Cam at CMA Fest: Girls Can Play Guitar!

Successful singer-songwriter Cam reveals inspiration for “Burning House” and explains the importance of women in music

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After six performances in just two days at Nashville’s insanely popular CMA Fest, you would assume singer/songwriter, Cam, wouldn’t be up for consecutive lengthy interviews. That assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth. Cam’s apparent passion for music and devotion to encouraging human connection, has equipped her with an enormous amount of resilience. From delving into important issues such as female empowerment within the music industry to revealing the inspiration for her career-defining song, “Burning House,” Cam appears happiest sharing her music and promoting the importance of social issues that hit closest to home. With no intention of stopping the momentum now, Cam can be found opening for Sam Smith’s highly-anticipated North American leg of his “The Thrill of It All Tour.”

How are you enjoying CMA Fest thus far?

Great! Pretty exhausted; I did four shows yesterday and then two shows today, plus interviews.

Our editor was at one of your performances yesterday where you brought out a Taylor Guitar for an audience member. She said you spoke a bit on the importance of girls playing the guitar. Could you elaborate on this issue and that moment for us?

It was really fun! I was told before the show that we had a Taylor Guitar to giveaway. The team at Radio Disney did such a great job, they had actual guitar players submit for the drawing. They picked her ahead of time and then pointed her out in the audience to me. When I got out there, I asked the crowd, “who plays guitar?” and people were screaming, but she actually didn’t even raise her hand! I pointed her out and said, “I think you play guitar, right?” her face just froze! I asked her to come on stage. Her mom was crying, and when she got up there, I asked her to play a little bit on the guitar. It wasn’t plugged in or anything, so there was no pressure, but she started to jam. My two musicians on stage even played along with her!

Women get encouraged to be singers and dancers, and all of those things are great. I am all of those things. But I also play guitar, and I think it’s important to grab my guitar as often as I can in my shows. I don’t play guitar that well, but I think girls forget that that’s something they are capable of doing. They can play guitar for a living, be a studio musician, go out on the road, all of these things.

To finish the story, at the end of it all, I asked if she wanted to keep the guitar. She was so happy! I signed it and later saw on Instagram that she had named it Cam.

To add onto what I had said on stage, I am a part of the Grammy Task Force Committee. After what happened at the Grammy’s with the “women need to step up” comment, they brought in a whole group of people to help look at diversity. They brought forth The Annenberg Study, which is basically an entertainment industry study that lays out the basic numbers we can compare in terms of what people are getting paid and what percentages of demographics make up the industry. When they looked at music, from what I can remember, female producers make up something like 2% of the industry, female songwriters make up 12%, and female musicians/singers max out at what I believe was 22%. The thing is, girls are extremely involved in the arts during their adolescence throughout school, at an equal rate as boys, but it appears that when it comes to making it a job, women don’t do it nearly as often. That’s where I feel there are so many barriers we have to figure out. You look at life on the road, and how women get treated on the road, whether that be part of the crew, a fan, or as a musician. Many talented female players will get invited to demo sessions, but then when it’s time for union money and a real gig, they don’t get called.

You look at some of the awards that come out, I’m on the ACM Board and this year that was a topic of discussion. I spoke up on this issue expressing that I was really disappointed because all of these top musicians that are nominated for these upcoming things are men. It sends a horrible message. There are several issues in place that are causing barriers, and we’re already in the minority by a lot. So, the question remains, how are we going to change them?

I know it doesn’t sound like giving away a guitar on stage is that big of a deal, but showing it is exposing women as musicians. Girls can do all of this stuff. Girls can play guitar!

How was it for you getting into music?

Growing up, I didn’t think I could be a musician, to be honest. I went to college and got a whole different job until I was 25. When I did finally pursue a career in music, I truly felt that if I had known I could have been a producer or an audio engineer, so much would have been different for me. But, I never saw it, and nobody ever said anything. Instead, when people saw me, they’d just say, “Oh, you’re so cute. Are you going to be a singer?” I love being a singer, it’s obviously an amazing craft to be a part of, but there are so many girls that could be so great at all of these jobs, they just never get the chance to do it. I think it all starts early on, and that those of us who are in it right now are trying extremely hard to keep on removing those roadblocks.

Since you didn’t begin pursuing music professionally until you were 25, what was it that made you decide to go for it finally?

