On his debut solo record, Jumping the Shark, Sydney vocalist Alex Cameron positioned himself as the hapless schmuck, arriving on the scene fully-formed as a burned-out loser — "I used to be the number one entertainer," he snarled on "The Comeback". In the time between that album's 2013 release and this month's follow-up, Forced Witness, Cameron has lived his art, detached from his Australian homeland while spending time on U.S. and European roads with saxophonist (and business partner) Roy Molloy.
"I think support slots are often looked upon with a decent amount of shame," says Cameron, minutes after warming up a Nashville stage for Foster the People. "When we get asked to support a band, it's like getting vouched for in some respect. I started saying a few years ago we were the best support act on the planet. If you make the most of working with more successful bands, you get motivation to bring a greater level of musicality to your own record."
The most pronounced nod of approval came from the frontman of resurgent indie titans the Killers, with Brandon Flowers naming the 2016 reissue of Jumping the Shark his favourite album of that year. A creative bond extended from mere touring partners into studio collaboration — Cameron contributing to the Killers' new album Wonderful Wonderful, and Flowers contributing songwriting and backing vocals on Forced Witness.
"There was a moment where we were writing and he said, 'That's a really good line. I'll never have to sing it again.' I said, 'What do you mean?' His best lines, the audience sing for him. I just thought, holy shit. It was a case of someone at that level tapping me and Roy on the shoulder, spending weeks at a time writing and driving around Vegas. The themes of Forced Witness have a lot to do with destitution and bankrupt morality. It was exhilarating to be there."
On Forced Witness — in which Cameron fleshes out threadbare karaoke instrumentation into something resembling stadium-sized aspiration, crooning over bastardised synth-pop in the vein of Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man" — it's hard to distinguish between artifice and honesty. On lead single "Candy May", Cameron boasts about "packing heat". Its video showcases the singer shirtless, covered in a rash he initially thought to be a symptom of syphilis (later diagnosed as pityriasis).
On "Marlon Brando", satire sits uncomfortably with use of homophobic slur, with a following verse featuring a pseudo-apology. "There's a blurred line between character and reality," he reasons. "My favourite books, songs, and movies highlight the unreliability of the human storyteller. I try to infiltrate that with music. I have no desire to be on stage singing songs about nothing, that's a vision of hell for me."
It's been two years since Cameron set foot on Australian soil, where he started with esteemed electronica trio Seekae (who are still active). The closest thing he has to a home base these days is New York, the setting for his newfound romance with Girls actor Jemima Kirke.
"If we have five days off, we go to New York. We spend a lot of money on flights. Me and Roy both [have] romantic engagements in New York, and that's a beautiful thing to have if you're a touring musician, and you have a partner that tolerates that — or they have their own shit going on so they actually require you to be absent."
Kirke directs and stars in the video for Cameron's duet with Angel Olsen, "Stranger's Kiss", the shoot for which was captured by paparazzi. "A friend sent that through to me," he marvels. "Jesus Christ, isn't that fucking ridiculous?"
"She's had a big impact on the visual direction of the record," Cameron adds of Kirke.
"We rely heavily on the input of our vastly more intelligent partners. Women have been a huge impact on what we do as musicians and writers. We don't have much money, we rely on people seeing that they can get something out of us in terms of creativity. I do feel like I'm in a decent place emotionally," he concludes. "I feel very attached to love, and work."
From issue #791 (October, 2017), available now.
Topics: Alex Cameron