Isobel Campbell


Formerly of Scottish and much-loved Indie act Belle & Sebastian, it’s hard to believe that singer/songwriter Isobel Campbell is now on to her forth solo studio album since leaving the group. Released only weeks ago, ‘Ballad of the Broken Seas’ is a full collaboration album with former Screaming Tree’s and Queens of the Stone Age front-man, Mark Lanegan. With Campbell’s angelic voice combined with that of the raspy growl of Lanegan, these songs make for a haunting and uneasy collection, all of which are beautifully sounding, but with underlying dark currents throughout these tracks. Musically, it provides a journey starting from the most soulful of Simon & Garfunkel and concluding somewhere around the style of legendary C&W star Johnny Cash. There’s a few out there believe that this collaboration was more than fated, as the entire project came about as a result of a few chance meetings between the duo. Campbell wrote and recorded song parts in her native Glasgow then e-mailed the work to Lanegan in order for him to finish the job. The final result is close to sensational…which seems like a good point to pin down Isobel and find out her thoughts and feelings towards the final product and to recount some of those hazy band member days…    

Hello, how are you?
I’m ok, my tounge is about to drop off though, I’ve been doing loads of interviews today.

What else have you been up to?
Well Monday I went to the dentist, Tuesday went visiting my granny, Wednesday I got my hair cut. Met my band that night, bonded with them ’cause we’re trying to get ready for the tour, then woke up Thursday with a hangover. I’ve been trying to prepare for the tour, with getting loads of CD’s together, trying to write lyrics. I seem to have this indescribable need to always be at my computer at the moment, it’s really annoying…

Can we talk a little about your background?
Yeah, I’m Scottish born and bred, from Glasgow. My family lived in Thailand for a while and I spent a short time in boarding school in Edinburgh, oh and I’m twenty nine.

Do you come from a musical family?
No, not at all. I was always just a tinkerer with instruments, so I just kind of picked things up.

So going back to Belle & Sebastian…were you involved from the beginning?
Yes, the best time.

Did the name Belle (& Sebastian) come from Isobel?
D’know, maybe. I think that it was based on a short story that the singer had written. There was also a kids’ TV show called that. It was about a little boy and his dog. The boy was called Sebastian and the dog was called Belle (laughs)

You were you mainly a cellist in the band. I’d noticed that it wasn’t until the third album that you got credited for singing?
No, I was a cellist but I sang the whole way through, that was the first song I’d actually written.

Can I ask what made you decide to leave them?
I was always kind of aware that I wanted to follow my own path and I kind of knew deep down that the time had come. I think you have to be involved in things for the right reasons. I mean, I hope I never have a job that I’m just in it for the money. Things have changed and I began following my own heart. I knew at this point that I had to start giving my own music more time.

It must have been a scary time for you?
It was terifiying. I found myself coming home and making huge pots of soup because I was convinced I was going to end up in the normal working world.

So it took until your third solo album for you to release it under your own name. Why was this?
It was a confidence thing I think. I didn’t see any reason not to put it out under my own name. It didn’t seem right to use the old name and I wasn’t imaginative enough.

Ok, moving on to the ‘Ballad of the Broken Seas’?
It came to me aswell. I wrote a lot of the songs in January 2004, sitting on the floor in my living room and it just kind of came to me. I knew that would be the title of the album.

I think it fits nicely within the way the record was produced?
Yeah, that was my thinking behind it as well.

Do you have any idea when you are writing, ideally who’s voice would best sing the male parts?
Well, first of all it was written as an instrumental on ‘Amorino’. The only reason it was going to be an instrumental track was because I couldn’t be bothered writing any words for it, but then I think it was a Lee Hazlewood thing, but he’s uber famous and getting older now, maybe some one like Shane McGowan or Tom Waits or someone like that. Leonard Cohen is another one who I always loved as well.

So did you go to the ‘Queens of the Stone Age’ concert with the idea of approaching Mark Lanegan?
When I first wrote the song ages ago, I got my press agent to send it to Mark. Months later he called me up and sang it to me down the phone. It wasn’t till after then that he called me again and said he was in town with the Queens of the Stone Age and asked if I wanted to come and see the show, so I went along kind of intrigued. Remember this was someone who I’d never met before and had only known because he’d sang the down the phone to me. I didn’t really know anything about him or ‘Queens of the Stone Age’. I’m more open minded to music now, but there were years when I was just blinkered, especially towards modern music, because for me I was always into more classic stuff, I suppose in my early twenties I was a bit of an indie snob. I only really listened to ‘Orange Juice’ and ‘The Smiths’. I missed out on a lot, so when I went to see QOTSA, I didn’t really know what to expect…

So what was your plan? Was he only going to sing on the one track?
After he had recorded the track I phoned him to thank him and he said in passing that if I ever wanted to write for him again, that that would be amazing for him. The penny didn’t drop for a while…


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