Glasgow’s Camera Obscura have had several line-up changes since founder members Tracyanne Campbell and Gavin Dunbar first began rehearsing together back in 1996. Since the amicable departure of Nigel Baillie (percussionist, trumpeter and proud daddy) in 2008, who still pops up onstage occasionally, they have existed as a five-piece:
Tracyanne Campbell (Lead Singer / Songwriter)
Gavin Dunbar (Bass)
Lee Thomson (Drums)
Kenny McKeeve (Guitar / Songwriter)
Carey Lander (Keyboards)
Prior to 2006, the group had released several low-key indie singles (the earliest of which were collated on a Japanese-only EP called Rare UK Bird in 1999) and two full-length studio albums: Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi (on the local DIY label Andmoresound Records – 2001); and Underachievers Please Try Harder (through Spanish independent Elefant Records – 2003).
A key supporter of the group throughout this time was the late, legendary DJ John Peel who gave them frequent plays and sessions (they were to do five Peel Sessions in total). The band gigged intermittently and over time, they were able to build up a dedicated, cult following throughout UK and Europe. Their Madrid-based label sub-licensed Underachievers… to the respected US independent label Merge Records. Camera Obscura toured North America for the first time in the summer of 2004. Progress was to prove steady but despite discerning fans continuing to discover them in higher numbers, the prospect of the band becoming a full-time concern still remained tantalisingly elusive.
In the summer of 2005, Camera Obscura asked the Swedish producer Jari Haapalainen (Ed Harcourt, Peter, Bjorn & John, The Concretes) to work on their next album, Let’s Get Out Of This Country (Elefant / Merge - 2006). Pre-production sessions for the new album began in September 2005 and Jari turned out to be an inspired choice; fully realising not just the potential of Tracyanne Campbell’s songs and remarkable voice, but also the ensemble musicianship of the group as a whole.
The finished album was and is a strong, confident artistic statement, boasting a more powerful, cohesive sound than any previous Camera Obscura offerings. Brilliantly produced and beautifully arranged, it featured entrancing, immediate pop/rock songs such as the lead single 'Lloyd I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken' alongside more downbeat yet melodic offerings 'Dory Previn' and 'Country Mile'.
Reaction from fans and media was enthusiastic: "You might not find heartache as enchanting as this anywhere else," stated All Music Guide. ‘Lloyd…’, proved the perfect step-off as well, scoring Single of the Week in The Guardian and repeated plays on high profile radio shows (Jonathan Ross and Dermot O’ Leary on Radio 2; Record of the Week on Lauren Laverne’s XFM London show; an A-listing at BBC 6music). Three more singles followed from the album – 'Let’s Get Out Of This Country', 'If Looks Could Kill' and 'Tears For Affairs' – with all being supported by extensive touring both and home and abroad (three separate visits to the US alone) and further great press (including a glowing Rising feature in MOJO).
More record labels were attracted. In 2009, Camera Obscura signed a worldwide deal with feted indie 4AD, in a move that some fans felt a perfect match:
"It almost feels old fashioned to have a favourite band, but guess what, Camera Obscura are unashamedly mine and have been for the past five years. Now they find themselves on 4AD, one time home to my previous favourites The Cocteau Twins. The styles are very different but once more there are achingly beautiful tunes from an incomparable Scottish female voice emanating from the coolest label." -Scottish international footballer, Pat Nevin (yes - Pat Nevin)
After his successful touches on the last album, they returned to Sweden to work once more with producer Jari Haapalainen. My Maudlin Career, to be released on April 20th 2009 showcases Jari's wonderful understanding with the band. Songs such as 'French Navy', 'Honey In The Sun', 'Swans' and 'Away With Murder' typify another strong body of work that’s sure to delight, ensuring the band to continue their upward trajectory.
Speaking about My Maudlin Career, lead singer Tracyanne Campbell commented:
"Some people who have heard it say it's intense and quite dark. I suppose it is in a way. We were even more open and brave when making it than we were with the last record. I've never been so brutal when its come to writing lyrics. I wouldn't even call them lyrics. Just documentation of what was going on with me for a while. I truly believe it's the best we've done so far."
The critics seemed to agree with her; “Make no mistake, this is a remarkably beautiful record. (It) exists to reward those both mad, and sad, in love” NME (9/10), "The band’s finest work, My Maudlin Career continues the pop rush we’ve come to expect from Camera Obscura but also develops the band’s sound and identity in significant ways." Popmatters, "(It) feels as if it could have been released any time in the last 50-odd years, but the inspired arrangements - and, of course, Campbell's indelible voice - make it sound fresh, too." Pitchfork (8.3/10), “This feels like a breakthrough.” Observer Music Monthly (4/5). It was also to become the first album of theirs to chart, breaking both the Top 40 (at 32) in the UK and the Billboard Hot 100 in the US (at 87), confirming their status as an essential band.
Camera Obscura returned to the road in March 2009 with intimate shows in London, New York and at the South By Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas and around the release of My Maudlin Career undertook a large UK tour with triumphant shows at both London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire and The Barrowlands Ballroom in their hometown. They head to the US, Canada and Mexico for five weeks at the end of May 2009.