Interview: Cameron Avery
Words by Emma Jones - Published on September 2, 2014
In between playing bass for Tame Impala, drums for Pond and being one half of Allbrook/Avery, scoring films, and whatever else he manages to find the time for, Cameron Avery has been up to something special. Ahead of the latest release from his own solo project, The Growl, he will return to home soil for a string of intimate solo shows to showcase his latest efforts. After the successful debut LP, What Would Christ Do??, Avery has been busy making a name for himself in his own right – and was even named in NME’s Australian Acts to Watch 2013. Now, after extensively touring the world, including multiple festival appearances (Laneway, SXSW), the project has gone onwards and upwards. We got to chat to him whilst he was across the pond (haha) in Iceland to discuss string sections, Australian crowds vs the rest of the world and potential loyalty cards for Tame Impala shows.
This round of shows is pretty formal, I feel. What was behind the decision to premiere the new material as a solo performance? What can we expect?
I was doing some shows, like I did one solo show back in Perth, and I was doing some others in LA, and Joe was like to me, “Why don’t you do a solo tour, because it’s nice to hear your new songs without all the bells and whistles?” I guess the songs are a bit more… song-y? They’re a lot more accessible and structured than the last stuff. They’re pretty much all love songs. We thought it was really great last time we did it, so I’m gonna do a one-off solo tour, then hopefully later this year or earlier next year we will do some full band shows!
What can we expect from the full band shows? Anything different?
Yeah, very different. I’m going back to Perth to do a whole bunch of pre-production and organise all this other stuff. There is anew member in the band, and the band has grown outward as in there are more bells and whistles than the last time – believe it or not! I’m still sort of fleshing out ideas, but on the record there is an 8-piece string sections, timpanis and horns nearly in every song. I’m figuring out the best way to do that, along with whether to have a quartet or an octet with you. It’s kind of like a bigger show.
The new album is featuring collaborations with artists from all around the world – who are some of these?
Well the string have been arranged by a guy called Owen Pallett, who plays in The Arcade Fire.
He’s an incredible string arranger. I met him on the Big Day Out tour that Tame was doing with Arcade Fire, and I went for a beer with him and to watch some show. He asked me what I do, and I told him I was making my record and I showed him a couple of tunes. He was like; “I would love to do the strings on this if you wanted me to,” so I was like ”Uh, yeah! If you would!” *laughs* Then I saw him again at Coachella, and he was still really keen to get onto it, so he’s done five songs, and he’s doing another four this week.
Other than that it’s just been close friends. My best friend since I’ve moved away is this guy called Benji Lysaght, and he is the most incredible guitar player. He’s sort of become my best pal. He wrote a piece of music which has this beautiful classical guitar, and I wrote the rest of it. It was kind of freeing a little bit, where I wasn’t having to think about doing everything all on my own anymore.
Yeah! Does your creative process differ much when collaborating as opposed to working alone?
Well generally I’ll write the song, and I’ll write all the parts, and play most of them. But on stuff like this now – I had Jay Bellerose play on one, he’s the drummer from the Alison Krauss record, Raising Sand. I saw him during the week when I was recording the last bit in America, and I wanted to get him in to do some double drums. It’s been kind of nice having a few “voicing boards”, as far as creative stuff goes. It’s been great sort of letting go of those four little sections of the songs!
Why the decision to expand out and incorporate all the new elements? Did you have a vision and go from there?
Yeah, totally! They were the kind of songs I was writing – kind of ballad-y stuff. They’re all love songs pretty much. I wanted to have strings on them so much, and then Owen and it all went from there.
You described your songs as “an outlet” – I take it song writing is something of a cathartic process for you then?
Yeah! Definitey! I’ve been working on some other stuff which isn’t as involved in my own experiences – I’ve been doing some film score stuff. It’s great because it’s not all just about stuff that’s happened to me. But, yeah it’s definitely been an outlet for whatever. It keeps me sane.
What are some influences that affect your writing? Is The Growl strictly Cam Avery, or is it others involved too?
It’s just all my stuff. It’s a moniker for my solo thing because I didn’t want to call it Cam Avery. It’s literally just all love songs. I think one of them goes on about something else a bit more, but apart from that, love songs. *laughs*
*laughs* That’s nice though!
