Lloyd Cole broke out on the Glasgow, Scotland scene in the mid-’80s, releasing a string of successful albums with his band, The Commotions, before embarking on a remarkably deep solo career. His 1984 debut record with The Commotions, Rattlesnakes, closed with a song titled “Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?” Twenty-two years later, another Glasgow artist would answer that question.
“Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” was the name of the lead track on Camera Obscura’s 2006 album, Let’s Get Out of This Country. It was written by frontwoman Tracyanne Campbell in response to Cole’s song and remains a favorite among Camera Obscura’s fans. This musical tribute was first brought to Cole’s attention by Teenage Fanclub drummer Francis Macdonald, who also manages Camera Obscura.
“Their manager sent me an email telling me about the song and wondering if I objected,” says Cole, laughing.
“We were so polite,” Campbell recalls. “I’d written the song and thought, ‘Maybe we should ask him first, to see if it’s all right? We don’t want to offend him.'”
“I was thankful it was great,” he says. “I think to have a song named after a song that you’ve done is almost as good as it gets, really.”
Both artists have new albums arriving this summer. Cole’s album, titled Standards, is a collection of original rock songs. Camera Obscura’s new record is called Desire Lines and features guest vocals from Neko Case and Jim James.
Cole and Campbell are acquaintances and fans of each other’s work. Under the Radar was able to listen in as the two chatted over the phone several weeks in advance of their new records.
Tracyanne Campbell: You’ve got a new album coming out in June, haven’t you?
Lloyd Cole: Yes, June 20-something, I believe.
Tracyanne: That’s the album called Standards?
Tracyanne: The first time I read that, I thought, “Surely he’s not doing an album of old jazz standards or something.” It’s nothing like that, is it?
Lloyd: No, it’s not. It’s new songs. I’m just being me again, with the title.
Tracyanne: Is that the fan-funded record?
Lloyd: It’s sort of fan-funded. My record company in Germany didn’t have a big enough budget to make the whole record, so the fans funded about half of it, and then to be honest, I funded the other half because we were completely under-budgeted.
Tracyanne: Were you overwhelmed by your fans’ generosity? Did you feel that you were under pressure to deliver something especially for them, or did you get on with it the way you normally would?
Lloyd: I think we tried to make it clear in the first place that there were no promises involved, that I was going to try to make the best record I can either way. But every now and again I do feel a bit beholden; I don’t enjoy those feelings. To be honest, on the one hand, I’m very thankful, and on the other hand, I’m not going to do it again.
Tracyanne: I can understand. There’s been quite a lot of that going on these days.
Lloyd: There is. At least I feel this time we were able to do it without a third party. We just did it through my website. Actually, without being a whiny old bugger, it wound up being a lot of work in the end to make sure the people who put money up front get the record before it comes out, because scheduling’s so tight. There’s all kinds of logistics…it’s a little frustrating when you’re a little cottage industry like I am. It’s a lot of extra work.
Tracyanne: And it’s not really the point, is it?
Lloyd: It’s not, no. But it’s a model that worked, and at the time we were making this record, and on the schedule I was on, it was probably the only way to make this record short of me taking a bank loan or something, which is not something I wanted to do. In retrospect, I might wish I had done that.
Tracyanne: It’s a weird sort of time, isn’t it? Fans are eventually coming in to the fact that we don’t all have big pots of English money to make records with. It takes a lot of money, and there’s not a lot out there that people want to give us to make records.
Lloyd: No, there isn’t. [A journalist] asked what I would change about the music industry, and I told him I’d charge more for albums.
Tracyanne: [Laughs] It’d be nice to get people to pay for them in the first place.
Lloyd: I think one of the reasons records are cheap is because there’s this feeling that 10 quid is a lot of money for a CD, where if somebody had seen me in my attic working 10 hours a day for 10 weeks just to write the songs before we started recording, it might change their mind.
Tracyanne: I totally agree. I think a lot of people don’t actually stop and don’t think about that 10 pounds. We’ll walk down the street and go to a bar, or a café, and buy a coffee and a cake or two pints of beer, and your tenner’s gone.
Tracyanne: With that tenner, you’re getting this precious thing, and people still believe that it’s too much, or it should be free. I wonder who exactly is to blame for making them think that in the first place?
