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California Snow Story
Back in the late 1990's, David Skirving was one of the main songwriters and guitarist for an up-and-coming band from Glasgow called Camera Obscura. But when their first album was released, David had already left the band to form his own, California Snow Story, a band that owed a lot to Camera Obscura when it came to their sound, while his former bandmates became more and more successful with each record they released. A couple of months ago, Letterbox Records released California Snow Story's first album, 'Close to the Ocean', the first sign of life from them since the Shelflife EP 'One Good Summer', released five years ago. We wanted to know what had happened since then, and also trace the history of the band, so we decided to ask David a few questions…
PB : What kind of music did you grow up with? At what age did you start playing music yourself?
DS : At first a lot of music from the 60's. My parents had a few interesting records... the Beatles, Astrud Gilberto, the Seekers and I also remember liking 60's/70's stuff from the radio.. things like the Monkeys, Beach Boys, Carpenters, the Shadows. I liked a lot of bad 80's music but I eventually started hearing really interesting stuff like the Jesus and Mary Chain, New Order, the Housemartins, and a lot of older stuff like the Velvet Underground. It sounds like a strange mixture looking at it now. I had piano lessons when I was 11 but didn't like it much and gave up. I got a guitar when I was 18 and at that age music was really important to me so I stuck with it.
PB : Did you play in any bands prior to Camera Obscura?
DS : I played in a band with two other friends - we all liked the Jesus and Mary Chain, all played guitar and all drunk vodka. No-one wanted to be the singer or drummer or bass player. It didn't last long for some reason.
PB : How did you join Camera Obscura?
DS : My brother told me about an advert he saw in a record shop. He was making a fool of it actually but I thought it sounded good! It was a band called Coolport who were looking for a lead guitarist who liked the Pastels, Stereolab and some other stuff that wasn't so good. I met them and liked them and thought Tracyanne's songs were really special. They wanted a new name though and I had always wanted to start a band called Camera Obscura - Tracy liked it too so it stuck.
PB : Why did you decide to leave?
DS : Unfortunately when things started happening for the band the atmosphere deteriorated and a lot of disappointing things happened. There was lots of petty jealousy, arguments and things going on behind the scenes. It got to the stage that I felt I had no choice but to leave. It was a shame but these things happen.
PB : Was California Snow Story formed after you left Camera Obscura, or did you form it while in that band?
DS : After I left.
PB : Tell me a little about that first EP, 'One Good Summer'…
DS : I'd written two of the songs while in Camera Obscura and they may have been on 'Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi' if I had stayed. One of them was the song, 'Snow in Summer', which was originally called 'Soon It Will Be Snowing' and was played by Camera Obscura at the Bowlie Weekender festival. The others were newer songs.
PB : What musicians did you work with then? I have noticed that none of them are playing on the album…
DS : I wanted to get some people together to record and found Anna the singer and Garry who played bass. They were nice people but weren't really into rehearsing. At that point in my life I was going all out to be in a successful band and wanted to play shows, travel overseas and rehearse a lot. But the others had other priorities and I kept having to turn down good opportunities. It got frustrating so I eventually started working with different people who had similar ideas about being in a band.
PB : What happened after that EP, and why did we have to wait for five years until we got to hear an album?
DS : I got ill. I found the whole experience with the band very stressful and just before the EP was released Anna left the band. I had a few other difficult things to deal with at the time and I ended up becoming very ill and was diagnosed with ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I couldn't do much for around two years but eventually I started getting better and made a full recovery. I'd been recording music again just for fun but then I met Sandra and we ended up finishing the record.
PB : What are your influences when it comes to music and lyrics?
DS : For music, some things are... the Wake, Stereolab, Yo La Tengo, early Aztec Camera, the Zombies, Bossa Nova, French pop, 60's girl groups... For lyrics... I've no idea. I tend to prefer lyrics that have some mystery or ambiguity rather than the story telling type of thing but I can't think of any example.
PB : How do you write your songs, music first or lyrics first?
DS|: Music first. Sometimes lyrics follow quickly. Also, sometimes I write songs and never write the lyrics and end up forgetting about them.
PB : Do you have a "regular" day time job, or can you make a living out of the music?
DS : I would have died a long time ago if I was trying to survive from music. Maybe lots of people will buy the new album though, eh?
PB : Is California Snow Story your solo project, or is it a "real band"?
DS : Neither. Or maybe both.
PB : What is the music scene in Glasgow like for a band like California Snow Story ? Do you see any differences if you compare today to five years ago?
DS : I don't know. We don't play often now for various reasons so we aren't really part of it. I have friends in bands in Glasgow and they seem very busy and have lots of opportunities for playing shows. So probably it's better now compared with the time I was trying to get things together with bands.
PB : Would you like California Snow Story to be the biggest band in the world, or are you happy where you are now?
DS : Strange question. I'd still like to be an astronaut or a professional footballer but I don't think about it much. I think people always want more success but in some ways I've acheived a lot more in music than I ever imagined so I'm quite happy.
PB : What are you currently listening to? Favourite albums?
DS : I'm mostly listening to old stuff this year. I've been listening to albums by Yellow Magic Orchestra, Roger Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends and Elliot Smith. Some new stuff I like are the Sunny Street and Tenniscoats and I'd also like to hear the new records by the Clientele and Taken by Trees.
PB : Finally, what does the future look like for CSS?
DS : It's difficult to say. I hope we can release something else in the near future though.
PB : Thank you.
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A songwriter and the one-time guitarist with Camera Obscura, David Skirvng's band California Snow Story have finally released their debut album 'Close to the Ocean' five years after their only EP. Tommy Gunnasrsson talks to him about the reasons behind the long delay and his musical career
Close to the Ocean - CD
Enjoyable, if somewhat predictable indiepop on long awaited debut album from California Snow Story, whose guitarist David Skirving was an early member of camera Obscura
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