They’re my favourite type of song! I think they’re the trust form. I think you can hear the most in music when it’s a love song. People care about politics and people care about, you know, things that happen in the world, but there is nothing more direct and passionate when someone is head over – or when they’re heartbroken. There is no filter there!
Totally! When they’re just pouring everything out…
It can bring something out in someone that they didn’t even know they really had, I think. If you listen to some of the best love songs of all time – it doesn’t sound very calculated.
How do you think crowds abroad respond to The Growl compared to Australian audiences? I feel like The Growl would actually be more relatable to American crowds?
That’s what I’ve felt too, playing in America. It’s always been crazy every time we play a show there. Maybe it’s that romanticism about having a band that’s not from America, or whatever. But as far as sonically and feeling goes, we’ve always had a packed house. Every show we played in America last time was a packed house. They also like the slower stuff as opposed to the heavy stuff. America, and South America, and even when I played solo shows in Europe, it’s always been surprisingly beautiful crowds.
How do you find that compared to Australian audiences? Do Australian audiences get into as much as overseas?
Yeah, but in a different way. It’s so hard to put your finger on! Australian crowds do go mental very easily. When you play the single, or the one they know, they go buckwild. It’s just a different thing. It also depends on venues too – I could play at The Bakery or the Astor, but sometimes I’ll play the Ellington Jazz Club. It’s a demographic thing. Actually, in America, they have an older crowd. I will have people in their 30’s or older coming up to me saying how much they love the music.
Cool! I’m so fascinated with how all of these bands – like The Growl, Tame Impala, Pond, even Gum and Shiny Joe – work together? How the hell do you find the time to manage everything you’re in?
Well, we do have one of the best managers in the entire world. I guess, you find time, but everyone wants to do a lot of music all the time. We’re all trying to secretly outdo each other.
Kind of like a healthy competition?
Yeah, fully! I guess, in the time off from the bigger bands – mostly Pond and Tame – you work on your own stuff. As far as Nick, Joe and Jay go; they just have an overflow of songs. Some aren’t going to sit on a Pond album because they all write 7 songs and they have to pick the best three or four to go on the record, so they use the other stuff and go on and they have the solo records!
Okay, yeah that makes sense! I really love Tame Impala… I’ve seen you guys play nine times, in two different countries.
Woaaaah! We should give you a rewards card!
I should get the tenth show free!
Yeah! *laughs* Maybe you should. I’ll talk to Kev! Actually, I should talk to Kev – he’d be well into that idea! We can do rewards cards for coming to gigs.
For the devoted fan! We can get a shirt or something…
Or you know how you get frequent flyer points, we could get someone to send you like a gold Tame Impala card. You can buy merch with it instead of headphones like on QANTAS.
I could do that! So, what’s next after this?
Well after the solo tour, I’m back in Perth. Clint Oliver who’s from GUM and The Growl is getting married, and I’m the best man. I have best man duties, so I have to throw a buck’s party and finish my speech. Then there is the AFL grand final, so that if the Dockers make it… After all that stuff is done, I have about two and a half weeks to do pre production. I’ll go into my studio in Perth and build a new drum kit, with a new sound, and sort out all the new keyboards sound – all that stuff. Get it all ready for the guys to rehearse. I’ve always done it like that – organized all the sounds and they come in and rehearse once I’ve done it. I’ve finished mixing the album, so that’s pretty much done. I have to go for a short trip back to LA to record the last four songs of strings, and by then it’s mid October. There has been a whisper of a Growl show maybe… I don’t know yet. There have been talks of doing one for people who are keen; sort of dusting the cobwebs off. Then I’m back in America – I’ve been working on this other film score stuff so I’ll go back to America early/mid October and start working on that. Then it’s November, and there is a Tame Impala tour for two months!
Pretty booked up!
Yeah, I’m pretty booked up until March next year! I’ve been trying to squeeze holidays in somewhere!
Hopefully! Sounds like you deserve it!
Cameron Avery Tour Dates:
Sept 3 – The Vanguard, Sydney NSW
Sept 4 – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane QLD
Sept 5 – The Workers Club, Melbourne VIC
Sept 13 – Mojo’s, Fremantle WA