Cam burst on the scene at a time when the airwaves were overcome with bro-country, females were in a difficult spot within the genre and despite their best efforts weren’t getting played as much as their male counterparts, if at all. For an established artist, that would be tough but for an up and coming artist trying to break through? Near impossible. Throw in a ballad as a single and that could have been a recipe for disaster. Luckily for us, Cam broke through the barriers with “Burning House” from her debut album “Untamed”, which went to number two in the United States and became a platinum selling single.
Almost three years have past since “Untamed” was released, and Cam is gearing up for a new album cycle, starting with the smash single “Diane”.
Following her solo show and appearances with Sam Smith during his “The Thrill of it All World Tour” in London, we got to chat with Cam about what we can expect from the follow up to “Untamed”, her writing process and her very honest and open views on women and their positions in the music business.
CC: First off, I want to say congratulations on the success of “Diane” so far, it was lovely to see it sitting in the Top 40 all genre charts on iTunes in the UK last week, it’s currently 47 and is sitting at the top of the UK Country charts.
Cam: Yeah, it’s been really cool!
CC: You wrote “Palace” which appeared on Sam Smith’s latest album and have recently released your own version. As a songwriter, are there any tracks that you’ve written with the intention of releasing yourself that have gone to other artists or do you write with the intention of pitching them to others?
Cam: Usually I write with them in mind but honestly every time it’s happened I’ve been invited to go and write, then the artist will be present. So it’s been very obvious that it’s going to Miley or Sam. There’s been times where I’ve tried to write things for other people and it hasn’t worked out that they’ve sung it, it doesn’t happen very often and it’s something I did early on in my career more but as I started getting into being an artist myself, I didn’t have as much time or I didn’t want to let go of anything I loved so I just kept it for myself.
With Sam Smith and Miley Cyrus, when you get invited to go and spend time with an artist like that it’s so much fun because they know what you do. Sam was excited to write with me and we just kinda had the same idea of how the song should go and it sounds so beautiful with him singing it. I didn’t plan on doing it myself but it’s so fun that whenever I sing it live, people get excited about it. So I made a video of a live recording of it and Sam was like “oh it’s so beautiful, you have to share this with people”. It’s not like I’m putting it out on CD or anything but it’s fun to have it out so more people can hear the beautiful song that we did.
CC: You recently visited the UK and made appearances during Sam Smith’s shows at The 02 to perform “Palace” with him and then did your own headline show. What was it like to perform with Sam?
Cam: Oh, so cool! I knew I was coming over there because we were gonna launch “Diane” so I had a show and some press planned. I looked on the calendar and usually maybe if Sam’s free we can write or something and he had those shows at The 02 so I said “oh my gosh, you’re playing! I have to come see you” and he said “if you’re in town, why don’t you come sing “Palace” with me?” I was like of course!
I went out to the shows and remember at rehearsal, they do it that first day and he said “ok you’re going to stand over on this lift over here, it’ll take you four feet up in the air”. Which is a little bit terrifying because I was wearing heels and there’s no handle or anything then he goes, “I’d love to stand next to you but we have this golden, spiral staircase and it’ll be a shame not to use it.”
He goes up on the staircase then I sing from the little lift out on the front part of the stage and sing up to him and it was a really beautiful, modern Romeo and Juliet moment. Every night it was the beginning of the encore, so it’s just a cool moment where everyone’s so excited that you’ve come back out on stage and Sam would introduce me and explain where the song came from, how he spent time in Nashville and it was such a welcoming crowd. It was obviously so special for him, he’s doing this tour all over the world and gets to be home for these few shows and the way the crowd responded. He’s just such a great performer and I felt like when we were singing, especially with a soft song like “Palace” is, you could hear the audience, they were all so quiet and softly singing with us. It was so beautiful and a magical experience.
CC: I think it’s great that instead of having you just watch the show, knowing you were there that he invited you to perform because that could be such a huge platform for you in the UK outside of the usual Country crowd, and it potentially already is with “Diane” being in the Top 40 on iTunes.
Cam: Yeah, exactly! He’s such a big hearted, genuine individual. I haven’t seen anything that feels like typical diva, popstar type behaviour. He’s just a sweet person and is so giving. It seems totally natural to him to check in and be like “is everything ok? How are you feeling?” and I’m just like it’s your show, I’m just here! It was really cool.
CC: UK audiences are known for being a very loud and enthusiastic crowd and thinking back to your debut show here back in 2015 at the iTunes festival, I remember that audience singing “Burning House” back to you but fast forward to your headlining show last month and the video you posted of the “Diane” encore – it seemed to be other level.
