Interview: Cameron Daddo

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Cameron-Daddo-SonandMoonEPV3Cameron Daddo has extensive experience as an actor and presenter on screen and radio, in Australia and the United States. He also started releasing music in 1993, with the album The Long Goodbye. There have been albums and singles in between, including  Songs from the Shed in 2016 – and now there is the EP Son & Moon, produced by Michael Carpenter, with the heartrending title song featuring on recent episodes of Seven Network TV series Home and Away, working in with the storyline for a character played by Daddo.

Daddo says that when he got the the role on Home and Away, ‘Michael and I were already working together on this EP. At Home and Away they were aware that I could play but they weren’t aware that I had CDs out there. They said they had Mushroom back catalogue available but I said, “Why don’t we use my catalogue? I’ll send you the CDs and you let me know which song you like and we can do that. Or just trust me to come up with stuff in scenes.” All the noodling bits I did in that no one said, “Can you play this song?” I’d just feel what I wanted to do. And they were all my tunes that I was doing.

‘Then “Son & Moon” – the story had this concert that was coming up. I rang the producers and said, “I have this idea that Evan [his character] didn’t know he had a son but he found out after the fact. He knew she was pregnant but then the baby had been born, but he was somewhere in Middle America playing in a pub when he found out and he wrote that song when he found out that he became a dad.” They said, “Yeah, we love it”, and I said, “Well, here’s the song I think we should do.” I had “Son & Moon”. Actually, I had another song called “La Luna”, which didn’t have a chorus, so I grabbed two verses off “La Luna”, which is about my love for the moon and the fact that I could look at things with perspective when I sat on the moon and looked back on the earth. Then I retooled “La Luna”, wrote the chorus, wrote the bridge and wrote another verse or two, and called it “Son & Moon”. And it’s funny because the chorus ended up being “La Luna”. But that song was really told to work with the story in Home and Away.’

For some viewers of Home and Away this might have been the first time they realised Daddo could sing and play guitar, yet music has been an almost lifelong commitment for him. He started playing piano when he was seven.

‘It was an upright pianola,’ he says. ‘We had this pianola and I would watch the keys go down as I pressed the pedals. Even though I was playing songs like “Daisy Daisy Give Me Your Answer, Do” on the pianola with a roll, I could see chords and things like that, so I would … try to play that … I sort of noodled on that for a few years and then my brother was given a guitar when I was about 12 and he didn’t want to use it. He was a left-hander so I asked him if he’d mind if I used it, and he said no so I used his guitar.

‘What I’d taught myself on piano – because I was only playing by ear – I taught myself on the guitar. Once I learned three or four chords on the guitar I thought, Ah this is this song. This is that song. i was teaching myself back and forward from the piano to the guitar and vice versa.’

He started singing in school. ‘I really enjoyed singing,’ he says. ‘I was probably in all the choirs from Year Seven on. But even before that, in primary school, we had a couple of teachers, one was in fifth grade the other was in sixth grade. The fifth grade teacher had a guitar and we used to sing Beach Boys songs. I loved it. He had a red guitar And I loved his guitar. We sang all sorts of cool stuff.’

Daddo’s young listening habits, though, were broader than the Beach Boys.

‘I was pretty full-on into rock ’n’roll – heavy rock,’ he explains. ‘It was KISS, It was Slade and a lot of the Australian rock bands around at the time. Early Angels. I really enjoyed Icehouse when they came out. That wasn’t until Year Ten. My best friend down the road was a huge music lover and he turned me on to the English ska music. I want to say punk, because it was sort of Clash, The Police – we used to devour The Police. So it was quite eclectic.

‘But then at the same time my father had a really cool LP turntable that you could stack the albums on top of each other. Terrible for records – scratched the crap out of the records – but he would put them on Friday, Saturday night and Sunday – he liked to play his records on Sunday. He had Neil Diamond, he had Anne Murray, Roger Whittaker, Gordon Lightfoot. Some James Taylor. James Last. Dan Fogelberg was another one he had. So that kind of crept into my subconscious, that sort of music. That was often playing when I went to sleep. That really informed my musical tastes as well.’

When Daddo released his first album, A Long Goodbye, he’d just finished performing in the musical Big River, which was written by Roger Miller. ‘I was so into the country vibe and it just seemed easier for me to play. I could find a lot more players who would do that than I could find players who would do the Angels with me,’ he says, laughing.

While he had country influences on that first album and certainly on the new EP, given his range of influences an interests, he says that each song he writes defines the genre it’s in.

‘On Songs from the Shed there’s a song called “Steve McQueen” and I wrote that just after living in Steve McQueen’s house in Palm Springs. You can rent the McQueen house – it’s just down the road from the Bob Hope house and the Alan Ladd house on this one stretch this spine of the hillside. They all lived up there. We rented the McQueen house for a few days. And Steve McQueen is one of my favourite actors. That song was totally informed by my vibe my feeling towards Steve McQueen. Grab hold of life – that’s who he was. And there’s another song on that album called “Only You Know”, which is a duet, and that’s a lilty, more of an introverted song about a relationship where that person is the only one who knows these things about me.’

