Country singer Camaron Ochs - better known as simply Cam - has fast gained a dedicated and supportive fan base following the release of her major label debut album Untamed at the end of 2015. It is certainly an impressive album from a talented artist and you can find my review of that release here. I was recently able to catch up with Cam a few days after her latest UK show in London and ask her some questions....
What was your first introduction to country music?
It probably would be when I was younger I'd go visit my grandparents, they had a ranch down in southern California and they would play old classic country stuff and I was obsessed with old Patsy Cline records so I'd put those on repeat.
What inspired you to start song-writing?
When I was younger I sang all the time and I was in a choir from like fourth grade all the way through to the end of high school and I remember hearing about people writing songs but I just didn't think that's what I did. I remember really liking poetry, I did a lot of creative writing and poetry and stuff in high school and in middle school too. I would say I probably started arranging music, kind of like the organisation of how the notes are going to go, with an a capella group so I'd write those out as vocal arrangements. Then I think when I got to college and learned guitar it felt like I had enough skills, like 'I think I could write a song'! [laughs] 'I know music and I know words and why don't I put them together'. The first few songs I wrote I think I remember thinking these aren't real songs but then whatever you want is a real song. Very prepared!
What was the first song you wrote?
It was probably something really easy to play. I remember when I first started learning to play my then boyfriend liked Ben Harper so I would learn really easy Ben Harper chord structures and usually then I'd write some things over the same structure like that but you know, you only need three chords! So it really wasn't too hard.
Which song would you pick for people to listen to as an introduction to your music?
I would say if you're just meeting me you should listen to "Burning House" and maybe if you're a girl listen to "Mayday" or "My Mistake" and if you're a guy listen to "Runaway Train" and "Cold In California".
What impression would you like listeners to take away from your music?
I would like them just to hear themselves in it hopefully and if they don't that's totally fine, the idea that music isn't always meant for everybody, it's meant to just really specifically ring true with you and then if it does that it makes you feel less alone. If anybody gets a good vibe of 'I hear myself in this' that always makes me really happy.
You'd already been writing, performing and recording your own music for a few years before Down This Road started to take off, how did it feel the first time that you heard that on the radio?
Ah I think I freaked out! I wasn't even signed to a label. I remember we hustled so hard, worked really hard on the writing, worked hard to raise money, make the song, we asked family and friends to pitch in on all different kinds of levels. To just be working so hard and have it happen like that, it got played on the radio and you fight so hard to get on country radio. The friends that I have at the label now, they joke that everybody was upset that somebody who wasn't signed was getting on the radio! [laughs] I remember being really proud of myself when it showed up on the charts of Add-week and what was getting played it was my name with no label and no last name! [laughs]
Where did that come from? What made you decide to just be Cam?
I started out with my last name, it's Ochs pronounced like a tree and it's spelt O-C-H-S and so people would just butcher the name which is fine but in my little minimal time I would have in those early interviews people would just talk about my last name and 'oh where's that from' 'how did you get that' and I was like oh my gosh there's so many other things to say about my music! I don't really care if you know how to pronounce my last name or not! [laughs] So I just used my first name out of necessity, just to streamline it. Like it's your friend Cam, you would call me Cam if you knew me anyway and then just move on to the music.
You released your debut studio album in 2010 on an independent record label but then subsequently released your major label debut five years later. How did the two album cycles differ?
My first one was basically like I met someone who was like 'I can put together on album for you' when I literally first started writing songs and I was like awesome, cool. So I wrote some songs, we recorded things in our basements and stuff like that and then the quote-unquote release was basically I put it on iTunes [laughs] and then friends and family heard the songs. So it wasn't really like a big deal, it was obviously wonderful to go through the process of making music and that was obviously wonderful but in terms of career it just felt like okay great I put some music together and afterwards I was thinking to myself I was actually planning on just being a song-writer so I kind of went down that path and then just in a couple of years hit a moment where I realised I loved being the artist. It's really hard to be a song-writing to be honest and if you're going to risk so much to be in the music industry I thought why not try and be the artist. I just took the whole thing one, let's figure out what do I want to say, who am I, not just the first songs that come out, these need to be tested and made better so it was a huge two year process of getting all these songs to a great spot and then doing a Kickstarter to raise the money to produce them really well. Albums cost a significant amount of money to make them sound good! [laughs] Then we went around the showed them to the major labels and luckily Sony was really excited. I did a lot of the leg work for them where I put the whole thing together ahead of time but then we still did another round, when you have a major label budget you can put a seal things so that was awesome to finish it up that way and then the real promo and launch that happens with the major label which is why you sign with them, hopefully to get that mass distribution and mass promotion, that was honestly soul-sucking! There was so much to do, I would travel like 5 or 6 days a week and hit 3 radio stations a day. I'd fly every morning, I'd get up at 5 in the morning and wasn't done with dinners until like 10 at night and then the whole thing would happen the next day again. That was a sixth month span of just non-stop and then straight into touring. The difference between those two, from doing music in your basement to like real job where it's super intense, it's really interesting to talk about because I think a lot of times everybody says I want to get signed and what does it mean to be with a major and a lot of people are like I'll only do it independent and they're very different business models, separate from your creativity and what kind of songs you're doing.
Did you find you found all the songs for your major label debut easily or did it take a bit longer to sort?
I had probably started writing with my co-writer Tyler not specifically for the album but just writing and trying to find my sound, probably 2011. We just continuously wrote for almost five years! It was a really long time of just songs that weren't good enough, that weren't the right sound, which is really cool because I feel like I can write in a lot of different genres. I have a live album that we recorded that has all these acoustic sessions and a little Bluegrass influence. I love as a writer being able to do all that stuff, it's not just my face on the front, it's my story that's real to me - then there's this other place, I think, that comes out physically - it takes a second to not be embarrassed by your own stories and also believe in yourself enough to put all that out there.