Cam: Oh my gosh, I got goose bumps just thinking about it. I’ve come back a few times now, so I’ve developed this kind of relationship with the fans there – I even actually brought two fans to the Sam Smith show and it was so cool. The fans there, you guys know the words to everything! Something off a live session from 2000 whatever, everyone knows all the words! Especially with “Diane” everywhere I’ve gone and, in the US too there’s been such a huge reaction to that song.
At that show, my mic cable fell out of the microphone and I plugged it back in, but I had this moment where I couldn’t sing anything so just told the crowd to sing and they were so loud! That’s what you live for as a songwriter, to know that so many people connect with what it is you’re talking about and want to scream it at the top of their lungs – that’s a really big deal.
Cam: Yes! That’s what I’m working on planning right now, especially with how people have been reacting to “Diane” and it getting played on the main playlist there. It’s confirmed I need to make sure this tour happens soon, so I’m working on it.
CC: Your debut album “Untamed” came out at a time where being a female in Country music was difficult, but being a new female artist seemed impossible! I think the likes of yourself and Kelsea Ballerini really paved the way for your generation of female artists to push through those barriers and succeed. What was that time like, and now you’re releasing new music does it feel any different now?
Cam: I’d say in the beginning I remember thinking, “oh there’s no women, what a great opportunity! They must need me.” I didn’t understand what quite contributed to that climate and so somewhat naively and maybe for the better I just pushed forward thinking of course, they need more women so now’s a great time to come into this. I was really lucky having “Burning House” hit the way it did and the way people reacted, having it get played on radio then have it get the sale numbers and those numbers that everyone feels now we’ll acknowledge that your music is good.
I remember watching what Kelsea was doing then after with Maren Morris, Carly Pearce, Raelynn, Lauren Alaina – there’s a whole long list, well not long list it’s quite a short list but more and more are showing up.
I would say right now is just as bad to be honest with you. The numbers say it’s worse, in the past couple of years it’s actually gotten worse when you look at how many women are being played on American radio; I’m not as well versed on it but it doesn’t seem like the UK has the same issues. In the US, people say oh that’s just radio, so many people are listening to streaming platforms now. I think with that they think that’s another step forward but just because technology is changing, doesn’t mean the values change and a lot of the same people who are a part of programming radio are getting hired into streaming platforms.
I reposted somebody the other day who had looked through all of the Country Spotify Playlists in the US and the most women you’d find on any playlist was three. Even in the main Pop Country, New Country, the main discovery tool to find music but women aren’t there and that’s something I think people can make a lot of excuses for why and they like to come up with these ideas and myths like women don’t sell and that’s just not true. Women sell a lot and can sell more than men, then there’s women don’t listen to women – which again, not true. If you go to my concert, Kelsea’s concert, Maren’s concert, it’s majority women.
They come up with all these stories, “you know people turn off the radio when a woman comes on.” The whole thing is ridiculous because what it comes down to is that there’s still a bunch of older men in power positions, women aren’t at the top positions at labels, radio or a lot of these companies and they’re not asking women what they think; they’re telling women either things that they think they can control the narrative of what women do or don’t like, how to launch women and it’s just totally foreign to them.
What it comes down to is this lingering belief that women aren’t as valuable as men. It comes out in all kinds of ways and it’s something that awareness wise, I think a lot of us think “oh we’re doing fine, women can have jobs and what rights do we have, we’re doing pretty good” but I think you can hold two things in your mind at once. You can say yes, we are better than we’ve ever been and we’ve progressed as far as we’ve ever come in this moment and at the same time you can acknowledge that we’re not there yet.
I’m not here to complain because I’m comfortable, I’m part of this now right? I’ve made the money and I’m doing alright- not to go on a whole tangent with you -but I’m a part of the Grammy Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion where they’re addressing the recording academy and the Grammy’s about how the last Grammy’s went and how women were underrepresented.
The Annenburg Study that they just did, it looks really bad when you see the number of women even nominated, then when you pull out the even bigger picture and look at how many of the music community is actually women? It’s only around 22%. Women are not involved in this, it is a boys club and the reason that keeps women from being a part of it or that keeps them from even seeing themselves in it is probably that they don’t even think it’s possible because you don’t see women doing it.
Producers are only 2% women, songwriters only 12% women. So there is a huge gap that exists that nobody really wanted to acknowledge for a long time because we all wanted to think everything was cool and fine but the truth is, we still have a ways to go. First we have to make sure everyone understands the issue and then we need to start changing attitudes about why and how, then realise that there’s no excuse for being sexist or racist then start changing behaviour.
It’s really important to talk about and I appreciate that at least when you get outside of this eco-system to the UK, you don’t seem to run into the same hurdles, so it allows a lot of women to prove themselves – like me, outside of this culture which is really valuable.
