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Bad Dreems General NEW_HIGH

Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips catches up with Bad//Dreems’ guitarist Alex Cameron for a chat about the creation of their debut album ‘Dogs At Bay’.

Adelaide, the city of churches doesn’t fare well lyrically in the annals of Australian rock music history compared to its bigger siblings Melbourne and Sydney. Apart from the Jimmy Barnes song Largs Pier Hotel, Powderfinger’s Hindley St and Paul Kelly’s Adelaide, you’d be struggling to find too many more references in local contemporary rock. (Pause for the barrage of South Australians racing to their keyboards to inform us of songs we hadn’t considered and no, Bound For South Australia doesn’t count as a rock song). Bad//Dreems is a four-piece rock outfit from Adelaide and have just released their debut album Dogs At Bay. As with many other bands releasing their first album, the media likes to latch on to some kind of hook to identify and pigeon-hole them with. In Bad//Dreems’ case, it’s been their hometown Adelaide. This is not entirely unwarranted, as the band has made several lyrical references to their city on the new recording. However, the guys are keen to point out that they didn’t set out to make any grand statement of allegiance, they are simply writing about their life experiences and Adelaide is where it all happened.

“We do get asked a lot about Adelaide,” says guitarist Alex Cameron. “It’s not like we’re being parochial and trying to say Adelaide is a great place or anything though. If you look at all of the songwriters that we are into, it is hard to think of any of them without thinking of the time and place they are from. You think of Springsteen, you think New Jersey. You think of Dylan, you think of Greenwich Village. One of the things we gathered from that is to write great songs, you have to write about stuff that you know and then it comes across as honest and authentic. For better or worse, we know Adelaide.”

Guitarist Alex Cameron moved back to Adelaide to work as a surgeon after spending time in Melbourne. It was in Melbourne that he found a thirst for contemporary Australian rock music, the kind which has been a major influence on Bad//Dreems raw, energetic sound.
“I kind of didn’t get into rock or contemporary music as an obsession until quite late,” Alex explains. “I was lucky to have a fairly tasteful old man and his record collection ranged from The Rolling Stones to MC5, and Patti Smith. I didn’t really get into music from the current era until I moved to Melbourne and that was a great time in music. I got to see Eddie Current, Love of Diagrams, My Disco, great bands like that. I think the premise with this band though, the thing that came first in the band was songwriting. We’re collectively into songwriting. Especially with this album, we were listening to things like Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, The Saints and The Replacements, Don Walker Paul Kelly, that sort of thing. So collectively we’re into those and everyone has their own take on them. We are interested in things that have a strong basis in songwriting rather than anything that is a genre exercise or pushing experimental boundaries in terms of sound.”

What Bad/Dreems’ sound lacks in complexity, it more than makes up for in its power and vibrancy. It’s the kind of music legendary Australian producer Mark Opitz (Cold Chisel, The Angels, INXS, The Divinyls) is known for working with. It’s no surprise that he took a shine to Bad//Dreems and agreed to produce their first 7 inch and consequently the debut album too.
“He listened to our recordings and he saw some videos of us performing,” says Alex on how Opitz approached recording the band. “It didn’t take him long to get where we were coming from. He quickly cottoned on to the fact that we were a live band that was trying to focus on songwriting that had some depth in it. He’s big on feel and if you look at any of the great rock songs, they have amazing feel which is built from the rhythm section up, so the emphasis was on capturing that feel. Whereas previously we may have worked with people who have used a click track, chopping things up and putting them in time … Mark was like, no that is not necessarily the way to go. You don’t play to a click track live, you’re all good players, so let’s get you in a room and capture the feel of each song. In some cases it would be the first take. We would get in there and not even know that the tape was rolling and he’d say, that’s it, let’s move onto the next one.”

