Tracyanne Campbell is in Scotland. I'm in New York. It's past 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and the overseas phone call isn't something I've had a lot of past success with. I never know whether to start with 1 or 0, never know whether or not to add the extra number for what they call the "city code." So when the 30-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist for Camera Obscura answers "Hul-lo" in the same sleepy sounding way she sings, I'm damn near delighted.
Of course, she may actually be asleep. It's nearly midnight in Glasgow.
Being both surprised and pleased to connect with Campbell, I'm sure I sound like an ass (or "arse," as she sings in the chorus of "Suspended from Class," the opening track of her band's first U.S. release, Underachievers Please Try Harder). I tend to speak louder during overseas calls, as if I need to compensate for the distance between us. Plus, I have her on speakerphone. I'm likely screaming.
What do they do in Scotland besides wear kilts and make music? Do they even wear kilts anymore? Do they know about Groundskeeper Willie? Haggis is a joke, right? Do they have cable? Do they get ESPN? Are they more interested in Australian Rules Football than I am?
It turns out Tracyanne Campbell has never heard of Barbara Walters or this show they call The View. She doesn't know that Walters specializes in the celebrity interview, especially during Oscar season. Tracyanne Campbell doesn't know that Walters has a tendency to ask embarrassingly faux-profound questions of her famous guests. Like, "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?"
That's just an example that I bring up in trying to bridge our cultural gap and educate her on foolish American media, but Tracyanne Campbell thinks it's a question.
"I wouldn't mind being a weeping fig tree," she answers. And it's a perfect answer, just what her band's music would suggest.
Camera Obscura's show at The Casbah in San Diego will be their first-ever stateside performance, and though Campbell once spent four weeks in San Francisco on what she calls her "best holiday ever," her bandmates, she says, are properly nervous and optimistic in advance of the tour.
"Everybody's really excited about going to America and, you know, seeing America and just playing shows that we hope people are sort of anticipating," she says.
A good portion of that anticipation will be based upon the well-reviewed Underachievers, which drew numerous, appropriate comparisons to her fellow countrymen, Belle & Sebastian. Camera once borrowed Belle's drummer, Richard Colburn, for some recording sessions. Belle leader Stuart Murdoch not only produced Camera's first album, he took the cover photographs for Underachievers. Like Belle & Sebastian, Camera refrains from listing songwriting credits on their records, and each band has seven members, including the rare rock trumpeter.
Camera's last gig before coming to America, exactly one month before they arrive in San Diego, was as part of the all-day free show in Glasgow billed as "Belle & Sebastian and Friends." And then there's the music-a pleasant twee-pop of summer reverberation accompanying a set of particularly literate, wintery Scottish lyrics like "Quote Mike Leigh films / it will turn them all on" and "I wouldn't share a bag of chips with you."
So maybe it's because she's nearly asleep that she's surprised at the comparisons. Or maybe she's just tired of it already.
"It's nice because they're a great band, but it's a bit boring," she says.
"I can't quite understand it. I think that [critics'] music tastes must be really limited if they hear us and can only sort of identify our music as sounding like Belle & Sebastian. But at the same time, it's very flattering, and if that means that people listen to our records, then that's good."
Yes it is. Regardless of accent or distance, weeping fig or weeping willow, by phone or in person, that's very good indeed.
Camera Obscura begins their first U.S. tour at The Casbah on Monday, July 12.