If things had turned out differently, CAM would be doing something a world away from performing. Having worked in research psychology labs, the country singer from California told Taylor Magazine at Stagecoach Festival that she ‘never thought she could be a professional musician.’
So, why did she trade in her white lab coat for rhinestones and a microphone? She has an old professor to thank. She hit a wall and didn’t know whether it should be psychology or music. Thankfully, she took the advice of her professor and has gone on to be one of the most exciting artists in country music. Writing lyrics like, “Real love is never a waste of time,” and “In a crowd I could swear I’ve moved on, but I’m still no good at forgetting you when I’m alone,” we definitely think she’ll be going down as one of the great. With her songs, energy and stage presence all creating an unforgettable experience when she performs, she has a way of making people who have never heard her music before leave in awe of the show she’s put on.
Having written for Miley Cyrus and Sam Smith, and more recently putting out So Long with Diplo, she’s now recording her new album. With her concert in London coming up, we caught up with CAM to hear all about her new music, the journey she’s been on to get where she is now and being a woman in the country music industry…
“I didn’t know if I loved psychology as much as I would love making music. I asked a professor what to do, and they said picture your life when you’re 80 years old. Would you regret not doing music or psychology? And it was music.” – CAM
Taylor Magazine: How did you get started on your journey as an artist?
CAM: I started music when I was really young but I never thought I could be a professional musician. I didn’t know anyone who was. I worked in psychology research in research labs doing stuff on emotion and detachment (which helped in songwriting later!), but I hit a wall and was like, “I don’t know if I love this as much as I would doing music.” I knew I would regret not doing music so I jumped into it kind of late I guess. It’s important to make sure you know what you’re worth. In the beginning people try to get you for less than what you’re worth. A lot of women want to be accommodating, but if something feels wrong, it is wrong. Trust your gut.
I made probably 90% of the first album without a record label, and luckily Sony got involved. Then, with “Burning House,” I released it in 2015 and the radio played that song. We got such a good, organic reaction. I felt super lucky, and I feel very fortunate to be here as a lot of women don’t get that opportunity right now.
Taylor Magazine: What’s the secret to songwriting for you – do you need to be in a certain mood or head space, or do you just force yourself to put something down on paper?
CAM: I think you have to do the rhyme to get good at your craft. You still have to work on your craft, and then when inspiration hits you can execute it. We all have dreams of what we want to do and achieve, and for me, it’s incredible to be able to make the music I’m imagining. I do still feel like I’m learning new things everyday. In the beginning you judge yourself too, when you should be patient because there could be something there and maybe you’ll find it.
Taylor Magazine: What’s it like working with non-country artists, and does your songwriting change from genre to genre?
CAM: I wish I could say I was some ventriloquist writer but I only have one voice. If it doesn’t hit me in my gut, it’s not worth pursuing. Even when I’m writing for other people, I’ve had some advice that I stick to which is whatever you do, give it your best. So I write what I, personally, would write. With Sam Smith, I love slow sad songs. When it clicks, it comes from a real place. I put out a song with Diplo and I got to write on that one too. They started it and I got to pick which song I wanted to work on and said, “That’s the one!” as soon as I heard it. Tyler Johnson and I wrote the second verse. I love blurring genre lines. I love that so many people come to Nashville because they’re excited about what we do. With the songwriting craft and the way we make music, it’s a specific vibe and that’s why I moved to Nashville. You don’t gotta judge where they came from. If they’re excited about country music, great. I want it to be as big and far reaching as possible. Everyone is welcome.
Taylor Magazine: How did that Diplo collaboration come about?
CAM: I heard he was doing a country project. They reached out to me and they actually sent over a different song, but I wasn’t really feeling it. If it doesn’t hit you, you’re not going to be able to sell it. It’s not about being pretentious, it just didn’t fit me. Then I heard So Long and I loved it so much, especially from a woman’s perspective. Sam Hunt actually wrote So Long too. I think the song has such a sweet sentiment.
