Alex Cameron has just released his glorious debut, Jumping The Shark, via his personal internet website. In celebration of this, Happy sat down with Alex to discuss his debut solo album, lament the loss of the Hopetoun Hotel and review what happens to you when you watch Cheaper By the Dozen on repeat…
Illustration by Nina Faelnar
HAPPY: Your debut album is dropping very soon – how long has this album been in the works?
ALEX: I’ve been working on this one a while, I’ve been writing songs for it since about this time last year.
HAPPY: What’s the solo recording and songwriting process been like and how has it been different from your experiences with Seekae?
ALEX: The (songs on the album) are songs based on stories and events. They’re abstract in their own respect but they’re not necessarily dictated by the same fundamental ideas. When you make music that’s instrumental and with a philosophy that’s more to do with creating sound as opposed to telling stories it’s an almost entirely different process. I wanted this album to be based on experiences and tales instead of sounds – obviously there’s still sound in the music but it’s not based on trying to find or discover electronic sounds, it’s more about trying to communicate a tale.
HAPPY: What kind of tales did you want to tell in this album?
ALEX: It’s a mixture. Some of them are about me growing up as a child between the city and the New England area in NSW. Some of them are tales of suburban areas and the rural areas I grew up in and then you have the songs based on my experiences in making music and entertaining and being a performer. Then there’s the themes that tie them all together, like the constant state of fear and the sort of desperate nature of trying to avoid failure.
HAPPY: Is there anything in particular that you’re especially proud of on the upcoming record?
ALEX: I feel like I’ve been able to communicate a tale, quite successfully. I’m quite happy with what the record means and what the record says. There’s no ambiguity. I don’t have to sit and hope that people understand it because I feel like I’ve expressed myself quite clearly. I don’t have any reservations about what I’ve said and that’s good because I don’t feel that way very often.
HAPPY: You’ve been playing a few shows recently with your live band – what are some of your favourite places to play here in Sydney?
ALEX: I played at the Marlborough Hotel in Newtown. That was a treat, it was really pissing with rain and I was performing right up against a glass window that went straight out onto King Street. I performed a few songs with my drummer Laire Pickles and that was real good. I definitely felt like I was in the zone that Sunday night about 11pm and I felt like I managed to cut through a bit of the light. I enjoy heaps of nightclubs, I really used to enjoy playing at the Hopetoun Hotel very much. I still walk past the hotel every day and I see it in its sorry state with it’s boarded up walls and I think “That place was a good venue”. They used to support the young dogs coming up – I don’t know what compares today, I’m not sure anywhere really provides that support anymore. There’s a bit of sadness about that but there’s nothing you can do about that. You just gotta keep finding venues to play at and trying to put on your show.
HAPPY: You’re going to be releasing your album for free in MPEG Audio Layer III format on the website – what influenced you to go with that format?
ALEX: It’s only gonna be available for a limited time. I thought that that was the format that everyone was listening to, I was told that that’s how people listen to music. I’m providing my music to people with relative ease of access. I don’t even know if you can play any other format on your phones or anything.
HAPPY: On the subject of your website – what drew you towards the 1997 Geocities look? Did you produce it all yourself?
ALEX: Yeah, that was me and the producer of the album Fanny V. He learned to make websites and software in his software while he’s not producing records. I basically gave him all the material and we sat down and I said “lets make a website”. That was basically the best we could do. I honestly feel a little bit hard done by – Fanny said he was actually a lot better at designing websites than he is. I was under the impression that I was going to get a quite modern looking website and then I thought maybe that his experience in website making wasn’t quite up to date. As you say it looks like it was made with I don’t even know what software or what template he used but that’s how it is. People seem to be garnering some sort of entertainment value. It’s unique and that’s not a bad thing.
HAPPY: Also on your website it says you were a bit of a gun on the b-ball courts back in the day. Can you tell us a bit about your time on the high school team?
ALEX: Absolutely I can. I was selected to play in the High School squad when I was just about 15 years old, so I was playing with the seniors and the big lads from a pretty early age. Yeah, also I was selected to go over to the US and Canada to play in HS tournaments over there. I used to play point guard back then and I was quite tall and lean for a point guard, so back then my prospects were looking pretty good and I was considering becoming a professional player. But y’know, I was more of a shooter from the outside and I’m not really built for playing on the inside. I didn’t really put on much weight after high school and even though I was a capable scorer I had to stop playing simply because I didn’t develop as much as I would. I still enjoy and I still play basketball but obviously not at the level I was hoping I would when I was younger. It’s not necessarily a regret of mine – I still feel quite accomplished with what I achieved in basketball and I managed to be quite competitive in some successful teams. I feel quite good about that.
