Secret Thirteen Interview - Tropic Of Cancer


Somewhere between raw romanticism of Joy Division, stark shoegaze fairytales of Lycia and cold aesthetics of minimal wave lies the melancholically beautiful sound of Tropic of Cancer. The woman behind this project is Camella Lobo, LA resident, who previously collaborated with Juan Mendez (widely known as Silent Servant) and now performs with Taylor Burch (from garage / lo-fi / goth formation Dva Damas).

Tropic Of Cancer sound is quite minimal - moody guitar drones float over pulsing coldwave beats, while Camella's dreamy voice merges with the whole atmospheric soundscape, whispering tales about love and our fragile existence. However, many sonic layers exist here and the Tropic of Cancer sound is indeed close to ambient or drone. Every track is a dark and abstract symphony.

Camella spoke to Secret Thirteen team about different aspects of her art, creativity and influences.


You issued several releases in Downwards label. The label is in a kind associated not only with post punk / coldwave, but also with techno scene. How do you relate your music with that? Does electronics / techno influence your sound in some way directly or indirectly?

The relationship between Tropic Of Cancer and techno music is quite clear when you consider Juan Mendez, who is a techno producer and electronic artist, was a founding member. Outside of that, I really appreciate and value the attention Tropic Of Cancer has received in the darker, underground techno scene due to that fact. To hear Tropic Of Cancer in a club being mixed with some dystopian-sounding techno track I have never heard before is really refreshing.

For me personally, the darkness and industrial simplicity of minimal techno is a big influence (and will continue to be) on the music I now make on my own. It is, however, somewhat counterintuitive for to me to work with a beat beyond 90-100 BPM, so I have to really push myself to create that intensity on my own. I have to push myself to make fast-paced music, but I love it. I typically like to just drone out.

What does your title refers to? Is it Henry Miller novel or geographical term related to Sun's position?

Nothing, really. I just liked the way it sounded at the time.

Your music is somehow nostalgic, melancholic, but at the same time very innovative, abstract. How do you see yourself in relation with time? Do you draw more inspiration from past, present or future?

It is nice to hear you say the music feels innovative and abstract. As far as Tropic of Cancer also feeling nostalgic, the influence and inspiration in my music is unconscious. I draw more inspiration from the past, both lyrically and musically, but I don’t think I have the technical skills or musical know-how to repeat the past even if I tried. Essentially, the music I am making brings together all of the sounds I love in the only way I know how.

As far as melancholy, it is the only theme that comes naturally to me. I think some people feel happiness or maybe even release anger when making music. I am not a particularly sad person, but for me making music is a release of sadness and most of the time is centered around paying tribute to people who have passed away in my life, both literally and figuratively.

Your new release will soon be out. Could you give a hint what we can expect there? And what about the full-length? Can we expect it in the meantime?

"I Feel Nothing" was a special collaboration with Belgian artist's Ward Heirwegh’s imprint Sleeperhold Publications. It includes three, original tracks from Tropic Of Cancer on one side of the EP and a vinyl etching of a photo by Portland photographer Miranda Lehman on the B-side. She also provided the photographic imagery on the sleeve of the record. It’s really beautiful.

The Sleeperhold release was intended to be viewed as an art piece, which gave me the opportunity to try some different things with the music. I wanted it to be more of an in-home listening record that could be experienced from beginning to end and to be understood as a cohesive story that culminates into the final track. The result was a lot more somber and abstract than I expected, but I am happy with that – and especially the working relationship I had with Ward at Sleeperhold.

In reference to the full-length release, it is forthcoming on Blackest Ever Black and will likely be available early 2013.

Those long repetitive chords in your songs are sometimes quite close even to drone or ambient soundscapes. Do you see your compositions as more abstract pieces or do they have some specific message? If so, what? And what mood do you try to convey with your sound?

I would like my compositions to lean toward abstract and loose in structure, however my natural inclination is to give them something to hang on to – something to drive the experience in different directions and create a variety of emotions. I don’t think there is ever a specific message in each song – they literally come to life on their own and in the moment. Maybe it just has something to do with the way I am feeling at the that point in time, or emotions I am subconsciously attempting to understand. The mood is usually presented as dark, but it never seems that way at the time. I am actually surprised when people refer to it as gloomy or sinister, although I suppose it can be. I would rather that people felt like it was peaceful and calming and not so much downtrodden or distressed. I hope that somehow there is a light that still shines through there.

