Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell vs. Lloyd Cole Bonus Q&A
On Collaborations, Glasgow, and Golf Slacks
Aug 19, 2013 Issue #46 - June/July 2013 - Charli XCX Photography by Anna Isola Crolla
When Camera Obscura's Tracyanne Campbell interviewed Lloyd Cole for the June/July 2013 issue of Under the Radar, the two spoke as if they were close friends; we were surprised to find out they'd only briefly met. After Cole had answered Campbell's questions, both artists stayed on the line to answer a few more from us about their history, hobbies, and current albums.
Lloyd Cole broke out on the Glasgow, Scotland scene in the mid-'80s, releasing a string of successful albums with his band, The Commotions, before embarking on a remarkably deep solo career. His 1984 debut record with The Commotions, Rattlesnakes, closed with a song titled "Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?" Twenty-two years later, another Glasgow artist would answer that question.
"Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken" was the name of the lead track on Camera Obscura's 2006 album, Let's Get Out of This Country. It was written by frontwoman Tracyanne Campbell in response to Cole's song and remains a favorite among Camera Obscura's fans. This musical tribute was first brought to Cole's attention by Teenage Fanclub drummer Francis Macdonald, who also manages Camera Obscura.
Both artists have new albums out. Cole's album, titled Standards, is a collection of original rock songs. Camera Obscura's new record is called Desire Lines and features guest vocals from Neko Case and Jim James.
Last Friday we posted the main print magazine Q&A between Cole and Campbell. These are extra portions of our interview, quotes that didn't make it into the print article. This bonus Q&A originally ran in the digital/iPad version of the June/July 2013 issue.
Austin Trunick (Under the Radar): You two sound like you're good friends.
Lloyd Cole: Oh, no. Not really! We've only met a couple of times. Probably once, I think?
Tracyanne Campbell: We met briefly at a festival we played, and then met at a bar after.
When you met, was that before or after the Camera Obscura song?
Tracyanne: It was after. We supported you.
Lloyd: You weren't really supporting me. It was a festival that we were both on.
Tracyanne: Oh, I don't know my name any more. I was thinking you played last, and we went on before you.
Lloyd: They probably just put the old guy on last so that people could leave.
Tracyanne: [Laughing] Oh, no.
Tracyanne, do you remember when you first heard Lloyd's music?
Tracyanne: I don't want to sound too rude in saying that Lloyd Cole and the Commotions was a wee bit before my time. When I was about 12 years old, I was on a kids' TV program. I think it was live. It was filmed from the Glasgow Garden Centre; it was a sort of festival. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions played live on the same day my school was there on the program. Obviously I was aware of his big chart songs like "Lost Weekend," but when I was that age I think that music like that was a bit too sophisticated for the likes of me. I suppose I got into Lloyd Cole and the Commotions when I was 18 or 19 or 20, when I started listening to music that wasn't just my parents' record collection or my grandmother's. I started seeking music out for myself, and I got into bands that I didn't know that well. We started going to indie discos and stuff—we have a big indie disco culture in Glasgow, especially then in the early '90s—and a Lloyd Cole song would be played in the club every week, guaranteed. I suppose I got into it then. Looking back, Lloyd's lyrics were lyrics that I enjoyed listening to and thinking about, and eventually I became quite influenced by that style of writing.
You were talking about My Morning Jacket earlier. Jim James sings on your record. How did that come about?
Tracyanne: He sang on a song called "Troublemaker," and that was great. He's one of my favorite singers. He's friends with Tucker Martine, the guy who produced our album. When he came to Glasgow to help us get the songs to a state where they were ready to record, he sort of mentioned that he thought Jim would really like this song. It sort of came about like that. We were too shy to ask, but him saying that gave us the green light to ask Jim if he might care to do some vocals. He said yes, which was pretty amazing.
Lloyd: Right about the same [time] I asked David Bowie if he would sing backing vocals on my record. [Laughs]
Tracyanne: [Laughing] What did he say?
Lloyd: His people wrote back to me and said he was very flattered, but he's not doing anything right now. It was just about a month before he made the big announcement that he was back. It was in the moment where people were thinking, "Is he still well? Is he sick? What's going on?" And then all of a sudden he came out with a song. I'm not sure if he would have done it at another time, but he's my favorite backing vocalist, and I thought, "Damn, I'm just going to ask."
