'After a cancer battle and two babies, we're back in big picture'
Ahead of a gig in Belfast next week, the keyboard player of indie band Camera Obscura, tells Edwin Gilson how after a few tough years they’re back with a new sound.
Carey Lander, keyboard player for Camera Obscura, admits she and her bandmates are "slow workers". The Scottish indie-poppers have released just five albums in the 18 years they've been a band, a ratio the endearingly nervy Lander seems a little sheepish about. "God yeah, we've been going quite a long time I guess," she laughs. "Perhaps that rate of output is the reason we've managed to keep going so long though!"
In fairness to Lander and co (singer and primary songwriter Traceyanne Campbell, Gavin Dunbar, Kevin McKeeve and Lee Thompson), who come to The Empire in Belfast on May 25, they've been faced with some severe personal obstacles recently. Upon starting to write and record their latest album, 2013's Desire Lines, Camera Obscura's progress was halted. "It's been a difficult few years", explains Lander. "I had cancer, which was obviously a really big thing to navigate. I was very ill for about a year, and the band waited for me."
As soon as Lander's condition improved, work on Desire Lines resumed. The end product is, perhaps oddly given the circumstances, "a more controlled, laid-back record" than the group's earlier work. One reviewer labelled it as 'zen country soul'.
"It would be nice to think our newest album was our most complete!" chuckles Lander, before fondly remembering the "live, messy energy" of previous records. While each Camera Obscura album has its merits, Desire Lines arguably received the most critical accolades. Just as the post-release tour wagon was rolling though, the group encountered another delay.
"Traceyanne was on maternity leave for a while", says Lander. "Also, Gavin our bass player had a baby in January, so it seems like the season to have a baby! It can be difficult for them to juggle both duties. We've been doing the band for almost 20 years now and we've been lucky nothing like this has happened before now, because it can be tricky."
Has Traceyanne considered writing songs about becoming a mother? "If all the songs were directed towards a newborn baby I think it would make for a strange record indeed," smiles Lander.
Originally from Kent, Lander moved to Glasgow when she finished school at 18 because of the appeal of the city's music scene. She became friends with a few of Camera Obscura's members and was soon asked to join the band. "I think they just wanted somebody that was basically alright at keyboard, and that they liked," she says.
It took Lander a while to build confidence in the group, and her bandmates would always be telling her to turn up the volume on her instrument. "I couldn't stand to let anybody hear what I was playing," she laughs. "Now though, I'm very bossy within the band."
Despite a loyal fan base and support from the late John Peel ("we went round to his house for dinner a few times") Camera Obscura have, as Lander puts it, "largely avoided the hype that some bands receive". "We do have some ambition to be bigger, to sell more records, for it all to be a bit easier for us, but we're realistic about it," she adds. For Camera Obscura, and Lander especially, it's just a relief to still be making music and touring. "As you get older, life becomes more complicated and things always seem to get in the way," muses the keyboardist. "We all had the will to pull through such difficult things, though."
- Camera Obscura play at The Empire Music Hall in Belfast on May 25. For details, visit www.thebelfastempire.com