Waterlaso – Time Lapse
Michael Cameron sits at the helm of the Los Angeles band Waterlaso. It could be said of Cameron that he is not of this Earth and more so an ambrosial being. One could say that affixing a label to Michael Cameron, and trying to give his style and unique sound a name would be impossible. For he is indescribable and far too multifaceted to keep boxed in. If it simply had to be done, it would be said that Michael Cameron’s genesis as an artist has manifested itself in the form of an incomparable darkwave, dance, synth-pop sound, that feels strikingly familiar and yet distinctly fresh. Ever evolving and always challenging (to the man and to his dedicated following), Michael Cameron and his engaging Waterlaso are the stuff longevity is made of.
Ditte: Right now you’re based in Los Angeles, but you’re from Sedona, Arizona. Is that where you spent your formative years?
Michael Cameron: It was a wonderful experience; we had only lived in the suburbs of bigger cities until we moved to Sedona. Our backyard opened up into the forest, and it hadn’t yet built up like it had when we left there. The only high school that was an option for my Freshman year was an hour drive each way. There were cliffs you could dive off, a natural water slide and some extremely beautiful views. We even went tubing in an irrigation ditch once. It was an easy place to live in a lot of ways; maybe we should have stayed haha. It was nice living in a city that for the most part embraced new age culture, and Sedona was widely known for being one of the Earth’s major energy centers. The energy was strong there, but it felt like you could make it whatever you wanted, in Los Angeles there’s strong energy as well but it’s a lot more specific.
D: When you were in Arizona you played with There Goes Atlantis. What was that experience like? Was that the first band you performed with?
MC: It was a pretty amazing time, we had no rules, me and the other half of There Goes Atlantis, Levon, would record hours and hours of tapes on my portable stereo. We met in art class and oddly enough we were both drawing the same thing during a free drawing exercise. It was my first band and I believe it was Levon’s as well. We played quite a few shows in a short time, we started in 1994 and by 1996 we had played every garage in Sedona and started playing in Phoenix. This dive bar called The Mason Jar loved us, they let us open for national touring bands and wanted us to play weekly. We were all still in high school and sounded like Jesus & Mary Chain meets The Buzzcocks, so we were really noisy live, but didn’t appreciate what we had at the time, but this is around the time where some of the first Waterlaso songs come from, just newly recorded versions appear on the albums now.
D: When did you first start writing music?
MC: I wrote my first song when I was 8 on my keyboard, but I didn’t start to really get into songwriting until high school and Levon and I really got into it. Devoting all of our spare time and weekends to songwriting. It really is a craft, and you have to develop it over time.
D: What/who influences and inspires you creatively?
MC: I’m inspired by anyone who aspires to make something perfect, who isn’t willing to settle, someone who wants something better for our lives than what we have now, someone who goes the extra mile to not just give us more of the same. From Plato to Walt Disney, when someone really sets their sites to create something perfect, and wants to share something amazing that makes our lives better, I believe they’ll find it.
D: When did you settle on the name Waterlaso? It’s a fanciful name. Fitting. I’m curious about it’s origin.
MC: In 1999 I was considering words that I liked, and had heard of this band from Japan that a friend mentioned who only used water and wire to create music. I liked the mental image of trying to create music with tools that really almost made no sound if you just splashed them around together. Trying to define something that’s indefinable is what I have always taken Waterlaso to mean. Or, trying to hold on to something you can’t. The name came about when I started working on the first album.
D: When did you first start performing as Waterlaso? What was your first performance like? Was it a solo performance or had you already assembled a band by then?
MC: The first live performance as Waterlaso was in Oct of 2001. Some friends who ran the only indie club in Phoenix were putting on a synth-pop show and they asked me to be on the bill. They had been playing each song from the album as I had finished them. It was really exciting to see a club full of people dancing to these songs back to back with New Order, The Smiths, Suede and The Cure.
D: You’re at the forefront of the band as not only the lead vocalist, but also as the sole lyricist, and you write the bulk of the music as well. Do you plan to continue this way or do you one day intend to collaborate with other artists?
