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Isobel Campbell

on taking a break - (and her return from the musical wilderness)

By • Apr 22nd, 2020 • Category: Feature

A career break is often the excuse for a much-loved star vanishing from the public eye – Beyoncé and Adele just a couple of famous examples.

Former Belle and Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell similarly decided on some time out from music. However, getting back into the business hit a snag due to legal wrangles with her previous record label.

“It felt like I’d retired,” Campbell sighs. “Or I was in prison. To be told I could not release the record completely broke me and I started questioning everything.”

However, that album, ‘There Is No Other’ has finally appeared.

“If you’re lucky to live long enough, there are always going to be peaks and troughs,” she says.

That philosophical approach is no accident. Indeed, the album’s title comes from an ancient Mayan greeting that Campbell discovered while embracing the art of meditation

“In Lak’ech Ala K’in means ‘I am another yourself, or I am you and you are me,” she explains. “It’s easy to feel separate, but we share the human experience, so we’re interconnected.

“That said, there’s a pushback to that – why were these [business] people doing all this to me?”

It seems like an age since we last heard from the Glasgow-born vocalist, and indeed Campbell’s most recent recordings were her collaboration with Mark Lanegan – the partnership oft-referred to as “beauty and the beast”, the indie songstress contrasting wildly but successfully with the Screaming Trees frontman and grunge icon.

However, the duo came to some sort of natural end after three well-received albums.

“We never really spoke about it, but towards the end of the (final album) tour there was this mutual feeling that we’d both be doing something else for a while.”

Which led to the voluntary part of her career break – moving from Scotland to L.A, the ‘City Of Angels’ referenced on her new release. And another partnership, this time marriage, to recording engineer Chris Szczech – “there would be no album without Chris,” she says.

The move across the pond wasn’t without emotional turmoil; indeed, another song on the album, ‘See Your Face Again’ was inspired by thoughts of family back home. “Looking back, I think a lot about moving to LA was related to my grandmother dying six months earlier in Scotland,” Campbell recalls.

“After the initial honeymoon phase of moving, I started struggling with intense homesickness,” she admits. “I think a lot of the album has
a displaced feeling – moving away from family is brutal.”

And it seems that the singer still hasn’t completely adjusted to her new surroundings. “Los Angeles is such a weird and wonderful place,” she says, “seductive yet overwhelming… there’s a cutthroat vibe here at times. I don’t know if I’ll be an immigrant forever.”

Before settling in California, Campbell toured the USA with new partner Szczech and their two dogs, and piecing together what would become the new album on the way – enlisting old Scots indie pals including Soup Dragons guitarist Jim McCulloch and Teenage Fanclub’s keyboard player Dave McGowan.

Come 2017 she was ready to return to the world of music.

Unfortunately, the lawyers for her former record label weren’t, wrangling over the rights to the songs.

She sang with the Jesus and Mary Chain during this time (on 2017 album ‘Damage and Joy’, and live) – “I loved that, it kept me going for a bit,” she smiles.

Finally, Campbell was able to release the record, via indie Cooking Vinyl. And for someone who has notably worked with the likes of Snow Patrol and Bill Wells, regaining her independence was an important next move.

“The main thing with this album was to find my own voice,” she says. “A record without reference points. Any influences were subconscious. Even if what came up was strange or odd, it was just me.”

And she has no regrets over the amount of time taken in finally getting her release out there.

“I’m always late for absolutely everything!” she laughs.

“My whole life, I’ve wondered, what’s the rush?”

‘There Is No Other’ is out now – more at isobelcampbell.com.

This article originally appeared in the Montrose Review.

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