Having recently announced the January release of her new album There Is No Other with a video for the track “Ant Life”, Isobel Campbell today shares “Running Down A Dream”, a reimagining of the Tom Petty track and the only cover version on the LP, exclusively on Billboard, who noted the track to be “ambient”. Of the track Campbell says: “I grew up listening to Full Moon Fever in my Dad's car. On repeat. I had no idea what it was back then, just knew that I loved hearing it. The lilting laidback voice floating from the speakers made absolute sense to me. It painted a picture of America and the West long before I’d ever go. I’d visualise and dream of wide open spaces, nature, freedom and this alternate kind of life. All from my Dad’s car. When I recorded ‘Runnin Down A Dream’ the poetry and mystery of the lyrics were really speaking to me. I wanted to give this version a hypnotic dream like feel.” Click HERE to listen. To accompany the release of There Is No Other, available 31st January via Cooking Vinyl, Campbell will play a number of show across the UK and Europe.
That was Campbell’s age when she first emerged, as a founder member of indie royalty Belle & Sebastian. Going solo in 1999, she called herself The Gentle Waves for two dream-folk albums before two more expansive records under her own name. But it’s 14 years since her last solo album, and Campbell’s much better known for the trio of albums (2006-2010) of brooding torchy Americana she made with America’s favourite grizzly crooner Mark Lanegan – a Beauty and the Beast scenario turned on its head since Beauty was calling the shots.
Campbell subsequently moved from Glasgow to Los Angeles, got married to studio engineer Chris Szczech and got down to making There Is No Other. But whilst she has fought fiercely to control her own destiny, she’s met resistance from outside forces, most notably the label/legal complications that has held up the album for three years.
A new label deal for Campbell in 2014 heralded a new beginning and the start of a brilliant adventure. The couple criss-crossed America several times with their two dogs, recording in locations from an insurance office in Syracuse and a wooden cabin in the Catskills to more traditional Mant Studios in LA, mostly on their own but sometimes calling on a few pals: guitarist Jim McCulloch (Soup Dragons) and keyboardist Dave McGowan (Teenage Fanclub), plus Elijah Thomson (Father John Misty) and multi instrumentalist Nina Violet (Willy Mason, Evan Dando, Marissa Nadler).
But when her record label suddenly closed; it took Campbell a year to take back the rights to her album, another year before she signed to UK indie Cooking Vinyl and a further year before all legalities were cleared and schedules organised. “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, feeling very reluctant and shying away from everything. But if you’re lucky to live long enough, there are always going to be peaks and troughs.”
But here’s the album at last, taking the name There Is No Other from an ancient Mayan greeting that Campbell discovered while embracing the art of meditation - a mindful way to take away stress. Several tracks chime with the album title, such as ‘Rainbow’, a blend of dreamy bossa nova and crunchy electro-rhythms, to address respecting other people, the exquisitely sparse ‘Just For Today’ inspired by the five precepts of Japanese Reiki, and the swooning, country-soulful ‘The Heart Of It All’. “We’re living in such divisive fear-mongering and intense times that it feels good to focus on healing and the underlying unity of all things,” she says.
There Is No Other reverberates with other themes too, such as Campbell’s new home in America, which inspired the album’s bittersweet intro ‘City Of Angels’. “Los Angeles is such a weird and wonderful place, seductive yet overwhelming,” she notes. Vibraphone and strings underline ‘Boulevard’, Campbell’s reaction to LA’s homeless crisis and rich/poor divide. ‘Ant Life’ finds her recoiling from the hectic pace of life in US cities, from its malls to the highways: “All over, in fact, while I’m exceedingly slow, always late for absolutely everything! My whole life, I’ve wondered, what’s the rush?”
Fortunately, America has been life-affirming too. Such as on the autumnal ‘Counting Fireflies’ and the album’s sole cover version, Tom Petty’s ‘Runnin’ Down A Dream’, the signature guitar part replaced by a gently throbbing synth, the lyrics perfect for Campbell and Szczech’s cross-country travels, “workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads.”
Finally, there’s ‘Below Zero’, musically as tender as There Is No Other gets, but lyrically tough: “Tired of all the bullshit / Playing nice / Shadow boxing / Skating on thin ice” as Campbell shows her survival instinct, to not let the bad guys win. Running down a dream, and finding her true voice. There is No Other couldn’t say it any better if she tried.
There Is No Other will be released 31st January via Cooking Vinyl. Album artwork and tracklisting below: