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Pushing Back

Cameron Bethany emerges from gospel traditions to a more personal musicality.

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As the son of leaders in the local Christian community, Cameron Bethany had to struggle with a unique set of influences and expectations to find his musical identity.

"Being in the church is really, really tough growing up, and it was a big influence," he says. "Gospel was at the forefront, and God was the standard. Yet musically, I saw something larger for myself. I saw something different. And I didn't have backing from my dad, being a bishop of his own congregation." The fact that Bethany's mother was a locally respected gospel singer only compounded the expectations for him.

A few years ago, Bethany discovered the avenue to his independence: the Unapologetic collective. As artist/producer and founder James "IMAKEMADBEATS" Dukes told the Flyer earlier this year: "Unapologetic is my stand against being what you're supposed to be, externally, and just being what you are, which is what you're supposed to be."

Such a brief dovetailed nicely with Bethany's efforts to define himself, and in 2014, he began working with IMAKEMADBEATS on some of his first secular music. "This entire project was to 'break out into Cameron'," he notes, crediting IMAKEMADBEATS with being a crucial supporter of his self-realization. "I was already working on separating into a genre called Mod Fusion, where I create the standard of what music comes from myself, as opposed to me identifying with R&B, neo-soul, hip-hop, whatever. I could just create this umbrella and put all of my music underneath it, so wherever it falls it has a home, without having to be categorized."

YOUMAKEMENERVOUS, the album released on Unapologetic last month, was the result of their collaboration, and listeners can hear the team striving to mix eclectic influences. While the soaring emotions and melodies might be considered neo-soul to a casual listener, deeper listening reveals darkly atmospheric beats and soundscapes more associated with contemporary hip-hop or trap. Yet unlike those styles, most of the songs have been consciously composed, rather than being built from samples.

"On 'Black and White' and 'Brand New', I actually co-produced those. I started those in GarageBand and showed up to the studio, like, 'Hey, look what I did.' And we just kinda took it from there," says Bethany.

"There were some tracks where I would come in and he'd say, 'Hey, what do you think about this? I just wanna see what you do to it.' And I would go in the booth and just start with one line and then add something else. And then add something else. I love the idea of being able to create from a lot of different aspects as opposed to just having one specific way of doing everything. That's one thing that I can be grateful for with working with Mad."

The project pushed Bethany to stretch his thematic boundaries, partially aided by collaborators like PreauXX and Ali Abu-Khraybeh. He also received an assist from his much older brother, Steve Bethany, who also cast his lot with secular music decades ago, and has worked as a bassist and guitarist with the likes of Jill Scott and Angie Stone.

"Some of the songs aren't necessarily my situation," Bethany explains. "I put myself in people's shoes when I hear their problems. I instantly attach to those feelings. If someone loses a loved one, I instantly feel that, or if somebody's pissed, I'm mad, too. I portray a lot of feelings in the way that I sing; that's the first thing I want people to do, feel me. I don't care about you saying 'Oh, he can sing.' I don't think people will necessarily remember you just because you can sing. People remember how you make them feel."

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