Interview: Cam Is on ‘The Otherside,’ Stronger and Wiser
Cam's "Diane" is a story song that begs to be belted out at the top of your lungs — but as its final notes arrive on The Otherside, the singer's sophomore album, listeners would be wise to steel themselves for the emotional wallop that's ahead.
"Happier for You," The Otherside's penultimate song, opens with haunting bells, then a mournful, Beatles-esque guitar. Written by Sam Smith — the pop singer-songwriter with whom Cam has written and toured — Mitchell Rowland and Tyler Johnson, Cam's main co-writer and producer, the song proved its power immediately.
Cam first heard "Happier for You" out of a cellphone speaker at a crowded New York City Italian restaurant. She and her manager, who is also Johnson's wife, had stopped in for a snack when Johnson emailed over the demo. "And so," Cam recalls, "the two of us huddled around the phone ..."
"This song feels like a full meal ... It delivers on the emotions of the lyric, the overall vibe, the soaring vocals — like the production just feel so right. You get exactly what you want out of this song," Cam shares in a phone call. "I love Sam, and I think [their] superpower is that [they have] these unreal vocals that soar while [they're] delivering this very precious vulnerability. It disarms you because you're like, 'Oh, I'm here for a big song ... [and then], all of a sudden, you're like, 'Oh my God, my heart.'"
Cam admits she's not usually one to take an outside song — songwriting is too personal a process and too integral to the creation of her albums, she says — but her connection to Smith and the song's emotional look at how it feels to watch someone move on made "Happier for You" resonate in a deep way.
"I haven't shown up to an ex's wedding in black, but I have had to understand my feelings around exes moving on ... It's a sore spot that I think all of us have to figure out," she muses. "I just remember sitting in that little Italian restaurant, and I felt that little part of my heart that had a little scar on it light up."
Cam's co-writers on The Otherside's 11 songs include Nashville heavyweights Natalie Hemby, Hillary Lindsey and Lori McKenna; star producer and songwriter Jack Antonoff; and late EDM star Avicii. There's also one other outside cut: "Changes," a Harry Styles/McKenna/Tom Hall/Johnson co-write:
"The fact that [Styles and Smith] are kind of like musical neighbors to me ... We're not best friends spending Saturday night at each other's houses or anything, but we're close enough musically, and kind of spent time rubbing shoulders musically and in our careers, that I trust them and their tastes," Cam reflects, adding with a laugh, "It's probably related to the same thing where, like, I only date my friends' friends ... I think that's how I operate: There's inner circles going on."
It could also be that Cam has enough to write about to fill multiple albums. The 35-year-old released her first major-label album, Untamed, five years ago, in December of 2015, claiming the No. 2 spot on the country albums chart and a No. 2 single with "Burning House."
However, subsequent singles charted only in the high 30s and low 40s. At the same time, Cam was navigating issues with her record label, Arista Nashville, that eventually led to her separating herself from the Sony Music Entertainment-owned label and working with Sony's RCA Records out of New York City. (To maintain a team in Music City, she formed a partnership with Triple Tigers, too.)
In those five years, Cam has also gotten married and become a mother (to a daughter named Lucy). Additionally, she's used her platform to advocate for equality in the music industry and, therefore, has been named to diversity-focused task forces set up by the Recording Academy and the Academy of Country Music.
"It was heavy, seeing, in those taskforce [meetings], graphs and data ... and those really bad-looking statistics, like, that dot was my career potential. And that is me as a white woman," she confesses. "I remember coming home from one of those task force meetings ... and I went in with [a mindset of] 'I'm gonna save the world.' I came home and was like, 'Oh my God, I just saw that inside of, like, all the bureaucracy and all the problems ...'"
The toll of her label troubles and the reality of what the disheartening data those task forces were examining meant for her own career left Cam almost ready to give up on her music career. "That's not to say, like, you should walk away from things that are difficult," she notes, "but I think it's good to know that as much as you can ... make the choices that are right for you."
That disillusionment runs under each sad song on The Otherside (which has its happy moments, too, such as its current single, "Classic"). "Girl Like Me," the closing track, reflects on those glass-shattering moments we all experience when we learn that our expectations and ideals, even the realistic ones, won't always be met:
While coping with such heavy realizations, Cam says it helped to focus on younger generations. The new mom — Lucy, her first child with her husband, Adam Weaver, will turn one in December — says she now understands she can't solve all of the world's problems, but she can, perhaps, make it better for her baby girl and those who will come after her.
"You start to turn a corner eventually, I think once you fully accept that you are not working for yourself and whatever you're doing is for the next people," Cam says. "You've got to find your joy in it where you can and stop tying your happiness to like success and results ...
"We're boiling the ocean," she adds later, "and it's just gonna take a long time."
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