Camera, ready for action
With killer tracks, celebrity fans, a top-drawer management team and no shortage of imagination, class and X Factor, I Am A Camera is one of the most interesting outfits operating today. Simon Gage caught up with the gay male half of the band, Ian Watt, to talk Lana Del Rey, gay pride and serial killer chic.
So, the name – It’s the first line of Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin, that Cabaret was based on, isn’t it?
Yes. That whole phrase is all about standing back, not being involved: basically it’s saying that you’re open to everything. And that’s our approach to writing our songs. It’s more storytelling. We were watching 60 Minute Make-over recently, we are obsessed with that show, and what fascinates me is the sister-in-law who’s not getting her house done and is looking around the finished article thinking, “It’s alright for you. What about me?” And we write songs about her. In some ways I find it easier to write about that than, “I’ve been in a nice relationship for nine years.”
Your influences, a bit like the Smiths, all seem to come from outside music: there’s Warhol in your single Factory Boys, Cocteau, Isherwood -
It was one of the first conversations we had, the thing about influences. I don’t know how it came up but I was saying I loved Cocteau, and I love the drama of people like the Smiths and how it was like storytelling and then we got onto talking about early John Carpenter movies. It’s something we’re both fascinated by. Some days we’ll both walk off and check things out to see if there’s anything we can bring back and write about. We love all the Bauhaus stuff so we went and looked at that exhibition at the Barbican. The logo for the band we wanted to look a bit art deco-ish but clean and modern. I think it is actually quite Bauhaus.
And Cocteau comes up in your first video -
The video for our first single Endless Storm is from the Cocteau movie Orphee and we wrote the song after seeing that. We don’t want to write songs about finding love on a Friday night so this is about a woman who is deaf and very dramatic who goes around causing violence and destruction. I think we’ve all been absolute shits at some point ? walked over someone, broken someone’s heart, caused that sort of emotional destruction ? and Francesca thinks about that when she sings. It’s more exciting to be colder than to just pour your heart out like a 16-year-old.
So, how did you and Francesca [Ross] meet in the first place?
She was in this band called Tiger Picks and they had done half an album with Richard X and their management got in touch with me, because I was remixing things, and they were like, we’d like you to work with them. So I went up to see them and I spent my whole time looking at Francesca thinking, “I wonder if I can steal her”. And when I didn’t get a call back from the management I thought, “F**k it. Game on!” Then she contacted me and said do you mind if I come down and record with you, so she started coming down and we would do stuff in my home studio and she would sleep on the sofa. I don’t know what it was but everything clicked.
Duos don’t have a great track record, do they? Though you do remind us a bit of that band Nu Shooz [who had a big hit in 1985 with I Can't Wait] -
I love Nu Shooz! That is such a compliment! The thing with Nu Shooz is it’s all so clean, it reminds me of Scritti Politti: there’s not much going on musically but it’s all so crisp and clear, I’m a massive fan. As for duos, what about Eurythmics? And Dollar, don’t leave them out. Pet Shop Boys! Hello! I don’t think anyone gives a shit as long as you write decent pop songs. I know what you mean that people think duos aren’t really a band but I don’t really think it matters.
How do you work together? Is it blissful harmony or are you at each other’s throats, because it could get quite intense with no other band members around?
We’re both headstrong but we work well together. She knows what she wants and we have our home studio and basically come in and play some chords. The only time we ever argue is over a track. We know each other well enough to know when to pack it in. We get competitive with each other but in a good way. And we make each other laugh. So when we’re stressed we just laugh about it.
Do people ever assume that you’re a straight couple?
It has happened. But the Nomination for Worst Actress Playing Straight would definitely go to me. Even in meetings people have said, “How is this going to work for you as a couple?” Erm – But she moved down to London about six months ago and we got new management. It’s actually my boyfriend, who’s been in the music business for years, and Felix, remember the little boy in Madonna’s Open Your Heart video and on the front of the Face? He wrote Sugababes’
Overload and worked with Amy Winehouse and he saw something we’d done online and just called us in for a meeting and we were like, OK.
Has anyone mentioned playing down the gay thing or are we over that by now?
It’s not an issue in any shape or form and never has been. We’ve never even spoken about it. I’m very out and proud so there’s no way I would ever go along with anything like that but to be fair, we’ve had a lot of meetings with record companies, they all know, and it’s never been mentioned once. It’s not like we’re a boy band, after all.
And is that right that you used to work in [bear bar] the King’s Arms in London?
Yes, but I haven’t worked in the King’s Arms for 11 years! Since I worked there I’ve been remixing Ciara, Beyonce, Lana del Rey et al.
You’re actually quite close to Lana Del Rey, aren’t you?
I suppose so. I met her at a party before her song Video Games when no one knew who she was. She walked in immaculate like Priscilla Presley, looking amazing, smoking a really long cigarette This was before she was signed but I checked her out and was floored by what she was doing and I told her all about I Am A Camera and when she was back in London her management got in touch and said, “Lana wants to come to your gig at Hoxton Bar and Grill, is that OK?” So she came to our first gig and it was all amazing.
Your latest single, Factory Boys, is about the whole Warhol scene, isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s about these guys from that scene known as the Dupont Twins. I was obsessed with that whole Factory thing and read so much about it and their story just popped into my head. They were waiters at a party, one of Martha Stewart’s very first jobs apparently, and were beautiful boys of about 17 and somebody there liked the look of them and because they were in tuxedos waiting tables they got into Studio 54. They looked like they’d just been at some smart dinner party and so they said they were the Dupont twins, Dupont being the name of a very rich family. And that’s how they launched themselves into society, so there they were, just 17 and rocking it, hanging out with Warhol. They actually contacted us recently. We had just written the song and they were on the phone going, “We love the song!” The guy who fronts the Andy Warhol Foundation also heard it and now we have the backing of Andy Warhol’s estate.
It’s like the third track you’ve put out. Are you just going to put out tracks or will there be an album?
We definitely want to be an albums band. I want the Asda mums to be buying that album. If I like a track by someone, I always buy the album. I’ve never been into buying random tracks. I don’t know when we’ll be ready for an album. We have quite a few tracks that sound like Factory Boys but then there’s Endless Storm, which is very different. We want to do an album that’s like a journey. We’ve just done a strange Velvet Underground-sounding track with strings and everything, which I love.
The look of I Am A Camera is also very strong, isn’t it?
I hope so. We did a shoot recently and the stylist was like, “So, what’s your look?” and I was like, “I want to be serial killer chic. I want to look sophisticated, with killer lines but like I might behead her at any minute.”