The bell has dinged for round three, and Adelaide rockdogs Bad//Dreems have sprung back into the ring to land some fresh punches with glorious new album Doomsday Ballet. Alex Cameron let us in on the band’s rigorous processes in getting their third album fighting fit.
Write, then record – easy as pie! If, of course, the pie is of a monstrous diameter, has several hundred layers of fruit, and needs one of those fancy pastry lattices on top. It does help, says lead guitarist and principal songwriter for post-punk darlings Bad//Dreems, Alex Cameron, if you’ve whittled your material down to its very best bits. “We probably had 100 songs written, then we’d done 50 multi-track demos ourselves, and from them we chose about 25, and from those, Burke [Reid] and Jack Ladder [co-producers] chose the final 12, so we were really confident in the songs,” he says of the band’s brand new, third album Doomsday Ballet.
“As part of the process you have to basically take [the tracks] apart and put them back together,” he explains. “Like when you take anything apart, you get to the stage where all the pieces are sitting out on the table and you’re like, ‘Holy sh-t, will this ever come back together again? Have I lost a really important screw?’ I know that if I was taking anything apart, being myself, I’d f-ck it up. But we really trusted Burke and Jack Ladder in those moments of darkness when the pieces were lying all over the studio. You just have to trust in the process.”
Having already created two critically celebrated albums in their debut Dogs At Bay (2015) and its follow-up Gutful (2017), the Adelaide five-piece were looking to sashay away from the ‘pub rock’ badge (shiny and meritorious as it may be) and really dig into what the studio could offer their sound. “We looked upon all the changes as a refinement rather than a reinvention,” Cameron says. “The first two albums, we had basically gone in the studio, played the songs as we were playing them live in our rehearsal room, and recorded them. And even though we were happy with the results, what we realised is that a lot of the influences that were seminal to us – like Joy Division or Television – weren’t being expressed as well as we might like.”
One influence which was seminal to all of the band except for Cameron, it seems, is The Simpsons. The brilliant Salad contains all sorts of haphazard imagery (“I had a bender for seven days/ Richard Wilkins was there and his face melted off”), but one line will stand out to any fan of America’s favourite cartoon family: “You don’t win friends with salad (any more).” Over the course of a text conversation, vocalist Ben Marwe had sent the quote to Cameron, who didn’t recognise it at all. He was, instead, struck by its poignancy. “I thought it was some sort of euphemism I’d never heard – to me it was like, ‘You don’t win friends by not speaking plainly, and calling a spade a spade.’ And then I just started [writing].” The stream-of-consciousness flowed, and ended up a kind of catharsis. “I think it was a way of dealing with the world around us – because things are so absurd,” Cameron says. “We’ve got Donald Trump as the President of the United States, we’re destroying the world and no one can decide what to do about it… the natural inclination for me, to capture that, is to have these rant-like, psychotic-type [lyrics].”
At the other end of the pop culture reference spectrum is track P-ss Christ, the title of which immediately evokes the notorious art piece by Andres Serrano. Its lyrics certainly contain the sing-song absurdism to which Cameron earlier alludes (“La-di-dee, la-di-day, I’m scared of the U.S.A”), and although he says those lines were amongst the most quickly written of the album, he’s since decided the phrase is kind of apt to describe POTUS. “His skin is the colour of unhealthy p-ss – I mean it wasn’t that direct at the time, it just came!”
Amongst these more chaotic post-punk romps sit a few of the band’s most nuanced, gentle pieces. The utterly beautiful Gallows – the album’s closer – contains subterranean rumblings which open out into a slow sprawl at its conclusion, and boasts some neat wordplay (“On my back, without a bone”). “Ben wrote Gallows pretty much entirely by himself,” Cameron says. “I think it’s about his new fatherhood, and a number of things around that… I think it’s a very beautiful song. It’s a very Lou Reed-influenced track. We’ve always loved the track Coney Island Baby by Lou Reed, and the way that he uses saxophone and backing vocals. It’s one of my favourite tracks on the album. We’ve always wanted to include more horns and other instruments, and we finally got to sneak them in on that track – only because we didn’t end up getting around to recording it in the main session, so we kind of recorded it ourselves, without anyone stopping us.”
Doomsday Ballet by Bad//Dreems is out now via Farmer And The Owl/BMG.
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