Drink in hand, his bowtie hanging, the Western Australian-born Cameron Avery has arrived as a new breed of nocturnal crooner, a train-wreck romantic creating timeless, ambitious music for the modern age. Utilizing his soulful wit, shrewd arrangements, and a deep, husky baritone, Avery harnesses the dark power and humor of artists like Nick Cave, Scott Walker, and Tindersticks to expertly walk the fine line between vulnerable and venerable.
Hailing from the late 2000’s-era Perth and a healthy scene of hard-hitting garage rock bands, including a long stint as the drummer of Pond, Avery found his musical footing while playing with friends but sought the reward of his own outfit. Encouraged by his friend Kevin Parker of Tame Impala to record on his own, Avery started The Growl as his solo project in 2007, making an EP and an album of aggressive, distorted psychedelic rock and roll. When Parker asked him to join Tame Impala as its touring bassist in 2013, Avery jumped at the chance and rose with that band to the top of the psych-rock heap, but all the while remained focused on carving out his singular identity as an artist and following his own muse.
He began recording new material in a piecemeal manner whenever he found himself at home in Perth. “I wanted to make something that sounded like the old records I love—Johnny Hartman, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Sarah Vaughan, Etta James—the big band stuff with less metaphorical lyrics” he says. “So I kept recording, bit by bit, and every time I came back from Tame tour I’d blow another ten grand on string arrangements.”
When a longer break for Tame Impala arrived, Avery decided to head to the US to continue work on his album. He landed with eight songs, by his count, but threw out nearly all of them before writing another dozen or so once stateside. (In the end, only one song remains that had originated in Perth; Avery estimates he played 70-percent of the album’s sounds, with the rest filled in by various friends.) He would settle in Los Angeles at the behest of Jonathan Wilson, the Echo Park musician and producer who also encouraged Avery to shine a spotlight on his baritone singing voice, unlike the snarling, obscured vocals of The Growl. It was a lofty idea, but one to which Avery aspired, encouraged by the challenge. “The whole landscape of the record changed in California,” Avery says. “I love the ambitious nature of Los Angeles. It’s a city that facilitates ambition. Also, the best recording studios are there; I love their history, and their sound.”
Avery settled quickly into his new life amidst the vastly different social circles of Hollywood, enjoying the accessible excess through a sort of meta-lens. He learned to keep one keen eye constantly searching for material while the other drooped in a debauched haze. Soon, he wrote “Wasted on Fidelity,” a wry, swinging song about a failed relationship. “Basically, there was no other happiness in the world,” Avery says. “My mindset at the time was that the only way I could provide happiness for myself is if I paid for it. The lyric says, ‘I gave myself to the sure things’; if I bought a beer, or a whiskey, or other such indulgences I got to consume them... But it's kind of a dark mindset when you think about it... Attempting to buy happiness. I drowned myself in the sure things. I had tried to find fulfilment in the relationship and it didn’t work. And the idea of being a rockstar is so stupid to me, but when I was doing all of that I thought it was funny, so I figured I’d write about it. It’s a very cathartic album, and I tried to tell it as true as I could.”
That melancholic machismo is written into the very DNA of Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams. From the classical, finger-picked guitar on the opener “A Time and Place” and the orchestral vamping of “Do You Know Me By Heart?” to the bombastic, self-assured swagger of “Dance with Me.” He takes an emotive page from the Leonard Cohen songbook-of-longing on “Big Town Girl” just as naturally as he thumbs an aggressive note of Bad Seed strut and Cramps rut on “Watch Me Take It Away.” And by the time he purrs that earnest refrain of “Baby, it’s you” on the album’s closer “C’est Toi,” Avery has surely mastered that drunken tightrope dance.
To sum up that canny balance, look no further than the playful melodrama and sighing strings of the instrumental “The Cry of Captain Hollywood,” whose title rivals “Wasted on Fidelity” for the album’s slyest nod to Avery’s pursuant lifestyle and a narrative characterization of the tireless, consummate artist trying to dull the pain by living frivolously.
He explains his dreams—those ripe, those pipe—as they appear in his mind, filled with all the day-seizing energy and night-stealing endorphins of soulful, spotlit youth, yet not without hope to someday make a home for all that heart. “I just started saying ‘yes’ to things while making the album. I figured: I’m in my mid 20’s, I play in a band, I live in Los Angeles—I’m ripe to dream. But the pipe dream, the underlying theme of the album, if you really listen, is that all I really want is to have someone in my life and to be in love. Maybe they’re pining songs or they’re songs of lament, or of frustration. The pipe dream is the chunky bit. I’m wasn't trying to create an ideal for anyone, I just wanted to fall in love I guess, it's quite nice I hear.”
Now a resident of New York City, Avery looks to continue his search for the ultimate sensations from a fresh vantage point. “I’m trying to enjoy my life as much as I can,” he says. “I don’t look forward too much. I try to live day-to-day and experience it fully.”