Tracyanne Campbell sounds exhausted. The Glasgow-based frontwoman of Camera Obscura has spent the day babysitting a three-year-old girl, and in a soft, sleepy voice, she slowly lists each of the afternoon’s activities: “We read the same book 40 times, we went to the park, we went on the swings, we looked at the ducks, we made pizza, we went to the toy shop — where there were a million different toys, but she chose the bucket and spade, the one toy she has already — and then we went to a café for dessert.” Recounted in her lilting Scottish accent, it sounds like a lovely day, but when asked if she has any kids of her own, Campbell blurts out, “My God! If I did, I would be dead by now!”
Campbell isn’t especially interested in bouncing all over the place, and her laidback lyrical delivery is what keeps Camera Obscura’s shimmery pop tracks from sounding overly saccharine. On ‘Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken,’ the impossibly catchy lead-off track from their latest release, Let’s Get Out of This Country, Campbell’s easygoing and lonesome vocals float over 60s-pop backbeats, swirls of strings, and peppy organs. The song, which is a response to Lloyd Cole’s ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’, is a joyful tune about choosing heartbreak and self-absorption over a no-fun relationship. Campbell sings breezily, “Hey Lloyd, I’m ready to be heart-broken, ‘cause I can’t see farther than my own nose at the moment.”
However, in the video for this song, Campbell looks anything but gleeful. She sings sullenly while a couple of professional dancers gallivant through a showroom of Technicolor retro furniture and fabric. She arrived at the shoot for the ‘Lloyd’ video after numerous travel delays, and without her band at her side, so she was intimidated by the “proper video-making” set-up — complete with make-up girls and catering services. Campbell recalls, “I told them that I wouldn’t be dancing around, so I was taught to stand there and act miserable.” During the video, Campbell maintains an impeccably glum expression, and she admits that the presence of the video’s male dancer eased her nerves on the set. “He was as camp as Christmas,” she says. “Whenever he was supposed to be standing still, he’d be doing pirouettes. He was brilliant, like a little Ken doll.”
Inspired by the new, highly choreographed Feist videos, Campbell is considering adding some of her own dance moves to the next video Camera Obscura puts out. And while she is hoping to make another record by the end of the year, she can’t promise any new tunes at their upcoming South Street Seaport show. “I have started writing new stuff, but we haven’t had time to play the new songs together, so we’ll probably be playing old songs,” she says. Still, she seems very concerned about boring the band’s New York fans with the same set they played last time they were in town. There’s a chance that they will break out their cover of ABBA’s ‘Super Trouper’ to liven up the set.
This 1980 ABBA hit may seem like a strange choice for a band that seems to revel in 60s pop, but Campbell’s personal page on the Camera Obscura website reveals her love for the “lost art” of making mixed tapes — and her eclectic taste in music. “I recently moved on to the mixed CD,” Campbell says, “but I recently made a tape for a friend, because she’s even more backward than me.”
Campbell hasn’t had a day job for about a year, and while she isn’t one to rave about the joys of being the full-time front-woman of a touring band, she will say this: “Going to sleep at night, I think about how I don’t have to do some shitty job I hate.” Wherever the road takes Camera Obscura, Campbell is certain that she won’t be making a career out of babysitting. “That will never be the job for me,” she says. “Once in a blue moon is quite enough.”