“If Dave Grohl was really the musician’s musician, he’d stop taking up 2 hours on the main stage at festivals and promote my new album.” Alex Cameron – singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, styler, profiler and one of Australia’s reigning expat eccentrics – tweeted the previous sentence in July. It’s a sharp gag in its own right – especially when so many have grown increasingly tiresome of the Foo Fighters’ omnipresence – but the fact it could easily be taken at face value and even taken seriously, speaks volumes about the kind of character Alex Cameron has built for himself.
After breaking out from electronic shapeshifters Seekae, Cameron has emerged as a provocative and thoroughly entertaining solo figure. His latest LP, Forced Witness, is further testament to that – a dark, intriguing record that builds even further intrigue to Cameron’s own private universe. It invites you to take a closer look, but you never get all the way in – and so the fascination continues. Cameron will be performing at the 2018 Laneway Festival alongside the likes of Anderson .Paak, Wolf Alice, Mac DeMarco and Slowdive. Prior to that though, Cameron checked in with Music Feeds, giving a guided tour of Forced Witness – as well as letting us know what’s happening with Seekae and explaining how he wound up in the hottest place on earth making the music video of the year.
Music Feeds: Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the new solo record, let’s get a brief update on Seekae. You played a one-off show in March of last year opening for The Jesus and Mary Chain, and there was talk of potentially making a new single at the time. Do you foresee the band being something you and the other guys will return to at some juncture?
Alex Cameron: We were just together last month, actually – we were all in the UK at the same time. We worked on a couple of new songs together. It’s an old friendship, but we’ve never really felt too bound to a structure as a band. We’re all doing our own stuff at the moment, and we live in three different countries. We still write together, though, and we still talk a lot. I mean, we’ve been making music together since we were 17 years old. No matter what our lives are going through or where we are, we still have this really great understanding of one another. It’s totally fine to have some time apart. I think we’ll definitely put out another record – it could even be as early as next year.
MF: In the meantime, your most recent focus has been on your solo work – in particular, the Forced Witness record. Tell us a little bit about how the record sequentially came about. Were you working on a collection of songs with a through-line in mind, or did the songs present themselves one at a time?
AC: It’s definitely theme-based. There’s definitely a thread that I follow. I started writing this record back in 2014 with the Vizintin brothers, Pavle and Ivan. We were writing a bunch of songs together, and while not all of them made the cut there were two really strong ones that stood out. We all went our separate ways after that, and I went out on tour. Those two guys were instrumental in this record becoming a formative idea, though. I wanted a record of true, harsh love songs that had an unforgiving filter to them. They were electric.
They were focused not necessarily on distancing the voice of the song from life’s harsh realities, but instead focusing on them; bringing them to the surface.
MF: It brings up an interesting point that, despite the music solely bearing your name, there are a lot of collaborative elements to your records – Forced Witness being no exception. What do you feel is the key to your collaborations being fruitful? Do you feel it’s the contrast in your ideas or your similarities that will get a song over the line?
AC: I think it’s about having perspective. For me, it keeps songwriting really exciting. It’s about fine-tuning what you already have. You’ll write a song, and maybe you’ll have some uncertainty about it. Then one of your amazingly-talented friends will play it back to you on the piano – and coming from them, it’ll help you realise ‘Yeah, that is a good song!’ It’s about distancing yourself from ownership. If I’m bored of my own creations, then it becomes exciting again when people I really appreciate and respect come on board. It becomes a party – it’s really exciting when you connect over an idea, making one another smile. It’s companionship, and it’s necessary if you’re trying to make a record that feels like a family.
MF: The biggest – and certainly most unexpected – collaboration comes in the form of Brandon Flowers, who praised you online for the album Jumping the Shark. Not only did Flowers do a co-write and a feature on ‘Runnin’ Outta Luck,’ you also have five co-writes credited on the new Killers album, Wonderful Wonderful. Theirs is a background that is obviously very, very different to yours – what did you get out of that particular experience of working with one of the biggest names in 21 st century pop music?