HAPPY: Yeah, you can’t complain about getting into the international leagues…
ALEX: Yeah that was great. You get to travel, you get to see the world and get a picture of it and realise that everyone else lives in a house like yourself…
HAPPY: Was that your first trip overseas?
ALEX: Yeah it was. I was 15 years old and I got on the plane back in the days before they had TV’s in the back of the seats so they just had a projector up the front playing Cheaper By The Dozen on repeat. It was a 13 hour flight and they just played the same movie over and over again. I had a discman back then, all my friends had iPods but I didn’t have one yet and when I was packing I accidentally picked up my sister’s CD case. I opened it up and all it had was a whole bunch of Michael Moore stuff and a whole bunch of Jack Johnson CD’s, so I didn’t get to listen to any music. Also the area where I was sitting smelt like rotting meat because someone spilt their food down the side of their chair so I was sitting there in this rotten meat smell watching Cheaper By The Dozen over and over again.
HAPPY: That literally sounds like hell on earth.
ALEX: Yeah but I got that experience out of the way and now I find flying quite bearable because that was so unbearable.
HAPPY: Good to hear! We’ve already touched on Fanny V, tell me a bit more about the rest of the guys you’ve been working with on the record – particularly Roy Molloy who I believe is your business partner…
ALEX: Yeah these guys are my guys. I’ve known Roy since I was about 5 years old when he moved into a house on my street. We didn’t really get along together at first – I think we both found each other to be quite odd, but our parents made us be friends and we kind of just spent heaps of time together. We also went to the same high school and lo and behold we became friends. We started hanging out more and we both liked the same kind of music – I think he was the first person to show me Lou Reed when I was probably about… I don’t even know how old I was. Then around about last year I was a bit strapped for cash and kinda struggling and Roy Molloy was the guy who gave me the helping hand and got me a gig, so I worked with him and we did all sorts of odd jobs. He became in a way my sort of manager just in general life – he got me a job in removals (which I was rubbish at) and then got me a job rolling dough at a pizza joint. One day I asked him if he wanted to come play sax for me and my band and that’s what we’re doing now, we’re making records together.
Fanny V is also an old friend of mine. I was looking for help with my computer on a whirlpool forum and he said that he had the parts for what I needed for a modem I needed to fix up. He basically came round and did the job and noticed I had a heap of instruments and he sorta just sat down and started playing keys and we started making some music together and then it all went from there. Him and his brother now play in my band and they play keyboard and guitar and we produced the record together. It all really happened from coincidence and just a bunch of people coming together and having the same thoughts and now we have a record! We’re playing shows and people are listening to us.
HAPPY: If you don’t mind I’d like to talk about Seekae for a bit – you’ve taken on a more vocal role in the band, do you think you’re going to move into being a vocalist for the band on some of the upcoming material?
ALEX: I think we’re going to be writing more with vocals in mind. There are certain skills I possess but I also don’t necessarily feel like I’m a master of any one thing and every time I make a record I want to be introducing something new, whether it’s a new skill or trying to find something that I can play. People don’t look at me and go “hey he’s that guy, he’s that drummer” or “he’s that guy that plays such mean guitar” y’know? Adding different skills to my repertoire on each new record might come across as me trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none, but it’s more to do with the fact that I think that by learning new instruments I’m able to write different sounding music, and I think that’s whats happened with the vocals. They dictated where my record went and I now feel like that’s something I can do now. There’s gonna be more vocals in Seekae, but at the same time there’s going to be new stuff in each of the records that I make. I know that’s a long answer to a simple question, but yeah, I think there’s gonna be more vocals in everything I do.
HAPPY: Are there any new artists you’ve been digging recently?
ALEX: I know it’s a shame to say, but I haven’t really listened to anything new recently, but you know that band The The?
HAPPY: The The?
ALEX: Yeah The The.
HAPPY: Yeah I know The The.
ALEX: Yeah I’ve been listening to those guys a bit, I’ve been listening to Alan Vega, I’ve been listening to Lou Reed.
HAPPY: Nice, so final question: What makes you happy?
ALEX: Those brief moments where you think that there might be potential for everything just to be okay. That moment where you think, “everything could just be all right”.
Jumping The Shark is out now.
Our lovely illustration is by Nina Faelnar. Nina is a 22 year old illustrator and graphic designer from Sydney, Australia. She enjoys illustrating crazy characters, with a cheeky punch to them. You can find a lot of her works at www.illustrationsbynina.com
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