Making a new solo album after a lengthy gap was hard enough for Isobel Campbell. And having label problems only compounded the issue for There Is No Other, whose ambient cover of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” is premiering exclusively below.
“I really wasn’t expecting it to be that long,” the Scottish singer and multi-instrumentalist tells Billboard about the set, due out Jan. 31. It will be her first solo album in more than 13 years and her first new release of any kind since 2010’s Hawk, her third collaborative effort with Seattle mainstay Mark Lanegan. There Is No Other was actually mastered by the end of 2016, but her label at the time closed and she had to go through legal gymnastics to acquire the rights and sign a new deal with Cooking Vinyl.
“It really took forever,” says Campbell, who began her career with Belle & Sebastian and started her solo career during 1999 as the Gentle Waves. “It was like, ‘Is it happening? Is it happening?’ It took me two years to make the record, and then it just sat there. It was really quite nasty and quite hard. I’ve never experienced anything like that before and hopefully never will again. Thankfully that part is over now.”
Campbell and her husband, studio engineer Chris Szczech, made There Is No Other in Los Angeles, Syracuse and in a wooden cabin in the Catskills, working with players from the Soup Dragons, Teenage Fanclub, Father John Misty’s Band and more. Taking its name from an ancient Mayan greeting, the 13-song set addresses Campbell’s move to the U.S. (Los Angeles is now home) and a variety of other themes, but she acknowledges it took her a minute to get her creative bearings back after the Lanegan projects.
“I loved writing for his voice,” Campbell explains, “but when I started writing for (There Is No Other) I had to reacquaint myself with me — ‘What do you mean I’m not a big American man?’ OK, I’m British. I have a little pipsqueak voice. What can I do?’ It just took a minute to decide what I wanted to be — and then I said, ‘Well, it’s just got to be me. It’s just got to be true to that. I don’t know what that will be like, but let’s see…'”
“Runnin’ Down a Dream” is the album’s sole cover, and Campbell notes that “whenever I do a cover song I don’t really choose it. They just kind of choose me…It’ll just be all of a sudden, ‘Oh, I’ll do that.'” She started working on her version of the Petty song back in 2012, gradually finding a way to put her stamp on something that’s become an established favorite in his canon. “The lyrics are kind of mysterious and poetic and I could just related to them, somehow,” Campbell explains. “I know it’s a rock anthem, but it’s incongruous to what I do, so I had this idea of having more of a psychedelic version and using more synthesizer to set the tone.” And had things gone according to plan Campbell’s cover might have been out while Petty was still alive.
“I was sad about that,” she says. “It was such a shock, really. I didn’t think he would be the next to go — no one did, I’m sure. I just thought he would be around for a lot longer. I remember before finishing the record, we had a little cabin in Woodstock where we were mixing and I remember watching the (Petty) documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream and thinking about how great he was.”
Campbell kicks off a tour to promote There Is No Other on Jan. 28 in Leeds, U.K., and has dates in Europe slated into mid-February so far. She also hopes there won’t be another long gap before her next batch of new music. “I’d love to,” Campbell says, “but it’s just whether the forces that would assist me to do something like that will come into play or not. I hope they do, but it’s kind of like pushing a boulder up a hill. I can’t do that. I’ve never done it, so I don’t think I’ll start at my age.”