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Cam's The Otherside Synthesizes Sci-Fi, Harry Styles, And Backseat Quickies

How Avicii, the 'Drive' soundtrack, and sexuality shaped the country-pop star's triumphant new album

By Ilana Kaplan

When it comes to the release of Cam’s sophomore studio album, nothing has really gone as planned. For one, it’s taken five years for the record to come to fruition — thanks to a label change right after her 2018 heartbreaking single “Diane” dropped. Then, there was the fact that the country-pop singer-songwriter wanted to spend her time tinkering to get the music right. When she got pregnant in 2019, the timing for the record’s release didn’t quite work out. Add in a pandemic, and well, the timeline was complicated further.

But Cam, 35, has found benefits to the way that her album rollout has happened. “I've had the extended maternity leave that I didn't think I would ever get, so now I get extra time with the little one [daughter Lucy], which is amazing, and normally I'd be gone three days out of the week, at least,” Cam tells MTV News over Zoom from her home in Nashville. However, finally, today (October 30), her new LP The Otherside — which boasts songwriting collaborations with Harry Styles, Jack Antonoff, and the late Avicii, among others — sees the light of day. “At this point I’m like, let’s get it out. I want people to hear this,” she says.

Born Camaron Ochs, the “Classic” artist started her career as a songwriter, penning tracks for everyone from Miley Cyrus to Sam Smith. In 2010, she struck out on her own with the independent release of her LP Heartforward. After signing with Sony Nashville, Cam dropped her breakout debut, Untamed, in 2015. The next year, she earned herself a Grammy nod for Best Country Solo Performance for “Burning House,” her flip on the man-who-wronged-a-woman narrative. While her second record was supposed to come out in 2018, label issues prompted a move to RCA, where she is now set to share The Otherside.

In the time between records, Cam stayed busy, becoming a master storyteller and continuing to hone her craft. Most significantly, she’s strengthened her voice. “I think touring for five years internationally, you just use that muscle so much more. Now, I feel like my voice can do a lot more, which is so fun.” And she’s used that to her benefit: With The Otherside, Cam set out to make “a vocal record.” While she’s still exploring dark themes enveloped in storytelling as a way to heal, she ensured her vocals were front and center.

But Cam isn’t the kind of artist who makes an album full of one sound, so when it came to making The Otherside, she made a boundary-pushing collection of tracks, so as not to create the same types of songs over and over. What helped her do that? Thinking about movie soundtracks. They created a backdrop for several songs on the LP. “I loved movie soundtracks as a kid where you have scenes that deserve a suspenseful song, and you have scenes that need a dreamy song, so when I make an album, I try and make sure I hit all those points,” she says.

Her wistful single “Redwood Tree,” for instance, was inspired by the 2016 sci-fi movie Arrival. She was captivated by the idea “that you can't be in two places at once and [that] you spending the limited time you have the way you want to spend it.” Furthermore, when it came to “Like a Movie,” Cam asked arranger and conductor David Campbell, who’s also worked with Carole King, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé, to envision a 1950s or 1960s movie set with “fake clouds, a fake sunset, and the wind blowing in your hair” in mind. With “‘Till There's Nothing Left,” a sultry, uptempo power ballad that meditates on the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of love, Cam found herself obsessed with the Drive soundtrack and unashamed to pay tribute to quickies in the backseat.

That song is an important one for Cam, who grew up believing sexuality was something that was private. “For a lot of time, one way that women were allowed to have power over men was through sexuality, [and] then it was also demonized as that wasn't the correct way to do it,” Cam says. “There's this power in it, but you're not supposed to use that power.”

In making “Till There’s Nothing Left,” Cam debated being openly sexual on the track and the double standards women face about expressing their love of sex. But she thought back to her grandma who gave her the sex talk and said, “Sex is like a milkshake. Once you have it, you're always going to want it." And if her grandma could embrace that? She didn’t understand why she couldn’t: “I get to have [sexuality] be a part of me, and I get to express it however I want to express it.”

Essential to the making of The Otherside was the cohort of star-studded songwriters and producers she enlisted to help craft the record. Styles, for whom Cam was able to open at the Ryman in 2018, penned “Changes.” “I normally don't take songs that are written by other people, I think because, for me, songwriting is such a personal process,” Cam says. “It feels like I'm cheating if I don't do all the work myself.” But because she already had a connection through their show together — and because her producer Tyler writes and produces for him — she was OK with taking on the track. Styles’s whistle from the demo even made it onto the track: “I heard it and I was like, ‘Oh, I know what this means, this ache, you don't want to outgrow places and people, but you kind of feel it happening. And I just recognized that.’”

Another striking name on Cam’s LP was the late dance icon Tim Bergling, a.k.a. Avicii, who co-wrote The Otherside’s title track. When Bergling went to Nashville to work on his albums, Cam joined him and songwriter Hillary Lindsey for a writing session. “I really wish I had his help at the very end there to get it to what he really wanted and what I wanted,” Cam says of working with Bergling. “But what a really cool legacy to have somebody that then pushes me to raise my bar that much higher, to try and meet something that I needed to make it fit into my record and also make him, his family and his fans proud too.”

Then, there was an assist from songwriter and producer Antonoff on “Classic.” Because Antonoff has worked with everyone from Taylor Swift to St. Vincent, the pairing was ideal — Cam has never wanted to fit into a box. “I'm just trying to get the production right for the song, not necessarily what's important to make it prove that it's country enough,” Cam says of their collaboration. “That seems more like a normal way to do things to me. I think Jack's in that boat, too.”

“A lot of times, for creatives and writers, you're trying to meet your own expectations, and it can be intense. It's not always an enjoyable process, but it was a really enjoyable time sitting there with Jack because he's just like, ‘What do you think about this? Strum, strum, strum, strum, and throwing out lyrics,’” she says.

While it might have taken longer than expected to arrive, Cam is proud of the journey that it took to make The Otherside. During that time, Cam found herself healing and sorting through the highs and lows of the last five years. What she hopes is that it will also be a balm for listeners, as well. “People need healing tools and connection right now, and that is why music has existed in every single culture since the beginning of culture, because it is a part of us, it is a necessary thing. It's not just how many records sales you have.”