Cameron Rafati’s first memory of music was listening to James Bond themes over and over in his mother’s car. Inspired by his mother’s musical talent and musicians such as Johnny Cash and Al Green, Rafati burst from the confines of an office cubicle and dedicated himself to creating music. After many trials, tribulations and hours of work on his voice, Rafati positioned himself as the frontman for the phenomenal Cameron The Public. With a new EP due in September and their song “Unstoppable” featured as part of ABC Family’s Unstoppable Summer promotion, the sky’s the limit for the band. Steve Johnson of Icon vs Icon recently sat down with Cameron to discuss his influences, what inspires him as a musician, his work on Manny Pacquiao’s walkin theme, and the challenges to bringing their forthcoming EP to life.
Tell me about your first memories of music and how it came into your life.
I guess the most profound memory was being a little boy in the backseat of my mom’s car. She was an amazing singer and performer. She did that when she was younger. She was listening to this tape that had all of the James Bond theme songs on it. She would listen to it over and over again. It had “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey, “You Only Live Twice” by Nancy Sinatra, and Wings’ “Live and Let Die.” All of those different songs, which is so cool. I was fascinated by them as a little kid. That’s where I think I get my darker, more eclectic tastes from. That’s hands down my first memory of really getting music.
Who would you cite as your greatest musical influences?
Oh boy! Otis Redding, Nina Simone, Dolly Parton, Al Green, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash. Those are the greatest for sure!
That’s quite an eclectic mix of people there! That’s very interesting!
So why did you decide to pursue music as your career and not take a different route?
I dreamed about it for five years in a cubicle. I was getting nothing done because I would just sit and lust over writing songs, performing and singing for a living. I really had no idea how tough it would be for my first few years. As I grew into an artist and recently getting real hot, I realized there’s a new side to me that I would have never discovered if I hadn’t gone into the music business. You learn things about yourself when you go through a lot of trials and tribulations. When I have kids someday and they want to pursue their own dreams, I will know how to help guide them a little bit better through their ups and downs. It’s been really great.
What keeps you inspired musically? Is there something that fuels your creativity?
Man, I love people. I love watching people. No matter what age. I love to see them connecting with that little kid inside of them. Like who they were when they were little. I’m like a six-foot-six toddler. [laughs] I get hyper excited about all kinds of things. When I connect with people’s soft sides I feel like they’re my new little buddy on the playground. Love and friendship really inspire me. At the end of the day it’s all about love and friendship. Also because of my size I feel like I can say things that others are afraid to say. You can be a big tough guy on stage, but you can still love people from the bottom of your heart. That’s how I am.
Do you think you evolved as a musician throughout your career?
Yeah! I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours on my voice. I’m not naturally a good singer. If I can convey to people exactly how I feel through the clarity of my vocal cords, then I’ve done my job. I’ve also learned to be more comfortable on stage regardless of whether people like me or not. I’m here to love and simply be an entertainer.
You recently released “Apple Pie” from your forthcoming EP through The Huffington Post. How did that song come about and how has that track been received?
I wrote “Apple Pie” in about two hours when I was out of my mind on a hot summer day. I was in the hills, right underneath the Hollywood sign. When I wrote it I was aware it had crazy lyrics. I thought it was a stupid song. I showed it to several producers in town and they weren’t very thrilled about it. They said it needed more work. I sent it to my dad and he freaked out. He literally told me the song was a hit. I said, “What do you know? You’re just a dad!” [laughs] I was like, “Give me a break! You’re just saying that!” So, I showed it to my guitarist, Doug Showalter, and he kept pushing me for months to seriously consider that song. It’s been going bananas, so we’re really excited.
How does your new EP, that will be released in September, differ from your previous work?
The EP has a lot more comradely and power than anything I’ve ever done before. I attribute it to my best friend in the band. There are so many songs that we know are straight up hits. The EP has been several years in the making. We’ve had some major setbacks, but now it is about to be released to the public.
What can you tell us about the writing process for the EP? It sounds like it was a drawn out process.
The EP is really a mixture of songs written four years ago to songs written four months ago. We basically cherry picked the best songs to release and continually produced through the process.
What specific challenges were there to putting it together?
The writing process and everything just takes so much time, more than I ever anticipated. The greatest historical works that I study and that I’ve always appreciated take years, and years, and years.
Would you consider this EP your best work to date?
Hands down! Absolutely!
Do you have a title for the EP yet and at what point in September can people get their hands on it?
We don’t have a title for it yet. September is the projected release, but we don’t have a date right now. It will probably be toward the end of September.
I assume you’re working your way to a full length album. When can fans expect to see that?
We’re not really sure about a full length record yet. It’s going to depend on how well this EP does. We have to see what the audience thinks of it.
Your song “Unstoppable” was picked up by ABC Family as the theme song for their Unstoppable Summer promotion. How did that come about and what was your reaction to that amazing development?
That was a godsend for us. That was a hole in one. One of my friends is in a group called NARIP. She loved the song “Unstoppable.” It was really never intended to be released. I played it for her one day and she latched on to it. She went crazy. I was like, “I’m not going to release it, so you can get crazy all you want!” [laughs] So she got excited about it and she played it for another friend of mine. He’s one of the greats from back in the A&M days. They presented it to Alexandra Nickson over at ABC/Disney, without me knowing. It would have been nice if they had called me. [laughs] They thought it was perfect. For a song that was never supposed to be heard, I think we really lucked out on this one. When I saw they named the promotion after our song, I lost my mind. I freaked out. It was awesome!
