BY JASMIN ALVAREZ It’s been two years since the release of Alex Cameron’s Forced Witness—his most controversial record to date, for which he donned the persona of a conservative and bigoted macho-male who falls for an illegal immigrant, and which landed just before all the business with Weinstein and Trump. Earlier this year, Cameron released his third album, Miami Memory (2019). While the fictional songwriting personas he has often used as narrative vehicles make cameos—such as the empowered and money-making sex industry workers in “Far From Born Again” and the embittered drunkard caught in a power-struggle with his absentee wife in “Divorce”—this album takes a sharp turn toward the more intimate and personal. Donning the role of narrator himself, Cameron has created a highly-danceable and sweet memento of his three-year relationship with his girlfriend, the English actress Jemima Kirke (Girls). In advance of his performance at Johnny Brenda’s on Wednesday November 20th, we got the Aussie-born raconteur on the phone.
DISCUSSED: the process he undergoes in the creation of his characters, the profound intimacy found in unfiltered conversation, rising water levels and its effect on coastal towns, the charity of his fans who once got him out of a difficult situation and saved his show, and his enthusiasm about local bar and indie-rock venue, Johnny Brenda’s.
PHAWKER: So, just to let you know, I am recording this conversation. Also, as a sidenote, this is my first interview and I am a huge fan of your music. I’m excited to do this.
ALEX CAMERON: Oh! Oh my goodness! Wow. This sounds fun.
PHAWKER: So let’s get started. So I was reading that, when you wrote Miami Memory, you intended to build a monument out of the album to present to Jemima as a gift. I’m curious – what significance does Miami hold for the two of you?
ALEX CAMERON: Miami is just a town where the absolute — I don’t know. I guess I feel like, if I look back on it, we kind of had our biggest moments there, you know? Our biggest fights, our biggest parties, our best sex. It’s the place where everything BIG happened for us.
PHAWKER: Oh, did you both live there for some time?
ALEX CAMERON: No, we just keep going there! We keep going back. When I’m on break from work, you know? And I feel like, at the same time, when it comes to Miami the city, it holds all of these memories for me, but I also feel like it won’t be there forever. It might get swallowed by the ocean or something.
PHAWKER: Oh? I apologize if this is naive, but has there been flooding, or a mild tsunami near Miami recently?
ALEX CAMERON: No, there has not been a tsunami, but the water levels are rising generally, you know? And it’s only going to be a matter of time.
PHAWKER: A lot of the times, in your music, you put on various personas. I’m curious about how you pick those for specific songs. Do you put yourself in their shoes then use that as a lens? Or do you come up with an idea or topic and then pick the person you think would portray that idea best?
ALEX CAMERON: You mean when I’m writing characters?
ALEX CAMERON: I guess it’s based on the dialogue that I’m writing really. It’s whether or not the conversation comes to me. And once the conversation is there, and it’s taking place, then I can just write freely if I’m writing dialogue.
PHAWKER: So you create these conversations in your head, and then choose the people who are involved in it? Or did I get that backwards?
ALEX CAMERON: No. I guess that’s not entirely incorrect. It does have something to do with figuring out who is saying the lines that come to me. Yeah, that’s not entirely inaccurate, how you said it. But it changes, you know? It’s not always the same.
PHAWKER: Ah, yes, totally. What about in “PC With Me”? In that song, I couldn’t actually locate a character that you were writing as. Did one exist in that song, or were those lyrics more personal?
ALEX CAMERON: “PC With Me” is slightly more personal, yes, I guess, in some ways. But it’s also based on an experience, on something that someone else said to me.
PHAWKER: What was that?
ALEX CAMERON: For me, that song is just a song that is generally about that moment in a relationship when you connect with someone. You know, if you connect to them in this way. Anything is on the table to be discussed, you know. You aren’t hurting each others feelings by discussing ideas. It’s about the level of connection you can achieve with someone.
PHAWKER: Sure, once you hit that level of intimacy. Very cool. And you’re going to be coming in Philly next month. You played at this same venue, Johnny Brenda’s, earlier this year too. What’s your favorite thing about playing Philly? Or is there a least favorite thing?
ALEX CAMERON: No, I love Philly! Roy, my business partner and sax player, used to live there. He used to live there and- I don’t know man, this will be our third and fourth time playing Johnny Brenda’s. And I just fucking- I absolutely love it there. I guess Johnny Brenda’s is honestly my favorite thing about Philadelphia. And I always have a fucking good time there.
PHAWKER: Oh cool! Yeah, it’s a fun venue. Do you and Roy get to spend extra time in Philly when you do shows, because he’s from here, or do you have to book it to the next place because you’re on tour?
ALEX CAMERON: Yeah, the tours. You can’t really slow down on tours. You end up spending money just sitting still. So, you try and play shows every day. That’s how it generally works.
PHAWKER: Gotcha – well speaking of tours, do you have an experience from your tours that’s been the most memorable?
ALEX CAMERON: Hmm. Geez, well, honestly, off the top of my head – let me try to think of something. A memorable thing? Well, Steve Buscemi came to a show recently. That was nice.
PHAWKER: From Reservoir Dogs? Oh funny. And how about a bad thing?
ALEX CAMERON: I don’t know, we’ve had everything happen. We’ve had our van broken into and all our gear stolen.
ALEX CAMERON: Once, our manager put the wrong kind of gas into our car. We’ve had everything happen, you know. It can get rough out here.
PHAWKER: When your stuff got stolen, were you able to “save the day” in a way and get all your stuff back in time for your next show?
ALEX CAMERON: Well there was a sweet moment when our audience actually funded a new saxophone for Roy, which was really sweet.
PHAWKER: Wow! Awesome!
ALEX CAMERON: Yeah.
PHAWKER: Okay, so we’re getting down to my last few questions. Is there an album that you listened to recently that blew you away?
ALEX CAMERON: I really like Angel Olsen’s latest record, All Mirrors. I love it.
PHAWKER: Oo, I like her. What about a book? Have you read a good one recently?
ALEX CAMERON: Yeah! Let me make sure I get this right. I often mess up the name. Let me just see… I think it’s this one. Yeah. I read a book called Cherry by a guy named Nico Walker.
PHAWKER: Oh yeah! I’ve been wanting to read that! How’d you like it?
ALEX CAMERON: Oh, it’s very good. Very good. I highly recommend it.
PHAWKER: Yeah, that’s the one about the guy who was imprisoned, right? And he wrote the novel entirely from his cell?
ALEX CAMERON: That’s right. I think he still is in prison. But yeah, he wrote it entirely when he was in prison.
PHAWKER: Oh man. And lastly, a favorite film?
ALEX CAMERON: Oh, I just recently saw Parasite and it was very fucking good.
PHAWKER: Oh, I haven’t heard of that. Who made it?
ALEX CAMERON: It’s very good. It’s a Korean film. I can’t remember the director, but you can look it up. Yeah, it’s very fucking good. Go and see it soon, before it leaves theatres.
PHAWKER: Parasite. Sweet. I’ll check it out. So that’s the last of my questions-
ALEX CAMERON: Okay, thank you very much. Thanks for being cool and talking to me, I appreciate it. I hope the interview was fun for you. It was your first one?
PHAWKER: Yeah! [laughs]
ALEX CAMERON: That’s wild!
PHAWKER: It is! I was a little nervous, I have to admit-
ALEX CAMERON: You did wonderfully! It was great! You even managed to pull me out of some dark places, and turn it into a positive. That’s a very sweet thing.