Adelaide four-piece, Bad//Dreems are set to release their first full-length LP, Dogs At Bay. In a series of interviews undertaken since 2013, guitarist Alex Cameron discusses the initial inspiration for the band, the band’s place in the lineage of Australian rock and roll and defending against aspersions that Aus-rock can’t be intelligent or sensitive.
Since 2013, Bad//Dreems has occupied a special place in the hearts and minds of many, garnering a strong following with a string of singles that enliven and invigorate the soul with vital energy. Australia has a long lineage of bands that embody the dusty, driven and desperate nature of the populace and Bad//Dreems has been hailed as pioneers of the next generation of Australian mongrel. Their style is less pub-rock languor and more bristling agitation – cantankerous under the hot sun – and it is thanks to this dehydrated world-weariness that many find the Adelaide foursome relatable.
As group of young blokes growing up in the bizarre isolation of the South Australian capitol of Adelaide, their outward looking nature goes against the small world complacency that many indulge in. The music of Bad//Dreems is fuelled by unhappiness and restlessness, brought on by dead-end jobs and the passing of days with nothing planned except to watch more days slip by. Shitty relationships and interactions with shitty people are all fodder for musical inspiration and though catharsis is part of the whole process there has always been plenty for the Baddies to find irksome. As searing as the music is, Bad//Dreems also add more than a bit of sensitivity to their music, creating a soft centre underneath the hard-bitten exterior.
August 21, 2015 is the day that Bad//Dreems release their long-awaited full-length album, Dogs At Bay and while it will assuredly be a great piece of Australian rock and roll that deserves examination, the occasion marks a great opportunity to look backward at what occurred to bring the band to this point. I had the pleasure of chatting to guitarist Alex Cameron on a couple of occasions over the past few years, and while laziness on my part contributed to the delay of any published interview it fortuitously allowed me to look at how Bad//Dreems have grown from its inception to now.
When Alex Cameron moved back to Adelaide, it was after living in Melbourne for a few years playing in bands. The experience had left him jaded, and he was content to let music lie and recuperate back where he grew up. By chance he met Ben Marwe, and the two became friends through a love of music. The duo took in gigs by the likes of Bitch Prefect and Scott and Charlene’s Wedding and was inspired by the new wave of song writing emerging from the city. Although hesitant at first, Alex consented to jamming and recording with Ben and bandmates James Bartold and Miles Wilson.
“The reason why I had hesitated being in a band before was because I knew that if I started one it would become an obsession pretty quickly and I wouldn’t want anything I did to be anything other than the best I could do,” confessed Alex during our first chat in 2013. “We didn’t have any goals in terms of getting played on the radio or anything; we just wanted to make some recordings.”
The recordings yielded the tunes that would feature on the band’s debut EP. The likes of ‘Chills’, ‘Caroline’, and ‘Too Old’ were recorded with the assistance of Jack Farley and Johnny Mackay from Children Collide. The songs embodied the blistering heat of the Australian climate and contained small-town lamentations about love and the inevitable self-reflection and self-sabotage inherent in developing one’s personal identity. It wasn’t long before people took notice, and murmurs about the band’s potential to be the next coming of Aus-rock bubbled around the music industry.
“We wanted to make something quite honest and unpretentious,” reflected Alex. “We decided we wanted to be our own thing, we were never really part of that whole scene in Adelaide. The overriding approach was it was going to be about song writing; the songs were going to come first and foremost.”
“Any sort of sonic palette was gonna serve the song. We made guitar music that was primarily based on Australian and New Zealand influences, bands like The Clean or The Birthday Party, Roland S. Howard, even through to some sorts of Paul Kelly and The Go-Betweens and The Triffids. There were some pop numbers – more melodic – and then on the other hand we had the louder, darker, noisier songs. We’re always going to have a dark aspect to our music, but we tried to bring that together with more pop sensibilities.”
Much of Bad//Dreems’ early work was influenced and informed by the areas within and surrounding Adelaide. While a major city, Adelaide is still remote and is seen as less of a destination compared to the east coast trio. A bizarre connection with the grass-roots nature of Australian living seemed to help Bad//Dreems tap into the bristling frustration of being surrounded by an unforgiving landscape.
“I guess there is a lot of Adelaide that is good fodder for creativity,” says Alex. “It’s got a really interesting history of these bizarre crimes and murders. I guess one part that I find interesting about it is if you get away from the inner-city and the leafy suburbs where it’s very middle class, there are a lot of interesting places where urban decay takes over and in the outer suburbs it becomes very dry and arid and it’s got these wasteland type places. That is tied in with me anyway, coming back here and feeling a bit lost or alienated in what you are doing, the aesthetic of those places tied in with the song writing nicely.”
The early sound of Bad//Dreems as evidenced by the EP was dominated by tightly coiled guitars and the shredded howls of Ben Marwe’s vocals. Although the songs tapped into personal crises and self-introspection, there was an undercurrent of menace that kept the music edgy and enthralling. There was a loathing that saturated every note and pointed inwardly or out it was one element that caught the inner-ear of early adopters.
