Cam has lived a lot of life since the release of her major label debut album Untamed in 2015. The California native got married, switched labels from Sony Nashville to RCA in New York, and had her first child, Lucy. Her many highs and lows, and life changes throughout the past five years, are all reflected within the memorable 11 tracks of The Otherside.
Originally slotted for a 2018 release, Cam says the initial blueprint for The Otherside hasn’t changed much over the past two years. Instead, the delay has allowed the project to evolve with the addition of several new songs including the nostalgic “Classic” and poignant album closer “Girl Like Me.” The album serves as self-reflection for the singer, specifically on “The Otherside” as she explained during her album release show at Nashville’s Bluebird Café Oct. 30.
“The past five years since Untamed and ‘Burning House’ I’ve been through a lot and learned a lot and I feel like I’m on the other side of learning some stuff,” she told the audience, who tuned in via livestream, of naming her album The Otherside. “It feels so right to be playing this. I’m so grateful we get to sing something that’s so magical in the spirit of someone who inspired us so much.”
Cam penned the tune with the late Swedish DJ Avicii (Tim Bergling), Hillary Lindsey and Tyler Johnson. She credits Bergling’s “next level songwriting” and detailed vision for the song as inspiring and says not having him around to finish “The Otherside” had some added pressure.
“It put a drive in me to make sure that I lived up to his perfectionism and genius to try and give his family and his fans something that they could all enjoy again,” she tells Sounds Like Nashville. “That was heavy. Even with Harry [Styles] and Sam [Smith] too — taking songs that they had written — I felt like I really wanted to make sure I do right by them and have them feel good about it. I could see myself in [the songs]. That’s why I choose them because I trust them [and] I recognized the ache in the songwriting.”
Styles penned “Changes” with Lori McKenna, Tom Hull and Tyler Johnson while Smith co-wrote “Happier For You” with Mitchell Rowland and Johnson. Cam credits frequent collaborator Johnson for the introduction to both artists. She first heard “Changes,” a powerful song on how friendships evolve over time, as a demo sung by McKenna with Styles singing background vocals and whistling. The song instantly resonated with her, so she recorded it for the project and Styles’ whistle remains on her version.
Other songs on The Otherside are more personal to Cam as she lived through some of the experiences she sings about. Songs like the autobiographical “Redwood Tree” and sweeping “Like a Movie” strike a chord with both Cam and the listener.
“I think because I came from a psychology background I always think of songwriting as pulling out something from the subconscious,” she says. “That’s something that I feel in my gut. I have to say it, I have to wrap it up in a story so that I can face it and heal from it. ‘Redwood Tree’ is definitely poignant right now with how you spend your limited time here, what amount of that you get with your parents and your family.”
Other songs, like “Classic” and “Like a Movie” were inspired by her husband, Adam. As Cam explains, shortly after they got married, she asked her husband how he knew to wait for her and how he knew it was her he was meant to be with and not someone else.
“He was like, ‘When I met you it was like a movie.’ It was just so sweet. Even in that song, there’s a little bit of sadness because there’s all these times when it doesn’t work out. You’re afraid to think that it might be the right one,” she explains. “Every song is really important. I try to wrap them up in really cool production so that you start to get lost in a song a little bit and then maybe, sneakily, the words work their way into your heart.”
On “Like a Movie,” Cam went to Capitol Studios in Los Angeles to record the string accompaniment. She enlisted the help of David Campbell (Mulan, Rent, Dreamgirls) who arranged and conducted an orchestra for the song. Cam says she told Campbell that she wanted the feeling of a 50s or 60s romantic film where there is tension and he knew exactly what she was looking for.
“It was perfect,” she says of the arrangement. “I always feel like I’m caught in the rain on a movie set right before they kiss. It’s so sweet.”
A fan of films herself, Cam says she often finds inspiration for her songwriting from watching movies. She says the inspiration behind “Redwood Tree” came from seeing Arrival, a film about aliens and time not being linear, while the Drive soundtrack helped evoke the emotion within “Till There’s Nothing Left.”
“I think it opens up your ears and your heart to new sounds that you might not necessarily add in,” she says of film soundtracks. “When you’re songwriting, you open up a little portal and stuff comes out and you try not to edit it. Then sometimes it doesn’t fully sink in what it is you’ve said about yourself until later. With ‘Till There’s Nothing Left,’ I was nervous early on. Like, ‘Oh man, I’m singing a real steamy song about getting it on the backseat, but is that something I’m going to sing about to everybody?’
“Then I remember my grandma, who was from a tiny farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, Baptist-raised, and her sex talk was, ‘Sex like a milkshake. Once you have it, you’re always going to want it,’” she continues. “I remember revisiting that thinking, ‘If she can own it. I can own it.’”
The video for “Till There’s Nothing Left” plays out as a mini movie ahead of an apocalypse and Cam says both the song and video keep changing in meaning for her. In the clip, a group of people at a bar find themselves doing whatever they want because the world is about to end.
“I acted like this will be the end of the world. What does that say about me that I somewhere deep down thought I can be my free, truest self only when society was gone?” she reflects. “How sad that the end of the world has to be happening for you to be yourself? It keeps processing for me too.”
Cam has been an outspoken advocate for the lack of females in the music industry. She served on the Recording Academy’s task force for diversity and inclusion and says she’s trying to stick her foot out and say things that need to be said – both in real life and within the lyrics of her songs.
“I’m part of the conversation and part of the community efforts to help make things better. I am trying to tap into wounds that I think a lot of us have about how we feel about ourselves in the world and the trust issues that we run into,” she says. “‘Diane,’ for example, the narration that I hear all the time is when you find out there’s infidelity, you start going after not your partner, but that other involved lover. That’s where I think we can take a nod from Dolly. She says, ‘Please Jolene,’ she’s not angry. She’s coming at it from a very human space.
“I think there’s a hint about those lessons that I’m learning in the music. I’m hoping that you hear something that you’ve been tossing around in your head that you’re not sure about,” she continues. “And maybe deep down your heart knows that you haven’t been listened to. Hopefully it resonates with you and helps you hear your own voice a little bit better.”
Meanwhile, album closer “Girl Like Me” Cam says is a note from the author and includes the wisdom she hopes to bestow on the listener as well as her own daughter.
“In music we can say things that in conversation we’re not quite comfortable saying,” Cam admitted during her performance at the Bluebird. She then explained how when she was in her late 20s she had a “rude awakening” that the way she thought about the world, herself and other people didn’t match up. The emotive piano ballad “Girl Like Me” offers some wisdom from that realization and lets the listener know she’s not alone. “This is me trying very hard to fall in love with the world and myself as it is,” Cam says of the closing track. “At this point, I feel really calm and really thankful to be able to gift music to people right now. I think right now there’s a reminder of why there is music in every single culture that ever existed around the world since the beginning of [time]. It’s because we need music. It’s a really important time for when people need healing, and that’s what I try and do with music for myself. So hopefully [The Otherside is] a gift for everybody to enjoy at their own time.”