10 Questions with ... CAM
January 17, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Born and raised in Southern California, CAM was brought up in a strong-willed, free-spirited household. Spending time in her youth as part of a children's chorus taught to sing in multiple languages allowed her to explore music and learn harmonies, music theory, and a driven passion for entertainment. As a young singer-songwriter, CAM poured herself in to the music she created, which she credits to cross-genre, and cross-decade musical influences. In early 2015, CAM was introduced to Country radio as the newest artist on Arista Nashville with the lead single, "My Mistake." Her second single, "Burning House," quickly garnered critical praise and landed her at the #1 position on the singles charts. Now, with a GRAMMY nomination for "Burning House," CAM has been selected to participate in the CRS 2016 New Faces Show. She spent time with All Access Nashville Editor RJ Curtis discussing all that has happened, and all that is yet to come.
1. Hi, Cam! Thank you for taking the time to talk to All Access. It used to be that New Faces was the first opportunity for radio to see some of these acts live, but now, you and everybody else on the show have played to most of this cast characters before, during an extensive radio tour which includes radio shows. This setting will be a little bit different, but overall, can you tell us what it means for you to be chosen to play New Faces, and how you'll prepare for this performance?
We all see this as a huge opportunity to be in front of everybody and show them not only that I can sing and put out a single, but to show them that I'm an artist that they can believe in, that's going to be part of this format for a really long time. I'm trying to show everybody that this is what a full band show looks like and we're going to be in front of huge crowds, and this is going to be the same band that and the same show you're going to see, and these are the depths of the album and the songwriting. This is something that you all just can get excited about and want to be invested in. Because when you first do that, coming around on Radio tour, you maybe get three songs with like two guitar players acoustic in a conference room or a break room and it's really kudos to everybody in radio that they can hear something out of that moment. Thank you for believing in those acoustic performances at 10a while someone was getting coffee next to me, but now I want to show you that you made the right choice.
2. Where were you when you found out that you were going to be playing on the New Faces show, and what was your first reaction to that?
Gosh! I think I was in a hotel room? And I think [Arista Nashville VP/Promotion] Lesly Simon called me and she was ecstatic. I was ecstatic because she was ecstatic, but I didn't fully understand how big of a deal it was, or what it meant, but she went on to explain who played it last year, and just what a launching pad this is. It started to sink in, and I was like holy shit! And I called up [my manager] Linds, and Linds knew and was freaking out. I mean - my experience with CRS last year was singing on the Sony boat, and it's like corralling everyone onto the boat and it's such a fight for everyone's attention between all the different artists. Not on Sony, but with all the different events going on. It's such a crazy week, and so to have an event like this where everyone is there , it's like getting an endorsement from you guys saying, 'this is who we think is going to make a big impact this year.' So, yeah, as it sinks in, I've definitely started to be like, 'holy crap this is amazing."
3. A lot has been made about the absence of females on Country radio in the past few years, and I just wonder - obviously you have a #1 record under your belt now, and you're kind of on your way - but, in your opinion, how can we get even more female artists onto Country radio and what do you think your role is in that?
Well, a gal at the Mac store the other day that told me she really wants to be an artist. And then to hear Kacey Musgraves and others saying it's really encouraging to see a song like "Burning House" be the thing that breaks through for a girl, because they feel like there's something about it being different-a very real song. I think that's really encouraging that for a girl to break through you don't need to sing a Bro country song or look a certain way. I think the main thing is that people like really good music and it doesn't matter if you're a girl or a guy. They really want it to be good. I think girls right now just have a very high standard that they have to meet because there seem to be a couple barriers to entry. But there are a lot of women that can meet even that extra high standard. It's just that we have to work a little bit harder, and I think that's kind of a blessing in disguise because then we get to be extra proud of the females that do break through, because they're really good. Hopefully my role is one of encouraging women working on their music right now, and I'm like, 'Just make it really, really good. You can do this.'
4. You know, there are so many different influences that come together to make country sound, than it was 10 or 20 years ago. We're talking about Pop and Rock and R&B and other forms of music and, I talked to TJ Osborne of the Osborne brothers, and he kind of nailed it. He called it this young generation of artists-that you're clearly in-the iPod generation. so I'm just wondering what you were listening to growing up? What were your influences? What genres kind of dominated your playlist? How did it all end up being country music for you?
