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A Man's Man's World: An Interview with Bad//Dreems' Alex Cameron

Bad//Dreems trade on a brand of authentic, honest rock that traces a thread back through much of Australia's musical history. Delivered with  punk sneer, rock bombast and garage heart, singles like 'Cuffed and Collared' and 'Dumb Ideas' have paved the way for Dogs at Bay, the debut album from the Adelaide quartet out August 21 via Ivy League. I spoke with guitarist Alex Cameron about namesakes, queer cinema, and the myth of masculinity in Australia.

Mushroom Rep: Alex, are you there? I’ll just connect you to Alex, from Bad//Dreems.

Alex Cameron: Hello?

Hi, Alex, I’m Alex. Good strong name you have there.

Are you an Alex, Alexander or a Sandy?

I’m just an Alex, my mum was lazy I think. At least I’ve got two syllables. Have you Facebooked yourself? There must be loads of Alex Cameron’s.

See, I’m not even the most famous Alex Cameron in music. There’s another one in (Sydney-based electronic trio) Seekae.

That’s rough. Well, look, I’ll spare you Bad//Dreems circa 2012-2014, because as great as the backstory is, we’re all reasonably well acquainted.

Thanks.

I would say your debut LP, Dogs at Bay, is the culmination of a three year journey from amateur to professional musicians.

Well, I certainly wouldn’t say professional, we all still hold down jobs outside of the band. At this point currently, we haven’t seen a cent from Bad//Dreems. Not that that’s what it’s about though, of course.

At least the idea of music as a full-time professional career is on the public agenda after ‘Stephanie’ the government’s ham-fisted example of a musician acting as a sole-trader on $300 000 per year. Not in Bad//Dreems’ definition?

Not at all. For me personally, every weekend I’ve had off in the past two years has been spent doing music, which I love. For example, a couple weeks ago we played a gig in Melbourne Thursday night, back to Adelaide for work Friday, Sydney Friday night and then basically straight to Splendour and back to Adelaide Sunday night with work on Monday morning.

Has work ever thought you were just really hungover?

Aw, with the amount of hours we work I’m always on the verge of nervous collapse so it doesn’t really matter. Whether working or gigging all weekend, I look no different, so I can get away with it.

Ok, back to Dogs at Bay. I kind of have an idea of this record as addressing a lot of ideas about the band’s image as this hard-hitting, quintessentially beer-swilling Aussie rock band, especially with songs like ‘Hume’ and ‘Bogan Pride’.

Exactly, it’s what ‘Bogan Pride’ is all about. One of the interesting things about the band, when we made our first film clip, or maybe our second, some people came out with things like “barely-challenged dickhead machismo” and “ironic retro Australiana”, and that sounded really funny to us because the idea of the film clip was to go out to a friend’s farm, where we always go anyway, and just film what we’d be doing anyway. Some people clearly saw that as a pretence.

It’s just interesting how people see things. We just portray ourselves as we are, you know, we met at a football club, normal twenty-something guys, and the way people perceive that, I mean, it probably says more about the people making these judgements on our cultural credence. You do something pretty Australian, and then it’s like “well what are they trying to say, you know?

Continuing on from that point, I think some of the generic terms I found in connection with Bad//Dreems are ‘dolewave’ and ‘strewthcore’, do you wear these terms like a badge of honour?

I think there are certainly bands that really do believe in the okker thing as a device, and I’m sure we’ve sometimes been grouped in that because the music’s not too dissimilar. The important thing for our band was to focus just on song- writing, our image is secondary to that. What’s good about finally getting Dogs at Bay out is that our singles have all been pretty straight-and-narrow songs, whereas our album I think is a little bit more like our manifesto, the centrepiece being, I think, ‘Bogan Pride’. Heading out my friend’s way, seeing all the guys I knew who’ve ended up Southern Cross tattooed and all that, and I’m thinking ‘what the fuck is becoming of the young men of Australia’? The whole nationalistic thing, that’s what inspired the song. All that’s anathema to me, that boorish pride, the parochialism, and I think young people of Australia do have a genuine identity crisis, for whatever reason.

There’s a bit of a paradox here, I think, because the sort of music Bad//Dreems plays would attract exactly those sorts of people, correct?

The crowd we usually pull are exact examples. That’s the great thing about having an audience, though, is that you can hopefully exert some sort of influence. Even the album cover art challenges these perceptions. It’s taken from a film in the 1990’s starring (Australian film and TV actor) Alex Dimitriades called ‘Head On’, which is about a young, gay Greek in Melbourne and there’s this scene where he’s looking another man eye to eye and you couldn’t tell whether they were fighting or fucking, basically. So now people look at these two guys and they just see oozing masculinity, tie it to a pub-rock cock-swinging ideal, and arrive at the wrong conclusion. The cover art is just one example of that.

That reference (to 1998’s Head On) is going to go over so many people’s heads.

There were plenty of images from that set we could have chosen from, some of them much more graphic than others. Some people look at them and see friends, others see something a bit more sinister as one of them appears older than the other… It’s a great image that gets so many interpretations.

A lot of the music we take influence from, late Seventies- early Eighties both here and abroad, it seemed easier back then to be masculine but also creative and artistic. Take bands like the Saints, Midnight Oil, even Hunters & Collectors, those bands were culturally mixed, overseas based, and you’d accuse none of them of being uncultured or insensitive, but things now are so segmented that if you play football, you must be a chauvinistic dickhead, if you’re in a band and you play footy, then you must be someone else entirely.

In 2015, it kind of strikes me that as a culture and society we are moving back to a much more fluid conception of gender, sex, ideas of masculinity, all these things are coming to a bit of a crossroads. Dogs at Bay is an album truly of its time then.

I’d like to think that people will give it enough time to chew it over and look past their first impression. Among certain circles I would be embarrassed, of a Friday night, to say I’m going home early because I've got to play footy tomorrow. I felt judged by that. So starting this band, we’re in Adelaide, Adelaide isn’t cool, we aren’t cool, we can be ourselves. When you examine things from your perspective, and portray yourself as yourself, you’re always going to come in for criticism as a white-middle class male whose never been oppressed in their life. 

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