Country singer-songwriter Cam experienced a huge breakthrough with her million-selling single Burning House.
Taken from the album Untamed, Burning House catapulted Cam to international stardom and helped land her a slot at this year’s C2C: Country to Country where she blew the audiences away. Straight after C2C, Cam performed a one-off show at Bush Hall and earlier this month she returned to the UK to perform an acoustic show at The Tabernacle.
I sat down with Cam in the days after that show to talk about her relationship with the UK, discuss the frustration of sexism in the Country genre, and to find out when we can expect to hear new music.
You were here earlier in the year to play C2C but that’s not the first time you’ve performed in the UK is it?
I played the Roundhouse for Apple Music Fest, maybe two Octobers ago or something like that. I was here for 24 hours so it was really short. The Shires and Carrie Underwood were playing and that was my first time over here. I remember seeing people sing words and that was really early on; maybe I had an EP out. It was just really shocking that people knew who I was.
C2C was amazing, especially in The O2 Arena with people knowing (the songs) and singing along and getting really into Burning House and the emotion of it. It was really great. This time (at The Tabernacle) it was the two Swedes and I who we’ve been touring in Scandinavia together for three or four years now off and on. An acoustic show like that, where you talk and sing, a lot of the time it’s hit or miss. We all walked off stage and we all hugged each other and that was one of the best nights of our life. We loved it, it was so wonderful! It fit really well with The Tabernacle’s beautiful acoustics and it was a big group but like an intimate group you know? It my cup of tea and I really liked it (laughs).
I genuinely didn’t know what to expect at The Tabernacle. I saw you on the Yamaha Music Stage at C2C where you performed a couple of songs and was really keen to see you do a full set…
I’m glad you made this one because I think this was definitely the best one so far. You got to know me better and I got to know the audience better and finding out what they like. I was singing all these different kinds of songs and telling all these different stories, and you get a better relationship I think.
It felt like a night in the round the way you were explaining the meaning behind the songs and the stories behind them. It really was quite special…
I don’t know if it’s good or bad but I think when you make art it’s not necessarily obvious where it came from personally for a writer and that’s fine. You can take it to mean what you want it to mean. It can be that thing in your life and you can take it that different direction but it is something really special to hear. I’ve been singing these songs for a little while now. It was a really nice, not like when you’re in an arena and you say ‘everyone have you been with an asshole you need to get revenge on?’ an it echoes and all you can get out is 12 words then you’ve got to start the next song. To be able to say details like ‘yeah this person really hurt my feelings a lot when that happened’ before going into it, I felt like I sang the song differently. I felt I remembered all the details of it more too, it was a really cool thing.
Have you had any fans come up to you and give you a completely different interpretation of your songs?
Yeah. It’s usually the same theme but a different story. For Burning House I had this couple come up after the show and they were holding hands and everyone had a little bit to drink. They came up and they were very emotional and they talked about how they had been together a long time but they weren’t sure if they were going to make it as a couple. They were considering divorce but they’re holding hands as they’re saying all this and they have Burning House as their anthem of how can they make this work. Also people that have loved people that have addiction issues, that’s another thing from Burning House.
It’s really funny that people have different reasons for hearing the song and what it means in their life. I like that, it’s kind of nice. One girl did actually literally have a dream about a burning house that was re-occurring. She told it happened to her before and I said, ‘no way you actually have that exact dream?’ so I asked ‘what does that mean?’ She said, ‘I went to a therapist’ and I said, ‘great, save me the therapist money and tell me what the problem is!’ You can’t fix other people was her issue so I assume that’s mine too!
While we’re talking about Burning House, you must have had a good feeling when you recorded that song. Are you surprised by just how much of an impact it has had?
