When Isobel Campbell couldn’t find anyone in her native Scotland to sing the low part on a song for her upcoming Ballad of the Broken Seas, the ethereal-voiced singer reached across the Atlantic and connected with one of rock’s deepest, growliest voices: former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan.
The collaboration began with a single song, but, pleased with the results, the two agreed to extend their partnership over the course of a full-length album. “I just really loved Mark’s voice,” says Campbell, a former member of Belle and Sebastian. “For a while, I’ve been really obsessed with Johnny Cash, and Mark’s got that kind of voice. But then also there’s sort of an otherworldly element to his voice as well — just a bit of a psychedelic element to it — which I’m really sort of bewitched by. Our voices go together pretty well — night and day, really. Because I was in a group before, I enjoy it most when I get to sing with other people.”
Due in September, Broken Seas features what would seem to be a strange pairing, given the contrasting sounds favored by Campbell and Lanegan’s previous bands. But Lanegan’s sound was particularly well-suited to the darker tone of Broken Seas. “I wrote a lot of the stuff in January 2004, and there’s hardly any daylight in Scotland then,” says Campbell. “Christmas is over, and all the fun times are over. So I was writing these quite dark songs.”
Campbell has also cooked up a second album, the folk-leaning Over the Wheat and the Barley, targeted for stores in January. Recorded with former Soup Dragons guitarist Jim McCulloch, the LP also features a guest spot from former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha. “I was in Virginia last summer for about three weeks, and I bought the Harry Smith anthology, and this record was really influenced by that,” says Campbell. “It’s like half-and-half: some new songs, and some traditional songs. I’ve loved folk music for decades, and I just wanted to do something stripped-back and see how it would sound.”