Interview 17/07/17 with Emma Cameron (Vocalist/Guitarist) of Decades.
I started off as a dancer for 15 or so years. I started dancing when I was five and stopped dancing when I was in my early twenties, and that is where I learnt rhythm etc. It’s what got me passionate about music and what you can do with it.
I was into Michael Jackson at the time, which got me into music and dancing and the art form of it.
Around age eight, I wanted to learn the violin but my Mum informed me that a lady at her work said it was really hard and that maybe I should do guitar instead. So, I started learning the guitar at age eight or nine, and picked it up straight away. I was able to play it in the first week or two. And that’s pretty much how I started doing music.
It was high school when I realized I wanted to be in a band, as I was listening to a lot more rock music, and going out to shows etc. My first ever band was this band, and I have been doing this since I was 15, 16
Actually, that’s a good question, no one has ever asked me that before. The first few years of playing guitar when I was a kid, I was playing whatever songs my guitar teacher gave me.
My dad was really into the fact that I could play guitar, so he started trying to get me to figure out and learn Steely Dan songs, which is my Dad’s favourite band. They’re a jazz-rock kinda genre.
When I was crossing over from age 10, 11 into early teenage years, I started listening to more guitar driven rock music. Before that I was listening to a lot of pop music, I was young, I was a little girl, I liked Michael Jackson, and the Spice Girls. I liked the pop music on the radio and the TV. When I was about 12, 13 British pop band Busted came out, which my oldest sister got really into, and she got me into them. So that was when I started playing more rock music, even though most full-grown adults would argue that Busted is not rock music, but they were 3 dudes that wrote songs and played guitar and I taught myself all of that. And then from UK pop-rock bands like Busted and McFly, I got into more American pop-rock music like Yellowcard, Taking Back Sunday and The Starting Line and I started learning and teaching myself all the guitar parts from those bands as well.
I used to write guitar tabs and upload them to UltimateGuitar.com so I’d teach other people how to play Busted and Yellowcard songs. And it just stuck with me, that’s the kinda music I was into, because I never grew up listening to the huge mainstream rock bands like Nirvana, Tool, Faith No More, Audioslave, Shihad or anything like that. It was later in life that I discovered there was a world outside of pop-rock, punk, emo and stuff like that. I guess it was just a natural progression, I’ve always enjoyed that genre without actively trying to.
IS SINGING SOMETHING YOU HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO DO?
Singing was something I always did when I was growing up. I was in school choirs, and in high school I was in a barbershop quartet. And from a young age I always wanted to be a performer.
When I was a lot younger, I thought I would be some famous ballerina, dancer, or something like that. Growing up, I pictured myself more like a Michael Jackson type of a performer.
Ever since high school, I decided I wanted a rock band and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. But it’s quite hard to rely on that to pay the bills, and I have other things I am good at.
I was always good at art, drawing etc in school. I also have a degree in graphic design and my day job is a graphic designer. So, if I wasn’t doing music I’d probably be doing graphics.
I also do social media and digital marketing. If I wasn’t playing music, I’d probably be trying to do that for musicians and record labels. I always want to be involved in music in some way.
WHAT MUSIC TRAINING HAVE YOU HAD?
I had music lessons in primary school, there would be about 12 of us in a room at lunch time and the teacher would go around and give us about 5 minutes each. Luckily, I was a natural at it so I didn’t really need his attention. I’d just want the next song that I was meant to learn for the week. Around the same time I started learning drums as well, just because I wanted to learn another instrument.
When I got to high school I didn’t take music or get guitar lessons. I figured out bar chords on my own, so I was like “I know everything now. I know how to play the guitar. I’ve figured out how the whole guitar neck works” It was not like “these are the chord sheets and just do what the sheet says.” In my last couple years of high school, I decided that I wanted to get a lot more technically proficient with lead guitar so I started guitar lessons again.
I started studying music at school too, but I left guitar lessons quickly. I remember my first one was just one on one with my guitar teacher, cause he wanted to see what my abilities were and after seeing what I could do he was like “I’m going to put you right to the top class, with these two other dudes”. And these two guys were not happy that I was in there with them. They didn’t like that I was as good. So, I stopped that class quickly because I felt uncomfortable, I didn’t feel welcome. After high school, I started really getting into metal, and my partner at the time was a metal guitarist and I decided to make it my mission to be just as good as him and his friends, and to be able to shred with the best of them.