Has the song affected your career? Has it brought in any new fans yet?
I have all kinds of people that are liking my Facebook page. I don’t know if it’s from the song though. It’s been playing for a week and I’m getting a lot of YouTube responses. A lot of YouTube comments and messages, so I know it’s been working. For the long term we’ll see. It’s been very exciting for us though.
You and your live band played some pretty acclaimed shows for years. Tell us a little about the members of your band and how you guys originally came together.
Initially I met Doug Showalter, our guitarist, and Bana Haffar, who’s our bassist. This was four years ago when all I had was a dream and an average voice. They were extremely accomplished musicians. From the start I think they saw something in me. Soon after they introduced me to Peter Dyer, our keyboardist. He’s played with Mariah Carey. He’s unbelievable musically. Then there’s our drummer Emmanuel Cervantez. He’s the most incredible drummer I have ever played with. The reason why we are so amazing live is because of these guys. They are such unbelievably connected musicians. I’m very excited to work with them.
What can people expect from your live show when they come to see you?
I think the live show is the best part of Cameron The Public. Together we are absolutely dynamite. I’m not just saying that because we are the band. I’m not saying that because we’re friends. I’m saying that because we are brilliant live. That is because we have been playing for so long together. We work so well together. It’s one of those weird things, but things just get explosive. I don’t know how that works. We telepathically know what the other person is going to do half the time. I love that I can put down the guitar and connect with the audience on a personal level, and then I can turn around and pick up my acoustic guitar and do some acoustic shit. The band can immediately go from an acoustic set to a rock show without any space in between. It’s incredible.
What do you hope people come away with after listening to your music or coming to see your live show?
You know Steve, I really want people to feel love. I want them to feel like they are a part of a community. I want people to feel the full array of emotion and get away from the daily grind of their life for about an hour. Life is so fast these days and it is really difficult to keep up. I want to create a time vacuum for just one hour, where they can forget everything and be a part of something very special. I believe that it’s a performer’s sole responsibility to show people a good time. People deserve it.
You’ve been playing a lot of live shows out on the west coast. Do you aspire to take that on the road and tour across the country?
Absolutely! When we get more traction on the national level, we are going to hit the east coast. It’s been my dream to come out to that side of the country, and to the mid-west, and to the south. That’s a big dream. Right now I’m working my way to get out there and play to our fans across the country.
Other than the new EP, what’s next for you guys? Do you have anything in the works?
Oh yeah! We’re doing a video for “Apple Pie” right now. We just landed some pretty major actresses on this video. This video is going to be amazing! I don’t know when it’s going to be released, possibly in early September. We’re very excited about it. It’s really, really cool.
Is there anything you consider the defining moment of your career so far or has that moment not happened?
That’s a good question! Well, one of them happened yesterday, but I can’t get into that yet! It’s too early to say anything about it! Before yesterday … [laughs] when I was in the MGM Arena and I watched Manny Pacquiao walk out to his fight last December to my voice. I worked on that theme song with Chad Hugo from The Neptunes, who was one of my idols growing up, and Randy Jackson from American Idol. I was like, “I have literally made it! Maybe not made it big, but I’ve made it! I can’t believe this is happening right now!” I think I was about to have a heart attack. My heart was pumping out of my chest like an old cartoon. I was jumping up and down. My body was so buzzed I couldn’t see straight! It echoed through the whole arena and it was broadcast to 100 million people worldwide. I’ll tell my kids and grandkids about that night forever! That was the most defining moment of my career so far. It was so cool.
How did you get involved in putting that together?
One of my best friends, his name is Ryan Moore, he’s been working on a Manny Pacquiao movie for four years. He’s followed Manny throughout the entire world. He’s followed him to every fight. He’s captured thousands of hours of footage of Manny’s life. He’s dedicated his whole life to this Manny movie. It has not been released yet. It will be released around Thanksgiving, but in The Philippines initially for his next fight in Macau. Ryan called me and he said, “You want to sing Manny’s theme song? Should we try this out?” Chad Hugo’s been working on the soundtrack for the movie. I was really honored for them to ask me to come write a song for them for Manny’s walkout. That’s how we did it!
You’ve been a part of this game for a while now, do have advice for someone who would like to get involved in the music industry?
Yeah! Don’t! [laughs] Anybody that wants to get into the music industry should just expect to get their face kicked in for years, and, years, and years, until they get a little glimpse of some good stuff. [laughs]
That’s a great answer! From what we understand it’s brutal and you have to be dedicated.
You know what’s really cool Steve? It’s people like you and all the other people in the business … Our lives are so short. The experience of what we do is an amazing experience at the end of the day. There are so many stories to tell. There are so many fun things that happen. It’s pretty cool. What we all do is awesome!
Well Cameron, that’s all I have for you. Do you have any last words for your fans or anything you want people to know?
Yeah! I respond to every message people send me on all social media fronts. I directly respond to them. I don’t hire a PR company. I carry my iPad all day and talk to people. That’s one of the most rewarding things I do. So if anybody wants to chat with me they can YouTube comment, Facebook message, tweet, whatever. I’ll keep in touch with everybody until there comes a point where it’s too difficult.
Thank you for taking some time out to talk to me. I wish you all the best out there.
Steve, I appreciate everything! Take care!