AC: I learned that there is a real work ethic involved in being a songwriter of that calibre – a band of that calibre, even. These guys work so hard at what they do. They’ve hit the jackpot in terms of talent – Ronnie [Vanucci] on drums, Dave [Kuening] on guitar and Mark [Stoermer] on bass. They’re giants. They just have something, y’know? As for Brandon, he’s so ambitious. He’s not even close to being satisfied with his creative output – he is always making things. It made me realise that the chase for that kind of song never really ends. I was really impressed by how hungry they still are. It gave me the encouragement that I needed, the motivation for my own music – in 10 years, I know that I’m still going to be chasing it, just like they are. They’re one of the biggest bands in the world, but they’re not just driven by wanting to be successful – they want what they do to be good. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, too.
MF: There’s already a real sense of ambiguity as to what an Alex Cameron song might be – you’ve never necessarily worked within any particular gridlines or anything like that – and although they’re both identifiably your albums, Jumping the Shark and Forced Witness each have key differences in their attributes. Is that something you’re intentionally moulding and shaping with each record – to ensure it’s, at least to a degree, separate as an entity?
AC: I would really like to always be in charge of what I do. I feel no pressure to be loyal to an album that I’ve made in the past – even if it was as recent as three, four years ago. My sound and the production is always going to be new and different. I hope that my voice and my lyrical content will be the one thing that always carries. I have such fun making different things. I don’t get bored too easily, but if I’m repeating myself then I really start to question what I’m doing in the first place. Even with Seekae, you can see that we changed every record. I embrace change. I know that there will be people that only like an earlier record or a certain sound, but I’m having too much fun doing my own thing to ever drag my focus solely over to them.
MF: A lot of the focus on Alex Cameron as a figure is presenting him as a character of some sort. A lot of the online presence and lyrical content can often push beyond the barriers of irony to have people genuinely questioning whether something is real or not. It’s quite similar to Kirin J Callinan, in a lot of ways, whom you’ve worked closely with in the past. How do you go about setting boundaries for yourself – indeed, if there are any?
AC: I think the real curveball, at the end of the day, is that I am actually living this kind of life. Roy [Malloy, Cameron’s co-writer and “business partner”] and I are who we are. We do have this spontaneous kind of thing… I don’t know how to describe it, but we make each other laugh, and that inspires us to write together. I think a lot of my online presence came with the realisation that I could treat the internet like a book – I could update it day by day, page by page, telling the story that I want to tell. It’s really about accessing that kind of ability to merge reality and fiction by using and implementing a medium. That’s what the artist in me is really focused on. The human side of it… I mean, that’s kind of just who I am. I just try and present it as a little more artful and dextrous.
MF: On the note of Kirin, it would be a missed opportunity to not talk about ‘Big Enough,’ which has had its video spread like wildfire and metamorphosise into this viral, memetic absurdity. The video looks like it was the single most fun video in the world to make – but, given the hellish nature of these sort of productions, one can assume it wasn’t all cowboy hats and dancing.
AC: [laughs] Sort of. My parts of the video were shot out at the Joshua Tree in California. I was in New York, and I flew over to California for the shoot. Translating the heat to Celsius, it was probably about 45 degrees out there. Literally, the planes couldn’t go into the sky because it was so hot. At one stage, one of the places we were shooting was officially the hottest place on earth that day – that’s not an expression. It was just me, the crew and Molly Lewis – she’s a whistler, and she whistles in the song. Kirin was supposed to be there, actually – but, Kirin being Kirin, he ended up being on the other side of the world. We had to figure out how to do our parts separately, but I think we got there. We were able to finish the shot over two days, and it was definitely a very taxing experience. I was really happy with the end product, though, and I got a lot out of the experience. I think it actually ended up working better, having the two of us shot separately. I think the contrast really reflects on how different we are as people – and those differences being the reason we work so well together. It was a lot of hard work, but a lot of laughs as well.
MF: It must have been frustrating having you and Kirin in different parts of the world. At least you had Jimmy Barnes available for both shoots, what with him being in the sky and all.
AC: Exactly right. Man, I hope one day you get to experience what it’s like to have Jimmy Barnes screaming at you from the sky.
‘Forced Witness’ is out now. Listen here. Alex Cameron plays Laneway Festival 2018.