Tame Impala's Cameron Avery On Finally Making The Music He Wants To Make
Let’s get this out of the way: yes, Cameron Avery is the bassist for Tame Impala.
Yes, his debut solo album, Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams is about to drop. But Tame Impala it is not. While Avery numbers among Western Australia’s multi-talented, multi-instrumental musical collective of friends and labelmates – including Kevin Parker, Nicholas Allbrook and Jay ‘Gum’ Watson – his music stands out significantly, not least for its old Hollywood rock’n’roll qualities, sweeping cinematic strings and literal, intimate lyrics. It’s not the kind of music Avery’s always made, but it’s what he’s always wanted to.
“I think it took me a little while to admit it to myself,” he says. “I guess it just took a little bit of growing up. With Allbrook/Avery, Pond and The Growl, I’ve made tonnes of lo-fi-sounding records. I wanted to make something that was like an old record that I’ve listened to [and] loved when I was growing up. I love film music, especially old film scores; I love the drama you can get from some of the instrumentation. It took me a little while to get around to realising that this kind of music makes me feel great.”
We’re chatting in the corner of a Redfern cafe, thousands of kilometres away from the LA landscape Avery now calls home and where the record took shape. He’s candid – ostensibly at ease despite a subliminal nervous rubbing of his collarbone – and intently holds his gaze with an almost-healed black eye.
Rewind to 2014, though, and Avery had already started writing songs for Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams at home in Fremantle before relocating to California, where the record’s serendipitous formation helped him mature and figure out what really works best for his music.
“I recorded a lot of it at Electro-Vox Studios on Melrose, which is incredible,” he says. “It’s an old sound stage that they used to do all the strings for Paramount movies. We did a lot of the strings for my album in the same room that they did Psycho. LA has some of the most incredible studios in the world [and] the best recording infrastructure I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s amazing – it’s pretty inspiring.”
Avery’s love of film scores and the cinematic qualities of music meant the recording of Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams couldn’t have happened in a more appropriate location. The strings were added thanks to Arcade Fire collaborator Owen Pallett. Other peers like guitarist Benji Lysaght and producer Jonathan Wilson also offered their services to Avery, who found himself opening up to and enjoying working with others – a prospect he hadn’t entertained in the past.
“I’m not really a big collaborator – I never used to be,” he corrects himself. “I’m a bit of a control freak, so I would produce and do all the instruments and write it all, but that was so fun, doing ‘C’est Toi’ with Jonathan, and it sort of opened me up. I get a kick out of working with other people now, like way more. I like the idea of collaborating and I find I’m probably better at that than I am just trying to do it all on my own. All my friends, whether it’s Kevin or Jay, they do everything on their own, and I like the conversation of and getting to a place where you can help each other make something.”
While Avery moved away from a completely solo approach to making music like his mates in WA, their influence was still significant. “Literally the biggest influences I get – it’s almost more conceptual,” says Avery. “I look up to my peers and how they do things. I was heavily influenced by Kevin, he is obviously amazing and just how he does things – the way he can holistically look at something when he’s making it. Or like, Al Turner [of Arctic Monkeys] is one of my closest friends, and he was a big influence when I was making this album and a big voicing board, like: ‘Is this good or is this bad?’ I mean, I’d already made my record but then he did this [The Last] Shadow Puppets thing, which is sort of cut from the same cloth, I guess.”
However, that’s about where the contemporary influences end for Avery. “I don’t really listen to a lot of new stuff. This comes from Elvis Presley, Johnny Hartman and Etta James, a lot of old stuff like that, but I try and bring it into more of a modern sense,” he explains. And he’s certainly done that: Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams lacks cheesy nostalgia but manages to nod to the ‘old’ with a current approach.
Avery brought his solo show to Sydney’s Newtown Social Club in January, and a return may be on the cards after tours in America in Europe. “I wanna put this thing out called Etcetera, which is like a bunch of other songs that would obviously give off the same vibe,” he says. “I’ve started fiddling around with new songs. If I get some time towards the end of the year, I’ll get back in the studio. Hopefully I can get back here and do some more shows. If the record goes well and people like it, then I’ll play here in May or June.”
[Cameron Avery photo by Delilah Jesinkey]