Interview questions by Jemima Kirke
Image & Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“You try to be a good person and hope
that other good people start to orbit around you.”
— Alex Cameron
Australian musician, singer and songwriter Alex Cameron is best known as one-half of the musical duo “Alex Cameron” together with saxophonist Roy Molloy. The pair have released two albums thus far, Jumping the Shark (2016) and Forced Witness (2017). Cameron himself is an ambitious indie figure who has toured with musicians including Mac DeMarco, Kevin Morby and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Roy Molloy is an Australian saxophonist and one-half of the musical act “Alex Cameron,” together with his creative and business partner Alex Cameron. Together, they have released albums Jumping the Shark (2016) and Forced Witness (2017).
English American artist and actor Jemima Kirke is best known for her role as Jessa in HBO’s Girls (2012-17), created by her childhood friend, actor and director Lena Dunham. Jemima has also appeared in Dunham’s well-known short Tiny Furniture (2010) as well as films Ava’s Possessions (2015), The Little Hours (2017), upcoming film Untogether (2017) and the upcoming Netflix series Maniac (2018-).
Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Angel Olsen is a singer, songwriter and guitarist. After touring as a backing singer with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and the Cairo Gang, Olsen went on to record her first album Half Way Home (2012). Her three studio albums, including Burn Your Fire for No Witness (2014) and My Woman (2016), have been warmly welcomed by critics. Olsen has collaborated with a number of notable artists in indie rock including, LeRoy Bach of Wilco, Cass McCombs, The Grateful Dead and Alex Cameron.
Alex Cameron’s Forced Witness responds to our increasing inability to escape the catastrophes, trends and news circulating the globe. The LP comes on the heels of last year’s Jumping the Shark and is the second album by creative and business partners Alex Cameron and saxophonist Roy Molloy, who together form “Alex Cameron.” In addition to the strength of Cameron and Molloy’s musical prowess, Forced Witness includes collaborations with enviable guests Angel Olsen, Brandon Flowers, Kirin J. Callinan and Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado.
Actor Jemima Kirke directed and starred in the music video for Forced Witness track “Stranger’s Kiss,” a wistful duet between Cameron and indie folk rock darling Angel Olsen. Unbeknownst to Cameron and Molloy, Kirke, who is also Cameron’s girlfriend, submitted an intuitive set of questions for the first half of this interview. Together, the creative duo discuss the making of “Stranger’s Kiss,” pervasive anxiety and gross toes.
PART I: QUESTIONS PREPARED BY JEMIMA KIRKE
I’m going to start off with questions that have been prepared by someone you know. I’m not going to tell you who.
Where are you now in your career versus a year ago? Have your interests or ambitions changed?
AC: My ambitions haven’t changed at all. My ambition is to work consistently and find a way to make a living.
Roy Malloy: My ambitions have grown marginally. I’ve got a sense of hope now, which I’m trying to stamp out of myself.
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
AC: I suppose I’d like to continue to collaborate with the crew.
RM: The energy’s pretty hot with the people we’re working with right now, so I think that’s a world we should continue diving further into.
What’s your favorite t-shirt?
AC: I bought my girlfriend a t-shirt that just has an apple pie recipe on it.
RM: I have a shirt that says “I [Heart] Munchen”. I don’t actually like Munich, I think it’s a crummy place. But I like the way the shirt looks, it sits on me right, and I wear it to death.
“I learned [my signature dance] from my mum dancing at weddings. My mum sort of does a twist, but she does it so gracefully and slowly. She’s not really stressed, and she does it on her own tempo. I just got it from her and made it my own.”
— Alex Cameron
What’s your best medicine?
AC: A light peppering, a combination. It’s alcohol, but meanwhile I’m washing down Lexapro.
RM: In the evening I like to smoke marijuana and sometimes drink a little. During the day, I’ll drink three to five cups of coffee. Keeps me sharp and focused.
Do you have a Yoshika camera?
AC: Yeah, I do. It’s a 35 mm point-and-shoot. I think it’s in Sydney though.
RM: I don’t own any cameras.
McLean Stevenson is an Australian fine art photographer whose work is represented by Black Eye Gallery in Sydney.
Your tell stories with your music. Do you think visually when you write? How closely do your songs tie in with cinema?
