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Isobel Campbell Q&A

The Former Belle & Sebastian Member Goes Solo

Many know Isobel Campbell as a member of the melancholic Glasgow outfit Belle & Sebastian. Her departure from the band was a disappointment to many but her new solo career has hopefully filled the gap for her devout fans. Her second album, Ballad of the Broken Seas is a chiaroscuro effort with Mark Lanegan (Queens of the Stone Age, Screaming Trees) filling in the shadows. Isobel candidly talks with SF Station about her collaboration with Mark, the cyclical nature of the music world and more.

SF Station (SFS): When you first started thinking about Broken Seas was there a theme or a sense of direction?

Isobel Campbell: The two words that I kind of said to Mark (Lanegan) were…I really wanted to make a classic, kind of timeless record. But I just kept on thinking those two words in my head -- timeless and classic.

SFS: Those are pretty heavy words.

IC: I know, but I think that's maybe because that's all my favorite music -- it's like that. So maybe that's partly the reason. I think on my last solo record someone had said to me, "God, you know that could have been created years ago." And I never even thought of it like that but then after they had pointed that out to me I was thinking, 'Well I suppose that's quite good', but it's a little bit dangerous to be fashionable, you know.

SFS: What songs are you most proud of on Broken Seas?

IC: I'm proud of it in its entirety. Some albums everybody has the same favorite song but with this album different people are saying that different songs are their favorite.

SFS: Do you have a favorite song or album you're listening to at the moment?

IC: Well, today I was making a compilation CD for the tour and I was thinking to myself, 'I think "Chestnut Mirror" by The Birds, and I was thinking -- shit -- when people ask me, why do I always forget that song? For years and years and years "Chestnut Mirror" has been such a great song. It's really trippy and sad, and the imagery is great, it's just really good.

SFS: Do you ever think about what the future of music is, the direction it might be going?

IC: Yeah, it's strange, I think about stuff like that a lot, and talk to my friends a lot about that because a lot of them are musicians too. It's definitely interesting. I think it just changes really. For a start, I don't think anyone can ever really own a song anyway. You know, when I think of Michael Jackson owning all those Beatle's songs…and I know he does, and he makes probably millions a year from that.

Philosophically, I don't think anybody owns songs. I don't think record companies necessarily own songs, I don't even think a person sometimes that writes a song particularly owns that song. I think anyone that listens to a piece of music and connects with it, then it kind of belongs to…anyone that digs it. So I think it's possibly going to get harder for musicians to make a living making music. But then again, it was hard many, many years ago when they had traveling minstrels and stuff. So things change all the time but then nothing really changes. So it will just be how it goes. Certainly it's not like the 80s when people were in excess and people were getting money thrown at them. I don't know, for some reason I'm not really worried. What do you think?

SFS: I'm not sure; I'm kind of young, I was born in the beginning of the 80s. But I guess I feel like in the past there have been themes and it seems like that is where we are in music right now, I don't feel like there is any one new kind of sound coming out that hasn't already been heard in the past.

IC: Yeah, I know, it's strange. And also with the Internet there is so much music out there but not all of it is good. It's strange and probably always has been strange. Even just creating something very personal and emotional for payment, that's weird. There's so many conflicting things with what people like me do that it's just a bit bonkers. I don't know, it makes me want to often, just kind of, I don't know, be like a cleaner or something.

SFS: How did you first become interested in becoming a singer/musician?

IC: It kind of picked me; I was always really moved by music. When my grandmother used to sing to me when I was kid I used to really love it, adore it, and get really excited. When we would have school assembly I would be really into singing with all the other kids, it would really excite me for some reason. And then we started music classes at school I had a very strong feeling that this was something, this passion that just kicked in. I pretty much always kind of knew that, it was always very special to me. I even have vague memories of seeing Blondie on the top of the pops when I was about 5 or 6 or something and just really loving it.

SFS: In 1963 Hank Williams had about 16 songs released that year honoring him Do you think there is someone around right now that has that kind of influence?

IC: Well I think Hank Williams was one of the best songwriters. I think he was sort of the first original type of punk before there was punk. The only person that immediately sprang to mind was Bob Dylan. I mean, poor Bob Dylan because I think he hates it. I think people just love talking about him. He has this thing that he says if he didn't write the song someone else would. He said there are ideas up there floating around just to be sort of picked by. I mean he's very clever, I'm sure he didn't just reach up and get a song out of the clouds.

Isobel Campbell will be coming to the states on her first ever solo tour on March 8th at the Café Du Nord.

Her album, Ballad of the Broken Seas will be released on V2 Records March 7th.