Dreaming big with Adelaide's finest.
Bad//Dreems are having a great year - their 80s Aussie pub-rock style is one that sounds fresh, not re-hashed, and it's being rewarded with airplay and fans around the nation. I had the pleasure of catching up with frontman Ben Marwe and lead guitarist Alex Cameron a little while ago, and can pleasantly say their apparent affability as a bunch of likeable lads is very much genuine. Our conversations ranged from their upcoming album Dogs At Bay, their encounters with bikie gangs, working with Mark Opitz (producer for Cold Chisel, AC/DC, INXS and pretty much every 80s’ Australian band), getting chipped teeth, and the difficulties of touring. Get amongst it below, and in preparation of their Australian tour kicking off in late September (dates at the end).
Liam Apter: To start with I want to ask about Adelaide. The majority of your interviews to date have had interviewers ask about Adelaide, why do think that is?
Alex Cameron: I think we’re to blame because when we started we talked about being from Adelaide and finding inspiration there. And people have clung onto that but I think people from Adelaide like the fact that we’re repping Adelaide. However some interviewers have recently said, "You guys write about your love for Adelaide", and I say, "I wouldn’t call it love, it’s just that Adelaide is where we’re from and like your hometown there are things you love and hate."
Ben Marwe: It’s not a destination for anybody other than people from Adelaide. When I see people on the same flight coming back to Adelaide I think, ‘What the fuck are they thinking coming here for? I’m going home but what are you doing? Hahaha. And usually I know everyone in Adelaide so it’s a bit like, ‘Who are you?’
AC: There’s no way I’d say I was proud of coming from Adelaide but I’m from there and that’s what I know. Lots of Adelaide I find insular…
Which is something you’ve talked about a lot; a conservative but beautiful landscape.
AC: The parts of Adelaide I find interesting are the weird crime history and the landscape. Adelaide is the same size as Los Angeles, apparently, and around the city are the gentrified suburbs. The further you go out the more working class it gets. That then melds into the desert.
BW: But then you come into the affluent wine regions that are fucking stunning, like the Barossa Valley.
AC: And in the album liner notes there are details that give snapshots into what it’s like growing up in Adelaide. The one tram that runs to Glenelg, the Beaumont children, Magic Mountain, Bevan Spencer Von Einem and so on.
I wanted to talk about the darker elements of Adelaide society, like Snowtown, The Family, the bikie wars and I don’t want to say the band has a morbid fascination but…
AC: I’d say morbid fascination and I have to take the blame for that because I like reading about it.
Okay and listening to the album, is it woven into the songs?
AC: One of the songs is about the bikie gang New Boys and we have a song by the same name. It’s a storytelling song, I don’t purport to have any knowledge of the gang or have been in one myself… Well actually I have met the head of the New Boys, Vince Focarelli, but I ah…
You can’t talk about that?
AC: No but from meeting him I became interested in gangs. The New Boys are basically a bikie gang without motorcycles. And from what we can gather they tried to step on other gangs' turf, they upset people and all the other bikie gangs tried to take out Focarelli. But he has this cat-like ability to survive. His step-son has been killed but he has survived six assassination attempts.
BM: The overarching theme in the album we wanted to have was the theme of beauty in the mundane. That flows through the artworks, lyrics and the songs. I think it’s also something that is really Australian, beauty in the mundane.
AC: I think there’s also a big element of cultural cringe in Australia. We’re brought up with so many elements from the UK or North America and ignore what is happening at home.
We pretend we’re not Australian?
AC & BM: Yeah!
Do you feel that is changing with say Tame Impala, who are really big band from Perth?
AC: Nah I think it has been lost. But if you go back to the 70s or 80s, which is a time we take direct musical influence from, there are a lot of bands who grew up in a world where it was harder to get music from overseas. Like The Triffids, Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil, The Saints those bands were much more uniquely Australian than bands now. I think now people are trying to be more Australian but in an ironic way instead of actually being themselves.
Like drinking VB in video clips?
AC: Exactly. I remember when our first clip came out, Hoping For, people said we were taking the piss. And I found it strange that people interpreted it as some sardonic comment on Australia when we were just being ourselves.
Which brings me onto the song Bogan Pride on the album, what was the idea behind that?
AC: Bogan Pride is my favourite song on the album, it has been around for about two years and I feel it’s a centerpiece for the album. We did consider changing the title as it isn’t particularly representative of the song but I like it as a title.
BM: For anyone who sees it on paper it’s not about us seeing ourselves as bogan and being proud of it.
For me it sounded like the complexity of masculinity.
AC: Exactly. One year I was at Stereo waiting for a friend to play, I had to wait a few hours for him so I was on my on my own, stone cold sober and I started watching the crowd. And remember looking around at all the shirtless young men, roided-up, on pingers and I had this disturbing dystopian vision of what was happening. Because they were all normal guys who you see around, they play a bit of footy, either go to uni or work a job. But many of them had Southern Cross tattoos and they looked a lot like the people at the Cronulla riots, which had happened recently. It made me wonder what the hell was going on.