Yeah! When I first recorded it I didn’t think it was done. I didn’t think it was fully a real song yet so I wanted to keep tweaking it. Both of the guys that I worked with, Tyler Johnson and Jeff Bhasker the producers, were like, ‘Oh. This is great. You’ve got to leave it!’ and I was like, ‘look I trust you you guys, you’ve done a lot of amazing work.’ Then we showed it to Doug Morris, who’s the CEO of Sony, when we were trying to get signed. I went in and I sang for him on a couch and he was singing along. He said, ‘that song is the reason that I got into the music business.’ At that point I was like maybe this is a special song but for country radio… I think over here it’s a little bit better in terms of the diversity but when you play in the States it’s a specific kind of industry that’s trying to play these uptempo type of hits or whatever.
I thought it might be a special song but I don’t know who’s going to play it on the radio with no drums and sparse strings. It was pretty crazy that people actually played it and it was great. I got to hear a lot of stories of people where the first time they heard it, they stopped in their car and they just had to pull over and listen to it because it’s so different from everything else. I’m really proud that it’s different. I don’t know why but I like that a lot.
You’ve talked about the difficulty of being a female artist in terms of the perception there is from the industry, which seems crazy in this day and age…
I know! It’s really weird that we’re talking about this right now and that it’s still a thing.
Is it just simply frustrating that you’re up against that just because of your gender?
Yeah. I come from California and the Bay Area in San Francisco so the things that are culturally normal for me aren’t always for everyone else. It’s different all over the States in different pockets, just like it is for you guys right? Coming into an industry where all of a sudden there weren’t a lot of women and there wasn’t a lot of diversity… people were normalised because it’s such a small community, you can’t really get around this certain structure that’s in place. For all of them this is normal. My radio reps that go work the songs to radio, they’ll come and they’ll say, ‘you know it’s really tough’ not just about me, they’ll say it for example about the Tim (McGraw) and Faith (Hill) duet. They’ll say it’s really tough because it’s a female lead and females we can’t get them up the charts. And I’m like ‘what?!’ and they go, ‘oh yeah radio tell us it’s tough to play and we can’t have too many females.’ I was like, ‘you know that when someone says that to you, you have to turn around and say what you’re telling me is sexist. I’m not going allow you just to act like that’s a normal thing to say to me.’ You can’t just turn to someone and say, no I’m not going to play your music because you’re a woman’ but because they say it to each other. ‘Oh you know females are hard to break. Females are hard to get on the radio. Females are hard to get up the charts. Females are the same’ so often that it’s normal to them and they say ‘well that’s the way it is!’
Do you think that the tide is slowly turning with female artists like yourself, Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris and Brandy Clark starting to make an impact? Is it a sign of change?
Women have always made an impact and will always make an impact. I think the only barrier are some of these people that are currently in decision making seats. I think in terms of are women making an impact versus not – they always will. It is actually a real thing that people love listening to. They always like to say that women don’t like listening to women but our concerts are always full of women, that’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard. It’s just about the people that are running these top parts of the business right now. When they’re making decisions and how their power influences things, that’s what hopefully starts to shift. Men are in those positions, like for example when you get started with a woman artist they still feel like women are supposed to be sexualised or like super made up and done up before they get in front of people. That apparently would cost more because we have to get hair and makeup done and our outfits have to look like this. It’s all comes back to what we’re expected to look like. They also complain about those expenses but they also feel like we are our bodies and our faces are supposed to look a certain way.
It’s a weird catch 22 of bizarreness but because people are still unpacking it, we haven’t quite identified all of it yet. I spend like an hour getting ready every day like, and I’m the chillest, I hate makeup and I don’t really like doing any of it. I feel like I’m supposed to do something but that’s an hour of my life that’s out the window every day when male musicians are getting better at guitar or maybe they’re just screwing around, I don’t know. Either way like I lose time and I lose money because of what I’m supposed to be, because I’m a woman. I think right now when I watch Instagram stories of Allure magazine and Dove, you can say that they’re capitalising on this but they’re bringing a lot more awareness of a bigger issue. We’re doing it to ourselves to as women so how to unpack it all is a pretty complex issue. I think it’s definitely going to get better. I think all the women that you mentioned are all aware of this issue and we’re all personally trying to make strides to connect with each other and make sure that nobody gets pushed in the wrong direction. We do what we can (laughs).