Lloyd: I don’t think there’s a person to blame. I think it’s a confluence where things come together. It’s part of the way that technology and file-sharing happened at a time when there’s a generation of people growing up being able to get these things for free, and thinking now about why they should have to pay for these things when it was possible to get them for free. There’s a feeling that it’s just a digital file, and people forget someone had to work really hard to make that. There’s a disconnect between these things. If you can connect with the people who made the record, and their thoughts and the work that went into it, then you might think, ‘Yeah, 10 quid is really not that much….’ It seems like there’s no middle in music any more. It seems there’s a top and a bottom. There used to be a middle that our band was in for a while, where we were still well-known and sold quite a lot of records, enough to make a good living, but now it just seems like either you’re happening, or you’re a bottom-feeder.
Tracyanne: I often have a gripe about the price of our tickets, and it’s not because I’m greedy or want to have a huge profit at the end of the tour, but sometimes it seems ridiculous to me. I don’t know what our ticket prices are in the States, exactly, but I’m sure people are paying what they think they should.
Lloyd: The record I just made, people are saying it sounds similar to stuff I recorded quite a long time ago. It’s electric, and I’ve got a band. I’m anticipating getting on stage, doing my solo show, and having a few people yell, “Where’s the band?” I’ve already figured out I’m going to say, “Did you really think 22 pounds was going to get you a band?” [Laughs]
Tracyanne: These are the sort of logistical things…we don’t want to get on stage and give people a lecture, but it just doesn’t occur to them how you manage to do it.
Lloyd: Where are you touring first?
Tracyanne: We’re doing a week in the U.K., and then we’re going to the States. We’re actually doing our first support slot. We’ve never really supported a band before, especially not in the States…. We’re supporting She & Him…. We’re looking forward to it. It’s that weird thing, where if you’re not used to something, you’re a bit nervous about it. You’re the first band and you don’t know how you’re going to get treated.
Lloyd: They’re your label mates, right?
Tracyanne: No, they’re on…
Lloyd: They’re not on Merge as well?
Tracyanne: We’re on 4AD now. We were on Merge in the States, but that was back when our main record label was Elefant Records, a small independent in Spain, and we were licensed to Merge. We came to the point where we realized that if we didn’t sign to a British label and make a little bit more money, we couldn’t really sustain it any longer. It was as simple as that. This was several years ago, but it came to the fact that it wasn’t working financially. People are doing day jobs, and then they’re taking four weeks off to tour.
Lloyd: Some people would never imagine this. You can be on TV, and have that song… that was one of the biggest songs of the year. “Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?” now gets compared to your song, rather than the other way around.
Tracyanne: [Laughs] I just think you’re being kind about that.
Lloyd: Honestly! I just read something in The Guardian where I think the first thing they wrote, they mentioned “Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?” in respect to your song. It was a teeny blurb talking about my new single.
Tracyanne: I think I’d be a bit pissed about that if I were you.
Lloyd: [Laughs] I’m just letting you know.
Tracyanne: Are you listening to any sort of new music that you really like?
Lloyd: I sort of binge and purge. Usually when I’m making a record I don’t listen to anything at all, and then at some point in the year I start to feel guilty that I haven’t listened to a record in six months or something.
Tracyanne: That’s a funny thing. When you make a record and you get interviewed by people, they always want to know what you’re listening to. Usually I can’t stand to listen to music when I’m making a record.
Lloyd: I stopped doing it years ago. I also think that when doing music is your job…I can never just have it on in the background. If I put music on, it makes me listen to it. I can’t be working on something else while music’s on. When I put music on, it’s to listen to it, so I probably do it much less than I used to.
Tracyanne: I probably don’t listen to as much music as people assume I do.
Lloyd: Have you heard The Walkmen? The Walkmen are my favorite rock band.
Tracyanne: I’ve got a few of their CDs. I’m pretty sure we played a few festivals with them. I do like them. I’m trying to think of my favorite contemporary band…I really like My Morning Jacket.
Lloyd: Oh, yeah, me too! Except I can’t look at them. I see them and they don’t look like their music sounds.
