Q&A: Cameron Avery, Tame Impala touring bassist, is ‘totally uncompromising’ on first solo record
On Friday night, multi-instrumentalist Cameron Avery will perform at the Holocene in Portland in support of his first solo record, “Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams.” Avery is best known as the current touring bassist for Kevin Parker’s main project, Tame Impala, and as the former drummer of Australian psych-rock band POND.
Unlike his previous work — which mostly stayed within the psych-rock genre — this record takes an introspective step back. Filled with soft melodies and slow love ballads, Avery’s voice bellows over the record like a big band singer from the mid-1940s. While this album is much slower paced than anything listeners have heard from him in the past, Avery delivers a cohesive record that digs into his romantic endeavors.
The Emerald spoke with Avery before his Portland show to discuss the new record and how working with Tame Impala and Pond have done little to influence his solo career.
Emerald: So you’re doing a solo tour right now. How does that compare to touring with your band POND, or Tame Impala? What are some differences and similarities?
Cameron Avery: Playing with Tame is obviously different. The music is different but it’s still fun playing the big shows, festivals and things like that. It’s a completely different style of music whereas my stuff, I do have my full band, but the music is so, so different. I’m playing my songs, which obviously have a different emotional weight to it. Playing your songs rather than playing bass on someone else’s is totally different.
E: I actually saw you play with Tame in Portland last August. You guys did the Waterfront show (Project Pabst) and it was a really great show. That tour you guys had a super crazy light show with trippy graphics. Have you incorporated any of those types of effects into this current tour or is it totally different?
CA: My stuff couldn’t be further from Tame Impala music. This is just, a drummer, bass player, another guitarist and a keys player. My stuff is really quite and stripped back. It’s more like barroom kind of style rather than festival and stadium style if you know what I mean.
E: What are some of the pros and cons of going from headlining a festival to playing some of these smaller shows?
CA: I don’t know. Like I said, Tame lends itself to those big festival shows and things like that. With my stuff, maybe not so much. I played a show in London a couple weeks ago to 20 people, a private thing, it was like a press thing. It was fun. I liked it because you can see everyone. The energy: You can talk to the audience. You can focus on a different side of, I guess me, or anyone. It’s a lot more conversational.
E: Speaking of your new album, I love the title ‘Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams’ by the way, but can you tell me a little bit about the album.
CA: I played most of everything, drums, bass, guitar, piano and all the singing. And I did some of it in a tiny little studio in L.A. near my house in my friend’s garage. And then I met Owen Pallett. He’s a string arranger, and so he put strings on one of the tunes and then I was like this could be it, the theme that ties it all together.
Then I kept moving. Next we went to Electro Vox Studio, right down there on Melrose in Hollywood. I did a bunch of recording there. Like two or three days there. And I also went out to a studio in Santa Monica. It was sort of like over a couple years, whenever I got time off from my touring schedule I was recording for the sake of it just because I wanted to do something.
E: So are these songs that you’ve written over the past several years and have had piling up or did you just sit down to write all these in the studio?
CA: I wrote them one by one as they came out. It’s all pretty autobiographical, kind of exactly what happened. It was just literally as they were coming out I was recording so I did this album over like two-and-a-half years.
E: What were you trying to accomplish with this album? What would you say the concept of it is?
Avery: I don’t know. I originally started this recording thinking I’ll make another Growl album. There was no way I was going to have a world-conquering career with this album that sounds like this. I mean, there’s no trap beats in sight or anything like that (laughs).
It’s a very self-indulgent album. I was humoring every indulgence and desire and everything I wanted to make. Lyrically and musically it’s the most self-indulgent thing I’ve ever done. I just wanted to see if I could make an album that sounds like this and sounded good. That was really the main thing. I was trying to be as honest with myself as possible. That was really one of the main realizations. ‘Come on Cameron. Let’s make something totally uncompromising.’
E: Do you think that was easier or more difficult to try and do that while touring and making this music on the road?
CA: It came out pretty natural. Like I said, I didn’t have so much pressure on myself. I just recorded when I had time. I definitely worked a lot during this album. You know? Sometimes you confront yourself with something and you want to change it… I wanted to be honest with myself and let it be and do instinctively what came naturally to me.
E: You started touring with Tame Impala in late 2013. Do you think that experience has changed your musical style at all, and did it affect the making of this album at all?
CA: No. Kevin (Parker) has been one of my closest friends for years. Musically we couldn’t be further apart at the moment, but I guess I’ve always looked up to him and he will go down as one of the great songwriters, musicians, innovators in music. That’s what’s rubbed off on me is his ambition and attention to detail; he’s forever surgical. That’s probably the only thing that’s changed where I’m playing in Tame a lot more.
Me and Kevin lived together before I was in the band. It allowed me to move to the States, and moving to the States, being in L.A. had a massive effect on the sonic landscape of this album. Being able to record in those old Hollywood soundstages is pretty amazing.
E: You’ve kind of been a “journeyman” of a musician, if you will. You’ve been in several bands touring all over the place. Have you always wanted a career like that, or would you consider settling down with a single band at some point, or do you like being all over the place?
CA: I don’t know. I guess I’ve kind of just gone with it and done what’s made me happy everyday. I feel like I’ll never stop playing with Tame I don’t think because I love those guys, and Kevin, I think in other ways, rather than musically, is responsible for inspiring me to make music, and I will always respect that in him. I’ll always play in Tame, and I will always make my music.
It’s just going to be Tame and my stuff for a while. I might work on some other — not music, like other creativity, writing stuff. I don’t really have a plan. I kind of just do what I want to do when I want to do it and that’s a nice luxury to have.
Tickets for Avery’s performance on Friday, March 24 at Holocene are available from Ticketfly.
Follow Zach on Twitter: @Zach_Price24
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