It was the morning after the election when musician Alex Cameron found out Donald Trump won the American presidency through a phone call from his bandmate and business partner, Roy Molloy.
“It felt like the most significant election event of my adult life,” says Cameron, who is Australian.“My first reaction was to go and refresh my knowledge of Hitler’s rise to power.”
Trump aside, he describes the just-finished European leg of his tour as a complete success. Well, almost. He and Molloy were paid in cash every night and made a proper killing playing roulette at a casino in Amsterdam. Then, in a particularly sick twist of fate, the pair had everything stolen out from the back of the sedan they were renting.
“They took everything except the multiple copies of our record stored in the back seat,” Cameron says. “Let that be an indication of exactly how hard it is to hock these things.”
And let that quote be an indication of Cameron’s left-of-center, morbidly hilarious approach to life and art. He’s not yet 40, but he only recently stopped wearing synthetic wrinkles and acne scars during his performances. Never fear: This look (complete with a hearing aid) is immortalized on the cover of his debut album, Jumping the Shark, released this August.
Speaking of which, Jumping the Shark is only further proof of Cameron’s penchant for the delectably dark. His bizarre, sparse synthpop lasers in on characters who stumble through the sleaziest parts of civilized society, usually while intoxicated. On “Real Bad Looking,” he plays the roles of multiple scumbags at a local bar, including an aging housewife getting drunk in public. “I am the goddamn, drunkest ugliest girl at the bar,” he coos in the track. “Who the hell are you to tell me that I can’t leave my kid in the car?”
Jumping the Shark’s stories of postmodern and showbiz woe — all delivered in Cameron’s deadpan tenor reminiscent of Nick Cave — offer little in the way of grand resolutions meant to restore listeners’ faith in the human experiment. Cameron is at his best when he’s at his bleakest, and he knows it.
The first song on Jumping the Shark, “Happy Ending,” follows a permanently down-on-his-luck character as he attempts to win his ex back, all the while insisting that this period of unemployment is no more than a minor setback. If Cameron’s characters have anything in common, it’s that they are unreliable narrators perpetually blinded by their own false hopes. In the end, none of Cameron’s lyrical subjects-cum-victims ever escape the old dirty towns they swore to leave behind.
Cameron refers to his narratives as “very specific personal tragedies” culled from his days as an investigator’s assistant and a delivery man.
“My hope is that in studying these characters and in reading about them or writing about them, I can pose some kind of thread through an individual’s tragedy and the greater scope of existence,” he says. “It’s what I know. And it stays vibrant.”
One gets the sense that Cameron doesn’t view his own story as so far removed from the tragedies he tells through his lyrics. He refers to himself as an “ambitious, unknown musician,” sounding hype-averse as a means of self-preservation. There are no grandiose declarations of current or forthcoming greatness, only statements such as, “We’re seeing this all unfold just the same as you all are,” and, “I think I’ve got it under control.”
In fact, he’s unflaggingly realistic. When asked about Vinyl Me, Please naming Jumping the Shark one of the 15 most overlooked albums of 2016, his reaction is pretty much the opposite of some pseudo-honored acceptance speech.
“I think about it like this: If I’m running a restaurant and my wait staff don’t respect me, and Gordon Ramsay is coming in and telling me I’m a joke and I got to put the bottle down or my injured wife is going to leave me, and I get a letter from some magazine saying that my restaurant has been overlooked, I’m looking at the cash register and I’m saying, ‘Jesus, man, tell me how you really feel,’ ” he says. “I don’t need anyone telling me that. I just look at my bank account.”
On the bright side, his bank account will stretch far enough to get him to New York to spend Thanksgiving with “a beautiful woman, her handsome gay friend, and two preachers.”
Which, to no one’s surprise, sounds exactly like something out of an Alex Cameron tune.