but also trying to juggle full and part-time jobs on top of the band, that’s the hard thing. Being full-time with the band and not having to fit in another job on top is fantastic. We actually get to sleep sometimes now.

What music are you enjoying at the moment?
The new M Ward album has been enjoyed by the band. We’re loving playing with Agent Ribbons who have been supporting us in the States this tour, we’d highly recommend checking them out, and we’re looking forward to playing with Anni Rossi on the second leg of the trip, we really enjoyed playing with her recently in New York.

What attracted the band to play the Indietracks festival?
It’s such a great grassroots festival, organized by people who have a real love of the bands they ask to play, and the people that go to the festival are real music fans, the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly plus you get a go on the steam trains. Who wouldn’t want to play. We were disappointed not to have been able to play the last couple of years, but band weddings and pre-booked Spanish festivals meant we weren’t able to. I did come down to DJ at the Christmas event in 2007, which was great fun. We’re really looking forward to getting down and having a hang about.

Do you approach playing at festivals in a different way to other gigs?
I guess you have to a wee bit. I think we’ve got better at festival sets over the past couple of years, you don’t want it to be all upbeat fast pop songs, you like a bit of variety, but it makes sense at festivals to build a set round the songs you know the people who like you really want to hear, and people who maybe don’t know are going to enjoy hearing for the first time.

What’s the most unusual place you’ve played a gig in the past?
It’s got to be the venue we played in Mexico City in 2007, the Polyforum. We played inside the world’s largest mural, which was pretty amazing as a backdrop all round us, and we hadn’t really known what to expect when we arrived, and the place was rammed to the rafters, so a fantastic night was had by all.

Thanks Gavin – look forward to seeing you at the festival!