I started out with my parents; what they listened to was what I listened to. They listened to a lot of Elvis, and Ray Charles, and then kind of 70s Rock and also like 50s Oldies. They were really into it, so I was. And my grandparents were a big part of my upbringing, too, so I listened to a lot of big bands and 30s and 40s music. I wasn't really actually very hip-I wasn't really with what was going on in my own generation, which is sort of funny. I remember someone turning on the radio one time in 5th or 6th grade, saying 'Oh don't you love this song?! Why aren't you singing along?' and I was like, 'I don't know any current music!' I also grew up in a choir from 4th grade until the end of high school, and we learned a lot of world music, so I sang a lot of different languages and kind of got an ear for different song structures and different intervals that are kind of weird to the normal western ear. But I loved them, so I have a really big hodgepodge of influences. You have a lot of these influences and then when you go to start choosing your own music, and you say, 'I'm going to be my own person.' I was a really happy kid that sort of just went along with a lot of stuff. My first decision was to start buying my own music and figuring out what I really want, because I had so much music like given to me by my family and choir and stuff. I didn't really decide what I wanted to listen to until the end of high school. I started buying my own music and I got super into The Indigo Girls - I love the Indigo Girls. It's kind of funny how you rediscover some things that your parents like. Like Bob Dylan - I got super into Bob Dylan - and Joni Mitchell and really into a gal named Saint Vincent. And watching other women be great at their instrument and great at their craft is also another really important thing, because it's hard to see yourself doing a job where you don't see anyone like you doing that job, and it's not like someone purposefully doing that.
5. Wow. I'm hearing this, and there's a lot there. Your inventory of musical influences is pretty vast.
Yeah, and it's still like what I was telling you... I'll go on Spotify and go on a Marty Robbins kick or a Kris Kristofferson kick and you're getting into an entire catalogue and rediscovering things that you love that you want in your music, too. There are so many options for how to listen. And you know, you kind of are what you eat, and you sort of make what you listen to? There's so many foods to discover and help influence what you're working on. It's really cool actually.
6. This is probably not a fair question but I'm going to ask it anyway. As a "New Face" of Country music, your future is incredibly bright. You've got a lot of good buzz on the new "Untamed" album, you've got a #1 under your belt, and the "New Faces" at CRS is coming up. If you look into a crystal ball, where do you hope to be personally and professionally by CRS 2020?
2020; Okay, so like four years from now. I'm really interested in making GREAT music but also I'm really interested in having a great relationship with radio, and I know it sounds like I'm saying this because you guys represent radio, but that's a real thing for me. I'm a very family oriented person and I enjoy those relationships. I see all of this as we're all in this business together of making great music and putting it out for people. I'm really excited to have a big touring presence. Not like a traditional lady singer-songwriter type-tour, but a really big tour that's like, something that Jason Aldean does. I would go see a Jason Aldean show any day. I'm also really excited to push country music into this next scene, which I feel like is going to be back to some really great songwriting and some really interesting moments. I feel like the iPod generation is really craving diverse interesting music. But still what Country music offers that no other genre offers, is reality and relatability. We need to share these moments; we need to share life with each other. And that's what Country music does; it shares life experiences with one another, so I think getting as real as you can within those songs is the coolest part of Country music. I'm hoping I get better and better at making it real.
7. You can't think you're pandering when you say good relationships with radio, because in this format, it matters. The long term artists have established those, and it gives them a lot of equity. And so, when thinking of where you want to be in four years, that's a really smart long term strategy.
I think everyone is great. I mean, granted there are some people you get along with better than others, but everybody cares about music, and so of course I'm going to have something in common with everybody who's doing this. It's a cool position to be in and a cool business to be a part of. So that makes me really proud and excited about where to go.
8. When you look at other "New Faces" in the industry, not the ones that are performing with you at CRS, but the up and coming CRS artists, who impresses you? For example, if you were to go out on a headlining tour this year, and have to choose four acts; if it were completely up to you, what up-and-comers, would you bring on your tour to support?
Oh, that's like a huge decision and, honestly, when you're an artist, especially in the beginning you're working so hard. Any new artist I meet I just hug them, because your entire life like six days a week at minimum. Especially on radio tour, you're on a plane every day, you're performing three times a day-It's intense. So you don't really have a lot of time to appreciate anyone's music, let alone new people that you have to work a little harder to find. But I love Maren Morris, I think she's fantastic. Carly Pearce, do you know who that is? She has such a great voice. It reminds me of the 90s kind of.
9. It would be unfair of me not to ask you about the album. "Untamed," which is generating a lot of great buzz. Without going into a long series of questions about the album, let me do this. I'm going to pick one song off the album, and you tell me about that song. Give me the backstory on that song. I have your album in front of me right now. OK, the song is "Mayday." Go!