Bad-Dreems_Hiding-To-NothngAfter working with Bad/Dreems the first time, Opitz also offered some sage-like advice to Alex Cameron in regard to his gear. He’d been using his beloved old, modified ’87 American Strat but for the experienced Opitz, that guitar just wasn’t working in the studio and suggested he address the issue before recording the album.
“I really love the sound of my old Strat but it was kind of the bane of Opitz’s life. The intonation was out and it sounds good live when it is loud but when recorded, it didn’t really cut the mustard. I actually got a new guitar between that time and the time that we started the album, which was a Fender Custom Shop ’56 Strat, a beautiful thing. Mark actually gave me good advice. I wanted to buy an old Stratocaster but rather than shell out … well a real ’56 Strat is priceless obviously but rather than shell out thousands for a 60s or 70s Strat, he said you should get these custom shop ones, they’re handcrafted and most people say they sound as good or better than the originals. So I got that and it made a lot of difference. I also did something which I never thought I’d do, which was to use a Gibson a fair bit. A lot of the guitar solos are double tracked Stratocaster and Gibson SG. Our bass player has a Gibson SG. I never thought I’d use one of those because I hadn’t been a big fan of them but after using it, I really liked it. Also we were lucky enough to have Colin’s (Mark’s engineer) Gretsch White Falcon hollow body guitar, which I fell in love with straight away and I used it on quite a few of the country, Chet Atkins-style licks. Those were the main 3 guitars that I used. Ben used his Stratocaster and he also used this old guitar that Mark had built in the early 80s, a Stratocaster he built from a kit and it has really good pickups in it. Mossy used it on a lot of the old Cold Chisel recordings. Oh and I have a 12 string Stratocaster that is on there in places, which is a Japanese 80s thing. They are quite rare and a Martin acoustic which belonged to the studio. The interesting thing in regard to guitars is that there was not an effects pedal used on the whole thing. Instead of using distortion or gain for different parts, as you would do live, we used different guitars to get different tones.”

The Bad//Dreems guys found their sessions in the studio recording Dogs At Bay quite inspiring and were keen to further develop their sound.  The ideas were flowing freely and at times, Optiz needed to focus their attention on the task at hand. “One of the great things Mark did was to  pull the reins in a bit when we were wanting to branch out,” explains Alex. “He rightly said, just master what you have been doing so far. You have only put out a couple of singles. People like those singles and you don’t want to get too far ahead of what those people are into. I think that’s really good advice because as an artist you are always 12 months ahead of where your audience is up to. It can be frustrating if suddenly you are out there doing something completely new before people have cottoned on to what you are doing at the moment.”

Being a surgeon as his day job, I wondered if Alex took a similar surgical approach to his guitar parts and was fussy about his recorded guitar takes?
“I would say they are polar opposites,” says Alex laughing. “I have always had a problem with timing and rhythm. I am the one who always has to get their shit in time. I have always been quite an erratic guitar player, more about feel and intensity than timing. Whereas that approach does not lend itself well to surgery. It’s an interesting thing because they are two parts of my world and they compliment each other. All the focus and obsessiveness you have to have to do medical surgery, you can unleash that when you get into the band thing. That can frustrate my band mates because sometimes I am all over the shop. In many ways, that’s what I like about music, I can be cathartic with the guitar, expressing yourself without having to analyse things too much.”

Dogs At Bay WEBAnd does he play music during surgery?
“Yes, but the control of the music basically falls to the operating surgeon or sometimes the anesthetist. If I am operating by myself, I have a little speaker that I will take in there but you are kind of limited in what you can put on because the music tastes of most people in a hospital are fairly conservative so you can’t chuck on the latest Swans album or Joy Division, it’s got to be something palatable. So things like Tom Petty or Paul Kelly always goes well. I put on the new Tame Impala album recently and they were like, this is quite good for you, better than a lot of the stuff you put on. It also has to be played at low volume so basically background music. I get frustrated listening to music that way because I always want to turn it up.”


Bad//Dreems begin a national tour in late September which runs through until the end of October.

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