There wasn’t much of a precedent for Cameron Avery’s current rock stardom, given that he grew up in a traditional household. But his musicality was firmly in place from a young age. “My mum says I used to stand in front of my aunt when I was 1 and sing ‘The Lord Loves Me’ over and over,” he says. “When I was finished, I’d say, ‘Clap for Cameron?’ Then I’d start the song again.” Later he moved on to more complex musical pursuits. “When I was older, I took a tennis racket, strung some shoelaces through it and pretended it was a guitar. I was a pretty skilled kid, apparently.” He’s a skilled adult as well—in addition to playing bass for Tame Impala, the Australia-born multi-instrumentalist is a former member of Pond and The Growl, and he released his winning solo debut, Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams, in 2017.
At 15, Avery learned guitar for an age-old reason: “I realized I could get a girlfriend.” Early on, he was “obsessed” with the blues music his mother played in the house. “As a teenager, I got into Son House and Skip James,” he says. “I played that pretty much exclusively. I remember tuning my guitar to open E and having a bottleneck and just playing blues. Of course, you still had to learn Jack Johnson songs to impress girls.”
A college athletic scholarship (“it’s a really dorky sport—I’m not going to say which one,” he demurs) brought Avery to the states. “I was really good at it, but I didn’t want to do it full-time,” he says. “I remember my career advisor asked what I wanted for my future, and I said, ‘Well, I’ll either be in a rock band or I’ll be a professional sportsman.’ And he was like, ‘You’re insane.’ He called my mom in and said, ‘Your son is delusional.’”
Avery started the first of many bands in high school, playing Rage Against the Machine covers and other teen staples. At 18 he met Clint Oliver and the two began playing as The Growl. “We started recording and did two-piece gigs,” he says. “That was the first pursuit of stuff I really wanted to do, when I stopped compromising.” Of course, being a fledgling musician means inevitable financial struggles, so Avery had a slew of odd jobs along the way. “I lied about being able to drive a forklift, but I picked it up quickly. I also worked at beer breweries, wearing a hairnet for 12 hours a day on the night shift. I was a bricklayer, a chef, a landscaper, a stonemason …every time you go on a tour, you have to quit your job. But all of it built character.”
He joined Tame Impala in 2013, while the band was touring their sophomore release, Lonerism. Avery and lead singer Kevin Parker had already been friends for years. “During their American tour, Kevin asked if The Growl wanted to open for Tame, and in the middle of that tour he asked if I wanted to be in the band. I love seeing my friends do well, and it’s also fun to be able to make music with your shitty mates from your hometown.”
Avery’s other musical projects keep him plenty busy too. Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams was released in February—it’s a sultry collection of songs with a throwback vibe and lush instrumental elements. Somewhere, Avery’s college guidance counselor must be eating his words.
“I think it’s important to be delusional,” he says. “I never doubted that eventually—whether now or in another 10 years—I’d get paid to play music. Not necessarily a lot of money, but enough. I’m a man of simple pleasures: I hope I don’t die of lung cancer, I hope I can drink until I’ m dead, I hope I have a kid and a wife. I don’ t need to make millions of bucks, but I want to be an artist and make stuff every day.”