MC: We’ve started working on the new album as more of a collaboration. Nick and I have a couple songs underway. I’m really excited to have someone to bounce ideas off of. He’s an amazing musician; the entire band is extremely talented so it will be great to have all of their input on the next album instead of just working the songs out alone.
D: Throughout the history of the band you remain the one constant. How does the evolution of you as an artist contribute to the maturation of Waterlaso as a band?
MC: I’m used to working this way. it’s always been the easiest and only way for me. I think it’s forced me to push myself beyond what was possible with my tools and abilities each time I set out to record. It’s allowed me to create a sound and carry it forward through a variety of different styles. I think it’s been amazing for me to explore so deeply as to what the thought of Waterlaso could become and is still becoming.
D: “There’s something about What Have You Ever Done To Deserve Everything You’ve Ever Wanted that makes me feel dirty — and not in the Barry White sense of the word. Listening to Waterlaso is sort of like hearing a creepy, trenchcoat-clad guy on the bus mumbling to himself when he sees a girl in a Catholic school outfit. It’s stripped of all emotion, and presented in such a clinically cold way that listening to it feels like a strange violation of decency.”
I recently read this in a review of What Have You Ever Done to Deserve Everything You’ve Ever Wanted. And at first I was completely excited by it, mostly because I jumped the gun and neglected to read the rest of the sentence. By the time I read the rest, my excitement had drooped and confused by this reviewer. I wasn’t sure he” got” it. Do you feel that there is a lot of misconception regarding your music? Would you rather leave it ambiguous and open to interpretation?
MC: I think he missed the playfulness, and possibly the entire album. I’m not sure he listened to it. I wish I had made the album that’s he describing, but “What Have You Ever Done…” is extremely emotional, if nothing else it’s emotional, and it’s far from sycophantic or creepy. It’s an extremely sad record, I was setting out to make something that could stand up with the saddest music I had heard, and I wanted to make a concept album about life-long pain and it’s true impermanence if you just took another perspective. I just wanted to say that none of us are scared and that we can be whatever we want at any given moment. A lot of that album is very whimsical, but I’m fairly convinced he didn’t actually listen to it. I like leaving things open to interpretation, it’s necessary for you to mistake the lyrics and create the song that you’d prefer to have stuck in your head. It’s more personal, and it creates something you’re much more attached to.
D: With song titles like “Use your Illusion” and “How I Accidentally Got Us Killed On the Oregon Trail” I can’t help but feel that you’re in touch with your youthful days. And you are youthful. Though dark at times you remain playful and bring in the breeze. Your lyrics are often dark and sometimes haunting, but at other times you seem to be taking it on the chin so to speak and winking at us, reminding us that it’s okay to find the light-hearted side to the darkness of life. Do you often inject playfulness in your music? Is it a part of your nature?
MC: I think that’s very important to realize you can take a step back from things and lighten it up, or you can dive head first into the drama and become fully overtaken by it. You can live life on any of those levels and it’s absolutely fine, but obviously some of them are more difficult. I want to make songs that tell people they are fine just as they are, and that there’s nothing to fear or worry about. I hope that’s what people take away overall from listening to my music. Some of the darkest places I’ve been have also been the funniest as well. Things can get so ridiculous all you can do is laugh at it. You can come back from anything, you’ll be alright.
D: Your style is unique and purely your own. Your voice is often an instrument all its own throughout your songs. I’m always pleased when you include your lyrics with your albums because your lyrics create depth and layers that add so much more to the melodies. And the melodies are often strong enough to stand on their own. In an interview on CNN David Byrne said that to him, the lyrics aren’t important. He’s more concerned with the way the words sound: “In a certain way, it’s the sound of the words, the inflection and the way the song is sung and the way it fits the melody and the way the syllables are on the tongue that has as much of the meaning as the actual, literal words,” Do you agree with this? Do you use this method in your own music-using the lyrics with the intonation?
