the Amber Fresh Chronicles

Up Close & Perthonal with Cam Avery

August 15

Before I went to Paris I had this great idea. I would interview a bunch of people who had albums coming out soon, so I could send bits of the interviews to Cool Perth Nights, and then write up the rest to sell them to big newspapers for lots of money. The first person I wanted to interview was Cam Avery, as The Growl’s first album, was going to be coming out soon.

So I picked up Cam from the city after doing Gulls Review Hour, and took him back to my place after collecting some Monte Carlos (his favourite – put that in your notebooks, teenage girls) and milk (nothing special about that, everyone likes milk).

We had a very good time talking and I made a long recording of the interview with a song at the start, two-thirds-half-way, and the end. I’ll podcast it later, if I make a website called “Up Close and Perthonal with Amber Fresh”.

Here’s the interview, in its entirety – I ain’t going to sell the rest to the papers – I mean, it’s in its entirety apart from a couple of censored sections that are going to be whispered into a hole in the ground, with me playing the part of King Midas’s barber (google it).

Scene: Amber’s loungeroom. Cam on the couch, Amber on a cushion. Guitar in Cam’s hand… Laughter… Cam plays a song Amber calls “In the Belly” but she doesn’t know if that’s its real title…

Amber: That was very beautiful.

Cam: Thank you.

Amber: Umm… So Cam.

Cam: Yes Amber.

Amber: Can you tell me about where you grew up?

Cam: Ah, yeah, I was born in East Fremantle. And then we moved up North. I can’t remember how old I was when we moved up North but we lived up North until I was about 6, 7. We lived up in Broome… And around Karratha and Dampier, I think… I’m pretty sure. I was really little but we lived mostly in Broome in a caravan annex in the poor outskirts.

We lived literally in a caravan annex, this tiny little shack with giant cockroaches and red stones in the front yard. And we had one little patch of plants. Eliott used to sit there and stick the sprinkler up his tshirt ‘cause it was so hot. I’ve got a picture of it.

And then when I moved down here, we moved to Como, and I went to Collier Primary School from age 6 or 7. Then into my grandma’s house in Leeming, with me, my grandma and my mum and Eliott.

Amber: Eliott’s your brother.

Cam: Yes, Eliott’s my brother. The most handsome man in Perth, according to lots of people.

(Amber laughs, because she always gets age-inappropriate crushes on Cam’s younger brother)

Cam: (Cam goes through all the places he lived, and with whom) Yeah, so it was lots of moving round. We didn’t ever really change schools though, Mum always made sure we stayed in the same school. Mum and Dad broke up when I was six. So it was just Mum and us most of the time, except for Dee (grandma) and Lance (Cam’s Mum’s best gay friend) and Sam (Cam’s Mum’s best friend) and Murray (Cam’s Mum’s partner).

Amber: What’s your main feeling from childhood?

Cam: I don’t know I don’t really remember much of it.

Amber: But you’ve got a good memory! (Cam pretty much remembers everything he’s ever seen or heard, including having a photographic-hearing memory for comedy routines which he can watch once and then recite word for word.)

Cam: Nah, not for those things. It was a bit of a weird childhood. Mum’s always saying that I blocked it out. I don’t know what the feeling from childhood was… I remember being fat.

Amber: And with braces!

Cam: (Laughs) And braces- fat and braces. I remember my teeth hurting. Yeah I don’t remember much of it. I remember having a very loving household. But I never really fit in with anyone.

Amber: Really?

Cam: Yeah, no way. I remember having vaguely a hard time at school. I didn’t have many friends. Oh, I had a few friends. I had a few people who now in hindsight pretended to be my friends. But I had a hard time at school I think. I was just kind of like a Mumma’s boy. Wasn’t really good at any sports, except rugby ‘cause I was the biggest kid, they’d just give it to me and I’d knock them all over and score tries. My strongest memory from childhood is school and not really being good at anything, except for, like, choir.

Amber: Yeah, when did music come in?

