He’s a bassist in Tame Impala and drummer in its fuzzier, psych offshoot Pond, so some may be surprised to learn that Cameron Avery is an old-fashioned crooner with a great voice. Avery’s mom listened to Dean Martin, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Hartman and a lot of Elvis Presley.
“At 11, I got to play Elvis in my school play and that was like all of my dreams coming true at once,” the Perth, Australia native said from his home in Los Angeles. On a scale of one through 10, he pinpoints his Elvis fandom at 11.
“If it were up to me there would be nothing without Elvis Presley. He’s the best,” Avery said. “He’s my favorite musician of all time. He invented punk. He invented sex and music. There were no screaming teenagers before Elvis Presley. You were either a kid with a kite or a toy boat. Or you were a person with a real job. There was no, like, adolescence.”
Avery started singing with an Elvis croon around the house as a kid. But he realized when he was in his teens that it was perhaps not cool to croon with his peers. “I’ve sung like this to myself forever but never recorded it. My mom also introduced me to Delta blues, chain gang and gospel music. Then Sarah Vaughan, a lot of jazz and big band stuff.”
When Tame Impala’s original bassist, Nick Allbrook left the band to concentrate on Pond, the band invited Avery to join. Allbrook and Avery already had their own musical project together before Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker gave Avery an eight-track recorder and encouraged him to record himself singing.
The result was The Growl, a project that featured cameos from the Tame Impala-Pond fraternity. Avery would continue to record with his spacey, heavy, reverb-drenched sound with barely discernible vocals. With the new self-titled solo project, he is finally writing and recording music with lyrics his mother can make out, he joked.
“When I was 15 and 16, it wasn’t cool to sing like Elvis,” he said. “I wanted to play electric guitar. Later, I got into Americana and Kevin (Parker), Jay (Watson) and Jody (Regan, from Tame Impala’s record label, Spinning Top) got me into psych rock. In my head, I guess it’s taken all this time and a bit of a maturity to sing like this and make an album like Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams.”
The album is cinematic and lush in orchestration, bringing to mind the ’60s baroque pop of Scott Walker and Rod McKuen. Arcade Fire’s Owen Pallett, who also collaborated and arranged the strings for The Last Shadow Puppets’ two albums, wrote several of the string arrangements. Avery admitted that he loved the sound of his friends’ (TLSP’s Alex Turner and Miles Kane) last record. “Owen was on a Big Day Out tour with us. He heard two of my demos and said, ‘I’d love to work on this if you want me.’ He wrote the strings for about six songs on the album. And he introduced me to a lot of amazing string players like Eric Gorfain.”
However, it was Dawes producer and Josh Tillman collaborator Jonathan Wilson who was crucial in enabling Avery to follow his inner-crooner. Wilson was opening for Tame Impala three years ago when the two got talking. Avery was considering moving from Perth to New York at the time.
“Jonathan gave me a lift to the airport and I got him to listen to my demos and he said, ‘nah don’t move to New York. You should come to L.A. and stay with me for a couple of weeks.’”
He came but didn’t leave. Wilson co-produced “C’est Toi,” the Father John Misty-sounding track that capitalizes on the sprawling ’70s sound that Wilson favors.
Lyrically, the album’s themes revolve around the attainment of the right kind of love—not one that is easy or a sure thing for those who have cash; as illustrated in the beautifully crafted “Wasted On Fidelity.” From the start, this tone is set with opener “A Time and Place.” It begins with pretty finger-plucking that recalls McKuen and Hartman, as well as the idea that love can conquer all. “Do You Know Me By Heart?” evokes the mood of a lounge act past his prime, a loser nursing a drink after everyone has gone home with somebody else. He is still left pining.
Another of the album’s highlights, “Dance With Me,” has the suitable vibe of Jewish Elvis: Neil Diamond. It deals with coaxing the object of one’s affection to take a chance on the protagonist. In the video released last week, it features Avery dancing cheek-to-cheek with Brit fashionista and one-time MTV presenter, Alexa Chung.
“‘Dance With Me,’ it’s not literally dance with me—it’s humor me, take a chance on me,” he explained. “This record was written after I came out of a heavy relationship and moved to L.A., wanting to be with someone, to be in a relationship again.”
Avery doesn’t leave much to the imagination lyrically or as far as his musical motivations go. “I wasn’t out to make a great pop album. There are no trap beats or auto-tune,” he laughed. “I tried to be as honest as possible. I looked inside myself a lot. I’ve obviously changed a bit since I started writing this. It’s like an expensive two-and-a-half-year journal entry.”
Thankfully, it’s an entry totally worth indulging.