Given that she’s recently received Country Music Association nominations for Song of the Year and Music Video of the Year in addition to being nominated as New Female Vocalist of the Year, it’s surprising to hear California-born singer/songwriter Cam say that she originally just thought she’d work behind-the-scenes as a songwriter rather than become a performer.
Her latest album, last year’s Untamed
, has been a smash hit and successfully marries pop and country impulses. She performs at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 28, at the Thirsty Cowboy
“I was shy about playing guitar,” she says in a phone interview. “I played it quietly. I never wanted to be the center of attention. I would play quietly in my room. That’s why I always thought I would be a songwriter. The more I got into music, the more I realized I had a lot of opinions about how I wanted it to sound. I took that to mean I should be an artist.”
One of her professors encouraged her to leave the research lab where she worked to pursue her musical dreams.
“I was 24 or 25, and I put some time into psychology,” she says. “I thought that was the smart career path. I didn’t know any professional musicians. I was pursuing psychology. I liked it but I didn’t know what to do. I asked my teacher. She said, ‘Picture yourself at 80 and what would you regret missing out on?’ That drove it home for me and gave me a good push. I’ve gone back and visited her and the whole lab is really excited about what’s going on [with the career as a singer-songwriter].”
When Cam initially moved to Nashville, she and her manager decided they would do everything on their own first and use Kickstarter to raise money.
“We got it to the point where [Untamed
] was 90 percent done,” she says. “Then, we went and met with people so you’re not asking people to guess what your potential is or to invest in you. If you do the work yourself and show them where you’re headed, the people who jump on board are the ones who are the true believers. It makes for such a great partnership with a label if that’s the route you’re going to go. That helped us break through there. The fact that the music sounds a little bit different helped too.”
Jeff Bhasker (Fun., Mark Ronson) and Tyler Johnson (Taylor Swift, P!nk) co-produced the album, encouraging Cam to explore her pop influences. Fans have responded especially well to “Burning House,” a sparse ballad about a dream. Her fluttering vocals and the gentle acoustic guitar making it sound like a country version of a Rumors
-era Fleetwood Mac tune.
“People at shows tell me they had to stop their cars the first time they heard it because they had to pull over and cry,” she says. “Or they lost a family member to addiction and that’ the burning house, or they’re going through a tough time in their marriage and that’s the burning house. It’s crazy how many interpretations can come out of the song. I worry it’s too specific. The center of the song comes from this one feeling and one emotion. If you describe it as accurately and honestly as you can, then everyone else can tap into that same feeling. How it plays out into their lives can be different, but it’s the same feeling of wanting to fix something that you can’t always fix.”
While Cam spent the summer playing outdoor amphitheaters (including Blossom) as a support act for Dierks Bentley, she’s recently embarked on her first-ever headline tour, appropriately dubbed the Burning House Tour.
She says she’s excited to head back to the clubs.
“Oh my gosh, it will be great,” she says of the tour. “At the end of the winter tour with Brad Paisley, I did this thing where we went from arenas to a small club the next day. It’s great to be so close to people and see their faces. You get your fans instead of a mix of people. You get the real fans. These people are so excited from the beginning. They’re the ones who will be with me for my whole career and I love putting on a great show for them.”