On February 1 the Glaswegian sextet Camera Obscura will bring its homespun brand of retro-pop to The Blind Pig. The Michigan Daily recently caught up with drummer, Lee Thomson and asked him about life on the road, the contents of his stereo and what it’s like to be a grownup in a band.
Michigan Daily: How’s the tour been going so far?
Lee Thomson: We’re playing a lot of places we’ve played before: Georgia, North Carolina, and it seems that we have a bit more of a buzz this time, it’s been great, it’s more of a step-up for us.
MD: Where are you guys now?
LT: We’re in lovely New Jersey and we’re playing a show tonight.slowly making our way up the East coast.
MD: I notice there’s a lot more Motown and doo-wop influence on the new record. Was that a conscious decision? And if so, what was influencing you guys at the time?
LT: That’s funny, because I think the Motown-type of production was a result of the producer, but I feel like we always had those kind of doo-wop songs on the previous albums. It’s kind of ironic because we were listening to a lot of newer music this time around, and it ended up having that tone, which was mainly a result of the production. He got a great sound that we hadn’t had before.
MD: So what were you listening to at that time?
LT: A lot of Fleetwood Mac, but it’s funny because that really wasn’t obvious on the record. Tracyanne was having what she refers to as a “Mac Attack.”
MD: What are you guys reading these days?
LT: I just finished the autobiography of Malcolm X, and Kenny has been reading some Kurt Vonnegut.
MD: There’s been a big transition between the two records. Was it a conscious effort to bring in a producer and make a more polished album?
LT: There definitely was a feeling that we wanted to get away from what we had been doing before. We thought that if we made another record at home in Glasgow it would have sounded a lot like Underachievers, but with different songs. We wanted to expand what we were doing musically.
MD: I’ve heard that some of you guys still have day jobs. How do you manage those while maintaining your roles in Camera Obscura?
LT: The only people who have jobs are Seth, Kenny and myself. I work with adults who have schizophrenia and Kenny works with people who have alcohol problems. I like what I do so it’s not really hard to manage it.
MD: Would you have interest in moving to a major label?
LT: We would love more people to hear our music. When we come here it’s great, but we don’t have the same following back home as we do here in the US.
MD: How has the band dynamic changed since John left?
LT: Really nothing much has changed, he sang some lines and played percussion parts that we’ve had to fill, but we haven’t had to change that much.
MD: When you’re in the studio, how does the writing and arranging work?
LT: Tracyanne and Kenny write the songs. Tracyanne will come up with a basic verse and chorus, essentially the melody of the song, as well as the lyrics. Her and Kenny then work out the song, and we all come up with our parts together. We’ve been playing in this band for a long time, so we’re all pretty good at reading each other. On the new album, our producer came in and suggested a lot of arrangements.and that’s why there are more “singles” on this album, he shortened things and got a more energetic sound of the band. It was more about short, and compact pop songs.
MD: The band has been together for a long time, what’s it like to be in a band as an adult?
LT: Well your family always tells you to get a proper job, they never stop doing that, and we’ve been together for a long time, but at this point the band feels new again. We have made this new record and we’ve worked so slowly in the past, it’s only our third full length, and it’s exciting. It really feels like we’re in a new band.
MD: Are there any new artists that you guys are into?
LT: Midlake. Tracyanne is in love with them right now, maybe it’s because they sound a bit like Fleetwood Mac. I’ve been listening to the Final Fantasy album and Kenny has been into Joanna Newsom and Jenny Lewis, a lot of those female singer-songwriters. Post War by M. Ward is also a great album that came out pretty recently.
MD: You’re a relatively big band with a relatively small sound, how does everyone get along when they’re not always playing on the songs?
LT: I think we’re getting quite good at that. People can be scared of being in a band and playing less which is kind of a shame because music can be ruined by too much “over-playing.” Recently we rediscovered this song from Underachievers, “Books Written for Girls,” and it was really stripped down on the record, but we’ve been playing it a lot louder live recently and the people have been going a bit nuts for it. So, it’s about finding a balance between playing less and more, which I think we’ve done.
MD: What are a handful of your favorite records?
LT: Well that’s a really hard question. One album that I think everyone in the band really loves is Tapestry by Carole King. Kenny likes any Phil Spector album, especially The Ronettes. The Supremes are great, and for contemporary singer-songwriters I would go with Elliot Smith. And like I said before, new records like the Midlake album, The Arcade Fire and M. Ward are great.we’re a lot better now at listening to new stuff.
Camera Obscura w/ The Essex Green
The Blind Pig