Yeah, "Mayday" actually started four years ago maybe. Tyler Johnson (I have a little family of people I've been working with the past five years) is one of the first people that I joined up with and we started writing and influencing each other about how to write and what your sound might be. This is before I thought I was going to be an artist and he had this idea for this song that he sent it over to me and we kind of went back and forth working on it. We were so proud of it. We got it to this spot where I felt like it was so great, and Tyler at the time was working as an assistant for a guy named Jeff Bhasker, who's actually the executive producer on my album. We watched his production and songwriting style and we thought he was - I mean he is-amazing. Tyler actually got a chance as an assistant to say, 'Ok I'm gonna show him your songs, I'm showing him stuff."' "Mayday" was one of those songs. And, just so you know, Tyler is a now signed producer with Jeff and they've done lots of great work and have been nominated for Grammys. But looking back when he was still an assistant, he showed Jeff "Mayday." I called Tyler and asked, "What happened? How did it go?" We were so proud. We felt like we nailed this song, and he said, 'Yeah Jeff says it's just not good enough. We have this to work on, this to work on, this to work on, and it's just not even close.' And we were heartbroken. I mean, at this point we were working very hard on lots of demos and songwriting and we thought we had it with this one. You can either say, 'Okay, well maybe I'm not cut out for this, or maybe this song is no good, or maybe Jeff is wrong.' But we knew Jeff wasn't wrong, because we really look up to him ... and it's a really tough decision but you have to decide you are good enough - you have to put the time into the song to make it right. You have to pick your little bruised ego up off the ground and get back in there. We took his advice on a bunch of different moments on that song, and we got it to where you hear it on the record today. We showed it to Jeff and he was like, 'This is it. Man, you guys nailed everything I talked about.' And he doesn't tell it to you in an encouraging kind of way. I mean, he's very dry about it. So when he tells you, you know you really have done it, because he would tell you it to your face if it wasn't good enough. Both Tyler and I had been in relationships for too long that we shouldn't have been in, and you kind of start crying, like you're a victim, but you don't have any guts to tell him, and I don't really want to be alone yet. And it was such a great emotional tone for us; we love how in Country music you can sort of pair that with something that's a little more upbeat, in terms of the melody of the drums and sort of the music behind it. I love that dissonance in terms of the tone of the music and the emotion of the music. I'm so proud of this song, and it turned out so great. It also just obviously represents such a big leap in believing in myself and my songwriting. We joke that if this song ever does something big we have to buy something ridiculous like a summer home in Russia because what a crazy story it's been up to this point, so we'd have to keep it going.
10. We would be remiss if we didn't mention the Grammy nominee here too.
Aw, thanks! Yeah, I can't believe that that's real. Everyone everyone keeps telling me, "does it feel different?" and I'm like, no - I still have to work, and everything that goes along with a regular day still is a regular day. I think there's a good magic about the Grammys. You just don't even know how to think about what it would mean to be nominated, and like honestly, winning is not even close to being on my radar. I can't even understand what it means to be nominated yet. I keep wishing I had a better reaction, like 'of course, after all these years,' or something, and I'm just like, 'what? How am I on this?' My mom actually called me and we were so excited because we used to get the Grammy nominee compilation disc every year. You know how they put a little album sampler? And so they asked me for the approval, for if I make that. And my mom and I freaked out. Like holy shit I might be on the Grammy nominee sampler album! So yeah, it still doesn't really feel real.
1. Let me end with this one. "Burning House" is obviously a big record for you. The downloads on it were always great, critical reception and all that. But it's interesting because I saw it used on finale of "The Voice," and it seems like the kind of song we're going to see on these competitions. Contestants usually pick big, iconic songs to showcase their vocal ability. I saw yours and I just wonder how it feels to you to have a song like that, in that category of songs that singers - people who really want to be known as a singer - will use to demonstrate their vocal ability?
It is crazy. Honestly, I probably got more calls about "The Voice" finale than anything. In that finale, people were so excited for me. It's crazy, As a writer, it's awesome to have people resonate so much with your song, because singers are very emotional people too, and when there's an emotional connection behind a song people really love singing it. And then, on top of that, for singers, it's really hard for me to get into the vocal booth and start singing, and it's very separate from when you're a writer. Because I was trained in a lot of different types of singing, obviously with that choir that sang all different kinds of languages, and then you know singing all different kind of music when you cover it yourself. Then when you get into the studio you're saying, 'okay, be you,' and you're like, 'okay, wait, who am I again?' There are so many choices; the human voice is like crazy nuanced in how you can sing this stuff, so you make all these decisions in how to sing a song, and you're thinking like, God this sounds just like me; it doesn't sound like anything special. And then, to have other people think of that as something that they want to sing is really wild and a super big compliment. It means there's going to be people drunk at karaoke night and they're going to be singing "Burning House." Bring the whole room down in depressing last shot of whiskey type way. But I feel like it's going to be a really cool thing to have that song.