Tracyanne: I think that you should ask. Maybe he'd be more up for something now, since he's actually made his big comeback. Now that he's out of retirement.
Lloyd, you did collaborate recently on a record with [Cluster's] Hans-Joachim Roedelius [Selected Studies Vol. 1]. Was that all done over email?
Lloyd: It wasn't quite all over email. I made a record about 10 years ago, sort of in the style of Cluster. He got to hear it, and he actually took it and made his own version of it. He did overdubs on top of the record I'd made. It was very flattering. He wanted to release it, and I was like, "Actually, I already released it." So we stayed in touch. Over the years, we sort of thought it might be a good idea, if we wanted to do this again, maybe we could actually plan it, so that we could both make some things and then overdub on top of them. That's how we did this record. He sent me a bunch of unfinished pieces and sketches, and I did the same for him. I created some things and left some room for another person to add to it. Like doing a song without vocals or something, and then sending it to him. We both completed them. We didn't actually meet, other than when I had a concert in Vienna and he came, we talked. But we hadn't finished the record at that time. We were just discussing it a little bit. It's actually a nice way to work. Very efficient. Very cheap.
I've spoken to other Glasgow artists for this issue—Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream and Stephen [McRobbie] from The Pastels—and I asked them this same question -
Lloyd: [Good-natured laugh] I think both of those guys still being alive is pretty amazing. But I'm sorry, I interrupted your question?
What, in your opinion, makes Glasgow such a great city for music?
Tracyanne: I think everyone would have a different answer for that question. I think it is a very musical city.
Lloyd: I don't think it's the same city for every generation. It re-invents itself, or naturally evolves. I can only really speak for the early '80s. There was this bar on Sauchiehall Street called Nico's; if you ever went to Nico's and thought you had any chance at getting a girlfriend, you had to be a sculptor, or an artist, a singer, or a writer. There was this really powerful peer pressure to be creative. And frankly, you just wouldn't have any friends if you weren't at least in that area. That was the bar that was just down the hill from the art school. It might still be there.
Tracyanne: It's still there.
Lloyd: There was this feeling back then that you had to do something, you couldn't just be a hanger-on and be part of that scene. I think that fired up a lot of people who might otherwise have been lazy into actually doing something.
You saying "Nico" reminded me of this—Tracyanne, Neko Case performs on your album, as well. Did she come aboard the same way as Jim?
Tracyanne: She was making a record with Tucker, I believe she just finished that. She did some tracking before we were there. I believe she's a fan of our song "French Navy." She sometimes tweets to us that she listens to our music at the gym, believe it or not. She had been in touch with us over Twitter, and Tucker had mentioned that if we needed a backing singer, she's the woman for the job. We did want a backing vocalist, because we find that quite effective and had done that on the last two albums. My God, you can't say no to Neko Case!
Lloyd: No, you can't.
Tracyanne: She's such an incredible singer. I do sing songs, but I don't think of myself as a great singer, but she is a real, proper singer. I was completely terrified at the thought of her singing on the record, but at the same time I was really excited about it and extremely flattered. She came for a couple of days to do sessions, and to basically sing on as many songs as she could. She did a great job. It was amazing to sit in there and listen to her sing. She's wonderful, and also one of the best people I've met in my life. She's just sort of crackers, you know? So much energy and fun to be around.
I see we're running out of time. Thank you so much for chatting today.
Tracyanne: I just have one last silly question which might annoy you. One of my friends who's also a Lloyd Cole fan asked me to ask you, so I'll do it. He says, "What's so great about golf, anyway?" and "Would you cheat at golf if you were playing Tiger Woods?"
Lloyd: [Laughing] Oh, no, no, you never cheat at golf.
Lloyd: And what's so great about it? Sometimes I wish I didn't play, but my mom and dad went to work at a golf club when I was 13, so I started playing. When I play golf, I don't think about my job, and it is really great to have something like that. I'm still enthusiastic about it. I don't know what's so great about it, but it's really helped with my life.
Tracyanne: Do you wear golf slacks? Any interesting, Ronnie Corbett-types of outfits?
Lloyd: I wish I could say I did. Nike did give me some clothes a couple of years ago; a friend of mine was working at Nike and they sent me a big box of stuff. There was one particularly loud pair of trousers I did quite like. So occasionally, yes. I don't wear knickers and things, I do wear modern clothes.
[This article first appeared in Under the Radar's June/July 2013 digital issue.]