Describe the general process of creating your song. Having in mind the fact that Tropic of Cancer is one-woman project, how does the sound differ when you perform it live?

I never used to think about how the music would be performed live. Now, with the experience of playing live several times, I do consider that a little more. However, I don’t ever want that to color what I am creating. I don’t want to be limited by how it will translate on stage. It is always a delicate balance.

If anything, I think the sound is a little more sparse live and, of course, you are always influenced by the limitations of sound in a venue or not having enough people to play every piece in each song. I have to be pretty creative when it comes to adding or taking away certain elements in order to still make sure the live experience is true and hopefully still impactful.

As you previously collaborated with Juan Mendez, how and why Tropic of Cancer became your own solo project?

Quite simply, time became an issue. Juan has many other projects, so it was a good opportunity for me to work on my own and explore where things could go with just one person. Needless to say it was, and still is, an amicable creative parting.

What are the topics of your lyrics? What is their place in the song? Or do they act more like an additional instrument?

The topics of my lyrics mainly deal in loss, grappling with mortality, love and all of those bleeding into one another. I have never put much emphasis on whether they can be deciphered literally, or if they simply accentuate the mood of the music like an instrument would, yes.

Even though it is a bit silly questions, but how you would describe yourself in terms of gothic subculture? Do you feel part of it?

I don’t really know how to answer that. Mostly because “goth” is such a broad term today. So, I might say I feel a part of a subculture, but which specific subculture that is, I am not sure. There is not just one. I think it is nice to identify with and be a part of many scenes, whether that is goth, shoegaze, minimal, weird electronics, techno or whatever. I really do not say I am a part of "this one thing". But if people from each of those scenes enjoy my music, I think it is wonderful.

The visual part of your project is quite strong as well. Does it come from the same inspiration source as music?


How does the place you live (Los Angeles) influence the sound? Do you feel some connection with this huge city?

I’m not sure if the city directly influences the sound of Tropic Of Cancer. Maybe in ways that are too miniscule or even too broad to pinpoint.

Being away from LA and for a few years living in the Midwest, ironically, made me feel a lot more connected to this area, mostly because I missed it immensely. When I moved back here it was as if I never left, but also as if someone pushed the ‘reset’ button for me creatively. Living on a peninsula, I am literally surrounded by water and that makes me feel calm and inspired. I am sure that has more of an influence than Los Angeles as a city itself.

What emotions and feeling are important to you when making music? How do you try to convey them?

I do not really plan to have a certain emotion or convey a certain emotion in the music. It all kind of happens in the moment. The sounds I naturally connect with are dark and low, which are usually associated with sadness. I go into somewhat of a trance-like state and things surface that I do not really expect – like I said earlier – I usually fixate on people who have passed on in my life and it feels very mournful, but also like I am reaching for their light and trying to bring it back out into the world. It is always a pretty emotional experience for me personally.

What part of your life does music constitutes? What other things do you enjoy besides making (or listening to) music?

I would say I am at about 1200 with music in my life. The other 1200 is writing for work, being ‘busy’ on the Internet, reading books, petting my animals and spending time with my family and other people important to me.

What are you main (non)musical inspirations?

I read a lot, but of course, not as much as I would like. There are several works and authors I revisit often for inspiration. The themes I can only simplify in my music are elaborated on by writers such as D.H. Lawrence and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay or Jim Carroll. One of the tracks on the new Sleeperhold EP ("A Feast") is actually a backwards recitation of Arthur Rimbaud’s "A Season in Hell". Although I have tried to stray from being overly grandiose and melancholic in the themes I am inspired by and present, it’s impossible to not keep going back to his words. He is merciless.

More about Tropic Of Cancer: website - facebook

About Author

Paulius Ilevicius is a Secret Thirteen journalist, editor and occasional DJ focusing on more dreamy and melancholic soundscapes. Born in post-industrial town of Pavevezys, currently he lives and works in Vilnius, Lithuania.