Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Alex Cameron
Nine Songs
Alex Cameron

As he prepares to release his third album Miami Memory, Alex Cameron talks Sean Kerwick through the songs that have soundtracked the important transitions in his life.

06 September 2019, 08:00 | Words by Sean Kerwick

You can always count on Alex Cameron to face a contentious issue with unabashed honesty.

Usually it’s unraveled in a darkly comedic turn of phrase via a pretty vocal melody on his records, but just hours before our conversation he tweets “When someone links me to a band saying ‘they’re ripping you off!’ I’m always too busy ripping someone else off to care.”

“That’s just a mantra I tell myself, because people do it so often,” Cameron says of the tweet, as we talk over Facetime as he’s driving through New York City. “People get so excited when they see similarities between acts that they feel inclined to call it out, but what am I gonna do? Go out breaking people’s legs who are doing something similar to me? There’s really no recourse. If someone’s taking inspiration from me then power to them - I hope they find a song or two and find some sort of satisfaction.” Let’s hope that the artists who feature in Cameron’s Nine Songs subscribe to the same school of thought. If he turns up to his forthcoming tour in a cast, we’ll know that Bill Callahan or Enya got him.

Cameron has hitched up in New York City, away from his native Australia, with his saxophonist and business partner Roy Molloy, who also revealed his Nine Songs to us later the same day. Whilst the pair cite the convenient geographical positioning for touring in the US and Europe as part of the reason they’ve made the east coast their home, it’s also where Cameron’s girlfriend Jemima Kirke, of HBO’s Girls. resides.

“That’s really why I’m here when I think about it” he explains. “When I make music, I’m really just trying to make my close friends smile, laugh and feel like someone in their circle gets it. I just want people to feel close to me, I want them to understand me and the way I see the world. And with this new record Miami Memory, first and foremost my priority was making my Jemima laugh and cry at the same time. I want her to feel like ‘I get it’, even if it’s for a brief moment.”

On his two records to date Cameron has shone a light on the dark corners of society, to study its characters by placing himself directly in their shoes, his last album Forced Witness was his psychoanalysis on the sort of personalities you’d find washed up on the shores of the dark web. Whilst character portraits still pop up throughout Miami Memory, its ten songs find the songwriter turning the magnifying glass on himself more which, in turn, has made Kirke an integral part of the record.

With this self-exploratory focus in mind, Cameron has selected nine songs that have bookended key transitions in his life. They soundtrack events such as breakups, the grind of the US visa application process and memories of playing to 20,000 people every night supporting The Killers on a world tour.

“These songs have cleansed my palate and given me a sense of what my taste is, they’re songs that have stopped or started chapters in my life.”

“No One Is To Blame” by Howard Jones

“I think what got me initially was the meaning of the song - this surrender, I guess it helped me romantically. I love songs about how little control we have over things like emotions and love.

"Of course, it’s a fantasy because fundamentally I believe I should be able to be on top of my emotions and not have to act upon them. I feel I should be able to contain myself and keep composed, but I really love a song that celebrates the opposite of that. This song is really about how if two people want each other, then no matter what the circumstances may be there’s nothing that can be done about it.

“I love Howard Jones’ voice and how he pronounces his words, it’s really theatrical and camp. This character makes me kind of smile. I remember a friend showing it to me as a joke, like “Check out this guy’s voice!” and I was “No, hang on a second, this isn’t a joke - this is a fucking good song.”

“I also love the charming digital amplified piano through the effects - it sounds like a CP-70 piano with a bunch of chorus and echo on it. I just love that whole thing, it’s awesome. Also, ultimately it’s one of the better songs that came out of the ’80s in terms of execution, composition and production.”

“Oh Virginia” by John Phillips

“John Phillips is sort of like this master songwriter in folk and Rock ’n’ Roll, they say that Dylan ripped him off. However, he does have this really awful reputation - you only have to read a little bit of his story to find out how he’s remembered as a person. He committed atrocities in his family life, but writes these incredibly pretty songs.

“I like to think that maybe I have the ability to write atrocious songs but have quite a pretty personal life – it’s sort of the opposite, but I just can’t give up his songwriting. Obviously I wasn’t alive when it all happened and he’s long gone, but I can’t give up his music which I love so much.

“I’m sure it’s Keith Richards singing on backing vocals - I’m sure that album Pussycat was produced by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. It’s just this insane idea of these three people recording a record together in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s. I feel like it’s a postcard to me - it’s a memory that I love to pretend that I have.”

“Anywhere Is” by Enya

“I started listening to Enya again in about 2016. I was in Paris and waiting for my US visa to be approved so I could come and tour. I was feeling so impatient, I was having to cancel shows - I was really boiling up and I was just like ‘I’ve gotta put on some Enya’ so I started listening.

“’Anywhere Is’ is the song that stuck out the most prominently, to me it’s her best song by such a long shot, it’s gorgeous and it has this really beautiful mantra. It’s has a sort of chant to it which excites and settles. It’s a real cushiony, comfort song, it’s a reward and it’s beautiful.”

“Shining Light” by Annie Lennox

“I’ve always loved Annie Lennox since I first heard her when I was young. I was about to go on tour and my girlfriend just happened to put this song on and I was like “Wait, Annie Lennox did a version of this song?!’ and she was like "Yeah, I’ve heard it 100 times", like she always has with anything good.

