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The Australian artist has been under fire for his ironic personas but his new album is a left-turn, and a gift to the actor he wrote it for

No matter how hard I try, I cant get away from writing about the behaviour of men, Alex Cameron says.

The Australian singer is in a hotel room in Salt Lake City, Utah, a week away from the release of his third record, Miami Memory, and more than 3,200km away from New York City where he lives with his partner, the artist, actor and Girls star Jemima Kirke, for whom he wrote the record.

Camerons relationship with Kirke is mapped on to the record in ways that are incredibly open and occasionally explicit, but it frequently extends beyond the bounds of their bond, taking in her children from a past relationship (in the song Stepdad) and the aftermath of that marriage (Divorce).

In the past, the swaggering performer assumed an ironic persona of a bitter misogynist which has been both critically acclaimed by Pitchfork and considered a joke taken too well, or too far by the New Yorker.On this record Cameron keenly reflects on the harm mens behaviour causes women in songs about the independent sex work industry (Far from Born Again), and boys clubs scrambling to come to terms with one of their own being done for a sexual harassment claim (Bad for the Boys).

Ive always just been fascinated by [masculinity], he says. Even as a kid [I was] constantly analysing the way men were behaving around me, and it was inevitable that it was going to become something that I wrote about in my songs cos Ive just been smothered by it and at the same time expected to behave like that.

Camerons album, he says, was a chance to show Kirke he has some understanding of what shes been through and what men are capable of. Photograph: Ali Smith/The Guardian

On his first two albums, Jumping the Shark (2016) and Forced Witness (2017), Cameron wrote in character as men seeking out the hottest barely legal age teens they can find online; as washed-up lounge singers with dashed dreams; as misanthropic deadbeats refusing to recognise the world has moved on without them or knowing it, and resenting those who left them behind. From his proxies perspectives, a specific kind of melancholic misogyny emerged. There was a certain tragedy to the men Cameron embodied, and their invariably distorted, drunk and demoralising lenses guided the stories he laid out for listeners. In Country Figs he has a lap full of cum and a head full of steam as well as a skin full of piss and one last dart.

Cameron came up in the Sydney music scene where a teenager was fatally punched in 2012, leading to lockout policies which punished the entire citys music scene as a result of male violence. For the past three years, hes been living in New York City with Kirke and her children.

They met while working on an ambitious mockumentary about male creative ego, which served as the music video for his song Marlon Brando. It was that song that triggered the most vocal and widespread blowback to Cameron and his work. The pitiable and pathetic man he sings about is the kind to toss off a homophobic slur with no regard for its damage, which Cameron does in character in the song.

In the website Junkee in 2017, Jared Richards compared Camerons persona with other Australian artists Kirin J Callinan and Client Liaison, arguing that their attempts at ironic toxic masculinity werent always successful. The layers of irony employed by Cameron, for instance, dont shield a queer listener from the impact of hearing a slur theyve likely had hurled at them. It does, however, shield Alex. But Kirke defends the work. One of the things we talked about when we first met was the use of the word faggot in [Marlon Brando], she says. My opinion on that, when he was deciding whether to use it or not, was that theyre the type of words that tell us about the person whos speaking. They tell us about the narrator, or the character.

In biopics and historical fiction, Kirke says, writers will put these kinds of triggering, upsetting words in the mouths of the characters as a shorthand for who they are, or what context they occupy. But when the same content arrives packaged as a song people think its the perspective of the songwriter, rather than the story theyre telling.

Cameron references a small, vocal group of journalists who tried to extrapolate some kind of fault in what Im doing. As if theres, like, a gotcha! moment. Like Im just taking the piss. While there is something to be said of the privilege that grants Cameron the freedom to slip in and out of toxic identities, he has always been insistent on the truth at the core of the performance: that any comedy that came of the Alex Cameron character was born from a discomfort at being confronted with the horrors experienced by Alex Cameron the person: Theres no jokes in my songs. My songs are very real. Marlon Brando is a song about Sydney. Its a real story.

Miami Memory is about what happens when the hustler settles down and the irony dissipates. Here Cameron has evolved into a new kind of character: a role model, a reliable partner, a father figure and, occasionally, a daddy.

Alex Cameron and Jemima Kirke in Brooklyn. Photograph: Ali Smith/The Guardian

Cameron describes it as a gift to Kirke, a romantic offering in lieu of any traditional token of commitment.

In the video for the records title track, they play a glamorous couple swanning around a palatial Miami fever dream, receiving cellulite massages and filming each other for future voyeuristic pleasures. Before the video was released, the enterprising artists sold polaroids, relics of their romance, to followers on Instagram.

Its not the first time Kirke has been cast in a dramatisation of a loved ones lived experiences, having played the on-screen best friend of her real-life best friend Lena Dunham on HBOs Girls. In Girls that stuff was referencing stories in Lenas life. And its the same thing with Alex. He got ideas from our life, but theyre still just stories. And I know [the songs are] not completely autobiographical; theyre embellished.

In a particularly vivid example, the song includes the line eating your ass like an oyster / the way you came like a tsunami. When it was released, Kirke took to Instagram to clarify: I didnt come from the ass eating that was an artistic embellishment!

Making his relationship a focal point, Cameron says, is the next evolution of his vast and endless exploration of the male species. If Im able to put this microscope up to characters then I need to be able to put it on myself as well.

Other songs deal with Red Pill-ers, the PC brigade and gaslighting. What role do they play in a record thats ostensibly a gift, a velvet-lined offering to romance and intimacy? Cameron thinks for a moment.

They give me a chance to let Jemima know that I have some understanding of what shes been through and what men are capable of. And in some ways, in some instances on the record, what Im capable of.

Alex Camerons album Miami Memory is out Friday 13 September

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/sep/12/alex-cameron-jemima-kirke-and-the-behaviour-of-men-i-cant-get-away-from-writing-about-it