I think in general, for the most part, my training is & was always self-driven. From wanting to be really good, interested in and developing my technical skill. These days I am more focused on singing and being the best singer I can be, because I can trust my guitar skills now and I know that I can pick up new stuff on the guitar really quickly. So, I’m more focused on developing my vocal abilities these days, since it’s such an organic instrument and there is way more room for error.
WHAT HAPPENED WITH YOUR PREVIOUS BAND, ASHEI?
For all intents and purposes, it’s the exact same band (members). In Ashei we had a couple other bass players earlier on, and Curtis came in about four or five years ago. We were independent and with our sound being on the more pop end of the rock genre spectrum the entire time, we got compared to Paramore a lot and we always were aware we were quite derivative of other American pop-rock bands and the Paramore thing was an easy (and lazy) comparison because of combining a female vocal with that style of music but we didn’t really know how to stop doing that. Because that was what we were all brought up listening to and just what we naturally defaulted to.
A few years ago we released our Ashei EP “Music Is Boring,” independently. After that we didn’t really know what to do next as we spent all our money on that, and tried our hardest to push it ourselves with no partners, just us.
So I started reaching out to a few people that I found on a Google search for music industry people and Tom Larkin (Drummer for Shihad) was one of those people and he got back to me and we ended up meeting when I was in Melbourne. He was into Ashei – mostly our song writing – but he also felt that we were stuck in a rut stylistically, and it wasn’t a style of rock music that was doing well in New Zealand, and we were thinking the same thing. Plus we were just bored of it. Ironic in retrospect given the name of the EP. We love that EP by the way – it’s kinda just now a snapshot of all those years of being that. We were ready to move on. He was keen to work with us and wanted us to do an album, and we wanted that too. We started working together on writing a lot of songs, because the main focus has always been the song writing. I mean we’re always going to be doing rock music but at that time we didn’t have a pre-conceived idea of what sound we were going to go for. We were all listening to a huge variety of different stuff. We worked with Tom to develop that over six months or so.
When we got to the end of that process, and we were in the studio recording, we realized that the sound was so different compared to Ashei, and realized that we should just rename ourselves and start again, start fresh.
HOW HAS THE RECEPTION BEEN FOR ‘THE TRUTH AND OTHER PEOPLE’?
Good, from what I can tell. We’ve been so busy the last few days that we’ve hardly had time to jump online and see how it’s all been going.
We saw that it’s doing really well on the iTunes charts. We’ve sold heaps of CD’s over the weekend which was a surprise because we weren’t really sure if we’d be selling many on tour, since we’re not really sure how many people listen to CDs anymore.
We’ve had lots of feedback from people telling us what their favourite songs are, which has been really interesting, because we have our favourite songs and just seeing the tracks that we thought would fly under the radar be peoples favourites is really cool.WHICH SONGS DID YOU THINK WOULD FLY UNDER THE RADAR?
Larger Life and Empty Words. Heaps of people really like Empty Words which is hilarious to me because when I listen to Empty Words I’m always cringing a little because I was really, really sick when we were recording, and I am singing a little out of tune the whole time. But maybe people think that it’s really punk-rock.
HOW WOULD YOU EXPLAIN THE FEEL OF THE ALBUM?
The album in general ended up actually being unknowingly, a concept album. It tells the whole story of me breaking up a long term relationship and meeting someone new and all of the awkward feelings, emotions and heartbreak, and the amazingness that goes with a huge life shattering experience like that.
The track listing is actually in chronological order to how the whole ordeal rolled out. We didn’t set out knowing that that was going to happen, but when we sat down to look at the track listing I realised all the songs we recorded total the literal piece-by-piece story of what happened for me and these 2 other people I experienced it with – my ex and the love of my life.
WHAT SORT OF MUSIC INFLUENCES DECADES?
There’s a whole bunch. We’ve got the most eclectic taste of music for a rock band. Although in saying that, a lot of my favourite bands, when I finally find out who all their influences are, I find that a lot of them listen to a whole range of stuff. Not just other rock music. So I suppose that’s totally normal!
Curtis our bass player, he’s like a music encyclopedia. I don’t think there’s a song on this earth that he doesn’t know or loves. He loves all music. It’s insane. I don’t know how he has the time to know everything. It’s crazy.
I listen to a lot of new acts and new rock music. I also like listening to a lot of women in rock music. At the moment, I am listening to a lot of throwback artists like Alanis Morissette and No Doubt, and trying to be inspired by the women who have come before me, because I didn’t grow up listening to women in rock.