BM: They’re the first people to comment on each other's muscles but then they’ll go call a gay guy a faggot. It doesn’t make sense.
AC: It’s not a song about providing answers but exploring the issue. And as a young guy you recognise that because everyone has done stupid things. It’s looking at the focus on young men to bulk up and how they’ll comment on it amongst each other. And rising nationalism, which is a disturbing trend within Australia.
You’re in the processing of releasing your debut album out, Dogs At Bay, which was produced by Mark Opitz - why him?
AC: When we were going to record the album we came up with a wish-list of producers. People like Phil Spector or Mike Young and Mark Opitz was in the top three. I was also reading Mark Optiz’s book and it struck me that he had done pretty much every iconic Australian albums of the 80s. I emailed him, he liked the band and wanted to work with us. So we spent a weekend together and recorded Dumb Ideas and My Only Friend in the end of December 2013. He’s also pretty old school. The recording sessions would just be us jamming together so we could capture the live sound. No bells and whistles about it. And to hear all the stories Opitz has got like he was good friends with INXS and went on the Kick tour with them for like a year. He has worked with Bob Dylan, Ray Charles...
BM: Aerosmith, KISS...
AC: He has the demos for Guns‘N’Roses Appetite For Destruction because they wanted him to produce it but he had another commitment. He had to go on holiday to Barbados or something... He said he was glad because they went through about 20 producers and they burnt down of the house of one of the producers involved. So he dodged a bullet.
And Dogs At Bay was recorded in Melbourne, in the press release there was a very specific description saying it was a, “1950s styled condo.”
AC: I think I said Bungalow?
BM: Villa? But yeah it’s on Brunswick Road, it’s called Thirty Mill Studios. It’s pretty low key and I remember when I arrived I was expecting it to be some big shot mansion but I was like, "Oh". Regardless you feel really comfortable there; it’s like recording at home.
And it was done over two weeks?
AC: Pretty much, it was a relatively quick process as we were under a bit of time pressure. But Opitz is an old guy now who works business hours. So towards the end we had to push it to get it finished as we would want to record all night but Opitz would knock off at 5pm.
Is Bad//Dreems your day job or do you still have day jobs?
BM: We all work full time. Two of the guys are back at work right now, I’m a landscape designer and Alex does plastic surgery. Juggling home, work, band and social life is what takes the biggest toll on us.
AC: All us except Ben had experienced the dream of being massive so we were like, 'We all want to do this and keep our jobs'. Which was really good because we could pay for our flights, we could play inter-state but as things have kept getting bigger it has been harder to maintain the status quo. We’ve been overseas twice in the past few months and I haven’t been there because of my job. So we have a fifth member, Ali Wells, who fills in for me. But as Ben said it’s draining, the thought of having to get on a red eye, work a day and then get on another flight to another city.
So what is the future?
AC: Fuck knows. It’s tough because you know you can’t make money out of music. As a plastic surgeon it’s hard to just put that down and tour the country. We take it week by week. My dream is music and my job is just a job.
BM: Perhaps the situation we are in is what makes us what we are. If we did have the option to just be a band it could be a massive detriment to our ethos. As generic as it sounds, you’ve got to keep it real.
AC: If your music doesn’t go well when you’re playing full-time it adds on other pressures. Bad//Dreems we do for fun. And I was telling Opitz that next time we want to take six months off to do the second album but then he said, "That could fuck it up."
It’s a double-edged blade.
BM: It’s a double-ended dildo it fucks you both ways hahaha.
And do your jobs know you’re in a band?
BM: My boss is a legend, he’s an old rocker from way back and I can do pretty much what I want.
AC: My bosses aren’t so flexible and don’t have a lot of interests outside of medicine.
Well when you get the chance to play, in a sentence, what is the standard live show for Bad//Dreems?
AC: I think umm...well...Aw shit that’s a tough question because we play in so many different environments. And I’ve never seen us play and it’s a hard question to answer.
But you’re part of it!
AC: Yes, some shows are loose, others are raucous or we’re really tight. Others I don’t like because...ah fuck I don’t know.
BM: A rugged journey into the heart of young, confused man.
And you guys said you like playing smaller shows, why is that?
BM: Because they’re easier to sell out! We like the vibe of them though and the chaos. We were playing the Tote and GoodGod Small Club recently and they’re not really set to deal with wild crowds. People would come up on stage and pull the leads out.
AC: Yeah I chipped my tooth.
How did that happen?
AC: Some guy kept pushing the mic stand and it went straight into my mouth.
Damn. And what is the future of Bad Dreems?
AC: To keep it absolutely simple so we can release another album and see where it can take us.
And finally the Crows or the Power?
BM: Crows. James and me are Crows. Ben is Port and Miles is Essendon. Ali is Carlton. James and Ben are the most serious fans, I’m pretty fair weather and I think I started going for Port for a while last year.