Camera Obscura with Pony Up at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Friday (July 23). $12, advance $10.50. 416-598-4753.
The interview is already a half-hour late and I'm losing faith that it's ever going to happen. The message I get every time I try the number says the person I'm calling is "engaged" in another call. So even if Tracyanne Campbell, Camera Obscura's primary singer/songwriter, isn't there, somebody is, and I still can't get through. I'm starting to get a little irritated. Still, when, for the seventh time, I punch in the 15 numbers that will send my voice across the pond to bonny old Scotland, I'm not expecting the explanation I get.
The phone's picked up. A curlicued brogue filters down the line. "Hullo?"
"Hello, could I speak to Tracyanne? This is Dylan Young from NOW Magazine in Toronto," I reel off like an efficient parrot.
There's a pause as she absorbs the information.
"Oh, have you been trying to get through?" she asks. "I'm sorry. My mother called. I couldn't ring off. You can't rush a mother off the phone - you know what I mean?"
Of course, every pop star has a mother. Of course they do. They're forever thanking them at awards ceremonies and the like. But this isn't some token reference. Calling on the heels of the mom call makes the veneer of the music press pop interview feel particularly thin. In this context, the only right answer is the one that spills from my mouth most effortlessly.
"Sister, do I ever."
After a few minutes' banter at the expense of loving mothers, it's apparent that the subject isn't all that off-topic. Camera Obscura's music, Tracyanne's songs in particular, are imbued with the kind of naive lovelorn world-weariness that seems particularly suited to girls who still live at home with their mums, curled up in their rooms, brooding over Shirelles singles played on a Stack-o-Matic record player.
"Yes. There might be something to that," she says. "I really love that music from the 50s and the early 60s. It's funny how most of it is written from the perspective of girls who haven't had that much experience with love or being an adult but are wholly concerned with those things.
"But, you know, I wouldn't want anyone to think that it's something calculated I put into my work, something deliberate I'm doing. More likely I just haven't really grown up yet."
Grown up or not, Tracyanne and her cohorts manage to conjure some pretty mature balances in their music, referencing the boyfriend lament of 50s pop and the saccharin soul of 60s girl groups while achieving a distinct nowness in both the arrangements and the lyrics.
Of course, the wily folksiness and pastoral melancholy of some of their tracks - the Scottish thing - have prompted comparisons to those broguing brooders Belle & Sebastian. But that's more simplification than clarification, and Tracyanne's songs are marked by her own temperament and a whimsy that's a little too playful for the latter comparison.
"I've always liked the idea of songwriters like Carol King," she muses. "You know, how she would go to an office and just write songs all day, for the Shirelles, Bobby Vee or the Cookies. I think that would really appeal to me. But I don't think I could actually work like that.
"Sometimes I'm working on a song and I just know it's rubbish," she continues. "Other times, I'll have a song that I know I'm not going to be able to finish for years, or ever. I have one that's been almost complete for years - it has music, lyrics - I'm just not up to arranging it."
"Maybe I should let someone else do it," she says, laughing. "There are a few people I'd be willing to give it away to, but I can't imagine Bacharach would want to bother with us."