CC: Speaking of your debut, there are songs on there about love and loss with lyrics that rip your heart out but the melody and production is such a different vibe and at times upbeat when stereotypically a heartbreak song tends to be a slow ballad and it works so well. Is this something that is purposely done?
Cam: Yeah, I think some of the saddest and most well written country songs you can dance to but they’re extremely sad; like “She Thinks I Still Care” by George Jones, you’re two-stepping and thinking oh what a cute song, the melody is wrapped up nicely then you’re thinking oh my god, what did he just say?
Sometimes you want to listen to a really sad song on repeat for sure, but sometimes you wanna be dancing around and it’s kinda like a little sugar with the medicine to help get it understood, something that’s a little bit tough. Especially with “Diane” – a woman talking to another woman about a really difficult situation they both didn’t choose to be in but they’re both hurting from it, that’s a heavy thing to talk about and people seem to have trouble processing that even at an up-tempo.
It’s fun to do it that way, it throws people for a loop and it’s fun to make it anthemic and make it something people want to scream and yell and you’re hearing people scream and yell something that’s important to say out loud.
CC: “Diane” is your current single and is your take on the other woman in “Jolene” in effect. Dolly herself has said she loves the song, that must be an amazing feeling to have recognition from such a big influence?
Cam: Oh my gosh, I was on national TV in America at “Good Morning America” and they played a video clip of her talking to me, which it’s honestly terrifying to sing after being surprised on live television. I admire Dolly so much! There’s so many songs where women are pitted against each other and women are competitive or slut shaming or whatever. The inspiration behind “Diane” is from real life stories of people that I really love but also, the tone of it comes from Dolly and “Jolene” because that’s the last time I remember people be honest and human about it – to say please in that sort of tone when you’re confronting another woman? That is next level humanity. For her to compliment my work was a really, really big moment.
CC: I know I’m not alone when I say I’m chomping at the bit for new music, so what can you tell us about your next album?
Cam: I’m so excited about it! I’m definitely someone who grew up loving soundtracks so whenever I make an album I colour code all the songs and I want to make sure there’s not too much of one colour. I don’t try to make an album that sounds the same, it’s definitely mixed – which I think you can hear on “Untamed” too – the stories are all great stories, they’re real. I think my voice has gotten much stronger, the production is so much more developed, so everything has gotten better but there’s still this tie that every song has to move me.
I’m really lucky that I get to have my first big hit be so different, I think it gave me a lot of freedom and a lot of courage to make this next album exactly how I wanted to make it and I did that.
CC: You did a Facebook Live a while back and performed some music and one of the songs you played was “Forgetting You When I’m Alone”. That song is a killer! That needs to be on the album.
Cam: That song is on there, don’t you worry. It was actually the one that my producer and co-writer played for Sam Smith and that’s why he wanted to write with me. I also played that song for Harry Styles and that’s why I got to open for him. That song is my little good luck charm and I’m glad you like it too.
CC: You are very much a storyteller and your songs are put together in a way where for me anyway, I can imagine what it looks like– there’s a part in Burning House where I imagine the old couple in the bed in Titanic as the ship is going down, which I know is very random!
Cam: People have actually said that to me!
CC: Where do you draw inspiration from as a writer because your music is very visual.
Cam: I love having it be visual and it’s important to me. When I meditate, I have to have it be visual meditation – I’m very imaginative and everything in my imagination is visual too. With “Burning House” I literally did have that dream, so I could reference those visuals from my dream while I was writing that.
CC: What would fans be surprised to know about you?
Cam: I’m obsessed with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. One of my biggest fans who runs @camcountrytour on Instagram and twitter, she came to a show and she gave me the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series, but in book form so I’m currently reading those. I’ve seen every single episode and now I’m reading the books. So that might be a fun fact.
CC: One thing we love to know here at Completely Country is if you could go back and give yourself advice when you were starting out in the business, knowing what you know now – what would you say?
Cam: That’s good…it’s tough because you’re only here because of all the things that you’ve done, you know? The good and the bad. I’d probably just remind myself and just really drive home that no one knows the answer. It’s just you and whatever you want to do, and especially in the music business – people act like they can help you but the only people that are really there to help you are the ones that will tell you that only you have the answer. They’ll say let us help you find it or let us help you amplify it or let me support you while you’re working on it. Anyone else who say they have the answer for you, it’s not really going to help you. Which is both freeing and terrifying at the same time.
Since our interview, the UK dates been worked on have now been announced alongside additional dates across Europe. You can see Cam perform live at any of the following dates;
- 11 September // London, UK
- 12 September // Manchester, UK
- 13 September // Birmingham, UK
- 15 September // Amsterdam, Holland
- 17 September // Copenhagen, Denmark
- 19 September // Oslo, Norway
You can learn more about Cam by visiting her official website or by following her on her social media pages;