SICK OF IT ALL
AFTER BREAKING FREE FROM THEIR HOMETOWN TO HIT THE NATIONAL STAGE, BAD//DREEMS FOUND THEMSELVES FACE TO FACE WITH A DIVIDED, REGRESSIVE WORLD ON THE BRINK OF TURMOIL – AND THEY COULDN’T WAIT TO TALK ABOUT IT. BY PETER ZALUNZY
When raw alt-rockers Bad//Dreems put their debut together in 2015, they were a small band equal parts frustrated and fascinated by a city they couldn’t escape – dear old Adelaide. The album, DogsAtBay, was born in an air of claustrophobia, as the guys observed social quirks in and around town without any real means of escape. Since then, DogsAt
Bay has taken them around the globe, which like most places, turned out to have just as many oddities, issues, and examples of contradictory behaviour as the city that spawned it. Today, they’re still pretty intrigued and irritated, but with the added bonus of having seen parts of the planet they may not have reached without that record.
Such is why their follow-up, Gutful, has a much broader perspective according to guitarist Alex Cameron. “The first record was more of an insular thing,” he explains. “A lot has gone on since that time, especially overseas in terms of Trump, and domestically in the reappearance of Pauline Hanson. We write about things that are on our mind, and those things are part of our transition from thinking about being trapped in a small town to thinking about being in a world that’s changing.”
Bad//Dreems took the opportunity to open a dialogue about subjects weighing on their minds. They’re not claiming to be intellectuals – Gutful isn’t some highbrow manifesto spun solely for academics. But instead of screaming into an echo chamber like social media or simply using their records to rant, Bad//Dreems try to make a statement without getting all uppity about it. This, Cameron says, harks back to a period where all branches of the artistic community weren’t quite so divisive.
“What I like about Australia, and Australian culture, is that there’s a real intelligence and appreciation of intellect, but the unique thing about the Australian way of doing that is that it’s very non-pretentious,” he says enthusiastically. “The era we take a lot of influence from – the late ‘70s, early ‘80s – it was post-Whitlam. Education had been free, which opened it up to a wide range of people from all socio-economic backgrounds. [People] were interested in arts and culture.”
Unfortunately, things are a little different these days, which has put Bad//Dreems in an interesting position. As the world continues to split across racial, social, religious and political lines, stereotypes have once again become deeply ingrained in public discourse. The guys have found themselves tarred with the “unintelligent bogan” brush because they like footy, wear work boots and don’t feel the need to spew a thesaurus onto the lyric sheet. But unlike the hoity-toity intellectual scene vibing on their smug sense of superiority, Bad//Dreems actually have a chance to open that dialogue because they want to get off the soapbox and talk to people, rather than shout at them.
“Bands like The Go-Betweens, Cold Chisel and The Triffids – they didn’t hold themselves up as bastions of intellect. They were DIY musicians that made intelligent music, and I think that’s a really Australian thing that’s kind of gone missing,” Cameron says. “I wouldn’t want to say that we’re doing that, but it’s certainly what we aim to do; I really like trying to find a balance between highbrow and lowbrow culture. But these days, if you don’t fit the certain stereotype of the inner-city academic or creative, you’re excluded.”
Classic Aus-rock influences run deeper than the themes, however. Stylistically, their music is firmly rooted in straight up rock‘n’roll: if they can’t play it live, it doesn’t go on the record. There’s no dependence on pedals, because bands like Television made great live-sounding records and Bad//Dreems want to capture that sound by wrangling every nook and cranny in their amps. They want to create something raw and natural born out of equipment of the time.
“I was still using my Fender Custom Shop ‘56 Strat, which I got around the time we recorded the first album,” Cameron explains, “But I bought a Gibson ES-335 1977 at the start of the recording process for Gutful. I’d never really had a guitar with Humbuckers before and getting one really opened my eyes, so a lot of those chunky rhythm bits are using that guitar. We also had a Gretsch White Falcon that belonged to the studio.”
Combine that with some Fender Twins and a dodgy
‘70s Marshall owned by a guy named Frank – “Who’s kind of a spiritual mentor that came into the studio every day, made coffee and got stoned,” according to Cameron – and you’ve got the Gutful sound. Frank, for the record, is a friend of their producer, Mark Opitz, not some weed‑toting amp shaman drifting between studios in need. But there was one axe that couldn’t make the cut once again – Cameron’s beat up, scrappy ‘87 Strat that’s so far gone after years of damage and dodgy mods that it flatly refuses to play nice in the studio. “It’s like the guy trying to come out at the footy club: he’s been a great player but he’s past his time, and now he just embarrasses himself and everyone else,” he laughs. “But I’ll never let it go. I just keep her at home; we share our moments together.”
Bad//Dreems certainly have something to say, and stories like Cameron’s Stratty adventures bring their delivery down to Earth. But despite all the good intentions, there’s an undeniable air of contradiction lingering around the band. Bad//Dreems want people to look beyond the top layer, and yet they pump out rough as guts rock‘n’roll while nasally S‑ and F‑bombs often interject conversations. Even the video clip for “Feeling Remains” seems to relish in its depiction of a bogan band.
But that’s just part of the self‑awareness that encourages listeners to dig a little deeper. It’s a chance for them to laugh at themselves, too, because at the end of the day, they still enjoy a bunch of stuff that’s traditionally considered to be lowbrow. While Cameron admits that he’d like fans to look beyond the exterior, he understands that some people just want to stop at riffs, tinnies and dumb jokes. That’s fine, he says, because those things are just as much a part of the band as the social commentary, even if that does mean they come across as contradictory every now and then.
In the end, embracing the inconsistencies just makes Bad//Dreems that little bit more relatable. – “Like all humans, we’ve got contradictory elements. If you look at a lot of the stuff we put on our social media pages, it’s just about footy and banter, because if we were to be totally intellectual, that wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of the band’s personality,” Cameron adds with a cackle. “It’s a contradiction! But that’s just who we are, for better or worse.”