cam the otherside
photo: Dennis Leupold / press

Cam – The Otherside

It’s been a long time coming, but Cam’s latest album, The Otherside, is finally here. The album, which includes previously released hits like “Diane” and “Classic,” is a stunning effort by the country star and well worth the wait. Each song on the 11-track release feels like a carefully thought-out addition to an album that feels deeply personal to Cam (whose real name is Camaron Ochs). “I want music to be a healing experience where people feel recognized in it,” she shared with me when I caught up with her a few weeks ahead of the album’s release. She added that it was a difficult decision on when to release the album, with the world being full of strife due to COVID-19. In the end, she decided people needed music and they needed her music. “I’m so proud of it. I’m so glad to share it,” she said. 

Though Cam is definitely known for making songs that will make you feel all the feels, especially the sad ones (looking at you, “Burning House”), she’s excited that this album is a little brighter, a little happier, and a little more loving. “When I make albums, I try and think of a color wheel, and I want to have the full spectrum,” she said about the variety on The Otherside. “I don’t want 11 songs to sound exactly the same where you don’t know which song is playing.” And a variety is exactly what you’ll get with this body of work that shows off Cam’s ability to paint a beautiful picture with her voice that will take you to the highest highs and also maybe break your heart a little. 

Cam’s collaborators on The Otherside

Despite the fact that Cam has a few huge names on this record, she’s not someone who typically likes to collaborate, because she feels obligated to do all the work herself. “I normally don’t take outside songs,” she shared. “That’s a new thing for me. I’m digging through my own internal issues and figuring out myself, bringing the subconscious to light and healing myself. It’s very personal.” On this record, though, she has a song co-written by Sam Smith, one co-written by Harry Styles, one that she wrote with Avicii, and one that she wrote with Jack Antonoff. The rest of the tracks are largely her own that she put together with her go-to team that includes producers Tyler Johnson and Jeff Bhasker. 

“Classic,” which she wrote with Antonoff, was born out of a meeting that she likened to a blind date. “When you’re writing with someone new, it’s always like a blind date kind of feel, like, ‘Oh God, it’s going to be weird.’ You know how it’s going to go.” Their meeting in New York was incredibly successful, though, and started with Antonoff playing Cam a Simon and Garfunkel-inspired riff that felt like their popular song “Cecilia.” I told her that “Cecilia” is easily one of my all-time favorite songs, so it only makes sense that I connect with “Classic” so much, considering it has the same fun, upbeat vibe. 

Cam asked what my memory tied to “Cecilia” is because “everyone has a memory of that song.” For me it was childhood road trips listening to my parents’ cassette tapes in the car on the way to the beach, one of which was a Simon and Garfunkel tape that made me fall in love with the song. For her, it was a time in high school when she and her friends road-tripped to UC Santa Barbara to visit friends, also playing “Cecilia” for its fun vibes — while on their way to party hard. For what it’s worth, “Cecilia” did its job to get Cam and her friends pumped up. “Being ridiculous, dancing around to this song, it just feels like freedom. It’s just joyous jubilee.”

She also has a song she co-wrote with the late Avicii (whose real name is Tim Bergling) years ago that he expected to use for one of his own projects. With “The Otherside,” Cam says she feels a responsibility to Avicii’s legacy to get the song right in his honor and added that he was incredible to work with. “It was really intense writing with him, he’s a perfectionist, he needed things exactly so,” she said. “I took a cigarette break in that session, and I don’t even smoke cigarettes. Then at the end I was so thankful that he didn’t put everyone’s comfort ahead of the vision for that song and what we needed to do to execute it. It was so perfect.” She even made “The Otherside” the title track of the album, handing the name of the whole record to Avicii’s legacy, which I can’t help but think is a beautiful dedication to his memory.

As for “Happier For You,” which was given to her by Smith, she said she distinctly remembers exactly where she was the first time she heard the demo and knew she wanted the song. It was an Italian restaurant in New York where she heard the bells. “Sam just delivers these beautiful soaring vocals that are such a well-tuned instrument, that you’re like, ‘Oh, this is going to be great.’ I’m down for the ride. Then all of a sudden, they just, like, twist the knife in your heart.”

The only other track on the album that Cam didn’t write was “Changes,” given to her by Styles. She previously connected with Styles in 2017 when she opened for his show at the Ryman Auditorium, forging a friendship with him. It was that occasion, as well as his history with her collaborators Johnson and Bhasker, that made her keen to work on “Changes.” 

“Harry, he’s such a good egg. I can only imagine what he’s been through in his life. The way it came through [on ‘Changes’] that sentiment was like, I know how this feels for me and that’s something that I’m working through, and I know I want to be working through on this album for people too.” Cam feels the pressure, though, with these songs from Smith and Styles to get them right since they were given to her to work on. Usually, her songs are predominantly written by her, making them close to her heart, and making her her own biggest critic, but with these songs specifically, they have that added layer of still partially belonging to someone else.

But Cam’s not willing to work with just anyone, which calms some of her nerves on these tracks. With Smith and Styles, she has a history with both of them, making her feel like these collaborations were right. “I felt a trust in a musical neighborliness with them that sort of opened the door,” she said. 

