Tall, lanky and blonde hair for days. That’s how Alex Cameron first appeared in his 2016 video for “She’s Mine,” with dance moves so awkward they were equal parts sexy and charming. The Australian released his debut LP, Jumping the Shark, that year on the Secretly Canadian label, a synthy, dark and minimalist record that portrayed Cameron as a blowhard lounge singer. Was it a joke? Or was he in on it?
Cameron was serious—sort of. And Jumping caught the attention of Killers frontman Brandon Flowers. Cameron co-wrote five songs on the Vegas band’s 2017 album Wonderful Wonderful and opened for some dates of its 2017-18 tour. Now, after recording and filming a video here, Cameron is finally playing Las Vegas. The Weekly caught up with him ahead of his winter tour.
I’d like to talk about your relationship to the Killers. Before you toured with them, you had already recorded with Brandon Flowers. How did you meet? I was in Tallahassee; it was me and my saxophone player Roy Malloy, who’s also my business partner. We ...just played a show in a record store for about four people and we were driving around and really just kind of trying to sell records out the back of our trunk. After the show my phone vibrated in my pocket and it was an email from Brandon, from his personal email, saying that he’d heard [Jumping] and he was really excited about it...
What did you do at that point? At first I said to Roy, “Oh man, I think Brandon Flowers just wrote us an email.” The strange thing is The Killers, they’re just this band that has these songs that—they’re in the ether, they’re the atmosphere. It’s beyond music at that point, it’s folklore, these are folk songs they’ve created that have become anthems and are celebrated by a variety of different cultures for a variety of different reasons, so this is really what you’re talking about being the goal as a songwriter, and some people reach that goal in their lifetime, other people don’t, other people’s songs get covered and no one ever knows them. The Killers and Brandon represent to me that rare moment when someone actually gets to experience their own songs travel through culture, and so it meant a lot to me to receive an email from someone who I classify as one of the best in the business.
So I just sat with it and I wrote him the next day and we started a conversation and he invited us to Las Vegas to record and so we did. We flew to Las Vegas after the tour and we had about $8 in our bank account and I wrote to him and said, “Look, we don’t have much money, we’re going to need somewhere to stay,” and he said it’s all been taken care of, you and Roy have your own apartment, we’ll see you in the studio tomorrow. So there we were in Las Vegas for the first time ever staying at the Palms in an apartment there and sure enough the next day we went to the studio and it was go time. We showed him some ideas, he showed us some ideas, and we just became sort of like, a good wall for each other to bounce ideas off for each other’s records, and we really clicked and had fun. ... He helped me with melodies and I helped him with lyrics, that’s kind of how it went.
Did a lot of those songs end up on Forced Witness? In that session we added two songs to Forced Witness, and there was a second and a third session where we finished a whole bunch of Killers stuff, like lyrics and compositions. In some ways I felt like an assistant, lyrically, having conversations about the songs and just being a set of ears there that was interested and excited.
You embody these brazen, over the top characters in your songs. Do you write these songs while in character, or do you become the character later? I think that it helps to remove myself personally from the song at the very center of the creative process so I start with my perspective and then I let it off the leash. I let the song go as far as the song can go, and then at the end I reel it back in. ... I feel like I’m at my best and speaking most honestly when I’m not censoring myself.
I think at times I’m in character when I’m writing, and other times not so much—it’s not really a science, I just think it’s a feeling.
Your song “Marlon Brando” got a lot of attention, some negative, for a particular word choice, though it was satirical. How would the song’s character in Marlon Brando react to the Gillette commercial? I love the Gillette commercial! I think the character in “Marlon Brando” doesn’t really have a huge amount of independence, personality-wise. I think he’s a very much an in-formation kind of guy who’s constantly trying to do things to impress his close circle of friends. He’s a very closed-minded guy. I think he would’ve probably taken [the commercial] the wrong way, and seen it as a threat to his well being as opposed to an opportunity to learn something.
Your music video for “Candy May” is set in the desert and also takes a stroll through Downtown Las Vegas. What went into choosing these locations?
I love the city—I really love it there. I was completely smitten by it when I first came, and when I was talking with Meghan [McGarry], the director, we were talking about shooting in LA and we were looking for locations. I was like, can we just drive four hours to Vegas? Because if we get to Vegas, this thing’ll just shoot itself; we won’t even have to location scout. There’s so much happening, especially Downtown and even on the outskirts where we shot in the canyons and those kind of highway shots.
It’s such an incredible place, the lights, the casinos. There’s so much more to it than buck nights and reality TV—do you guys call them buck nights? They call them bachelor parties?
That’s a buck night? Yeah. There’s more to it than bachelor parties and reality television.
I got a really good view of it because I was hanging with Brandon and Ronnie [Vannucci] and Mark [Stoermer] and they were showing me the spots and it was just like any other cool small town, the way I saw it. So that’s what I wanted to capture.
Your sound changed quite a bit from Jumping the Shark to Forced Witness. What was happening in your life—beyond meeting Brandon—that encouraged this change and progression? I think my goal is, sonically, to get more and more clarity so the albums are more enjoyable to listen to. I would like to think that I’m honing in on something and every time I’m chipping away and getting closer to having a recording that I’m completely satisfied with—‘cause I’m not satisfied with anything. You get satisfied for a moment, you think “Okay, that’s good, I’ve done it,” and now it’s time to do something better with the next one. For me it’s about finding clarity, and there is so little clarity in life, in general, that if I make an album it’s my opportunity to attempt at carving out my own piece, my own vision that I know is true and accurate, you know? I think that’s what inspired the change.
Forced Witness focuses on these old-school, bigoted male characters as well as partnered men who use the Internet to solicit sex from strangers. Are you continuing those discussions, or is your upcoming album entirely different as well? I’ve gone somewhere different [laughs]. I’m ecstatic about it. I feel like I’ve actually been able to make a record that is really quite true and honest to who I am as a person this time around. There’s even less character work and it’s much more personal. Unfortunately or fortunately, whichever way you want to look at it, there’s still decrepitness, but there’s definitely a lot of beauty there too. It’s a much more personal record and I think because of that I’m enjoying a real sense of elation and satisfaction because I’ve actually said something that was true to me, and not necessarily true to a character.
Besides Brandon Flowers and Roy Malloy, you’ve also worked with Angel Olsen and Jonathan Rado of Foxygen, among others. What’s it like getting to work with such great artists all the time? It’s such a relief. ... It’s a really sweet break from all your day to day stress and drama. It’s just such an incredible thing to work with people who get it and who want it and are going to help you find it.
I saw that you recently finished tracking your new album. Are you going to be teasing any new songs on tour? Yeah, I want to. We’re still figuring out exactly which ones, and we’ll be rotating the setlist. I want to try out at least two new ones on tour.
When will the new album be released? I want to put it out as soon as possible. It’s being mixed right now. I would love to have it out after summer. I want to have music out before then, but we’ll see. I have to talk to the label, but I’m going to be pushing, because I’d like to get it out there.
You’ll be playing Vegas for the first time. What can people expect from your show? We’re going to run through a whole bunch of songs from both albums. I’m treating it as an opportunity to talk to people about the process and about what goes into making the project work. It really depends on the crowd. If it’s a full room and people just want to dance, I’m just gonna play the music. But if the people are attentive and want to hear me talk, then I’m going to go into things a little bit more and try and tell the whole story.
ALEX CAMERON February 6, 8 p.m., $14-$17. Bunkhouse Saloon, 702-982-1764.