'I wanted to fully realize this dream that I had,' the country newcomer says of her freshman release
“No one is signing women,” “You shouldn’t bother,” “Never gonna happen” — Camaron Ochs, who writes and records as Cam, heard it all when she moved to Nashville at 26 to pursue music. Her answer can be found on track 9 of her excellent debut, Untamed, “Want It All”: “I won’t listen to your rumors, I won’t listen to your doubts / Too much ain’t enough so don’t try to slow me down,” she sings.
With the highest-selling single of any country female artist this year, her smoldering “Burning House,” a Grammy nomination for Best Country Solo Performance (also for “Burning House”), and this collection on her hands, you can bet no one will ever try stop her again.
Ochs’ breakout comes at an interesting time in Music City — and in interesting fashion. In a time when the “tomatoes” of the genre have been underserved, the Bay Area native didn’t try to bend Nashville powers to her will. She simply went around. She was working in a research lab in 2010, and was about to go to graduate school for psychology when the tug of singing and songwriting became too strong. “I went to a professor that I love and she said, ‘Picture yourself, 80 years old, what would you regret more having not done: psychology or music?” Ochs packed her bags.
But Nashville was perhaps not as excited to see her as she was it. After subpar deal offers and a lot of “no”s, the 31-year-old took the project into her own hands. “I wanted to fully realize this dream that I had,” she says. “I wanted it to sound exactly like I wanted it to sound and say exactly what I wanted to say.” So she launched a Kickstarter campaign and rounded up a few relatively inexperienced but highly motivated friends and they began crafting Untamed, the plan being that they could shop a finished project. “I wanted to do the whole thing and then show it to people and they’d either get it or they wouldn’t.”
One of her collaborators, Tyler Johnson, was working for production force Jeff Bhasker (who’s worked with Kanye, Fun., Ed Sheeran, and also got a nod Monday morning from The Recording Academy for Producer of the Year). “Tyler showed it to Jeff and he was so over the moon.” It wasn’t long before Sony got onboard.
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What Bhasker and Sony heard, fans will soon be delighted to hear. Untamed drops Friday, but EW is thrilled to premiere an exclusive first listen below. Over 11 tracks, Ochs meshes old-school country storytelling (a result of a grandfather who was a Patsy Cline devotee) with gorgeous harmonies (a nod to her high school obsession with the Indigo Girls), and an unapologetic commitment to her craft (which she credits to being inspired by St. Vincent’s handiwork, but we’re willing to bet it’s a trait she comes by all her own).
The collection finds gravity in her breakout song, which was inspired by a dream Ochs had that her ex — with whom things had ended poorly — was trapped in a burning house. “I couldn’t get him out, so I stayed with him so he wouldn’t have to die alone,” she remembers. It is the most complete sum of her parts as an artist: emotional, affective, and gorgeously and simply sung.
But there are other highlights: “Hungover on Heartache,” which is, ironically, a fun song about being in a terrible argument with your boyfriend, “Country Ain’t Never Been Pretty,” which in a move straight out of the June Carter Cash playbook, turns the joke right back on herself, “Half Broke Heart,” which begs for a sing-along like Shania in her prime, and the deeply personal “Village,” which is sung from the perspective of Ochs’ best friend’s older brother — and Ochs’ de facto childhood brother — who passed away. “I wanted to write that song as what I thought he would want to tell her, and what I would want to tell my little sister if anything ever happened to me.”
We’re just lucky she’s willing to tell it to us as well. Untamed is streaming below.