Cam: It was always there from a pretty young age. Mum introduced me pretty young to Elvis Presley and I was obsessed with Elvis Presley, and Aretha Franklin. I didn’t realise I knew so much Aretha Franklin until I was about 18 and someone put on a cd and I knew every single word to every single song. They were embedded in my brain.

I think it was when mum and dad broke up it was like woman power music. She was always playing it in the car. (Cam starts singing “R E S P ECT”) ‘Cause mum was a good singer, and my Dad was a church leader. So I was always singing, even when I was little. I liked doing it and I did it all the time.

I once played Elvis Presley in a musical. There’s a video of it at my mum’s house. But I was Fat Elvis… ‘Cause I was fat. And I wore a gold suit and everything. And I sung ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’. That was like the first memory of performing on stage.

Amber: Really?

Cam: Yeah, yeah. I’ve got a video of it it’s really funny.

Amber: How did you feel?

Cam: Yeah good. That was the first time I ever started feeling better… I know it sounds like a pity party, I’m not having pity party, but I felt better about myself… Like I knew what I was good at. Because I wasn’t very good at running races or maths. But I remember that was good. I remember (starts giggling) yeah… It was funny, that was my first memory of performance. I don’t really remember standing on stage, I more remember watching the video. I was probably too nervous. I think I was eleven, twelve.

Amber: So how did you go from being Fat Cam that can’t run, being Fat Elvis, to XXXXX?

Cam: No-one knows about this.

Amber: Yeah, I get the scoops!

(This is the thing I’m not going to tell you about, an experience that Cam describes as “Strolling into the belly of the machine” and I describe as his “secret shame”. We discuss it for a while, but as I said, I’ve whispered it into a hole in the ground instead of the internet.)

Amber: When did you start actually writing songs?

Cam: I was probably like seventeen. I didn’t start playing guitar till I was sixteen. I played piano when I was a kid, and I can still play piano ok. But I don’t think I wrote my first proper song until I was seventeen. ‘Cause up until then I just played guitar and surfed and played Jack Johnson songs. And, like, delta blues stuff. I’d been playing chords and stuff on guitar for about a year, and then I started playing slide guitar straight away after that, ‘cause I really liked Skip James and Sun House and those guys. But yeah I don’t think I wrote a song until I was seventeen, eighteen…

Amber: When did you start listening to music that wasn’t…

Cam: Mumma’s music?

Amber: Yeah, mainstream Mumma’s-Boy music.

Cam: (Laughs)

Amber: I don’t mean that in a derogatory way.

Cam: It was probably like Sun House was the first one. Mum didn’t know what I was listening to. I used to just listen to Skip James and Sun House a lot. I guess you could call that not pop-mainstream music. I still really liked gospel and soul music, gospel songs, like chain gang songs, and that kind of thing.. That was probably the first thing that I listened to that wasn’t pop music.

Amber: So, The Growl has come as a gradual thing, you know, via a few other versions of you playing with people… Do you feel like that’s the place where you have your true voice for music, or do you feel like that’s still to come?

Cam: I’ve been thinking about that lots lately… Biscuits!!! (We remember we have biscuits and haven’t been making use of them yet.)

Amber: Biscuits!!

Cam: I don’t know, like… The Growl came at a time and a place where I was very, ah… Wasn’t really feeling my best, you know. I don’t know what my true voice is yet. If you’re going to call it that. I don’t know… I can’t even relate to some of the songs that are on the album, because I’m in such a different mindset to when I wrote them. Some of them were just, outpours of like… thoughts, where you kind of don’t even know what you’re writing. And the music became really primal and kind of heavy because that was the way I was feeling at the time. But yeah I suppose it is the most no-holds-barred, the most emotionally attached thing, you know. That’s the thing that I feel most strongly about. Those songs. Especially the more recent ones.

Amber: I feel like it’s your true thing. Like the other things (i.e. drumming for POND) are obviously enjoyable for you but like, you have that… You know, that blues, deep inside you, don’t you reckon?

