Camera Obscura embraced the twin luxuries of patience and time when crafting their latest album, Desire Lines.
Bass player Gavin Dunbar says those two elements were a welcome change for the Scottish indie band, as they worked on the new album, which came out earlier this year on 4AD Records.
The band worked with producer Tucker Martine in Portland, Ore. for four weeks while they recorded both the basic tracks and overdubs. The four weeks easily is the most time the band has spent in the studio, Dunbar says.
“Previously it’s been pretty much half that,” he says. “That was one of the things we wanted to change.”
The sonic changes between Desire Lines and the previous two Camera Obscura is easy to hear, though it may play off against what the usual role of extra time can do to a band in a studio.
Desire Lines is a cool, effortless and understated take on Camera Obscura’s gorgeously stately, polished indie pop. It sounds like less in part because each part was considered more.
The musicians in the band each tracked instrumental parts individually, with Martine guiding and shaping the performances along the way.
“Tucker gave us the platform to shine at what we do the best,” Dunbar says.
The last two albums saw the band putting together the basic instrumental tracks by playing live together. The band would take the best of those takes and then overdub parts and decide where to add string or brass arrangements.
That process led to more of a sonic wash permeating the musical backdrop. It’s a fairly direct musical choice that sanded off some of the band’s less pronounced musical features.
“There was no time for sublety. It was live performance,” Dunbar says.
Working with Martine resulted from the recommendation of the band’s former Merge Records labelmate M. Ward, who suggested the pairing to the band.
Once the band contacted Martine, they learned he was already a fan of the band. So together, the band and producer were ready to take on something new.
Dunbar says just having time to leave Scotland for an extended period of time without being distracted by the social trappings of home gave the process some needed clarity.
“It’s always nice to record somewhere outside of Glasgow,” Dunbar says. “It allows us to be completely focused.”
The recording also stemmed from the band’s first real extended hiatus since forming in the late 1990s. Typically the band would take some time off after touring and just naturally begin to rehearse and write towards making another album.
This time the band decided that more time was necessary so they could all join up on a new project with renewed creativity and enthusiasm.
The band has maintained a stable line-up since the release of 2001’s The Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi, with only founding member John Henderson departing around the end of 2003.
That’s put the vocal attention fully on Tracyanne Campbell, who also serves as the band’s primary songwriter. The band’s seasoned membership still works on the basic premise of crafting arrangements and new parts around Campbell’s songs, but Dunbar says he can feel how refined and skilled the process has become.
“We’re better at knowing what our strengths are,” he says.
The songs the band does create hold to the very idea of pop music, with tricky layers of subtlety wrapped into the seemingly simple hooks.
Dunbar says the biggest trick is making something that connects with a listener emotionally, without seemingly rehashing sentiment.
“You want to have a meaning behind it,” he says.
Camera Obscura’s particular knack for nailing that mix of pop immediacy and emotionally intimacy connects to Glasgow’s lineage of smart, distinctive independent music makers. Bands like Orange Juice, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Teenage Fanclub and Mogwai all carried the Scottish music banner and paved the way for Camera Obscura’s own unique sound.
“There’s a real wide range of sounds,” Dunbar says of Glasgow’s independent music history.
And for its part, Camera Obscura has directly tapped into that lineage. Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch produced the band’s earliest material and the band directly responded to Lloyd Cole’s 1984 song “Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?” with their 2006 single “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken”.
Camera Obscura plays the Slowdown, 729 North 14th St., Friday, June 28th at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit onepercentproductions.com.