alex cameron understands what's important

Putting the mysterious Australian musician under the microscope and getting to the bottom of his wonderful music.

by Mclean Stephenson
17 February 2015, 5:06am

Photography McLean Stephenson

Alex Cameron is a curious musician from Sydney making compelling synth-heavy pop songs that transport you to dark and funny places. He is a complex character with a smooth vocal delivery who shares life's lessons via his perfectly-formed, emotion-laden, tracks. Alex is all sorts of contradictions: his music is moody but works well on the dance floor, he's evidently handsome but does his best to look less-so in press shots - nothing about Alex or his music is predictable and that's what's so great about it.

As one third of the band Seekae for almost ten years, his solo project is something of a departure musically - it's less earnest but somehow more serious and with the recent release of his first LP, Jumping the Shark, we now have a full body of work to go by. 

We caught up with Alex for a photo shoot and sought his lengthy takes on some of life's important questions.

Alex wears Vintage suede jacket and felt cowboy hat available from Route 66. Bonds cotton singlet and Wrangler Flares

Each of your songs contains a small story. Who are your storytelling influences?
I am influenced by anyone who writes about tragedy. The smaller the tragedy, the better. Also, the more oblivious a character is to their own tragedy, the better. Denial is also important. Harry Crews did it well. He's dead now. Randy Newman writes with a sense of oblivion. George Saunders occupies voices so comprehensively. David Foster Wallace understood the science of it, he decoded denial and oblivion. Leonard Cohen seems able to transcend it.

The music is important too. I mean without the words. You take Cohen's 80s records and the music sounds like the voice it was written for. It all connects and makes sense. The words don't sound like horseshit because the whole thing is seamless. It fits together and it's real. 

Know Don Walker? What he does, that's the real document. It's like he anticipates a connection with people in the future. Like he is singing to them. Explaining things. That's the point for me. To thread a needle and project it forwards. I'm talking to people in the future when I write. Trying to convey a sense of what it's like to exist. Open up the conversation. That's why truth is so important - because when they hear me in the future and I'm dead, I don't want nobody calling horseshit on me. No sir.

Alex wears Ray Ban aviators, Bonds cotton singlet, Vintage suede jacket from Anaconda and Adidas trainers

You create fictional personas for yourself and then you live them, effectively turning yourself into a fictional character. How stable are the boundaries between your art and your life?
The boundaries are not stable and I don't necessarily want them to be. I use my writing to say things I couldn't say ordinarily. Different voices have different tones and they make saying different things possible. My lyrics and performances are me, my girlfriend, my brother, my parents or my close friends. That's what I know, so that's what I become. The lowest things in my songs are mostly from me. I find myself hard to look at, so I use writing to confront the shameful, disgraceful parts of myself. It's a therapy.

From your perspective, which guys have got style?
For me it's quite clear that true style comes with power, confidence and control. Control over, say, an armed force. Look at Gaddafi, Arafat. Those guys were assholes, but they had style. It's flamboyance combined with conservative hatred. It's a disregard for anything outside a single field of vision. Confidence.

Or control over, say, a listener base. Take John Laws. You think that guy is sitting on the fence? No sir. He didn't earn himself that gold mic and publishing deal by wallowing in the grey. You want to wear retro hair plugs, lots of gold and drink JD and coke in the morning, you need to be in charge. Even Willie Nelson. He stopped wanting comfort from home and started celebrating life on the road. The life of an outlaw. A trucker. Speed demon. 2,500 miles and counting. With plaits.

Most people get it wrong by thinking that looking good is about what you wear. It isn't. It's about attitude. Some of the most stylish motherfuckers out there can't dress themselves for shit. Just look at Mickey Rourke. The man looks fantastic. You wanna look good, you gotta earn it.

Alex wears Vintage suede jacket and hat available from Route 66, Bonds cotton singlet and Wrangler Flares

There seems to be a trend with music acts these days - they get signed before they play a show and they announce a world tour before they release an EP. Then they put out an EP and two weeks later nobody cares about them anymore. Why is this happening? 
It's shallow. Uninteresting. Global. Contagious. Inspired by stress and dropping numbers. Disposable. False. It's certainly a problem for a lot of people. But it's not my problem. I mean that earnestly. That has not happened to me so I don't find it to be a problem. I think these bands gaining global attention from one song are just one hit wonders. Except they don't sell that many records anymore. They'll do a lap and then have to figure out their next move. It's awful and uninspiring because it has no depth. There is no story. They're just young and attractive and happened upon a thing that people like.

Fame and money are poor motivations for writing music. In reality, people only bought music for thirty years, and then they stopped. And now we have a new generation of musicians - my generation - who never got to experience the fame or wealth complaining that it isn't there anymore. I don't have an issue with it. I've never sold many albums. But I get by.

You play a lot of shows: shows in French retirement villages, on roadsides in Texas, on luxury fishing boats. You do graveyard shifts in clubs in NY getting paid in food and a floor to sleep on. Do you get lonely out there? 
I was once very lonely in LA. I was by myself staying in an apartment owned by a rapper and his masseuse partner. They had notes of inspiration scribbled and tacked all over the place. I was made to feel so lonely that I cried. No tears, but a very physical wailing. And at the top of the pain was a separation and detachment from all the things that I'd loved in my life. But at the bottom of the pain was a sense of excitement and satisfaction. Like a pinch to clarify that it was actual sadness. I was laughing and wailing at the same time. It was painful but at the very least it was real. I find there is a surreal nature to stability. I can't believe it. I don't believe in stability. It seems fake. It could be instinctual. Like a fight or flight thing. There are ways through it. For instance, after I left the rapper's apartment I had the opportunity to sleep in a downtown car park in my caravan. And I had to hold my backpack close on account of there being a man doing laps of the car park peering in through the window. I had a job on that night at a dive bar called 'The Ham & Eggs Tavern'. I made sure I sweated twice as hard for old mate doing laps. For the masseuse loving rapper. For my loved ones who think I'm a monster incapable of feeling. I take all the lonliness and fear and put it into the job. That's how I manage it.


Text and photography McLean Stephenson
Styling Britt McCamey

Alex Cameron