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One of the pleasures of seeing bands in small venues (when they’re good) is that you get to witness how much they enjoy playing with each other – which was certainly true of Alex Cameron and his gang on their most recent visit to London. In amongst a slick delivery of the latest album, Forced Witness, were plenty of banterful asides, whispered knowing eye catches and asides made while sweat poured and Stella Artois spilled.
Such synchronicity is hardly surprising given that frontman Alex and saxophonist / business partner Roy Molloy have known each other since they were 5, when Alex was sent round to play with Roy because he was lonely ( “don’t put that in” (sorry, Roy)). That they wouldn’t tell me the name of the band they had when they were 17, or their worst lyrics, also speaks of a deep, artistic bond that means some ten years later, they’re more on it than ever.
Cameron himself likes character, starring on his first album cover ‘Jumping the Shark’ as a Scarface-esque bruiser. For Forced Witness the physical performance may have changed, but the album delves deep into various personalities and identites, unpacking as it does ideas around gender, specifically the ‘Alpha’ males of rock and roll, and the wide world beyond. And although the video of ‘Stranger’s Kiss’, a record that features Angel Olsen, Alex Cameron and Jemima Kirke play with sexuality and identity on screen, the best and most surprising expositions are most definitely to be found in the lyrics.
Co-produced with Foxygen’s Johnathan Rado and recorded partly in Las Vegas (“a completely rational and sane place”) it’s a record to pay attention to.
Read Twin’s interview with Alex Cameron (guest starring Roy Malloy) below.
Where do you get ideas for your characters?
A lot of it is dialogue with people that I’m on the road with. Someone like Mclean Stevenson who is a photographer from Australia. I worked in a government legal office working with victims of corruption, so a lot of my process is to do with taking that skill of being an assistant to an investigator; what I is a breakdown or a study of a story that I’m interested in.
Do you have a favourite one?
On the new record I really like Country Figs. My car broke down on a highway, it was me and Roy and our two ex-girlfriends and we got towed. That whole song came from a conversation with a tow truck driver.
How do you come up with melodies to support to the character?
I just try and focus on whether or not it’s a good song. The melody is quite natural, I’m kind of drawn towards them. I’m more interested in the stories and the melodies, they come together after a while. You have to be patient, and I tend to let things happen over time.
Do you find yourself looking at people on the street and get a sound to them?
Um no, I wouldn’t say so. I’ve written songs on the bus before but that comes more from absentmindedness. I do a lot of song writing when I’m walking and when I’m on public transport.
Some people write very confessional lyrics and you choose to write through the lens of character, but how much of yourself do you put into it?
I’d like to think that if you get a sense of moral awakening then that’s me trying to put some humanity into the characters, even if they are bastards or misguided. I wonder about the process of everyone having a bullshit detector, I’m fascinated by that. Some people have a strong edit before they speak and others just speak based on their emotions,without contemplating the fact that they’re an animal. So I think a lot of stories are just me wondering about certain circumstances, and I just try and let the characters take me to where they want to go. Often that’s somewhere decrepit because when I’m writing it feels like I’m writing a tiny world where someone can behave, that I’m not in control of; I’m just there. Part of it is just based on the flow of emotion and not so much trying to ruthlessly understand something and then examine it in retrospect.
Was music the most instinctive form of doing that to you?
Most of my song writing comes from words I’m constantly taking down; long sentences and utterances, lines, poems and things like that. Then I’ll find the ones with the right cadence and the right syncopation that fit with certain melodies I have recorded as well. I write short stories, but I felt that there was no way for me to access that industry. Some of my favourite authors have been more responsive to my records than they ever would be to a story.
What was it like starting out in Sydney?
Sydney was really hard. Not in a knocks way, but it’s not the place to write music with a sense of realness to it; it’s very much a paradise over there. I don’t think Sydney is the place where groundbreaking music happens. The only way for me to make a living was to leave. Sydney has been taken over by investor money, it’s corporate. It doesn’t has any nightlife. You’d have to go up against the laws and the corporations to really get a subculture going.
ENTER ROY MALLOY
Hello Roy. How did you meet Alex, and how did you get into the saxophone?
I met Alex because we went to stay at friend’s when I was kid, and that was two doors down from Al’s, so we lived next door to each other when we were 5 or 6. We met each other because his mother made him come and play with me because she thought that I was lonely. But I wasn’t lonely. Don’t print that I was lonely.
And the saxophone I came across because the school had a program where you could rent them, and I thought Lisa Simpson was pretty cool so, that’s how it happened?
Have you ever been tempted by another instrument?
I guess between the ages of 16 – 25 I didn’t think that the saxophone was suitable for rock music so I was playing the bass guitar. Then 4 or 5 years ago we started doing this live thing with the horn, and it just came into it I guess.
So were you guys in bands together when you were younger?
Yeah we played in a band at the end of school –
What was it called?
(Inaudible shouts from Alex)
That’s a secret (laughs).
EXIT ROY MALLOY
Hey again Alex. I wanted to talk to you about the video for Stranger’s Kiss and the way in which you play around with binaries in it, and also in the album more widely. Do you think that music has a specifically female or male sound?
Well the whole record was kind of intentionally made with the intention of subverting those masculine qualities in pop rock music. And so when Jemima came with the idea with this video that also challenged that it was kind of natural and perfect.
The song was produced in a way that was really strong, but the lyrics suggest a lot of denial of weakness. I certainly view the record of being a direct challenge to those tropes of masculinity, those male-dominant forms of song. Like that song Jesse’s girl I always think is pretty interesting – it’s oestensibly a song about a woman but it’s actually a discussion between two men. It doesn’t even mention Jesse’s girl’s name.
Interestingly when Angel came into the studio and laid down her vocals it became really evident that she was the strong one in that world. So we made her the one that was really not giving a fuck about the breakup, so we made her tender but brutal – which is exactly how I like a character to be.
This interview was originally published on Twin.