AC: I think very much about films and photography before I write a song. I often write to photographs that friends have taken or that I’ve taken myself. I have a friend, McLean Stevenson. He’s a photographer from Australia, and my initial writing process was to have him either take photos of myself or to use something from his books and start the process there.
Why do you hate LA?
AC: Because I think if I lived here I would die.
RM: I like LA. I guess the question wasn’t directed at me.
Mum or dad?
AC: Yeah, Dad would understand.
Comprised of actor, comedian and musician Jack Black and musician and actor Kyle Gass, Tenacious D is an American rock duo formed in Los Angeles in 1994. With both Black and Gass on vocals and guitars, the band has released three albums and featured well-known rock instrumentalists such as John Konesky, John Spiker and Dave Grohl. Their music has been classified as “mock rock” with comedic rock opera lyrics bragging about their own musical and sexual prowess. Tenacious D has received two Grammys for Best Comedy Album for Rize of the Fenix (2013) and Best Metal Performance for track “The Last In Line.”
Has anyone ever said that you and Roy remind them of Tenacious D?
AC: Well, one person said that. Actually, they were warning me not to become Tenacious D, and that in order to stay on the path we’re going, we shouldn’t become comedy. I suspect that same person is asking these questions.
RM: That said, people say we remind them of fucking any duo under the sun. People get reminded of shit easily.
Do you like period sex? As in, when girls have their period, and you’re having sex with them.
AC: I am not against it. It’s not something I factor into whether or not I’m going to be turned on.
RM: I don’t consider myself in any position to turn down sex.
Mediterranean Vixen or English Rose?
AC: English Rose with a little bit of Middle Eastern.
RM: Let’s mix it up. Mediterranean sounds lovely.
Girls in dresses or girls in jeans?
AC: I like taking off the jeans of a woman.
RM: I used to have this dream when I was a kid where there was this Nintendo 64 and a Playstation, and I could choose. But it wasn’t real. Dresses.
Would you like to die old and unsuccessful, or young and on fire?
AC: I don’t really want to die until I’m about 75.
RM: I’m 100% prepared for old age. I’m sort of craving it.
“Once I realized that we could support ourselves, that it could at least pay for us to be alive through the next week, then the idea of working for someone else seemed ridiculous.”
— Roy Malloy
What do you do when you feel anxiety coming on? How do you soothe?
AC: I think about that a lot, and it’s a constant challenge because anxiety isn’t one thing. Anxiety is a beast. If you have real anxiety, it’s not just for day-to-day stuff. It transforms and finds a way to make you feel uneasy, so in that respect you always have to be ducking and diving. One thing I constantly return to for the past year has been sex. Sex reminds me of being alive, and it means I get to trust my vessel. I’m not talking about constant masturbation or searching out sex at every opportunity, but just having that trustful person I can go back to and know I can activate the most core human function. It really reduces my anxiety because it’s just a constant check-in.
RM: I’m not a very anxious person, but I tend to email my business associates long lists of concerns. Then people answer them, and that’s it for me.
Beyoncé or Katy Perry?
RM: I’ll take Perry.
AC: Katy Perry, although Beyoncé’s on fire and you’ve got to respect that she’s really in charge of something right now. I prefer the melodies of Katy Perry. The ideas and the power of Beyoncé combined with the melodies of Katy Perry would be an interesting project, but if I’m going through the back catalog I would put on Katy Perry music. I don’t have much interest in what she stands for though.
You were recently seen cavorting with Jemima Kirke in the Daily Mail. Are you afraid she might be using you to climb the ladder of celebrity?
AC: There’s something to be said about climbing down the ladder, that’s for sure. That’s all I’ll say.
Linen sheets or cotton sheets?
AC: Linen under, cotton above.
RM: I’ve never been asked that before. I guess cotton.
Do you think it’s a huge turn off when girls have gross toes? Like a big toe that looks like Shrek, or a baby toe that looks like an engorged maggot?
AC: My girl’s big toe. I did say that it looked like Shrek and that her little toe looked like a witchetty grub, which is something in Australia you can find on the back of trees and eat. I’m not grossed out by women’s feet at all. My own feet look like slabs of fish flopping around on a dock.
