MUSIC

Bad//Dreems guitarist Alex Cameron on escaping England, the new album and juggling pub rock with medicine

DARK DAYS: Bad//Dreems guitarist and songwriter Alex Cameron, top right, admits it was difficult spending the majority of 2020 dislocated from the music industry. Picture: Ian Laidlaw
DARK DAYS: Bad//Dreems guitarist and songwriter Alex Cameron, top right, admits it was difficult spending the majority of 2020 dislocated from the music industry. Picture: Ian Laidlaw

THE initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic were a mixture of thrilling and frightening for Bad//Dreems.

The Adelaide pub-rock revivalists were in the UK on their first headline tour, which included a show at a sold-out Brixton Academy performing before Oasis legend Liam Gallagher, as they supported Sydney's DMA's.

There was even time to record a demo of their post-punk track Desert Television with Rory Attwill, of Test Icicles fame. They were so impressed with the demo, the five-piece decided to release the track as a stand-alone single.

But three shows into the tour, the decision was made in Manchester to flee for the relative safety of Australia as COVID infected the UK.

Bad//Dreems - Desert Television

"It was a little bit scary and we weren't sure what to do," Bad//Dreems guitarist and chief songwriter Alex Cameron says. "Before we went I remember [drummer] Miles [Wilson] saying, 'I don't know about this, I don't know if we should be going over.'

"I was like, 'you're over-reacting'. Then two weeks later we were scrambling to get home."

Cameron embraced a positive approach to hotel quarantine and then lockdown, viewing it as an ideal opportunity to write songs to follow-up Bad//Dreems' acclaimed third album Doomsday Ballet (2019).

But dislocated from his Adelaide and Melbourne-based bandmates and his other music industry contacts, while he busied himself with work in Bendigo as a plastic surgeon, Cameron found writing difficult.

"We did a lot of writing, but without touring and being able to go out and watch music it was hard to pull it all together," he says. "It was this year when we could start watching shows and play our own shows that it started to form in my mind."

Cameron hopes to have album No.4 out this year and has flagged a further shift away from the gritty pub-rock of their early albums Dogs At Bay (2015) and Gutful (2017) towards a more UK-inspired post-punk sound.

"It's probably what we sounded like very early on before our first EP," he says. "The previous band I was in, I was listening to Joy Division, The Cure, Gang Of Four, Public Image Ltd and that's our mode of playing guitar.

"I got interested in trying to do songs that were unadorned and getting rid of all the guitar pedals.

"For various reasons that sound has struck a chord with us again, especially when we were in the dead of [English] winter when COVID was going on."

The shutdown of the music industry hardly slowed down Cameron. Besides working as a surgeon, he's also launched his own label Endless Records.

The label's first release was the reissue of Jack Ladder's Hurtsville and his new album will come out on Endless in September. Other artists signed, include Prudence - the side project of DMA's bassist Tom Crandles - and Bad//Dreems' Ben Marwe.

Cameron is also in the process of building a home studio in his recently-bought house outside Bendigo, where he hopes to one day record Bad//Dreems albums.

ON THE ROAD: Bad//Dreems are touring regional NSW and ACT throughout June.

ON THE ROAD: Bad//Dreems are touring regional NSW and ACT throughout June.

The images of the nicely-suited doctor are in stark contrast with that of the guttural pub rock songs Cameron has written for Bad//Dreems. The band's working-class ethos and love of AFL has ensured their popularity among Coopers-fuelled males.

Cameron admits balancing both sides is difficult, but essential.

"The psychological side is sometimes the hardest as both things are all-consuming," he says. "One of the things I'm always thinking about is how much I'm giving to each one.

"Usually surgery is the one that takes up too much of my headspace and I find I'm not devoting enough time to music and creativity."

Cameron holds great respect for artists who give their lives to music full-time, rather than "hedge their bets", like himself. However, it removes the pressure of making money from Bad//Dreems and drifting away from their creative ambitions.

"One of the things I struggled with was when I went to do music entirely, the government has spent all this money training me and other people in my life, like my parents, have invested in me and there's a certain obligation to give back to society," he says.

"Music of course is giving back to society, but it's quite a self-indulgent thing. You can become quite insular.

"I feel more comfortable when I'm combining it with helping people and contributing to society."

Bad//Dreems play Baroque Room, Katoomba (June 3); Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle (June 4); Central Coast Leagues Club, Gosford (June 5); The Marlin, Ulladulla (June 10); The Basement, Canberra (June 11); Unibar, Wollongong (June 12) and Narrabeen RSL (June 13).

This story Bad//Dreems guitarist reflects on nightmarish tour first appeared on Newcastle Herald.