Given his work life – which is as varied as his music – Daddo doesn’t have a strict writing routine, saying he will grab time to write when he can and also set aside time to write if he’s able.

‘l live my life in a more generalist way,’ he says. ‘Or, rather, I don’t specialise. I keep things fairly diverse because I find, in keeping my interests diverse, I can pull from a lot of experiences, different things, not just diving in and writing music like the Nashville guys do five days a week, 9 to 5. they just go in there and write that sort of music – which I think is great and such an art form, and obviously it works because it’s a huge industry.

‘For me, though, I just feel better allowing things to happen. I can be open to the muse when it comes and then I often find that if I have a gig to do or something and I’ve got something to work towards then I focus and knuckle down and commit to making sure I’ve got enough material and I’ve got everything I need for that tour or whatever I’m doing.’

In terms of selecting songs to appear on his releases, Daddo says, ‘I got advice early on. [When I was] in Los Angeles I was about to put together the second album and I hadn’t done any recording for a long time. I’d been gigging, though.

‘This guy [a friend of Daddo’s] was Prince’s west coast manager – a very well-connected guy – and he used to like the music, he’d come to our shows. And he said, “What are you going to put on the record?” and I told him and he said, “No no no no no – put four songs that you think are going to be really strong hits and then save some for you next one just in case you haven’t got it”, Daddo recalls with a laugh.

‘I said, “I don’t know if I want to do that”, and he said, “Nah, trust me.” He felt that’s how Prince was doing it, too, even though Prince wrote more songs than anyone.

‘A couple of the tracks off the new EP are ones that I just never got right in the demo to record them. One of them was “Hollywood Hell” – I just never had it right. And when it came time to do this [EP] I said to Michael Carpenter, “I’ve got this rock ’n’ roll song – check this riff out.” And I played it to him and he said, “Dude, you’re playing that riff.” I said, “Well, it’s ready to go – off we go.”

‘The same with the song “Up Down Street”, that was written as a dirty blues song. I told [Carpenter] that I had the song. It’s this unrequited love song. I wrote it years ago. I had it on a demo and I said, ‘”I hate this, it’s so dirty.” I said, “What about we do it as a duet?” then my wife, Ali, introduced me to this girl, Nyssa Ray. The woman’s a genius. She’s just a great producer but a really wonderful performer. She’s undiscovered and it baffles me. When I first heard her sing I thought, She sounds like Eva Cassidy. But she does different things. She’s an excellent guitar player, all this sort of stuff. So I reached out to her and said, “Do you want to do this as a duet? I’m not saying I’ll take one verse – let’s go from top to bottom, you and me. I want you to sing this song with me.” And that’s what we did.’

The connection with Michael Carpenter came about when Daddo recorded a song for the 1927 tribute album …ish Reimagined. When asked if it was a meeting of the minds, Daddo laughs and agrees.

‘He is a multi-faceted human who does and can do anything,’ he says. ‘He’s a one-stop shop – a guy who just continues to show up and deliver. If I say too much about him I’ll never get to work with him again. People should be lined up at his door.’

In forming a collaborative relationship with Carpenter, Daddo says, ‘I respect that other people know more than me, so when I come across someone who is enthusiastic about what I put in front of them and they say, “Let’s try this” or “Let’s have a bang at that”, I say, “Okay!” I’d love to see what other people bring. And I leave a lot of space in my writing for that because I just love what people bring. It’s way more fun in collaboration than on your own, I reckon.’

When asked if his experience as an actor – used to bringing his own layers and colour into a script – has helped inform his ability to collaborate, Daddo says, ‘I think that’s a fair call. The thing about acting is where it’s a collaborative effort, it’s a collaborative effort for everyone from the caterer to the lighting guy to costume, make-up. I can’t do my job without them and they can’t do their jobs without me. It’s a bit the same as how I look at every creative process – or most, anyway. There are some things that I hang onto tight and want to do my own thing, but in music I don’t know everything. I know what I like and if someone’s going to have the grace to be with me and wants to spend time with me and create something together then I honour that, and I’m grateful for that, because just working with other humans is so interesting.’

Fundamentally, for Daddo releasing music is ‘an opportunity to tell stories, and I just like to tell my stories. I’m excited about this one. Also because it’s a good road trip record. Not too long and there’s a bit of variance.’

Given that the road trips we’re all taking are likely to be short for the foreseeable future, there is no better time to take up Daddo’s suggestion – and discover that Son & Moon is not just good for the road. It is an emotional, honest EP that offers much and demands no  more than open ears and an open heart.

Son & Moon is out now through ORiGiN/Red Rebel Music.

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