Liam is very unexpected in his tastes. I’m not really sure what he’s listening to at the moment. He likes Michael Buble, John Mayer and Justin Timberlake! He just loves song writing, so he’s really into all the great songwriters – he’s our main songwriter so that is a big deal and his main focus for him.
Our drummer Dan, he’s still in to all the pop-punk and emo bands we grew up listening to – so am I – his fiancee is also into pop, punk and emo etc but she also listens to a lot of pop music. So, Dan has some not-so-guilty pleasures. They’re going VIP to the Little Mix concert in Auckland the day after tour finishes! Haha!
We’re all into good songwriting, but there is obviously a bias towards good songwriting with guitars in it. When we were teenagers we all loved emo, pop, pop-rock and punk, so that’s all of our kinda our real core, our root level influence.
WHO WOULD BE YOUR TOP FIVE MUSICIANS?
Definitely Michael Jackson. Taking Back Sunday. Biffy Clyro. I’m going to have to put Paramore in there even though I will get hassled for that. And who I am listening to at the moment, but wouldn’t be an all-time top 5, would be Highly Suspect, so they’d sneak in there for honorary purposes at this point in time.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BLOG ‘GOOD FOR A GIRL’
I started the blog about this time last year. We were still mixing the album and we weren’t playing many shows. We were still planning everything. And I was getting a bit bored.
We went on tour with Villainy and I got some weird things said and done to me. I started talking to my manager about it and he was like “Well you know, you have a bit of time on your hands at the moment and we’re not cranking up the album stuff for a few months. So, why don’t you write a blog about it and keep yourself occupied and forming relationships with other women in NZ and Australia music” As previously mentioned, I was never brought up with female musicians so I never thought to seek it out for myself. So, it was really good. I spent most of last year working on that while we were mixing the album.
I went over to Bigsound Music Conference in Australia and to Going Global Music Summit in Auckland. I made heaps of plans to meet up with a lot of female musicians at both conferences, and did interviews with them and met them all and chatted with them. And that is what I was into last year, and still am into, championing women in music. But it’s been so full on with Decades stuff this year that I have completely ignored posting on my blog unless I find something worthwhile sharing like “Women aren’t rejecting rock, rock is rejecting women”.
I do want to keep Good for a Girl going, and I’d love to put together a music festival or something like that where majority of the acts are women. And going around to all girl’s schools and talking to them about music etc. It’ll happen in time, just got to wait for the album stuff to pass.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO PERFORM?
This is probably a really unexpected answer but, a living room. Or something similar – just intimate and in a house or what have you – when we have people around.
It’s usually quite hard to get me to actually sing and play acoustic guitar casually to people in a room – I’m such a scaredy cat – but when I finally build up the courage to do it, it’s usually my favourite time to sing cause it’s really intimate, 1 on 1. You’re singing to a group of people, and they’re right there and it’s all very vulnerable. I can hear my vocals easily – although they’re usually shaking in this setting because I’m so nervous haha.
I do love playing rock shows and being on tour, and the amazing venues we’ve played at (ie Homegrown, Jimmy Barnes). But I do really like being intimate with people. It makes me realize that I am quite good at what I do. I know that sounds weird. But for the most part I’m very self-critical and think I am shit at music. But it’s really nerve wrecking performing intimately like that, but the best things happen when you’re well out of your comfort zone. When people respond positively to me in these scenarios it snaps me in to the reality of realising and putting value on the talent I’ve been given by the universe. Which is healthy for someone who is so self-effacing most of the time.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR FAVOURITE SHOW?
Our favourite show, and I think I would be speaking for all of us would be when we played in Dunedin with Villainy at the start of last year.
It was absolutely insane! It was one of those nights where all of the magical energy had all just accumulated, and the crowd was buzzing and we were all buzzing. And it all just came together, and it was just insane. It was the coolest gig we’ve ever played. The crowd was so into it. At the venue, Refuel, which we are going back to at the end of this month, the ceilings there are really low and especially on stage it’s REALLY low so if you’re really tall like Richie from City of Souls, your heads almost hitting the ceiling by just standing there. That helped with being able to hear the crowd, cause the sound when they were singing along, clapping, applauding and yelling etc it was so loud for us and we could hear it over the music, cause it was bouncing down at us, and it just made this whole electric thing happen at this gig and it was just amazing and that’s why it’s our favourite gig ever.
