This article originally appeared in print in AdHoc 29.
When I call the idiosyncratic singer-songwriter Alex Cameron in October, he is fawning over his surroundings: the quaint city of Stockholm, where he’s scheduled to play a sold-out show that night. “It’s a beautiful old theater in the center of town,” he says. One of the perks of the venue is that each band member gets his own green room. “It’s good to be rewarded every now and then, you know?”
He deserves it. Miami Memory, which he released this September on Secretly Canadian, is probably the Australian musician’s most cohesive and impactful record to date. Alex’s music has always been driven by his knack for incarnating whimsical, entertaining characters that highlight the foibles of masculinity, such as the perverted douchebag on “Studmuffin96” or the unfaithful boyfriend engaging with women online (“True Lies”). Miami Memory is populated by some of these quirky figures, but it also sees him stepping out from behind the shadows to sing from his own perspective—mostly to detail his overflowing love for his girlfriend, Girls actress Jemima Kirke, though they’re hardly conventional love songs. The title track oozes with cringe-worthy lust (“Eating your ass like an oyster / The way you came like a tsunami”), while “Other Ladies” is a serenade of reassurance that the only woman he desires is her.
We spoke to Alex about becoming a character in his own songs, his tribute to sex workers, and his favorite moments on the record.
AdHoc: What was on your mind when you started writing Miami Memory?
Alex Cameron: I started writing it in Far Rockaway, New York [in May 2018]. I had a small apartment out there, and I moved a small 1970s Wurlitzer piano in and just started playing. I came up with a lot of ideas, then I put a batch of those ideas down and took them on the road with me for the tour. I started writing lyrics while I was traveling. Slowly but surely, I realized that I was writing love songs. I started to appreciate the fact that I was in love and the reason I was writing was because I wanted to express myself. I wanted to yell it off the rooftops. When did you decide that the album was a gift for your girlfriend? Honestly, ever since I started dating Jemima, everything that I do I give to her. Even some of my performances—when she’s in the room, I’m doing it for her. We’re talking about an extremely talented and generous person who works really hard in her own field, and for that reason, I want to try and say, “Hey! I see you. Here’s something that’ll make you happy.”
How did the songwriting process compare to your previous records?
I guess I wanted to hold the magnifying glass up to myself a little bit. I do want to continue writing characters, but I wanted to know that I could write about myself and about the people around me. I noticed a window of opportunity opening quite naturally, and I thought, “Oh, let’s explore this. Let’s make it happen and make it good.”
Did you feel like the stakes were higher because this was your first time writing love songs—and writing them from your own perspective?
Not really. I trust my songs, I trust my band, I trust my audience. I’m trying to invite people into a world, not bust into theirs. It’s a very different approach from pop songwriting. People need to come to this fire and discover it themselves. I want to write very specific things that can even take some people time to gather. I’m not trying to be that guy that infiltrates people’s lives. Like I said, people can come to me when they need me.
What’s the story behind the album title?
It was a title of a photograph I took. It was just a selfie of me and Jemima. I took a photo on the street, and she just looks fuckin’ gorgeous. I had it in my background on my phone for a while, and I look at it and I feel nice. I really liked the title, and then I thought, “That sounds like more than a title. It sounds like a collection of photos.” Then, I thought, “Maybe that’ll be the name of my photo book, if I ever do a photo book.” Then, I realized, me doing a photo book is a long way away, if it’s ever gonna happen at all. I had songs written as a dedication to that photograph, and then I realized that the whole album sounded like “Miami Memory.” I just know what my albums are gonna be called. I already know what my next album is gonna be called.
What inspired you to write a tribute to sex workers, with “Far From Born Again”?
I just have, in my own private way, a kinship to what they do. I have a lot of friends who are sex workers. I felt that it’s such a legitimate industry, [but] it gets ignored, and it’s only discussed as if it’s a crime industry. It’s clearly readily available, and a lot of people use it, myself included. I felt like if someone’s in that line of work and needs vague assurance that someone’s on their side—and the song doesn’t necessarily characterize them as anything but normal working people—then I want to provide that anthem. I hope it connects.
What were you listening to when making this record?
I was listening to Thin Lizzy a lot. I was listening to Marianne Faithfull. Bonnie Raitt. I was listening to a lot of Bob Dylan. I listened to Pusha T.
Lastly, do you have any favorite moments on the record?
At the moment, I really love “Other Ladies.” We’ve been performing it every night, and sometimes I feel tingles when I’m singing it live. It’s really about a specific moment in my life—[and] I just feel grateful for that song. I feel lucky to have it. What’s crazy about this tour is that the record’s only been out for a week, and people are already singing along to every song. It’s been eye-opening. It’s a moment to reflect and be like, “Shit, we’re doing okay. Let’s keep playing.”