When I was younger, I was always in choir and acapella groups, loving music and learning guitar. I just never thought that I could be a musician. I can’t even explain to you why that happened, but I just didn’t think that that was a thing that I could do. Then to consider if it was something I should do was an even bigger question. Could I afford it? Is it too big of a risk? That sort of thing. Then when I met some people who were writing songs, it finally clicked. I felt like I could do it, too. I remember one time at a party at our house all of the girls were sitting and talking in a group and all of the guys were downstairs having a jam session. I told my friend that I felt like I belonged down there, and she thought I did, too. I went downstairs, picked up a guitar, and started jamming. It was intimidating because it was all guys and women are always taught not to ruffle any feathers. To insert yourself in a situation like that, it takes a bit more of your aggressive side, a side of you that, as a woman, can feel awkward to expose.

Who are some of your female musical influences?

Guitar god St. Vincent is the coolest person to me. I remember being into her in 2009. I think hearing women making music that was different really inspired me. But traditionally, I love Patsy Cline; I loved the Indigo Girls and what they played. Knowing that they did it from the ground up too, just two girls with guitars who impacted so many people’s lives, they’re incredible.

“Burning House” became such a massive hit. When you wrote it, did you have a feeling that this particular song was going to be something special?

To be honest, I was very embarrassed at first because the story behind it is about me doing the wrong thing. I was trying to apologize to somebody, and I felt extremely vulnerable. I remember my face being hot as we were writing it. I was unsure, nitpicking it, and that’s when you have to trust the people around you. They kept telling me that it was great and that it should stay raw. Luckily, I kept it raw, and that’s what eventually got me signed to Sony. I did a Kickstarter, and the guy who’s the head of all of Sony said that he loved the song. We didn’t even launch it to radio because we knew they wouldn’t play it since I was a new artist and it was the middle of summer. The fact that it had such a visceral response when it got the tiniest bit of a window meant that people could actually get behind it. It’s been amazing to see how many people needed to hear it. I met a girl one time who had the same dream.

So, this was a literal dream that you had that inspired the song?

Yes, I had broken up with a guy who was my college sweetheart; he was very important to me. But I was kind of selfish and wanted to make sure that I was okay, so I didn’t do it very nicely. Two years went by, and I was going to see him at this party, and I knew that I had to talk to him. I was thinking about how I wanted to word it so when I went to bed that night, I dreamt about this house on fire. There were emergency vehicles all around it, I ran up to it and asked them if he was still in there, they said he was but that the house was getting ready to collapse and that I can’t go in. I ran straight in, and he was trapped so I couldn’t get him out. Instead of saving myself, I laid down and held him. The girl who had the same dream told me she went to therapy, and apparently, the dream means that you have something in your life that you can’t fix. I get people who come up to me all the time to tell me stories about how they relate to that song. I get some heavy, thoughtful, emotional stories. It’s the magic of being a human being, to be able to connect with one another.

So then when you write a song like “Fireball Whiskey,” is it a bit of a relief to get to be fun and goofy?

Yeah! We joked about this the other day. My natural state would be to write slow sad songs, but I love melodies and upbeat things. I love storytelling, so it’s definitely welcomed to go in that direction, but it’s for sure harder for me.

Do you ever get a chance to write for other artists?

I recently wrote with Sam Smith, but it’s never my first priority to write for other people, unless when Jeff Bhasker, who’s my producer, gets invited to write with Miley Cyrus and can’t make it, which is how I ended up there. I don’t see myself writing for other’s too much. Anytime writing has happened in the past with other artists, it’s always felt organic. In the beginning, I would write because I didn’t think I could be an artist, whereas now if I like it, I hold onto it.

What can fans look forward to from you for the remainder of 2018?

I am touring with Sam Smith through June and July throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. I love singing with him. Then coming up in the fall, I will have more tour plans. Plus, new music will be coming out this year, which is super exciting!

More news about Cam!

2018 continues to be a busy year for Cam as she gears up for the release of her forthcoming sophomore album, and the lead single, “Diane”, has brought Cam to new heights. “Diane” was recently expedited on BBC Radio 2’s A-List in the UK and has topped multiple best-of lists including Best Songs (all-genre) of 2017 by NPR, #3 on the 25 Best Country Songs of 2017 by Rolling Stone Country and #2 on the Top 10 Country Songs of 2018 by Taste Of Country. In the past few months, she made appearances on Good Morning America, American Idol, The Late Late Show with James Corden and CMT Crossroads. She performed a SOLD OUT headlining show at the Islington Assembly Hall in London, performed a duet of “Palace,” with international superstar, Sam Smith, for all four nights of his ssold-outshows at London’s famed O2 Arena and just wrapped a string of spring show on her Listening Room Series Tour.

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