“I like dark music,” confesses Alex. “We try and tap into that, we try and convey that in the songs and sounds we use. It’s that thing that’s kind of expressed out of boredom but under that boredom is something sinister, something almost a bit scary and foreboding.”
A year later and the band’s profile was rising. 2014 saw the group perform on tours with The Scientists, The Preatures, Cosmic Psychos as well as a string of headline tours. The band stepped overseas for some shows and earned a larger following. Although it was a banner year, Bad//Dreems only put forth a 7”, recorded with the assistance of Mark Opitz who worked with the likes of INXS, Cold Chisel and Bob Dylan. Around that time the band shifted from the personal to more of a commentary on the Australian condition through the stories of others. Bad//Dreems began evolving into a mature, sensitive and culturally-aware outfit and as thoughts turned to recording Dogs At Bay the band decided to use the opportunity to add more substance underneath the ruggedness. I spoke with Alex again at BIGSOUND in 2014 and we touched on the nature of connecting with an audience through stories, pointing out societies faults and dissolving the cultural cringe associated with Australian rock.
“It’s kind of a challenge at first,” Alex explained. “Writing a song to tell a story can almost be more powerful a lot of the time. Rather than doing something that’s just stream of consciousness you are trying to think and empathise with the characters that you are dealing with. If you are the one doing that it’s probably going to be easier to communicate to those that are listening.”
“Most of the EP was from a first person perspective, not necessarily about personal experiences but imagery. Now there are more stories we’ve picked out; one of the songs that will be on the album is about the New Boys, which is a bikies without bikes gang. It’s an interesting story that has gone on in Adelaide for a while.”
Alex expressed that although the comparisons to the Australian rock icons from 30 years ago are flattering, he didn’t think that Bad//Dreems suited the classification of beer swilling bogan rockers, in fact far from it.
“I think that a lot of good Australian music from 30 years ago was able to combine something that was quite down to earth with intelligent insight,” Alex says. “Even though it’s a touchy subject, a lot of those bands in the 70s and 80s like The Saints and The Go-Betweens, even like Midnight Oil, those bands actually did have an element of masculinity but it wasn’t chauvinistic. They were strong men and I guess the public saw it as a kind of rough and tumble scene, those bands came up playing in places where you’d get beaten up if you were shit. That’s something that’s very Australian to me, that you have got these tough-shelled guys but they’re actually trying to do something that’s sensitive.”
“It’s almost a bit of cultural cringe seeing someone play rock music in Australia, like it’s some bogan type of thing, but it shouldn’t be like that. We are a nation of intelligent people who have a great musical lineage and we should remember that. I like to think that there is scope for intelligent rock music; stuff that the every man can relate to but that isn’t dumbed down. We live in a pretty strange time. It’s hard not to be so apathetic about everything. There are lots of things that we need to question, like the undercurrent of sinister nationalism that we see welling up in the Cronulla riots, people’s obsession with body image and the like.”
As of publication, Dogs At Bay is five days away. The band has put forth a number of singles that continue the trend of strong-arm rock with savvy cultural commentary. ‘Cuffed & Collared‘ and ‘Hiding To Nothing‘ rail against the monotony and boredom of life with considerable bite – tunes worthy of becoming anthemic rallying calls for a dispirited generation. I reached out to Alex one more time to get some insight into how the band is feeling now that they are on the verge of releasing their biggest statement to date. I asked what he hopes people take from Dogs At Bay, how he hopes the band will be perceived and what stories they touched on this go around.
“I hope they see that the band is more than the ‘pub rock’ and ‘blue collar rock’ tag that seems to be our go to by-line,” Alex confesses. “I think it’s sad that because you are four fairly masculine guys that play loud guitar music that there are preconceptions that you are beer-swilling cock rockers; or as one scribe recently put it ‘Bad//Dreems choose bongs and music over footy’.”
“For Dogs At Bay probably the biggest change was just being more fully formed as a band, musicians and songwriters. The EP was more of a potpourri of influences where I’d like to think this album was more cohesive in sound and theme. Even though we had more time the album was probably recorded in a more traditionalist sense than previously.”
For the record: Dogs At Bay is a great album of intelligent and sharp observations on the modern Australian condition. To say it is quintessential Australian rock does not mean I am comparing it to the aesthetic of icons from decades gone, more that it evidences a growth in the appropriation of the hard-bitten attitude to convey thought on the state of the nation currently. Many forget the raw emotion of bands such as Hunters and Collectors, scathing commentary of Midnight Oil and even the forlorn nostalgia within Cold Chisel’s ‘Flame Trees’, but aside from being fans of this music and being Australian, there is more to the sound of Bad//Dreems than the continuation of driving guitar music. Bad//Dreems uses the influences of the landscape, modern living and well-written songs to be more than a ‘rock band’, they use it to be honest about things that bug them and confidently dismiss the bullshit in favour of real truths – and that’s what makes them vital to our national music heritage.
Dogs At Bay will be available on Friday August 21 through Ivy League Records.