RM: I have horrible feet too. I’m in no position to criticize someone else’s feet. It doesn’t turn me off at all.
PART II: ISSUE QUESTIONS
When did you start making music?
AC: When I was probably 15. I had played instruments before, but then I had a little keyboard and started recording ideas. Everyone was making much cooler music than me in high school. They had figured out weirder chords, and I was still playing in the old major stuff. I thought I was really lame. But I still only write in mostly basic major keys, so the only thing I’m disappointed in is that I didn’t start cutting records when I was younger.
RM: I guess I was 17. There was a piano room in our school I could use.
“These strong, massively powerful and talented women were gracious enough to come aboard and put their effort into making what is definitely the single most powerful thing we’ve done as a duo.”
— Alex Cameron
Who did you listen to growing up?
AC: One that I’ve always returned to is Cat Stevens. Another is Nina Simone, my dad used to listen to a lot of Nina Simone in the car. And my mum really liked George Harrison.
RM: My mum: a lot of Rod Stewart. My dad: Talking Heads and a lot of Australian music, AC/DC, rock’n’roll, things like that.
How did you decide that this is what you wanted to do?
AC: I just felt like I had the capacity to do it emotionally. I’d tried other types of work, and for whatever reason my constitution pushed me towards this, and I had the opportunity. I always lived in Australia, which is a really privileged place, so I had the time and energy to focus on writing.
RM: Once I realized that we could support ourselves, that it could at least pay for us to be alive through the next week, then the idea of working for someone else seemed ridiculous. Relying on someone else’s pockets was unpalatable.
What life event has impacted you the most and what role has it played in your music?
AC: Knowing my mum and being around her a lot is probably the most influential thing on my life.
RM: My folks have been a big positive influence. And there was a matter of years where I sweated my arse off working for other people, which put in my mind that maybe it would be better to do something for ourselves.
How does it feel to have just released your second album?
AC: It feels like there’s work to be done, which is a good feeling.
RM: Heads down, eyes on the horizon.
“I still only write in mostly basic major keys, so the only thing I’m disappointed in is that I didn’t start cutting records when I was younger.”
— Alex Cameron
Not only did Angel Olsen feature in your track “Stranger’s Kiss,” but Jemima directed and co-stars in the music video. How did it all come together?
AC: I guess you try to be a good person and hope that other good people start to orbit around you. For a long time time, I tried to be the right person to work with but was working with the wrong people. Then I guess through the proliferation of goodwill, we managed to find the right people to be involved. These strong, massively powerful and talented women were gracious enough to come aboard and put their effort into making what is definitely the single most powerful thing we’ve done as a duo.
RM: Very lucky to have these incredibly talented women involved. Our approach has always been “get the right person for the job.” If it isn’t you, go find who it is. And if they come to you, that’s wonderful and you’ve got to take advantage of it.
Alex, how did your signature dance come about?
AC: I learned it from my mum dancing at weddings. My mum sort of does a twist, but she does it so gracefully and slowly. She’s not really stressed, and she does it on her own tempo. I just got it from her and made it my own.
Tell me about your collaboration with Kirin J. Callinan on his song, “Big Enough.”
AC: It was going to be a country folk song. We were writing it, and the message was exactly what we wanted but the sound wasn’t there. Then we walked into a liquor store that was playing this big anthemic EDM music, and we just decided to produce that instead. We worked with Aaron Couples who’s a producer, and he used his know-how to make an incredible dance anthem. People compare Kirin and me to each other, but we always talk about how we’re polar opposites. The song is about opposites competing for the same space and embracing togetherness.
What are your interests and passions outside of music?
AC: Photography. Trying to be a decent person to be around and to be better at including people. I like films a lot, I like reading, and I really like watching sport.
RM: In the van most of our conversation centers around sport and movies.
What are your favorite books, film and music right now?
AC: My girlfriend gave me a really special John Fante book called Ask the Dust. I recently saw Wild Tales. It’s an Argentinian series of short films produced by Agustín Almodóvar. Music, I’ve been listening to a lot of Willie Nelson.
RM: A couple weeks ago, I read Laughter in the Dark by Nabokov. It really got me. We just watched the Jurassic Park trilogy on Spike TV. I like their ability to hold your attention.