It’s been a little while between drinks for Camera Obscura. In early 2011, following extensive touring in support of acclaimed fourth album My Maudlin Career, keyboardist Carey Lander was diagnosed with cancer, and the Scottish quintet were forced to put immediate plans – including the writing of record number five – on hold. In February this year, with Lander recovering, the band played their first show in roughly two years, returning successfully with a sold-out performance at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in their hometown of Glasgow. The next day, the band announced new album Desire Lines would be out by June.
“It was definitely a bit strange,” says Lander of reconnecting musically with her bandmates after the two-year hiatus. “We were quite conscious of the time away. Saying that, once we’d done a few rehearsals and played a few shows back, it all sort of fell into place, it felt normal and good again”. Lander and co. have been on tour in Europe and the US for about six weeks now, having just wrapped up a string of dates with Oregon folk-pop duo She & Him.
“We’ve done a lot of touring so it makes it a bit easier, but we were still concerned about whether we’d remember our parts, or if anyone would still be interested in us, and all those sort of worries,” Lander explains from the New York hotel room where the band are currently lodged. As far as the latter’s concerned, it’s a concern resoundingly quelled. Eager fans turned out en masse to see the group at their recent Bluesfest appearance in Ottawa – despite the Glaswegians inadvertently bringing the weather with them. “It was so sunny and humid all day and then just before we came on, the heavens opened and it began totally lashing with rain. Everyone got soaked. We weren’t really sure we should even have played, it felt quite dangerous using electricity in the middle of a rainstorm.”
Torrential acts of nature aside, Lander speaks with fondness about the past month and a half spent on the road, noting the positive reception given the generous portion of the setlist taken from new album Desire Lines. “We’ve been blasting them pretty hard with new songs. We could almost go out and do ‘best of’ sets at this point, but it’s a new album, and we’re proud of it. It’s important to play those songs and showcase them, I think.”
And proud they should be. The album’s been garnering rave reviews from all corners, and the band continuing to demonstrate their knack for writing soulful – often morose – pop gems. Eschewing the Swedish studio where the band’s prior two full-lengths were captured, Desire Lines was recorded in Portland with producer Tucker Martine – best known for working with the likes of The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens and My Morning Jacket. Lander points out that Desire Lines was a considered effort. “We had a lot of time to think about how we wanted it to be before we started. We wanted to record in a slightly less ‘live’ way so that there was time for everyone to really get their parts down and for the band to just sound good.”
Despite the praise Desire Lines has already received, Lander admits it’s a challenge to have confidence as the songs are coming together. “I guess I’m a bit of a pessimist,” she says with a wry laugh. “It’s hard to believe things are going to turn out well when you’re in the studio – I worry a lot that things don’t sound good enough or no one will like it. The response has been good so I guess we must have done something right.”
With their relatively brief jaunts across Europe and the States almost complete, Camera Obscura are about to put touring plans on hold yet again, as guitarist/vocalist Tracyanne Campbell, now six months pregnant, prepares to give birth to her first child. While touring is back off the cards for now, Lander hopes 2014 will see the band head out more expansively. “Australia and New Zealand are places we’ve played a couple times. They’ve been great tours and it certainly seems like there’s an audience there, so we’re definitely keen to come back.”
BY BLAKE GALLAGHER
Desire Lines is out now through 4AD.