MC: I don’t have just one way of writing, but I believe that lyrics are essential and something that adds multiple dimensions to melody. Melody can describe things that words can’t, but I think you can use words in a way that implies meaning but doesn’t ground it. The story and the song concept are extremely important to me, and I will do what it takes to get those across, but I don’t stick to one style or another. It just depends on how important it is for that song. Byrne is an amazing writer, one of the best, and all of the other people who take the time to actually craft a song I take my hat off to. Morrissey has accomplished some superhuman things lyrically, so has Byrne.
D: You’ve been steadily recording, writing and performing for over 15 years. In that time what sort of changes have you seen within the music scene and the music industry?
MC: You could write a book on this alone, I think that quality control is gone, and I think it’s really easy to create a cool seeming project now, even if you don’t ever plan to actually write a song or an album, or even play an instrument. People are buying cool rather than good. The established artists who already had their foot in the door before the floodgates opened were safe and some have done well, but I’m not seeing that the music industry is encouraging any more originality than it was before. I think most projects are tossed off, and as long as you can make it seem cool, and you have some friends in the right places then you’re set.
D: I had the opportunity to listen to some of your early recordings from the 90’s. I enjoyed them. Do you think you’ll ever revisit your acoustic guitar days?
MC: Haha, well there were only a few acoustic songs, but I really enjoy acoustic music. I doubt there’s a future for me as the next Elliott Smith, but I’d like to start playing a few of those songs live at shows. We’re mostly playing dance sets, but I’d like to return to a more dramatic set list with more of the slower songs, and a few acoustic songs thrown in. I have about 150 songs prior to 1999 recorded on my 4-track, a lot of them are very experimental but I think that there’s some great stuff that I’d like to use in the future. A lot of weird keyboard songs.
D: Legendary producer, Kramer produced your most recent jewel Wild. How was it working with him? Kramer is a specific sort of producer, he has an eye (or rather an ear) for making the seemingly distant within reach and relatable. He polishes and shines the artists he works with to ethereal perfection. He revived Neil Diamonds “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” with Urge Overkill for the film Pulp Fiction, he Godfathered Galaxie 500 and worked with Low and Daniel Johnston- what was the experience like for you? Lay it out for me.
MC: Kramer did some amazing work on the album. He took our rough tracks and really balanced them out and brought out a lot more clarity. We only got to work with him over the computer, but he gave the album a really polished sound. He didn’t take it and suck the life out of the sounds, everything still sounds natural and alive which was exactly what we had wanted. He’s an amazing producer, and I hope we can get him to work with us in the studio on our next record.
D: I enjoy all of your albums; Wild in particular stands out for me. It’s the most cohesive of your albums – it opens like a fairy tale and ceases like a dream. There’s a theme throughout. What was the process of writing this album—how long were you working on it? When was the moment you knew that you had had “it” and your album was complete?
MC: It was sort of a narrative of everything that had happened since I moved to the apartment building that’s on the cover, some of the songs I had started working on back in 2002 like “We’re The Sonic Sisters,” but I decided I wanted to go all out and make a really big album. It was an extremely challenging album to make, and it was the most emotionally difficult set of songs I’ve ever worked on. I just wanted it to be very honest, and not judge the subject matter, and not judge my life. I called the album “Wild” because it’s a word that doesn’t specifically have a positive or negative connotation. I thought that era would end with leaving that building, but I guess life is wild.
D: Are there any other projects you’re working on right now?
MC: There are a couple, I’ve been working on a project called World Looks Red, another album that will probably be done around the same time as the next Waterlaso record. I’ve also written some new experimental pieces that I’ve called Animal Husband.
D: What about touring? Do you have any plans to tour?
MC: We’re going to tour soon, we just want to make sure it’s the right time, it takes a lot of pieces to be in the right place so it goes well. Otherwise we would have left yesterday.
D: Finish this sentence: Michael Cameron is…
MC: …running with Waterlaso.
D: Finish this sentence: Waterlaso is running with…
MC: …Michael Cameron.
D: Parting words?
MC: There’s nothing to be scared of, fear nothing, you’re fine as you are. Be happy and enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing.
Cameron’s albums What Have You Ever Done to Deserve Everything You’ve Ever Wanted and Wild are available through Amazon, as well as Amoeba Records in Hollywood, California.
♫ ♥ ditte