At the back-end of 2016, Bad//Dreems guitarist Alex Cameron started a six-month placement at a hospital in Darwin. A surgeon by trade, the experience, he says, "changed my perspective on a lot of things". When it came time to compile the artwork for the band's second album, the just-released Gutful, he and photographer Mclean Stephenson spent Australia Day driving around the Northern Territory, hoping to capture a visual representation of how the "dichotomy of that day" played out in the Top End. Eventually they arrived at the Humpty Doo Pub, where they found a weathered local called Pete, whose image now graces the LP cover in stark black and white. It's as naked and strangely confronting a photo as the black and white shot of two bruised and battered young men that adorned Bad//Dreems' 2015 debut album, Dogs at Bay.
"The first album, the front cover summed up perhaps the innocence, the naivety of youth, touching on issues of male identity as well," says Cameron. "But this one, I think the album is more mature, and a more world weary album. This one is more outward looking and looking more at what was happening around Australia."
World weariness and dissatisfaction with various societal and political ills ooze from Gutful's guitar-soaked pores. The title track, for example, features lyrics such as "Had a gutful of speed and coke/Had a gutful of your racist jokes/Had a gutful of Australia Day/Had a gutful of the USA".
"We're not saying they're political songs," says frontman Ben Marwe. "I don't think calling out racist bullshit has to be something that's politically charged. I think that's just a part of being a human being, to know that that isn't the right way to think, in my view anyway."
The success of Bad//Dreems' debut caught the singer offguard. While Cameron, bassist James Bartold and drummer Miles Wilson had all played in bands with varying levels of success, it was all a new experience for first-timer Marwe. "Many different areas were surprising for me," he offers. "Even things like doing interviews with Rolling Stone or Triple M. It was weird that people wanted to interview us. I didn't know that happened."
The success of their debut was built on the band's no-bullshit live appeal and a misleadingly simple songwriting style that, in tracks such as "My Only Friend" and "Dumb Ideas", belied a surprisingly rich aesthetic. The Go-Betweens frontman Robert Forster declared himself a fan, even turning up at soundcheck in Brisbane one day. "It was hard to get a word in cos he just kept asking us questions," says Cameron. "We [weren't there] to talk about us!"
For album number two, the quartet reunited with producer Mark Opitz and engineer Colin Wynne, the production team that helmed their debut. The goal was to steer away from the Eighties Oz Rock sheen of that album. "If anything the main thing we wanted to change was to make it a more Seventies sounding album," says Cameron. "So, a drier sound, less of the digital inflections of the Eighties and more about the natural recordings of the mid-to-late Seventies."
The album was recorded over a two-week period, with Cameron flying in from Darwin on weekends to lay down his parts. The band's reluctance to trade in their dayjobs for a full-time musical career – Marwe is a landscape gardener, Wilson a graphic designer, while Bartold works in the hospital system – is, says Marwe, one way of ensuring they stay grounded.
Adds Cameron: "We said at the start, no one should be chucking their job in in a hurry, cos we had all done that with our previous bands at some point. And we knew how much pressure that placed on it, and how much that then got in the way of us doing it for the love of what we're actually about, which is songwriting and playing in a band."
From issue #787 (June 2017), available now.