Cam challenges country music tropes

Bay Area-bred songwriter releases ‘The Otherside’

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Eclectic Bay Area-bred country singer-songwriter Cam found success with her 2017 TED talk on the psychology of music in which she said contemporary pop songs should be viewed in an almost sacred way, as they once were historically, not merely as disposable entertainment.

“Music has existed in all cultures since the beginning of humanity, so clearly this is a thing that is necessary to human life,” says the singer, promoting her new sophomore recording “The Otherside,” out Oct. 30, with a live-streamed concert from the Bluebird Cafe the same night.

“That’s the thing that gets lost when you’re in the music business, which comes back to why it’s important for me to put out an album in 2020. People need music, so whatever they can take from this that’s medicinal or healing — great. I’m just hoping to help in some way,” says the former psych major, who —as Camaron Ochs — once worked in research labs at Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley.

Raised in Lafayette, Cam was pushed by a college professor to give songwriting a shot before she settled into a lucrative clinical career. She quit school, moved to Los Angeles, and began penning hits for artists such as Miley Cyrus, Sam Smith and Harry Styles.

(Smith later gave her an opening slot on his 2018 tour, and Styles booked her to play his Ryman Auditorium gig last year; both co-wrote tunes on “The Otherside.”)

Now a Nashville resident, she wound up taking Tennessee and country charts by storm as a solo performer with her 2015 debut album “Untamed” and breakthrough hit “Burning House,” which gave her a Music Row platform.

She used it to push the envelope, and a few hometown buttons, with the 2018 single “Diane,” wherein a repentant homewrecker apologizes to the man’s wife she wronged. It flopped at country radio, never cracking the Top 40.

Cam remembers being told by showbiz men afterward that “Women don’t want to be reminded that they’ve been cheated on.”

Citing Dolly Parton’s 1974 smash “Jolene,” Cam says, “She used the word ‘please’ — ‘Please don’t take him’ at a time when the normal stereotype was that the women, no matter what the man did, would always be at each other’s throats,” she says. “So with ‘Diane,’ I really wanted to tell how deep that felt, spiritually, to hear a woman say ‘please’ to another woman in that kind of situation. I’ve known women that needed apologies and honesty that they didn’t get, and — in this songwriting tower — I got to give it to them.”

She left her label Sony Nashville and renegotiated a new contract with Triple Tigers/RCA, which included “Diane” on “The Otherside.”

The scrappy star, 35, survived and thrived. She’s married to California businessman Adam Weaver, whom she says is her opposite: “He’s really outgoing, I’m much more of a homebody.”

In December, the couple announced the arrival of their first daughter, Lucy, who’s been commanding a good deal of mom’s attention during lockdown.

In writing songs, Cam doesn’t employ tear-in-your-beer tropes. “Redwood Tree” on the new album was inspired by the time-looping schematics of one of her favorite films, “Arrival.”

She says, “I didn’t grow up going to church or anything, so I don’t feel like I can speak to people in any faith kind of way. Coming from the Bay Area, I grew up knowing what it means to be counter-culture. So I do have an introspective, psychological side where I approach a song like a thesis: How am I supporting these ideas? How am I feeling in my subconscious?”

Cam charts her material’s success empirically, calling it her “secret-sauce potion,” and something she can sense: “When I feel it internally, my heart is vibrating at exactly the same speed as truck drivers in Kentucky or women who run horse farms in Minnesota. It’s unreal how, no matter your approach or your upbringing, you can tap into something that we as human beings just needed to hear. “

Cam’s album release livestream is at 5 p.m. Oct. 30 (7 p.m. Central), with a meet-and-greet at 3 p.m. (5 p.m. Central); tickets are $10 to $75; visit https://boxoffice.mandolin.com/collections/cam.

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