Cam at Hangout Oyster Cook-Off & Craft Beer Weekend
The Hangout, 101 E. Beach Blvd. (Gulf Shores), www.hangoutcookoff.com
Tickets: $10-$150, available through Eventbrite
Each year, The Hangout in Gulf Shores dedicates a weekend to two of the Gulf Coast’s favorite things: oysters and beer. This beachside restaurant/music venue accents this culinary event with a great lineup of musical entertainment, and this year’s Oyster Cook-Off & Craft Beer Weekend is no different. Anderson East, Rodney Atkins and other artists will entertain the feasting masses, including pop country singer-songwriter Cam.
Before she was known as simply “Cam,” California native Camaron Ochs was a college student trying her hand at music on the West Coast. After dedicating herself to country music, she made the obligatory move to Nashville, where she met producer Tyler Johnson (Harry Styles, Keith Urban, Ed Sheeran).
After writing songs for Miley Cyrus and Maggie Rose, Cam and Johnson entered the studio to create her major-label debut, “Untamed,” which includes the hit “Burning House.” The album shot up the charts and earned Cam a Grammy nomination for “Best Country Solo Performance.” With the release of her new single, “Diane,” Cam is preparing for the release of a follow-up album.
Lagniappe caught up with Cam to discuss the new single and how a psych major from California became a pop country superstar.
Stephen Centanni: For a lot of aspiring country artists, the first thing on their to-do list is to move to Nashville. You were already established in the music scene on the West Coast before you even thought of moving to Nashville. Why did you make the move?
Cam: What happened was that I went to school for psychology research in California. So, I was actually doing research in labs at Berkeley, Davis and Stanford. I hit my limit around 24. I said, “OK, if I’m gonna do music, then I better give it a go right now.” My professor said, “Picture yourself 80. What would you regret: missing out on music or psychology research?” It was obviously music. I went into writing mode and was writing and working. I wouldn’t really say that I was established. I would say that I had started doing music. I had an independent gal cut one of my songs on her record. I was like, “This is it! I’ve made it.” The song sold zero copies, but that was my point of, “You know what? This is all the affirmation that I need. I’m doing country music and moving to Nashville.” That’s how you made it happen. I made my parents drive me and my air mattress over to Nashville from California when I really didn’t have that much going on. They were good parents to do that.
Centanni: All eyes are on Nashville right now, now more than ever. How would you compare the West Coast to Nashville as far as the music scenes?
Cam: Well, I got to work with some people, like my executive producer [Tyler Johnson]. He does things in hip-hop, pop and country. Through him, I got to do a song on the Miley Cyrus album “Bangerz” [“Maybe You’re Right”].
I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have sort of witnessed the vibe in L.A. To me, the main difference is that Nashville is much more community oriented. Country musicians — in general, not all the time — really encourage people to be humbled and encourage you to talk to people and be approachable. In pop, they want people to be mysterious and unreachable. In L.A., you would work in one room and bring in one musician at a time.
In country music, the tradition is more to have four or five players in the room playing with each other as you’re recording. It’s a very different kind of industry as well. There’s a different culture. When I moved, I had to relearn what the rules are in Nashville. When you’re an outsider, you get the gift of seeing things as they are, because you’re outside of it. I think I did a good job of waiting to make a first impression until I had all my stuff together. They’re definitely different worlds.
Centanni: One thing I’ve been noticing in modern country music is that the people who are popping are the ones like yourself who are writing their own songs. What kind of benefits have you seen from working on both sides of the industry?
Cam: You know what, I think that is a more recent phenomenon. There was a time when being an entertainer was a big deal, and it didn’t matter who wrote the songs, because people came to see you to perform them. Now, I think it’s a little more about the song and whether it is a great song. Yes, it’s great if you’re seeing a superstar. If not, then we just want to hear great music.
Turnovers are getting a little bit faster. It’s pretty tiring being away from home and running around and being on a bus or a plane most days of the week. If I didn’t write these songs and love them, then I wouldn’t be convincing enough to sell them. I’m not that good of an entertainer. It has to be genuine for me to pass it off as genuine, because I only know that one mode of honesty. Some people can pull it off and connect when it’s not them. For me, that’s the only way to do it.
Centanni: With that said, how did it feel to see your first release on a major label shoot to the top?
Cam: It was cool! Oh, my gosh! It was shocking. That’s what you hope for, but it feels unreal to have it connect so well and watch it shoot up the iTunes charts and radio charts. It’s really rewarding.
I know it’s not the number one thing, but you should be happy within yourself. You should be writing it because you’re writing it for yourself. The secondary thing is that it makes sense to people, especially with “Burning House.” I got to hug so many people and talk about what that song meant and connect with people about it. That’s probably one of the main reasons that I enjoy doing music is those hugs.
Centanni: Let’s talk about the single that just dropped last week.
Cam: I have the first single off of the new album. The song is called “Diane.” Basically, it’s the reverse of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” This is the mistress singing to the wife and saying that she didn’t know that he was married. She’s coming clean and apologizing and being honest and giving the apology that most wives and husbands don’t get.
Centanni: So, you do have a new album coming?
Cam: Yeah, I do! Country music would like to let these singles breathe for a second. So, it probably won’t come till next year, but I’m excited. I’m excited to kinda digest it. It’s like an ABBA-meets-Fleetwood-Mac, up-tempo vibe. It’ll be fun to watch “Diane” have its moment, then have the album come in after that.
Centanni: Are you working with Tyler Johnson again on this one?
Cam: Yes, he did it and so did Jeff Bhasker. It’s the same team. Once you have a hit, people who are really good will return your calls. So, we wrote with some really amazing people for this album.
The first album was crowdfunded through Kickstarter. For this album, we had the label behind us. So, we got to record strings at the Capitol Building in L.A., where they did all the Frank Sinatra stuff. It afforded a few more opportunities to make this album sound really amazing.