Tracyanne: [Laughs] He sounds like an angel and he looks like… um…
Lloyd: He looks like a math rock band or something.
Tracyanne: They are quite rock live. He plays a Flying V guitar.
Lloyd: Do you like Beach House?
Tracyanne: I do.
Lloyd: My son’s 20 now, so he’s occasionally recommending music to me when he thinks I’ll like it.
Tracyanne: I remember being 20 years old and being just music-daft. It’s all I could think about, and that’s all I wanted to do. Is he at that stage now? Obviously, I know he’s played a few gigs with you.
Lloyd: He’s got his own band now, and they just played their first New York show.
Tracyanne: Is that where he wants to go, then?
Lloyd: He’s doing it. He’s on exactly the same schedule as me. After two years of university, he’s leaving to go full-time. But he started younger than me. He’s 20, I was 23. I’d already dropped out of university once before.
Tracyanne: I went to college and dropped out twice, and I guess I was in my early 20s before I thought this was really what I wanted to do. I didn’t even get the degree or anything like that. I guess it’s always a risk, but if you know what you want to do, you should do it. I’m actually expecting my first child now.
Lloyd: Oh my God.
Tracyanne: I know. [Laughs] I’m going to be six months pregnant when I’m touring the States. I’d ask you for advice, but obviously you’ve never been a pregnant woman, but maybe you’ve left a pregnant woman behind while touring.
Lloyd: When William was born, that was the only album I never did a tour for. But we still did a promo tour, so I was away quite a bit of time. I was around for the birth, and then I went away for the promo trip. He wasn’t talking when I left, and then I got back home and picked him up, he said “Daddy.” [Laughs] It still makes you almost want to cry thinking about it. It was fantastic. I think she’d been training him with pictures of me while I’d been away. But, no, I don’t know…. Maybe people will finally treat you nicely when you’re on tour, right?
Tracyanne: I hope so. [Laughs] And of course I’ll treat myself nicely.
Lloyd: Maybe the support slot is quite good, then. Then you’d play maybe a 45-minute set, tops?
Tracyanne: I think you’re right. That could be quite cushy.
Lloyd: The other good thing about playing support…. I’ve barely done it, but my good friend Jill Sobule does it all of the time. She says you play less time, but you sell more merchandise.
Tracyanne: That sounds great. [Laughs] The first thing my band said when we decided to take She & Him up on their offer is, “We can finish early and then go for a nice dinner.”
Lloyd: So you’ve basically got a couple of months, and then you’re going to be away from music for a while?
Tracyanne: It’s hard to plan, because I don’t know how it’s going to be. We can’t get stuck into the touring like we normally would…. Optimistically, I reckon we’ll do something early next year. I’ll have a few months off to try to adapt, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s a tricky thing. Obviously, I’m a woman of a certain age, and I do a certain thing for my job. It was a big thing to think about having a child…. I don’t want to sit here and think I have to give up music because I’m going to be a mother. I still have to do my job. We’re going to have to work it out and find a way to do it.
Lloyd: And you will do it. That’s one of the things to me that was best about having kids. You just figure it out. I found it was quite a good reason to actually do my job…. It almost helped, because you have to work to make a living, and sometimes you feel as an artist you should only do exactly what you want to do. But having a child really gives you a good excuse to say, “Well, actually, we have a very good reason to accept this offer. We’ve got to make a living and we’ve got to feed them.”
Tracyanne: I think it’s going to be overwhelming.
Lloyd: It will be overwhelming, but…there’s all these clichés about it, but you’ll be fine. You’ll find a way to make it work.
Lloyd: Now that I’ve got you here, I’ve been meaning to ask you for a long time. I’d like to have an instrumental mix of the song. Do you have one that you made so you could do TV shows and things?
Tracyanne: Yeah. I’ll make note of that and get it to you!
Lloyd: Because I was saying, when I play Vegas, that’s what I want to go onstage with.
Tracyanne: [Laughs] You could get onstage with that every night and it’d get a bit of a laugh.
Lloyd: I think it’d be a fun thing to go onstage to.
Tracyanne: All right, we’ll sort that out. We’ll make that happen. It’d be a pleasure!
[This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s June/July 2013 print issue.]
Publication: Under the Radar
Publication date: 16/08/13