Cam: Yeah I suppose it is my… Yeah it’s hard to… The Growl’s the only one where after I’ve written the songs and recorded them and played them half a dozen times, it’s almost not fun to play them anymore because it brings up shitty memories and shit like that.

Amber: For The Growl do you feel like being here in Perth influenced that? Anything about other people you were with?

Cam: Yeah, mostly…. I was in another band and there was a gig coming up supporting Abbe (May), I became friends with Abbe, and she was like do you want to do it with Red Shoes Boy or do you want to do it with The Growl? And I was kind of like, I feel like doing it with The Growl ‘cause I’ve got these songs that I want to do. So yeah Abbe was the one that shoved me in that initial direction, I suppose, at the time. And Clint Oliver was a massive, massive, massive, massive part of that as well. Whereas I had these songs that were sort of… Weren’t what he listened to, and weren’t really even what I listened to. And we just started recording at his house. He wanted to record stuff and I wanted to record songs.

The Growl was originally just a moniker for my solo project, ‘cause when I was playing in that other band, it was like “Cameron Avery from Red Shoes Boy” (in a dorky deep voice) and I didn’t like that so I just called it The Growl, originally ‘cause I thought it would be funny.

Amber: So the way I see things, this is just before The Growl gets real big and you guys are gonna get to play all the big shows and stuff, but I feel like you’ve kind of had a test run of being around the big stuff, but not being in the spotlight.

Cam: Yeah it has been like that, like playing in the POND…

Amber: Yeah but also going on tour with Tame Impala…

Cam: Yeah. Initially, when I moved in with Kev and became friends with Kev, I remember heaps of times he’d just be like “I want you to sit here and play drums for three minutes and don’t stop…” and he’d press record and walk off, and then I’d do a take… He was the one that initially told me, “If you’ve got ideas and you don’t feel like anyone is going to listen to you, just do it on your own.” So it was definitely probably Abbe that shoved me in that direction and then Kevin.

So saying that, being in Perth definitely was a huge influence. But it might have come out as something different if I lived somewhere else. Well, it definitely would have come out as something different if I lived somewhere else.

Amber: You were destined to be here.

(We both laugh)

Cam: But yeah I did have a bit of a test run of seeing what all the big shows are all about. Being friends with Kev and Nick and all the rest.

Amber: What have you prelearnt that you might have had to just bumble along on your own for? Do you think you’ve been prepared…

Cam: I think I’ve seen like… I don’t know… Everyone’s really chilled about it. And Kevin’s always been hell… Kevin and Nick, Jay, Dom have all been really just like (makes a noise that I interpret as a very chillaxed-Perthy “Whatever”)… And it’s the general thing playing in POND, like, when are people going to realise we’re just a bunch of boofheads from Perth? No-one really takes themselves seriously, compared to some of the other bands I’ve seen touring round.

More so just like the touring dynamic and how to work hard and when to work hard. Being in a band, one thing is recording where it’s like a spontaneous idea and capturing that thing in recording… Capturing a time and a place in a recording. Whereas, it’s like work when you’re on the road. I really like it now, I like the idea of rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing. And not setting out like a set act, but everyone knowing the songs so well, ‘cause then everyone can grow attached to the songs, rather than just sitting and playing them. When everyone knows them so well, it allows spontaneous things to happen onstage.

I really like the idea that it’s work. You gotta get up there and you gotta know what you gotta do first when you’re playing a big show, like… I always try and think about the first five minutes – It’s little things like that, trying to think about what you’ve gotta do in the first five minutes of the show. If you get your confidence and your vibe up from there, then you’ll be pretty set for the rest of the gig, you know?

And just learning about how touring works, and festivals and that kind of stuff. Just knowing touring dynamics, when to give people space and when to get your space. It’s good to know where and when to push things. When to switch on and when to switch off. That’s probably the best things I’ve learned.

Amber: Do you want to play one more song?

Cam: Ummm

Amber: For the middle? The two thirds middle?

Cam: Ok, um….

(Cam plays a song about waves and sharks and sailors.)

Amber: Oooh that’s great! That’s one new one right?