Have you ever been tempted to release something like an acoustic album?
Oh my gosh especially after The Tabernacle show! I loved playing that, I just went on for two hours, I loved talking and playing things. I am definitely dying to do a live or acoustic album, that's definitely a priority for me just because it comes together in such a great way. I think the UK fans really appreciate too, there's something a little bit more emotional about how raw it can be, the stories in the songs, stuff like that. So yeah, I would really love to do that. It's not easy, it's very hard for a lot of artists to pull off, being stripped down like that but I think it's a good challenge to make sure it sounds really good.
What do you find is the hardest part of working within country music?
It's like any job where there's ups and downs. The ups are extremely high like playing on TV shows and singing duets with superstars and having thousands of fans sing back to you, those are incredible. Then there's also just...the only things that I think are tricky is honestly probably the fact that something about the country music industry, maybe because it's such a small town, or I don't know if it's a cultural thing but coming from California where I grew up to the Nashville culture, it hasn't progressed as much as where I'm from so there's a lot of times...like you don't see a lot of women at higher levels in companies that you're working with, either at labels or at radio stations. The way people do business sometimes can be like this little boy's club stuff. There's parts of the community which will slowly get worked out, like the rest of the country! [laughs] There still seems to be a few things that they're a little bit behind n and I think it's definitely frustrating to be a woman from another culture coming into this and then having to step back in time a little bit.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable part?
Honestly getting hugs from fans is one of the best parts! People ask me like 'don't you get tired after shows, you just sang full time and you go out there and meet people' and I'm like 'no, are you kidding, that's when people come and give me energy the whole time'. I think what's really cool is, singing the songs I sing, I don't just get people who are just excited for any reason, they're people who are really excited because there's a real emotional connection to the song. So I get some really heartfelt hugs! [laughs] That's my favourite thing.
It's been almost two years now since the release of Untamed, can we expect to hear any new music soon?
Yeah, I'm working on it! I've got probably about 9 of the songs done and then just kind of doing production stuff so I'm hoping to get a single out this year and then an album out early next year.
What can we expect to hear from that?
Well, if you know me it usually kind of varies so there's definitely a full emotional spectrum on the album which is great, I hate when people make the same song over and over again. That I really love and there's some really cool production choices but it also lets my voice be the front part and the part telling the story and I love that, you can have creative production but it stays out of the way. It's the musical of my life [laughs]
How do you feel you've developed as an artist since the release of Untamed?
I think my voice has gotten a lot stronger because I've sung so much, just on tour and on award shows, I think doing that really helped because I did choirs and stuff when I was younger and I did a capella groups but I didn't do a lot of performing per se, like I never felt comfortable on stage, I probably didn't look it but I definitely felt nervous. The more you do it the more you get to be yourself on stage too so I feel like I'm really coming into my own in terms of how I can use my voice to really be me on stage and in the records too. That part's cool, like the rest of us I feel like I'm figuring out who I am.
Are you able to attend many live shows from other artists? Do you feel like the influences your own live performance?
Oh that's a good one, I always try to watch when we're on tour with people, like I'll watch Dierks' set or Brad's set. They're obviously at such a different level it's hard to incorporate much of what they're doing but I actually mostly love to watch shows. I think the main take away for me is I don't want to look like anybody else's show, like I want to make sure that whatever I'm doing is completely different and just makes you think a little bit more so that's probably the main reason I like watching stuff because I think they did this, maybe I can get as far as that but I can't look the same, I can't use the exact same people they used, I can't use the same set-up because I want it to feel like it's own thing.
How do you feel you manage to retain a sense of identity?
The best way so far I've done it, my manager who is also one of my best pals is always good at reminding me it all comes from me so as long as I'm grounded and being myself and not filtering myself and remembering that you're still like a role-model hopefully [laughs] for people who are watching you, at the same time just be as much of yourself as you can be and that is always the best branding, you never have to think about some kind of story that you're supposed to be telling or some sort of talk points that you're supposed to be hitting! You're just being as much you as possible and I really appreciate country music being so into that, we don't expect people to be some sort of specific kind of diva pop icon with those kind of outfits all the time. People dress up, we try to look good and we try to be ourselves, it's just be as real as you can. So it's lucky I don't have to worry too much about the identity stuff, just keep being me.
I'm interested to know whether Country Ain't Never Been Pretty from Untamed is based upon anybody in particular?
It's actually about me to be honest in the way that I was joking about how you go to all these award shows...when we would be at the ranch we would get up in pyjama pants and crazy curly hair, my sister and I looked ridiculous and we would have to go and feed the horses really early in the morning and my grandpa would be telling crass cowboy jokes. To me I always thought country music was telling some dirty jokes, working really hard, kind of smelling from outdoor work - you can't help it if you're in with hay and manure all day! [laughs] It's not a glamorous life and that's so funny now that a lot of these awards shows have everybody all dressed up and you're almost a total different person with this mask of make-up on. It's so funny to me that I'm participating in this now, my co-writer Anders Mouridsen and I thought we've got to take a quick stab at ourselves just to remind ourselves this isn't what it's about.
You've already embraced Europe as a tour stop, can we expect to see that continue in the future?
Oh my gosh yes! Every time I come back from Europe, first off I want to move there because I just love it and then also we've toured in Scandinavia and we've toured in the UK and the fans are the best fans. You guys care so much, you sit there and listen through stories, you're just totally wrapped in the show which is every artist's dream. So I think trying to find more ways to get over there more often and build a better relationship for all the fans over there, that's something that's really high on my priority list so you won't be getting rid of me soon!
Thank you to Cam for her time! Make sure to check out Untamed if you haven't already and keep an eye out for pending new music and tour dates!