“I immediately made it so that I had it accessible on my phone and computer. I must have listened to it 50 times since the last tour I did - you know, by myself, just committing to studying this song. I had it on every day, many times on one day and many times on another. It was really like this weird warmth, a reminder of how songs’ can actually embody people in your mind.

“I’m certainly the kind to study. When I first learnt to listen to music, I’d study the composition and lyrics, learn it and then pretend to perform it, so I’ve always looped my favourite tracks - I still do.”

“Drover” by Bill Callahan

“I was raised in the countryside when I was a kid in New South Wales in Australia, and the first time I heard ‘The Drover’ was driving up North through a rainforest. It’s this powerful song that I kind of use to access my memories growing up in the country to get the song entirely. Bill Callahan is the kind of songwriter where it could have been about anything - it could have been about a robot or something - and I would still get the same feeling.

“He’s a master songwriter and has completely rewritten what songs can be and what they can mean. That song just changed me - I must have been maybe 24 and it informed what I saw as the limits of songwriting; it expanded before my very ears.”

“Lose the Baby” by Lost Animal

“When I first heard this song I was struck with such a case of envy that I convinced myself that it was really bad, but the song was just so pesky, it wouldn’t leave my mind. I thought “Why am I singing this song? I’ve already decided it’s bad” but it insisted, and I felt a sense of joy when I was able to admit to myself that it was actually good. and in fact I was feeling deeply inspired by it. It’s a hot thumping Australian rock triumph. I don’t know if there’s a better one out there, I really don’t.

“The songwriter Jarrod Quarrel is now a friend of mine. I actually saw his face at the back of a crowd at a concert we were playing in New York years and years ago. I thought “He must be here to see if I’m shit" but he came up to me after the show and was like “By the way, I actually really like what you’re doing.” He was kind to me that night and we decided to exchange records and numbers and since then we’ve stayed at each other’s places in Sydney and Melbourne.

“I’ve found out since hanging with him that he’s a very discerning guy who doesn’t really open his ears to much, because he knows there’s not much out there that could contest with him. He’s a master.”

“Seven Words” by Weyes Blood

“I first heard ‘Seven Words’ when I came out of a relationship. This is another song where I was overwhelmed when I first heard it. This thread carries through Natalie’s music – she’s showing me something that I’ve never seen before, which I never knew existed before in her songwriting. I can only imagine it’s like reading a newspaper or hearing rumours that someone’s discovered a new land or something. It’s like being played lost recordings.

“It’s really hyper-evolved music. I don’t know if there’s much I can take from it as an artist, but I can just sit back and be glad that someone else discovered it and that I get to enjoy it.

“I hope she gets all the resources she needs to keep making music like that. I know because we’re friends and she’s an extremely passionate, motivated person. Just sit back and enjoy it, that’s my rules when it comes to Weyes Blood.”

“How Can You Really? by Foxygen

“The first time I came across Foxygen was when we were a support act in Paris as part of a Pitchfork festival. They opened with this song and I was like “Steady on, this is fucking good!” The sound was awesome, the band was really hot, and it just sounded really good. I didn’t know anything about the music industry or how to get a gig in America and Jonathan Rado from that band left a note in my backpack saying “Come on tour in the US.” We then went on tour with them but they didn’t play this song at all, so I had to listen to it in the car between shows with Roy.

“After the tour I saw them playing on Letterman, if you haven’t seen Letterman’s response to that performance then I urge you to go and check it out. I don’t know how many times he’s responded to a band that way, but you can probably count it on one hand.

“Jonathan Rado co-produced Forced Witness and produced Miami Memory. He’s got no ego, you know? I think he puts the song first and lets it come from whoever discovered it. He’s an extremely talented instrumentalist and someone who’s willing to explore with sounds and experiment, he’s getting better and better. He’s searching for that song - you can’t fuck with someone who’s looking for the magic.”

“I Can't Stay” by The Killers

“There’s two songs on the list that I heard for the first time live and as a support act - the Foxygen one and ‘I Can’t Stay’ by The Killers. We went on a world tour with The Killers, they took us as the opening act everywhere - America, UK, Asia and Europe. Every night I’d hear the bass line of ‘I Can’t Stay’ and I’d rush out from the green room to catch the song, because I knew it would mean more and more to me the further I got away from the tour. It kind of became the soundtrack of it all. It’s a very good song, it’s got such an odd structure for a pop song, I just love the melody. It’s gorgeous.

“I’m grateful that I’ve had Brandon as a friend and that I’ve got to write with him and be on some Killers songs, it’s cool - it’s the epitome of fun to me. I can trust that some people have a certain magic and spirit and I can know it, but he’s got the actual fucking certificate on his wall. I can be like “I love this person, he’s really good” but with Brandon it’s like “We all know, we gave him the plaque on the wall.”

“The first time I heard him sing in a writing session he got the producer to turn the mic on and he did the thing with his voice [Nails an impression of the trademark Flowers warble]. Me and Roy looked at each other and were like “Fuck, that’s the thing! He can funnel it.” We’ve got to search for it but this guy’s got it on tap. It really is some sort of magic, you know?”

Miami Memory is released 13 September via Secretly Canadian
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