Nashville's breakout star gears up for her first Grammy awards.
Credit: Ninelle Efremova

How the 31-year-old academic ditched the books to become a Nashville critical darling—and first-time Grammy nominee.

A Country Girl in Cali

Growing up in the Bay Area, Cam caught the music bug early as a member of the choir in elementary school. But it wasn’t until she enrolled in college and got to know a songwriter that she actually considered writing music. “The first person who showed me that I could be a maker of music was one of my best friends,” says Camaron Ochs, who’s earned rave reviews for her Top 40 debut album, Untamed, and earned her first Grammy nomination for Best Country Solo Performance. “It’s like, you can’t see yourself doing something until you see somebody else doing it. Other people were encouraging me singing, but this was the first time that I could see myself writing songs and playing guitar.”

School of Rock

Cam crafts music that’s filled with affecting confessionals about past lovers and the enduring power of friendship. But she’s got a bookish background. In fact, Cam was enrolled in graduate school to study psychology and also worked part-time in a research lab studying emotions. She agonized over whether to pursue science or music—until her professor urged her to follow her dreams. “I was torn between what I should do—psychology or music,” Cam recalls. “And she said, ‘What would you regret having missed out on more?’ That was a very clear way of putting it to me. I would have fully regretted not trying music.”

L.A. Woman

While Nashville may be the mecca of the country-music industry, Cam headed south to Los Angeles to break into the biz. There, she hooked up with songwriting partner Tyler Johnson, and the two honed Cam’s sharp-witted, pop-friendly sound. Cam also wrote a track, “Maybe You’re Right,” that was featured on Miley Cyrus’ 2013 smash, Bangerz. “We both shaped each other a lot,” she says of Johnson. “Not only trying to figure out how to be great musicians, but how to be smart about it, because it was going to be our career.”

Going for Grammy Gold

As a first-time Grammy nominee and rising country star—”It still hasn’t sunk in!” she says—Cam is happy to share her wisdom with the next wave of aspiring female artists. “If you’re prepared to be fully poor and not give in, then you can do it,” she says. “If you work long enough and hard enough, and you don’t spend time on the people who think you need to look or act a certain way—that’s something I struggled with. It’s all about the music—it just needs to be good enough that everything else doesn’t matter.”