Earlier this month, Camaron Ochs did the morning show rounds to get out the word about her headlining Burning House Tour, which kicked off in October. But something unexpected happened when the singer known professionally as Cam performed on Live With Kelly – she didn’t sing a radio single. No “Burning House,” no “Mayday.” Instead, the 32-year-old California native delivered a sublime “Half Broke Heart,” an album cut from her nearly one-year-old debut Untamed.
In a singles-driven industry, it was a bold move to devote three-plus minutes of high-profile TV time to a song few recognized. While Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and their album-focused brethren regularly dig deep for their TV appearances, female artists on major labels often have to play it safe by playing the single.
It’s not an attitude that Cam shares. Rather, she views the singles-focused business model as something to turn on its head and take advantage of.
“As things are shifting into the digital space, it’s harder to sell albums, which means there is less money [to be made],” she says. “And when that happens, part of the community will respond by being afraid, and they’ll try to make safer records, which won’t sell a bunch but will definitely get on the radio and sell some. But the other part of the community says, ‘Great, I didn’t give a fucking shit about money anyways. I’m trying to make real art.'”
It’s no surprise that Cam falls into the latter group.
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“There’s less of a burden now,” she says. “So the people who are in this for artistic reasons, some of them are getting a moment.”
Cam is inarguably in the midst of her moment, buoyed by the well-received Untamed, a Grammy nomination for Best Country Solo Performance for “Burning House” and a slot opening each of George Strait’s Las Vegas concerts in 2017. She’s also won the favor of stars like Dierks Bentley, who put her in front of packed houses on his recent Somewhere on a Beach Tour, and Eric Church, who invited her to sing “Like Jesus Does” with him at his August Red Rocks Amphitheatre gig in Colorado.
Church and his commitment to songcraft, in particular, has been a touchstone for Cam. To her, it’s imperative that she believe every lyric she writes or sings.
“My worst nightmare is to sing a song that isn’t truly me and have it be successful. Then you’re just trapped in a bizarre parallel universe,” she says. But she brushes aside any notion that she isn’t vying for radio success. “I care about being commercial, but in the sense that I can reach a lot of people. I’m a very social, optimistic person, and I like people and connecting with them. That part comes naturally.”
With the Burning House Tour currently underway – she recently performed a knockout show in Boston with surprise guest Lori McKenna – Cam hasn’t had a chance to do much writing on the road, but she is already plotting the follow-up to Untamed, an album that, by her estimate, owes 90 percent of its existence to a fan-funded Kickstarter campaign. “It was very fun, but I know we can do more,” she says, looking forward to a bigger budget when she records her next album for Arista Nashville. “As romantic as you want to be, music is a very expensive hobby.”
And, when it comes to country music, it’s still very much a boys’ club. While artists like Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris and Jana Kramer have all made headway in bolstering the presence of female artists on the charts, Cam cautions against calling it a renaissance.
“There are maybe five or six of us,” she says of the women gaining traction on the radio. “I hope that things are changing, but if it’s a statistical analysis, I’d say it’s not significant. I am really grateful that it’s moving, but when people start using words like ‘renaissance,’ that’d only be true if it were the reverse: 90 percent women on the radio, and six men. I’m not saying I want that; I just want good music. If there’s a woman who’s good, let’s give her a chance.”
Cam now has hers, and she’s committed to making the most of it.