Broken Hearts and Tangled Sheets: Tame Impala’s Cameron Avery Gets Sensual by Himself

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Broken Hearts and Tangled Sheets: Tame Impala’s Cameron Avery Gets Sensual by Himself

The Tame Impala bassist is unflinchingly honest on his debut solo LP—a crooner collection of string-laden confessionals.

Cameron Avery has lived an impressively large portion of his 28 years on stage. As the drummer for Aussie band Pond, the frontman of blues rock outfit The Growl, and most notably, as the bassist for psych-pop behemoth Tame Impala, Avery's played his local dives in his hometown of Perth and surveyed a sea of thousands from Glastonbury's main stage. But while the dark-haired multi-instrumentalist may be au fait with tour life and the performative aspect of being in a band, Avery's debut solo album, Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams, is the first time he's truly put himself on the line, unsparingly exposing himself by detailing two past relationships and chronicling every tryst in between. Songs like the ballad "Do You Know Me By Heart"—which musically recalls Tony Bennett's version of "For Once in My Life"—may provide a balm for the brokenhearted listener, but for Avery, reliving his romantic devastation on a nightly basis isn't quite so soothing an experience. Though some of these songs depict relationships  four or five years gone, it's clear that their ripples are still felt. "I'm trying to forget it / Just no I really mean it / Unlike you," he croons over aching strings on the aforementioned song.

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"When I play them live, I think it's a bit of a struggle, but it's more honest," explains Avery in his deep baritone over Skype from Arctic Monkeys Alex Turner's apartment in London. "Remember that amazing book by Ranier Rilke called Letters to a Young Poet? It talks about when you're in that space and you're a writer or a poet—when you're in that dark space sometimes caused by being upset about someone or something, go down and hold onto that. Don't try to push it aside because that's what's really real."

Written in LA before his recent cross-country move to settle in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Avery wrote, produced, and mixed Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams almost entirely on his own, with a few notable exceptions. Benji Lysaght, a frequent collaborator with Father John Misty and Brandon Flowers, wound up with a few cowrites after Avery—drunk on a double-digit number of martinis—sent the guitarist some drunk-ass voice memos. Recalling that original recording with a hysterically slurred voice, Avery's drunken "Dance with me ooooh OOOOH ooooh" line became a lead hook after Lysaght refused to let Avery leave the house until the song was finished—regardless of the singer's gnarly hangover. "He was like, 'You have a lot of ideas when you're drunk, but that's a good one,'" Avery remembers. Once LA-based singer Odessa recorded back up vocals, in a tiny garage studio in Silver Lake, the Gainsbourg-esque "Dance With Me" became the album's center piece, kicking off the collection's mid-section in which Avery becomes a full-on playboy in the interim between the two relationships which bookend the record. But aside from Lysaught's contributions, plus co-production from Father John Misty producer Jonathan Wilson on closer "C'est Toi," Avery's following in the Tame Impala mastermind's footsteps, maintaining obsessive control over every detail. "Kev [Parker] gave me my first recording unit when I moved in with him when I was 20 or 21," says Avery of his former roommate and current bandmate. "I've always admired him for his unrelenting attention to detail and his search for idiosyncrasy in every single way. That's rubbed off on me. More and more, I've been open to collaborate with people, but… Kevin definitely inspired wanting to create sound that's undeniably mine."

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While Ripe Dreams… stands up, it's clear from talking with Avery that he internalizes his peers' art in a special way. Alex Turner is an inescapable force here—not only because his "One for the Road" leather jacket can be seen hanging in the background throughout our entire Skype interview, as Avery chain smokes out Turner's apartment window. Their attitudes, fashion choices, and even karaoke choices align. Just a few weeks back, the pair, along with Lana Del Rey and Last Shadow Puppets cohort Miles Kane, drunkenly performed "Tiny Dancer." Avery borrows heavily from Turner's side project with Kane, including nabbing Ontario's Owen Pallett to help write the record's lush string arrangements, just as he did with both Puppets records.

Even if you ignore the fact that they share producers, Father John Misty—a friend of Avery's from his three years living in Los Angeles—is another influence felt throughout. "He's one of my favorite songwriters ever," Avery gushes. "As the record progressed, he's someone that I loved and it's inherent that the things that you love rub off on your music." Looking back, it makes total sense that the first Cameron Avery solo video I ever saw was a cover of Misty's "Nancy From Now On." Taking all this into account, Ripe Dreams… could be glibly described as Father John Misty meets Last Shadow Puppets, but Avery's love affair with orchestral singer-songwriter music and old school R&B runs much deeper thanks to his mom playing young Avery a mix of Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hartman, plus lots of additional jazz-based soul. "I always resonated with the blazing romance in those songs," explains Avery. "It's that type of songwriting where you wear your heart on your sleeve. I always loved this stuff and it's not a cool thing to do when you're like 17 and you have a guitar; you want to be loud and aggressive and be in a rock band. I got into psych-rock when I met the Tame guys, so I curbed that edge for a long time. This is definitely me growing up a bit and coming back around full circle back to this style of music; this is something I've always wanted to do." Just as Avery's musical life orbits back to his childhood music tastes, Ripe Dreams… ends just before it starts: as the memories of his ex fade into the beautiful haze of "An Ever Jarring Moment," this crooner finally meets someone new. On the album's final song, "C'est Toi," the listener's privy to the frontman's most vulnerable moment, beginning with almost 30 seconds of Avery echoed and exhaling repeatedly, "Baby it's you" over a distant piano line. We leave him at the precipice, with that realization that in the bliss of falling for someone else, you are more exposed than ever.

For the moment, Avery's still best known as one of the "out of focus guys" in Tame Impala, but Ripe Dreams… repositions the artist front and center—10,000 or so miles away from Tame Impala and Pond, as far as his new Brooklyn apartment is from his suburban childhood home in Perth. Even if the frontman mantle still rests somewhat uneasily on his broad shoulders—Avery frequently refers to his record as "self-indulgent"—in its creation, he remained steadfast in his vision. "I wanted to make something where I could say, 'When I was 27, I went for it and I had a change in my mind,'" he says. "I wanted to be unrelenting and uncompromising with how it sounded, even if it cost me more money than I could afford."

At once a deeply personal and universally relatable, at it's core, this record is perfect for anyone struggling at the end of a meaningful relationship, groping through late nights and warm bodies to the next person who makes you really feel.
Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams is out on March 10th via ANTI-. Steven Edelstone also wants to become BFFs with Alex Turner. Alex, If you're out there, hit him up on Twitter .