And while Smith may have handed over their track for Cam to record, Styles kept a piece of himself in “Changes” for The Otherside: his whistle. “He did that on the demo,” she said. “There was such a feeling to the demo. I didn’t want to depart too much from what was going on. That song is not overproduced or anything. It really has a lot of the same feelings to it with the guitar first and minimal additions. Then the whistle … I mean, I don’t know if you know this, but people who can whistle are few and far between. It is not easy to whistle like that.”

I, of course, shared with her that I’m quite the fan of Styles’ work and may or may not have pinpointed his whistle on the song before reading the album credits, to which she replied with raucous laughter and added that it is, indeed, a fantastic whistle. “I love how this sounds. He normally doesn’t hand songs out to people. I already felt like I was asking for a lot. So I was like, ‘Can I have this whistle?’ Luckily he was okay with it.” And she’s already seen traction from Styles’ fans who are excited to hear her sing the song he wrote, adding that they have been so lovely to her ever since she performed at his show in 2017. 

She recalled how respectful they were at the Ryman, which was her introduction, really, into the Styles fandom (more affectionately known as Harries). She was already sold on Styles himself, though, pointing to the 2017 Rolling Stone feature where he vehemently defended his young female fans, saying: “How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going.” In response to that particular quote, Cam told me, “I was like, damn, I liked you because of your music, and now I really fucking like you.”

Cam’s personal touches on The Otherside

The Otherside is beautifully filled out by Cam’s own skills at songwriting with some of her favorite songwriting partners, like Hillary Lindsey and Lori McKenna. She also chose to put her hit song “Diane” on this album, despite releasing it a couple of years ago. It actually rounds out the tracklisting perfectly, showing a depth of storytelling over the span of those few years. And truthfully, it’s perhaps my favorite song of Cam’s, so I was so pleased to see it getting the album placement it deserves.

The album opens with “Redwood Tree” that sets the scene for all the rest of the songs. It’s an unassuming beginning that lays the groundwork for the rest of The Otherside to build off of. The driving beat beneath it, though, gets you excited for what’s to come. And while Cam included upbeat songs like “Diane” and “Classic” here, she can’t stray too far from her emotionally heartbreaking songs like “Forgetting You,” which she co-wrote with McKenna, Johnson, and Mitchell Rowland, who is also part of Styles’ band. Of this track, which was recently released, Cam said in a press release, “You torture yourself, measuring the real people in your life against the idea of them.”  

Cam even mixes it up with some of the songs, blending the happy with the sad. On “Like a Movie,” backed by an orchestra, Cam sings of a love story that has its ups and downs. “It has a little bit of sadness,” she told me. “Sometimes it’s wrong, but then when it’s right, it’s right. It still is definitely a beautiful love song.” She said it all comes back to her solid relationship with her husband, Adam Weaver. Being in love and in a strong relationship has helped the words and feelings pour right out of her, which can be felt through all of The Otherside.

The album ends quietly with “Girl Like Me,” a song Cam wrote with Natalie Hemby, that feels like she’s imparting her wisdom on you as she makes her exit. Cam’s voice does all the work here when she sings, “They’re gonna give up on you / You’re gonna give up on them / If it’s somebody you really love / You’re gonna find a way to love ‘em again / You’re gonna have to learn to forgive yourself and not take it so personally / Yeah, take it from a girl like me.” It brings you back down to Earth after this soaring emotional ride and gently places you back into reality after listening to the album, and I can’t get over how beautifully it all flows together.

Cam’s penchant for speaking out

Cam uses her voice for more than just her music, which is something I love so much about her. She uses her voice and her platform where it’s needed, especially defending women. Whether that’s women in country music, Black women in country music, or just women in general, she tries to speak when she can. “I don’t feel comfortable if I’m on the bandwagon,” she said of her penchant for going against the grain, so to speak.

She mentioned that she brought her daughter, Lucy, along to the “Classic” video shoot and breastfed her between takes, which she even shared on Instagram. Something as simple — and necessary — as breastfeeding still has such a stigma, which many women are annoyed by, myself included.

“I do think that anytime I can throw in a moment of, like, man, shit is not set up for motherhood, let’s be real,” she said. “I feel like I need to put that in my Instagram feed every now and then,” which is why she did exactly that. But she also acknowledges that there are times when she’s not the one to speak up, even when she wants to help people. “I think that’s part of this learning experience that’s happening right now. I struggle sometimes like, okay, it shouldn’t be me that’s saying something. But then you don’t see anyone saying anything. I’m trying to walk this line of saying things that are true to me and that I know and do mini reminders every now and then to sort of shake people up a little bit. I don’t think the world’s going to be saved by a white country singer.”

It’s in her nature, though, to speak when she feels she needs to, especially on behalf of women, and I can’t be mad at that. “I think there’s a lot of women especially who hand over their power without realizing it,” she said. That’s also part of why she included a Personal Power Kit as part of her merch on her website. It includes blue sage, quartz, tea light candle, bath salts, and a message from Cam on how to use it all to cleanse your life and reclaim your power. “I think anything that makes you feel more connected or into cleansing your space is helpful,” she said of the kit. “I find it helpful. I didn’t grow up with a lot of rituals. I sort of had to find my own. I think that these have been helpful to me.” 

But in the end, she also turns to music for her healing and cleansing, as do so many of us. She hopes The Otherside can be a source of joy for her fans and listeners everywhere. “It’s meant to feel like medicine. It’s like Mary Poppins when you pour it, and it’s a different flavor for everybody.”

The Otherside is available now through Triple Tigers/RCA Records.