Cam: Yeah. Oh it’s been around for ages I just hadn’t recorded it. I only just recorded it the other day.

Amber: Ooh it’s so nice… Umm, who plays on the actual recording? And is it going to be on the album?

Cam: Yeah, it’s going to be on the album. It’s James Ireland on piano and Mark Early playing the bass.

Amber: Oh my goodness…

Cam: The two new members of Le Growle.

Amber: I’m almost fainting, thinking of you three together!

Cam: Yep, we did it the other day.

Amber: So yeah, I just want to ask you a couple of things about your album that’s going to come out. Is it still going to be called ‘What Would Christ Do’.

Cam: Mmhmm.

Amber: Other people will start asking you about the title, but I get to ask you first. Just tell me about it.

Cam: It came about kind of by accident. I was sitting on the porch… And there’s lots of religious references on the album, in the lyrics… And I said to Ash, I was like, “What should we call the album?” and someone else said “Growlbum” and Ash said “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner” and we were like yeah we could just call it “WWCD”, that would be cool, and then Jeremy Cope leant over and said “You know that means ‘what would Christ do’” and I was like, wowh, I like that. I don’t know, just ‘cause I grew up in a very heavy church environment. It was kind of just like the idea that, you know, if he was in the situation I was in – he knows what to do I suppose – but what would he do if he was feeling that kind of, shitty about things?

It’s a bit cheeky though. ‘Cause I don’t follow that train of thought anymore you know. I don’t pray or anything anymore.

Amber: If there was a God, and He came to talk to you, like came in here, what do you reckon He might say to you?

Cam: Ahh, firstly, “Can I have a Monte Carlo?” Umm… I don’t know. I don’t know what he’d say. I have no idea. My mum used to always talk about how she used to speak to God every Day and dad spoke to God every day and I just don’t have any memories of feeling “our Lord” with me. I don’t really have any memories of that. Never felt it. I think I have prayed to God a couple of times, in the last desperation, maybe when I was… seventeen. I think I just said it cos I was feeling really crap about something, being a dramatic teenager, but I think that was the last time. I never received any answer, not that I know of anyway, maybe I don’t even know what it is, what I’m looking for.

I don’t know what he’d say if he was in the room. It’s weird to think about growing up in a really religious background and having no memory of any connection with Jesus, you know?

Amber: Presumably we’ll still be friends in a few years time.

Cam: I hope so.

Amber: When I play this back to you in a couple of years, what would you like your life to be like… In a few years from now?

Cam: I don’t know, my idea of idealism (haha) changes all the time. Yeah it’s hard to think about what… I don’t know what I want. I just take opportunities as they’re presented to me. I just hope that I can still write songs. I have this constant fear that I’m just never going to write another song ever again, or never going to be that in touch with what I want to do.

I don’t really have plans. I don’t really make plans, ever. I kind of just try and live very… I don’t know I’m always flying by the seat of my pants. If an opportunity’s put to me I just try and take it as it is. Yeah, I don’t know what I want. I think that’s in general with my life. I just still want to be able to create things…

Maybe I just want good friends, good friends around me. It’s nice to have people that care about you and you care about them. I guess that’s what I’d want, in two years time, as long as I still have good friends, like I do now, that’s what I’d want in two years. Career wise, I don’t know. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, people hearing your music. Sometimes it can change the way you feel about a song. Like it has with a lot of the songs that are on the album. Gives a completely different feeling.

Amber: When it’s in public?

Cam: Yeah, shit yeah. Heaps of songs from the album. First it’s got this massive emotional attachment in your brain and then all of a sudden it’s just a hook, or a melody or… something like that. So I don’t know career-wise what I’d want.

Amber: Thanks for talking to me Cam

Cam: Thanks for talking to me! I like talking to you.

Amber: I like talking to you too.

Cam: Woooooo!

(The sound of a very successful high five)

Amber: Do you feel like playing one last song to ah… take us out?

(Cam plays John the Revelator, I turn the recording off. We got to the kitchen and drink more tea.) The End. When I put out the recording, you can hear the songs too.