Cameron Avery has just released his debut solo project, Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams on the Anti- label. While it sounds nothing like the neo-psychedelia of other Tame Impala affiliates, the multi-instrumentalist, who is the Australian psych band's touring bassist, is candid about band leader, Kevin Parker's impact on him.
When not on tour with Tame Impala, it's various touring members have always been involved with other projects. Avery was in Pond, Allbrook/Avery and The Growl. Avery has benefitted and learnt much from Parker's staunch work ethic, and unique production skills. However, since relocating from Perth to L.A. he has become part of an inner circle of musicians and expat community, that includes his friends from The Last Shadow Puppets, Alex Turner and Miles Kane. He spent some of last year traveling with them, opening for them as they toured in support of TLSP's second album Everything You've Come To Expect. Grainy iPhone footage recently surfaced of him at a karaoke session with the pair, joined by Lana Del Rey.
In sound, Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams is closer to the baroque pop of TLSP with a nod to the '70s sound favored by Father John Misty. The whole album was made over three years with Avery tinkering, in a tiny garage down the road from his L.A. home. He was nursing a broken heart at the time and trying to find love in a town where true love can prove elusive.
While his ruminations on matters of the heart, remained intimate, the sound grew to include string orchestrations, arranged by TLSP collaborator, Owen Pallett. Much of it was recorded with concert master, Eric Gorfain's string section. Known for his soundtrack work, Paul Cartwright also contributes on two of the nine songs featuring strings.
Avery has succeeded in making an album that he's always wanted to hear. One that calls to mind crooners like Frank Sinatra and jazz balladeer, Johnny Hartman, but lyrically astute and pegged for a modern audience. Highlights include the swooning "Dance With Me; " the brutally honest "Wasted On Fidelity;" and the lovely "Big Town Girl." Where he pines: "Never had the time to wait around on a dame/ If I knew we could make it, I would wait around for Jane/ Would I suit her better/ Than that dark blue sweater/ Probably not." No prizes for guessing who this one that got away is; the fact that she has a penchant for dungarees should be a dead giveaway.
In "Disposable," he turns the tables on himself. A man about town, he can just about have any one he wants but wants what he can't have. And so he pleads for a chance, even if just a quick dalliance: "Throw me out like the others do/ I'm useful /But disposable." On "Watch Me Take It Away," he is decidedly over being strung along. He threatens in a mood that channels Elvis Presley, circa 1970, Las Vegas. It's sparkly, white jumpsuits; still at the peak of its prowess but prone to unpredictability. Avery snarls: "This ain't a take your time/ sip your lime and soda/ kind of offer, babe, " and as the drum beats madly, "... so watch me take it away."
In San Francisco, next week, for his headlining show at Rickshaw Stop, we spoke to Avery one morning from his L.A. home. We asked, if he will tour with a string section; how the album came together; and how Parker continues to inspire him.
AXS: You once said that Kevin Parker thought you everything you need to know when it comes to producing – how so?
Cameron Avery: He has that hardworking, uncompromising nature: I watched him as he did Innerspeaker, Lonerism and Currents. When I first started recording The Growl EPs, Kev gave me an eight-track one day, and said: 'Just record yourself. Sit here and play drums for a few minutes, then record something over the top. Don’t overthink it. Just play what comes out of you.’ He also taught me how to compress drums, how to use Abelton, how to make and produce my own albums. And he inspired a level of hard work, and attention to detail, that will stay with me on whatever record I go on to make. He’s probably the biggest influence on me when it comes to making records. Philosophically, when it comes to making this album, it's all stuff from my life.
AXS: Kevin is brilliant at pulling it all together for Tame Impala but he’s also very generous with you guys, his bandmates. What is the closest thing you guys have to a disagreement – just go off and make your own record with whoever?
CA: It’s a very family-like thing where everyone just kinda, makes what they want to make. Kevin has complete autonomy in what he does, so he’s not going to stop us doing what we want. Kevin and I have the same management team so if he has a tour booked, it’s more about scheduling. It's like my record will be coming out after the Tame cycle starts winding down. There are no hard feelings there. And I love touring with Tame. Besides, we’re such old friends. We've all known each other for more than 10 years. The idea of stepping on one another's feet to achieve any kind of ‘success,’ is ridiculous! We just want to make stuff that means something to us. Kev respects that. And we respect that Tame is now part of a bigger, larger machine. Kevin still comes to my shows. If I need him, I’ll send him my demos, mixes and ideas. He’s a great sounding board and just a very good person to talk to.
