Alex Cameron has a special skill whereby if you ask him about any particular teeny detail in one of Bad//Dreems’ tracks, he can tell you where he was when it spawned in the band’s brain. “I mean, I have a terrible memory for a lot of things – the important, day-to-day things,” he says. “But in terms of music and melody, I can kind of remember things easily. I guess because I’m always thinking about songwriting… I'm always going back to writing in my head.”
It makes talking about the band’s excellent second album Gutful extremely easy; there are no vagaries about inspiration or motivation, just nail-on-head explanations – and at the time of our conversation, the guitarist is at a surgeon’s conference in Auckland. Funnily enough, the first thing we hear on Gutful is body horror-related: it’s vocalist Ben Marwe, asking incredulously “Are you bleeding?”
“Well, Ben was doing the vocals for [opener Johnny Irony] and he wasn’t really in the zone,” Cameron explains. “He was struggling with it, even though it’s a pretty up-tempo track. With any takes in the studio sometimes, you’re trying to link the actual work and energy of a particular time and place, and you’ve got to get into the mindset. So I thought I’d try and inspire him.” And the way to inspire Ben is, apparently, strip naked, start dancing, and then have your nose start spontaneously bleeding. “I don’t think he completed the take because he burst out laughing. But it worked: after that he did the next take, and that was the take.” For concerned fans: Cameron doesn’t usually get random nosebleeds, but “considering the subject matter of that song it was kind of appropriate.”
Utilising Cameron’s magical mental compass, he reveals that stand-out track A Thousand Miles Away – a guitar-heavy romp with a definite DMA’s feel to it – was conceived while on tour in 2015. “I can distinctly remember,” he says, “that we were in Brisbane at the Woolly Mammoth soundcheck. Ben just started playing those opening chords you hear, and then one by one every member of the band joined in, and we all just seemed to play the right thing. It was a chance [for me] to play a bit of guitar that was a bit psychedelic and random. I’m really looking forward to playing it live because it’s one of my favourites.”
Another blue-chip cut is the excellent Nice Guy, the message behind which Cameron doesn’t hesitate to explain. “It’s basically about the problem with male aggression, and domestic violence, and poor behaviour by men, which is a big thing in the world that needs to be changed,” he says. There’s a possible parallel between form and content in the track too: the bass and guitar parts hum along in harmony, but occasionally the bass drops to a lower note that creates a weird, jarring disconnect – much like someone whose dark side can pop out. “I like that interpretation,” Cameron says. “I might even start using it in the future. [But] the fact is, a lot of these things have been left unaddressed and created a lot of pain for many people. It’s often excused by people around those guys, you know: ‘He’s a nice guy.’ I think it’s a very terrible thing that’s been engrained in our culture for a long time.”
Gutful is out now via Ivy League.