CAM: Authentic Country from a Star On The Rise
Every so often, in every genre of popular music, a larger-than-life talent emerges – seemingly out of nowhere – to take the music world by storm. That’s the case with California-born country singer Camaron Marvel Ochs, better known in country circles by her monosyllabic monogram, CAM. The buoyant blonde with the mange of country curls is a double threat singer/songwriter whose 2015 major-label debut UNTAMED earned her both a Grammy nod for “Best Country Solo Performance” and the smash hit single, “Burning House.”
Since that time CAM has been in constant high demand, writing hits for Sam Smith and Miley Cyrus, working with super-producer Diplo, and sharing the stage with major artists including Smith, Harry Styles, George Strait, and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. June 14th, the former psychology major and singer of such emotionally charged songs as “Diane,” “Mayday,” and “My Mistake” makes a stop in Canada (where her grandmother was born) to perform at the Avalon Ballroom. CAM took time to chat with GoBeWeekly about the inspiration for her songs, the hopes for her career and racism in country music.
GoBe: Artists often seemingly come out of nowhere, but of course there’s always a long road to the kind of breakthrough you had with UNTAMED. When did you first become serious about your music and your songwriting?
Cam: For me, I started when I was really little in terms of inquires and stuff, and learning how to do harmonies. I learned to sing in like 14 different languages by the end of high school. But I always thought music would be a side thing. I didn’t think you could make money doing it, that it would be a job. So I went into psychology research and worked at labs at UC Berkley and Stamford. And I kind of hit a moment where I was like, 23 or 24, and I felt like I should give it a real shot. So I asked my professor, ‘what do you think, should I do psychology or music?’ And she said, ‘picture yourself at 80 years old. What would you regret missing out on in your life?’ It kind of put it in perspective for me. So around 24 I first started investing in my own music and recording and tried to figure it all out.
GoBe: Your psychology background may have a lot to do with the answer to my next question. You have been quite successful tapping into the deep wells of emotion existing in human relationships. Do you think that psychology training has helped you write with such a profound sense of empathy reflected in your songs?
Cam: That’s really sweet, thanks for noticing that. I think it’s the same thing that drew me to psychology that drew me to those type of song writing scenarios. I don’t know exactly why I was wired like this, but it shows itself. And that’s why I wanted to study psychology and why I wanted to write songs, to sort of keep digging into that awareness of what’s going on in me and within other people. They’re both kind of fed by the same drive.
GoBe: Given the self-awarness you have about the power of such emotions, would you say you like writing more from a place of emotional happiness or emotional chaos?
Cam: I’d say usually it just has to be genuine, whether it’s positive or negative. The psychologist in me wants to point out that there’s more negative emotions than positive. For me it’s more about being complex, because if it’s one dimensional then it’s not really difficult to figure out and you don’t really need a song to understand it. It has to have at least two layers of things that you’re trying to process, as long as it’s real and authentic.
GoBe: Music is a powerful art form – the combination of lyrics and music can be incredibly moving to people listening. On the other hand, so many people turn to music to escape the world. When you sit down to write songs, is that something you have to be consciously aware of? Do you self-censor, or just let the inspiration for the song take you where you need to go?
Cam: I definitely just follow the song, and then you can put on a little more of your judgemental cap of how other people are going to respond. It probably happens after you’ve written the songs and you’re just deciding what you want to put out in a commercial sense. Later on there’s probably a song you’ve written that’s just so deep and intense and personal that it’s probably too sad for other people to listen to. Maybe that one won’t make the album.
GoBe: When painters paint, they don’t tend to keep all their own works. When you write a song for someone else, is there any pang of remorse or hesitation wanting to hold onto it? How hard is it to give your songs to other artists?
Cam: You know, there’s probably only been one time I was disappointed because I didn’t love how the song turned out with the other artist. Because it’s not about me wanting to hold onto it, it’s just wanting the song to be the best it can be. I’ve been really lucky. I thought Miley did an amazing job with that song, I thought Sam Smith did an amazing job. As a singer, what’s different than being a painter is that we get to sing it all the time again and again. I sing them at my shows, so I don’t have to let go of a song in any way. I still get to enjoy it.