AXS: My favorite track on the album is "Dance With Me," it's got a great Neil Diamond vibe and quite different from the darker mood on "Wasted On Fidelity". Who sings the back-up vocals on it and how did the song come together?
CA: "Wasted On Fidelity" is a bit more defeated. It's a commentary on a sad attempt to buy one's happiness after you've tried to seek fulfillment in any relationship. And after that didn't work, I was on a bit of a rampage, a trip, to make myself feel better, I guess. "Dance With Me" is more optimistic. It is about me trying to get back on the horse, romantically. That song I came up with really late one night. My friend Odessa was with me, and Benji, he's a guitar player. When I got up the next morning, Benji said, 'you have a lot of dumb ideas when you've been drinking but this one in particular, was quite good.' (laughs) Odessa just happened to be there. So she did the 'ooohs' on it and she also played the violin. She's an amazing multi-instrumentalist.
AXS: “The Cry of Captain Hollywood” is a Pond-like instrumental – what was the thinking behind having an instrumental on this very vocally-driven album?
CA: That was a piece of a longer song. The more I listened to it, the more I liked the hook that I wrote on that. The drums and the bass, I did live with the upright player in The Growl. Hmm, hmm, hmmm … (hums the melody) then I put the rest of the instruments on it. More and more, it sounded like this desperate, kind of weird, cinematic soundtrack and it seemed to mark a change of speed in the album; so I took all the vocals out of it. Owen had already written a string arrangement for it. I felt like I wanted one song, thematically with a title, that encapsulates the angst of the album. And changes the speed because the next song is “Watch Me Take It Away,”
AXS: The energetic mood of “Watch Me Take It Away” makes me think of a ‘60s Bond-like movie. There are dramatic moments of “pow,” and “wham,” coupled with that lush orchestration. Did you ever see the James Coburn movie “Our Man Flint”? It was scored by Jerry Goldsmith.”
CA: Yeah! I have. Yes, you got the right idea. It’s a bit of a frustrated, arrogant song. I wanted it to move that way, it has those moments and change of speed.
AXS: But it also has that humor?
CA: Yes, it’s definitely less baroque. (laughs)
AXS: I understand that you’ve started doing a bit of soundtrack work as well?
CA: Yes, I’m doing some film score work in LA today. The one that people can see already is a short film by Chloe Sevigny’s called “Streetcar,” directed by Hala Matar. I am getting into more film production work. You use a different part of your brain: you look at an image and that first instinct that comes; you create a mood from what you can see. Rather than what you can hear in your head. And there is someone else there with you: an editor or director, it’s more collaborative.
AXS: Will you then be touring with a string quartet?
CA: No. I’ll be touring with the guys from The Growl. My old mates from back home who I toured America with 4 years ago. It will be a 5 or 6 piece. I've been working with two gospel singers from New York so if I have the time and money to rehearse that kind of stuff, maybe they'll come on tour. It’s too expensive to travel with a string section. Maybe, one day, I'll have the whole shebang. For now, I will have to re-imagine them. I pull the songs apart and highlight moments of drama and poignant lyrics; but you can still hear the hooks. It will be a lot more intimate.
AXS: When I interviewed Jay (Watson) some years ago for the last Pond album, he said that the job in Pond was for you guys "to be freaks," and not worry about comparisons to Tame Impala. Given that, what’s your job with Cameron Avery?
CA: My role with Cameron Avery is to just be who I am. To be as blunt as possible about it. The songs are very bare and honest. I made it for me. It was more of a catharsis. You can never have grand designs to take over the music scene with an album that sounds like this. Whatever else I do from here on, I will be able to say ‘when I was 27, I made an album that I was really proud of. I didn’t hold back or try to cater to anyone.’ I wasn’t trying to make a Top 40 album but something… that meant something to me. If people can relate to some of this stuff, that’s amazing. I appreciate that everyone is going to respond and interpret it differently. It wasn’t a world conquering quest. But if someone can see that side of life, in a dark … or light way, that’s cool.
For further tour dates, please see below.
Cameron Avery Tour
March 21 - Los Angeles, CA - Teragram Ballroom
March 22 - San Francisco, CA - Rickshaw Stop
March 24 - Portland, OR - Holocene
March 25 - Seattle, WA - Barboza
March 28 - Minneapolis, MN - 7th Street Entry
March 29 - Chicago, IL, - Schubas Tavern
March 31 - Toronto, ON - The Rivoli
April 1 - Montreal, QC - Le Divan Orange
April 3 - Boston, MA - Great Scott (Click here for tickets)