Taylor Magazine: What’s your favourite song that you’ve written?
CAM: I currently really love Diane and Palace [recorded by Sam Smith], Diane especially because that’s mine. Someone in my life needed that apology and didn’t get it. So many women and men have said they needed to hear that song, and it makes you feel really good to have that. They all mean something to me but I’m pretty attached to the ones that are very emotional, and I get into that space when I’m singing it.
Taylor Magazine: This year you performed on the main stage at C2C Festival in the UK and Ireland in March. How different is it doing a festival in the UK compared to US festivals like Stagecoach?
CAM: I was really excited because every time I’ve gone over to the UK, or London specifically, the audience are so much more attentive because they don’t get it as regularly – they’re ready for the stories. They’re ready for anything new or different, they know all the words to the album cuts and they’re excited. It already raises the bar, so it’s amazing!
I remember thinking, “Oh I thought I’d have a new album out by now, so I’ve got to make the same set fresh.” So, we spent a lot of time figuring out how we can perform in a new way. That show at the O2 was so loud, I’ve dreamt of shows like that! It’s rewarding to hear how much people loved the show, especially if they’d never seen or heard of me before. You work really hard and there’s no guarantee that people will like it. You’re just doing whatever you think is good. When people connect to a show or a song, it feels like I’m doing my job.
Many country fans embrace artists, like Kacey Musgraves and Sam Hunt, who have mixed other genres into their country music. Others are staunch traditionalists. CAM is an artist who loves to mix it up, experimenting with other genres and artists. One thing that has helped her do this, is the very place she lives.
“I love blurring genre lines. I love that so many people come to Nashville because they’re excited about what we do as artists. With the songwriting craft and the way we make music, it’s a specific vibe. That’s why I moved to Nashville – you don’t judge anyone on where they came from. If they’re excited about country music – great. I want it to be as big and far reaching as possible. Everyone is welcome.” – CAM
Taylor Magazine: Who are you most inspired by?
CAM: Sam Smith because on his journey to understanding himself more, he’s so open, so honest. I love St Vincent too, and Eric Church. I like people who care about their audience but they also want to do it their own way – and that’s a lot easier said than done. In this industry, you’re going to have people try and tell you what to do or tell you that what you’re doing won’t fit in. You want to be someone who can push through that and still be open.
Taylor Magazine: What challenges have you faced in the industry?
CAM: Growing up as a white woman in the United States, I didn’t have a world view of what the world was like. When I got into country music, I had people telling me I was the wrong gender and all that kind of stuff. I was honestly shocked. I was so ignorant, I was like, “You’re kidding me?! This isn’t a real thing is it? If this is happening to me, what is happening to everyone else?” It’s a blessing and a difficult thing to acknowledge. But it has made me grateful to be learning how the system works and figuring out ways to make it better.
Taylor Magazine: Do you feel strongly about the fact that women aren’t getting airplay on the radio?
CAM: I’m on diversity and inclusion committees for the Grammy’s and ACM’s. I spend a lot of time doing research with people like Women of Music Action Network. There’s studies that came out recently that show over the last decade they’ve slowly been cutting women out. It’s not an artistic trend – it’s a systemic bias and if we don’t do something, women won’t appear on the radio anymore in country music. Nobody wants that. I care a lot about it, and I care a lot about how to fix it. There’s a lot of silence. As a female artist, I hear a lot of silence and our male counterparts say nothing. I’m excited because I’m starting to see some change but it’s definitely not fixed. In the UK, I don’t see that.
Taylor Magazine: As someone who is actively trying to better the industry they work in, and having an impressive career, how do you unwind and take care of your mental wellbeing?
CAM: I meditate, drink a lot of water, go on walks, the usual stuff. But, I think a big part of it is making sure the people around you are good and on the same page as you.
Taylor Magazine: What’s next?
CAM: My new album’s pretty much done! So, we’re planning how that whole roll out happens.