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October 14th, 2010

INTERVIEW: Isobel Campbell


Glasgow-born Isobel Campbell used to play cello and sing in indie-pop sensations Belle & Sebastian. Pacific Northwest native Mark Lanegan used to sing in grunge pioneers Screaming Trees. Five years ago they first got together to make music — an unlikely pairing that people have compared to Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra or even Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue — and have since crafted three haunting, timeless albums that mix country, blues, folk, gospel, ’60s pop, desert rock, and more in tremendous fashion; the latest being the just-released and rather dark Hawk. For various reasons (sometimes Lanegan’s recurring drug problems) they’ve been unable to tour America in the past, but tonight the duo finally makes it to town, dropping by Johnny Brenda’s on the second date of their highly anticipated debut U.S. jaunt. We caught up with Isobel the other day:

On her chemistry with Lanegan:

“We don’t really talk about it but there’s a trust thing there. He’s a friend. He’s a dear friend, and I know he’s said the same of me. It’s just about good music and singing with this man that’s my friend, and it’s an honor for me that he will sing stuff that I wrote, that he respects me. I think we’re both interested in songs and we’ll talk about… sometimes I’ll say, ‘I really like your songs’ and he’ll say, [imitates Lanegan's deep voice] ‘No, I really like your songs,’ and we’ll just go ‘Awwww…’ [laughs] I think there’s an understanding between us that’s hard to put into words.”

On moving from Scotland to Arizona two years ago to write the new album:

“I was in the middle of a lot of life’s experiences when I was writing this record. I was in the middle of a lot of bad stuff, and I basically ran away to the desert. It was January of 2009 in Scotland and I just thought, ‘I am leaving.’ Years ago I didn’t realize that my job allowed me to be anywhere. I thought I was tied to Scotland, but as long as I have an internet connection… [laughs]. I flew to Arizona, I just thought a lot and I wrote a lot and sometimes I was a bit of a monk, I didn’t see people for quite a long time. But I was writing a lot and I was processing a lot of things.”

On baring her soul in song:

“I know that I definitely have a feeling of being exposed, but in order to do something that means anything, if you’re not to expose anything then what is the point, really? There might not be any strand of truth to something. I think people can tell, I know I can tell, if something is sincere or not. That doesn’t mean it has to be raw all the time or negative, but, you know, sometimes I think the most interesting artists and songwriter, they do say things other people are too afraid to say. Dylan — I’m in no way comparing myself to Dylan at all — but he didn’t go, ‘Oh I might devastate a few people, I’m not gonna write Blood on the Tracks.’”

On looking back at her career path to date:

“I’m always thinking ahead or thinking in the moment, but sometimes I’ll look back, and sometimes I’ll cringe at stuff. My first solo record came out when I was 19 or 20 and I didn’t know how to make a record, I had no idea. And some of the reviews reflect that. But, you know, it’s all out in the open, I suppose. Sometimes I’ve felt like I suck. It’s probably because of low self-esteem or something like that. But I’ve gotten better about that. I think the trick is to enjoy the reaching for things and not actually the getting of them. One of my favorite parts is having the seeds of an idea and thinking about all the possibilities. I find that so exciting. But I mean, I think maybe a lot of people in life, we’re all looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

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