Camella Lobo is anything but common. For almost a decade, the born and raised Los Angeles musician pushed the boundaries of her art through the electronic project Tropic of Cancer, becoming one of the main figures of the underground synth scene.
In the last year, Lobo wrote a lot of music, released an EP, toured in several cities across Europe and North America, all that with her unborn daughter. A few months later, she's still creating, still standing out, with a little more confidence and strength.
Your music is difficult to categorize. Some people call it dark electro, others cold wave. What’s your opinion about categories, subgenres and labels, in general?
Everyone hates being labeled, including myself but it's a necessary part of this. I do feel, however, that labels can obviously be misleading or suffocating or just flat out wrong. I try not to think about it too much but understand them as a tool people use to describe and orient themselves to a particular artist or scene. In the world of problems to have, being labeled doesn't seem all that bad as long as those labels give you the opportunity to travel to other places and play music to people who subscribe to that genre, subset or what have you. I appreciate being a part of many different genres. It makes what I do more interesting and allows me to experiment a little more than if I subscribed to one or the other.
In the last ten years, you’ve grown into a cult figure in the underground synth scene. Did this create any kind of pressure while writing your last release, Stop Suffering, in comparison to previous work? Did you change your creation process over the years?
I felt a lot of pressure with this last release but for different reasons. I generally feel pressure any time I'm writing music. However, this record was the first time I had written in a couple years. In those years I became almost terrified of beginning the process. I was afraid to fail mostly -- like maybe I had reached the end of my creative lifeline. But that turned out to be the exact opposite of how I felt once I started writing. I channeled that fear into focus and really tried to progress in a way I hadn't before. I took my time, which I generally don't do. There was no rush. I was very precious about these tracks and worked methodically to push them further than I thought possible for me.
You recently had a baby, after being on tour while being pregnant, with tour schedules like seven shows in seven days. Why did you decide to tour while being pregnant? Did pregnancy affect your touring habits or performances?
Quite simply, I didn't know I was pregnant until the tour planning was well under way. For a moment I considered calling the whole thing off and it was very stressful. But then I saw it as a really cool opportunity to, someday, tell my daughter about how she and I traveled all around the world together. It felt special. And like a really big challenge. Now we joke about it - she played Berghain before she left the womb. Not many people can say that.
But yes, the pregnancy made the late nights and the stage time a lot more difficult of course. However, when I was performing, I felt very powerful… Maybe because I felt like my daughter was present in a very meaningful way and that my life was changing forever. It was particularly amusing to see the look on people's faces when I came onto the stage. They were so surprised. In the end, however, everyone was so supportive and very sweet. I had fans who had seen pictures from other cities, actually bringing me gifts for the baby when we came through. That was such a loving and amazing experience I will never have again. Though it was tough, I'm so happy I went through with it.
What did you learn about yourself during that tour?
I learned I am stronger than I thought I was. I also became much more confident in myself and my presence while performing. Being under a microscope on stage when I was hugely pregnant felt very exposed. Mostly because I know that's absolutely not what people were expecting to see. But I very quickly began to embrace that feeling. Like, “Why can't I be up here like this?” Before we left for the tour I thought I would be nervous before every show wondering what people would think about me and my body (I didn't try and hide behind big clothing or anything like that) but after the first show I realized it didn't matter and I embraced who I was in that moment. Fortunately that confidence has stuck with me, even after having the baby.
No big news, the music industry can be a sexist world. Do you feel being a woman has an impact on your life as a musician?
Being a woman definitely has an impact on my life as a musician, especially now that I am a mother. There are a lot of expectations of me that I shouldn’t be touring or people just being surprised that I'm already playing shows and working on music. And those ideas are totally valid because they are things I think about myself. There is more guilt involved now but I want my daughter to see this part. Life isn't over because you are a woman and a mother.
Are there examples in your day-to-day life you can recall where you felt people have passed judgment on your actions?
Before I became a mother, the same old shit was there, that I know every woman in music faces — sound techs who think you don't know what you're doing and things like that. It was funny when I was on tour with DVA DAMAS a few years back, sound guys would actually approach Joe (from the band) about my set-up before they would talk to me. He wasn't even in the band! And then there was the guy who came backstage to tell Taylor (TOC's guitarist, which is a woman) and I that we looked much better with our hair down. It's all that little stuff that really wears on you. But for every person who does or says something offensive, there are usually five more that respect us, so I don't let it get me down too much. I just try and be very conscious of myself in this and to stand up to it.
What can we expect from your show coming up at the Phi Centre? What are the main differences between a Tropic of Cancer record and a live performance?
We love Montreal so we're really happy to be playing there again. Hopefully the show will go smoothly and we'll be able to have a meaningful exchange with the audience like we did the last time we were in Montreal. Live music always sounds different than it does on the record and we've made an effort to build out the sounds in a lot of ways, so hopefully it will be more engrossing and enjoyable than listening alone at home.
What’s next for Tropic of Cancer?
I'm not entirely sure right now. We are committed to some festivals here and there through the rest of 2016 and into 2017. Other than that, I'll be writing a new record and raising my daughter.
Tropic of Cancer will perform at the Phi Centre on June 18, alongside Montrealer Kara-Lis Coverdale