And we find every time we go to Dunedin, almost every time it gets to that level. We are unsure as to why, they must have something in their water.
WHO HAS BEEN THE BEST/WORST PERSON TO WORK WITH?
The best person to work with has been Tom Larkin. He’s incredible. We’ve learnt so much in the last two years since we started working with him. I think that if we went back in time and met myself and our band two years ago I’d be like “what on earth are you doing? You have no idea what you are doing.” And it’s all because of Toms guidance and wisdom. He just knows everything. He’s not just the drummer for Shihad, he’s onto it. He’s so great.
The worst person to work with would be myself. I am absolutely terrible to work with. I am very self-critical and I can quite easily get up in my own head, criticising myself to the point that I can subconsciously sabotage what we’re trying to do. Like when we went over to Melbourne to record, we were there for five weeks and I was so nervous, self-critical and overthinking everything we did, I got sick. I mean, you name it, I had it, for four of those five weeks. Which meant I couldn’t sing. We were there, and we had spent all this money and I couldn’t even finish the record. I think, vocally, I recorded Terrified, The Truth, If It Kills Me and You or Me which I didn’t finish. And that was just recording the lead vocals for each of them. I did the harmonies back home and then I recorded the other six songs back at home. It’s actually funny when I listen to The Truth, because I can hear that I have a blocked nose which no one else can hear, just me. So, I am definitely the worse person to work with for myself.
HOW HAS THE ALL OUR TRUTHS TOUR BEEN GOING?
The best experience was Auckland, just the show in general. Especially because like in Hamilton none of us (the bands) are from Hamilton and it was the first show of the tour so it felt awkward, and we often wondered how we were setting it up, how soundcheck was flowing and everyone’s nervous as it was the first show.
But then Auckland as a show, the whole day ran smoothly, and we were all comfortable. We set everything up in time and nothing was forgotten, and that was an awesome experience. The actual show time itself was incredible.
The worst experience so far… We blew up the PA system during the set in Auckland. we had Curtis’ bass running straight through into the PA, so it wasn’t going through the amp. So, when the PA cut out, we completely lost my vocals and Curtis’ bass, and it was right before we did this cover, and we never really play covers, but we are playing one special one on tour, and we’re really excited about the cover we’re playing which is heavily dependent on the bass riff, being all centred around that and you just couldn’t hear it. When you’re a singer, it’s easier to pitch your vocals off the bass. You feel it all through your body. I couldn’t hear the bass. So, here I am singing, and then when the chorus comes in, when me and Liam are finally playing guitar, I’ve been singing in the complete wrong key. And I think that I’m screwing up the guitar as opposed to screwing up the vocals. Then I’m like “Am I playing the wrong chord? I’m sure I know what chord this is meant to be but it doesn’t sound right.” It was because I was doing it to what I was singing.
So yeah, that was probably the worst moment on tour so far because when we played that cover in Hamilton and we nailed it. It felt so good. And the crowd loved it and people were filming us and we pulled it off because it’s actually a pretty scary song to cover. We were all like “Well, let’s just take the risk” So it felt really crap to not be able to nail that in Auckland because of how many people were there. But technical difficulties, what can you do? It is what it is.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FOR THE UPCOMING TOUR SHOWS?
Absolute antics. There’s a surprise that Skinny Hobos have in their set that they didn’t tell us about either, that they just busted out in Hamilton that got everyone fizzing.
Bakers Eddy are an incredible opening act. I don’t where they get all their energy from. But they’re just like relentless, they’ll really get the crowd going right at the start. Ciarann, the singer, just doesn’t give up. He just screams at everyone and it’s absolutely hilarious and endearing.
Dead Favours being new, this is their first time out on the road as a band, and they’re just absolutely killing it. They’re so impressive. Their songs are fantastic. Jared is a great frontman.
From our set, you can expect us to play all the album tracks. It’s our first time performing a couple of those tracks live. And just lots of yelling, tenseness, sweatiness and dancing. I’m making us sound the most boring when I’m meant to make people most excited to see us haha! It’s hard to talk about yourself.
I can’t wait! Auckland has really set us off we can’t wait to do the next few it’s gonna be so much fun! It’s so much better than we even expected it to be. It’s awesome!
CHECK OUT OUR ALBUM REVIEW FOR
‘THE TRUTH AND OTHER PEOPLE’