GoBe: You’ve worked already with Sam Smith, Diplo, Harry Styles, Miley, Tim and Faith. You’re touching all the bases early in your career. Has that been part of the plan, or have you just been really blessed the way it’s played out?
Cam: Yea, it kind of just played out that way. I think I’m open to it. I don’t think I came in thinking it was only going to be one way and this is how it was going to be. I’m definitely down with meeting people and to try new things. You just kind of follow your gut. To work with different people, you make room, you make time. It’s turned out really well. I’m really happy with it.
GoBe: I imagine you would be. Your career has been on such a rapid trajectory I can only imagine where it’s going to wind up. In the dream scenario for you, what does your immediate or long term future look like? What’s your greatest hope for this wonderful ride you’re on?
Cam: Honestly, I have tons of hopes. I have all kinds of projects I’m working on on the side. And any way to use music or be around music is fun for me. And I think the main thing, not to be cheesy, is to really enjoy it and to spend time with people that I enjoy being around. You always get to make music, somebody can’t take that away from you. But big picture, being around people you love, and getting to do it with them. Even bigger picture, making sure that some of the biases that keep people from getting into this business, I’d like to help remove some of those. I was lucky enough to sneak my way in. We don’t have enough women, we don’t have enough people of colour, we don’t have enough diversity to really showcase what all country music is. That’s another goal too.
GoBe: You mentioned bias. I worked country music radio for a few years here in Canada and certainly the music has evolved. Yet there’s always the eternal debate of what constitutes country music these days. Where do you stand on the Lis Nas X / Billy Ray Cyrus hybrid. Did you see that as a wonderful thing for country music, or something that pushed the boundaries too far?
Cam: I love it. I think everything seems too progressive until it comes out and people love it, even with Johnny Cash. That’s how it’s always worked with us. There’s a group of people who are never ready to move forward. Then there’s the new generation that embraces it. I think it sounds awesome. I think it’s catchy. Personally I was extremely disappointed with Billboard, because I felt to me it opens up a conversation that everyone should be having. If you cannot define country music in a way that explains those types of decisions, which you can’t – there’s no justification for excluding that song and that artist except for a race issue. The thing that bothers me is that everyone seems to want to avoid that discussion.
GoBe: I think the industry itself doesn’t give fans enough credit for having the ability to embrace diversity in the artists and songs they love. It’s hard to hold on to the narrow definitions of what constitutes a certain genre whether it’s country, rock or other.
Cam: That’s what blows my mind. These stations are getting calls saying ‘play this song.’ It’s nine weeks at number one, world-wide number one. You know people want to hear it, so why not play it.
GoBe: You’re coming up to Niagara to perform. You’ve performed all over the world. Are you surprised by how different the group dynamic of an audience can be country to country.
Cam: Yes, even city to city, even day to day. It’s a group of unique human beings. Whatever’s going on in their day, whatever’s going on in their lives, the type of culture in that city, it can change. Country fans are amazing fans to begin with, but you get into different spaces, and how many people there are in a room, it always changes. As a performer, if it got too similar, it’s hard. A lot of times you’re in a bus, you’re in a hotel, you’re in a bus, you’re in a hotel. There’s not always a lot of variation going on around the shows. If the shows all stayed the same it would hard to stay inspired. I definitely feel that whenever I show up I’m ready to be part of the energy of the room, which makes it fun. I’m a talker too, I say a lot of candid things. It makes it fun.
GoBe: For the show in Niagara Falls, what can we expect.
Cam: We’ve got a full band. Most of them are Swedish actually. They’re incredible musicians. There’s songs from the first album that we have sort of arranged and evolved. We’ve got new songs and a mix of great story telling. When it comes to emotional notes, I try to hit them all so you can feel lots of different things during the show.
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