It feels like as a community, country artists in general do band together and support one another. It’s quite unusual when you look at other genres in music like pop, which is cut-throat isn’t it?
Yeah I think it’s because of the length of career. When you’re in pop you’re not around as long. When you’re in country music you tour all year round. When you’re lucky enough to break through your career last a lot longer. I think just culturally people that are from smaller towns feel that relationships are really important, especially when you’re around for a long time. Even if you’re super talented, if you’re an asshole nobody wants to work with you and then that’s that. Same thing for the studio musicians, the songwriters, the producers… people just don’t want to put up with it because they want to be here for like a long time and they don’t want to work in that environment. Being nice to people’s faces and then making important decisions correct or not correct, is not always the same.
You write songs all of the time in between touring and promoting. What stage are you at with your next record?
Oh my gosh, I’ve written a bunch of songs and there’s probably like nine or 10 that I have to have on there. The cool thing about country music is that you get to put out a single and the traditional model for them is you put out a single and it takes six months to go up the chart. It takes forever and during the six months you’re still waiting to release your album because your peak moment of people being aware of what’s going on, is when you’re in those top parts of the radio charts. Then you release your album. I still have this time to sneakily replace songs if I want, those last few songs on the album. The ones that I’ve written so far I’m really proud of. They’re still really meaningful songs and there are songs about women talking to women, there are songs that upbeat and there are songs that I’m really proud of the lyrics and like how the sound is coming together. It’s cool. I love that. It feels real and it feels like things I can come play here in these shows. Even acoustically the songs will stand up and be great stories for people to relate to.
It’s always a good test of a song to play it acoustically. If it sounds good, then it’s generally a good song. Would you consider putting out an acoustic album? I really would have loved a copy of The Tabernacle show!
I know! We recorded it too. I feel like I should put that out somewhere. I would love to do that, especially a live acoustic album. I think that would be amazing. I don’t know when I would fit that in because I would love to do it with some songs that already have been recorded too and kind of mix them all in there.
Two things I walked away thinking when I saw your show at The Tabernacle are that you would be great to go drinking with and you have a fantastic sense of humour. Would you consider a side career in comedy?
(laughs) Really? Oh man thanks! I never know if it’s funny to anyone else, I just think it’s funny but I’m glad that you said that. I love storytelling, that’s what I like.I don’t know if comedy is storytelling but I guess it is. When I my TED talk I was nervous because you have to memorise what you’re saying. If you can just be off the cuff and talk to people, that’s usually a lot easier. I feel like stand up comedy is bits and memorisation, and I guess I do have bits in between songs.
I was thinking more like the old school music and comedy shows that stars like Cher used to front…
Like a variety show? That’s awesome (laughs) Sure I’ll pitch it!
CMT will pick that up surely?
Yeah right! (laughs)
What else do you have coming up this year?
I’ve got the new music that’s going to come out soon. I’m opening up for George Strait in Vegas this whole year in the residency. Then I’m opening up for Tim and Faith and doing fairs and festivals and just kind of playing around. I think once the new music comes out I’ll probably get a little bit more intense with all that stuff. It’s been so nice to go through that first intense launch where you lose your life for a while because you’re working so hard. I got married, I got to hang out at home with my husband and the dogs, work certain days a week and then come home and see them. It’s been nice to do that but I’m like, ‘I gotta work again!’
When can we expect to see you back in the UK for more shows?
Hopefully soon! I’m hoping later this year because I think it would be so fun. We were planning this trip because we knew we were going to do some radio stuff so we thought let’s just throw a show in there. I think if we had a little more time to plan we could get a few more shows, a little bit farther out too. You guys are the best fans. You really are! I know everybody probably says that but it’s actually true.
Cam’s album Untamed is out now via Sony Music. Watch her music video for Burning House below: