NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The five-year journey between albums for country singer Cam was an evolution in coming to grips with hard truths about a music industry that had left her a bit bruised but not broken.
The California-born singer with cinematic influences made an instant impression in 2015 with her dark horse double-platinum ballad “Burning House.” Doors opened for her, like getting a Grammy nomination, invitations to tour and write with British pop star Sam Smith and open for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. She became a vocal advocate for diversity inside the industry on inclusion task forces at The Recording Academy and the Academy of Country Music.
But two years ago, Cam decided to walk away from Sony Nashville’s imprint Arista citing different values, but remaining under Sony on the RCA Record label based in New York.
She hasn’t gone into many details publicly about the split, but she alludes to this professional breakup in the song “Girl Like Me,” on her new record “The Otherside,” due out Friday.
Cam wrote the song with hit country writer Natalie Hemby after watching the documentary series "Surviving R. Kelly" about longstanding sexual assault allegations against R&B artist R. Kelly, who was still signed to her label at the time. While he was later dropped from RCA Records after the doc came out, Cam was struggling with feelings that it brought up about women's experiences in the music industry.
"At some point you had to have your dreams get broken or your trust get broken," said Cam. "They are going to give up on you and you're going to give up on them and all that happened for me. And then I had to find a way to honestly fall in love with the music business again."
For the new record, she has a joint partnership deal with RCA and Nashville label Triple Tigers, a feisty company that has scored several No. 1 country radio hits with their indie country artists Scotty McCreery and Russell Dickerson.
Cam said she was looking for a label partner that was more selective and took greater care of its artists.
“They are not throwing out a lot of stuff and seeing what sticks,” said Cam, , whose given name is Camaron Ochs. “That courage to do things in a new way really resonated with me.”
"I think she is light years ahead of every other artist," said Norbert Nix, president of Triple Tigers. "I don't think it's a risk for radio to play this artist. I think it's a benefit for radio to play this artist."
With the help of a circle of hit-making pop and country stylists, including Jack Antonoff, Harry Styles, Lori McKenna, Hemby and Smith, Cam’s new record showcases a fine-tuned storyteller and vocal powerhouse unique to anything on country radio.
The title track, a meticulously crafted country dance track, was co-written with acclaimed Swedish dance artist Avicii, whose real name was Tim Bergling. They wrote it together with songwriters Hillary Lindsey and Tyler Johnson, originally intending the song to go on one of Avicii's records.
“He was such a perfectionist,” said Cam. “He sat there while I was recording vocals, like in the room, which I haven’t had anybody do that before.”
Unfortunately, Avicii didn’t get to hear the finished song, which was produced by Jeff Bhasker, Douglas Showalter and Johnson, before his 2018 death at age 28.
"It's sad because he was such a genius," said Cam. "This song took a lot of hours, a lot of hours to get it perfect. It felt like the Tim thing to do to spend a lot of time to make it perfect."
Cam and Smith were already well familiar with each other's songs and singing, after Smith helped introduce Cam to international audiences when she toured on a leg of Smith's Thrill of It All tour in 2018. A song that they co-wrote, "Palace," was also used in an iPhone TV commercial.
She knew what she was getting into when she heard Smith’s easily recognizable voice on the demo for “Happier For You,” a melancholic country song that fit well with Cam's aesthetic of moody and introspective country tunes.
“It’s soaring, but it’s also so vulnerable and it’s so beautiful to have that big voice telling you something that is so soft,” said Cam. “It was like vocal gymnastics to get it all right, which was so fun.”
But the most recent career revelation for Cam has been more about the so-called work-life balance that new mothers face. Cam and her husband Adam Weaver, welcomed their first child, Lucy, in December.
"I feel like the balance of motherhood is a joke. That's not a real thing," Cam said from her Nashville home, while her mother-in-law babysat downstairs so she could do interviews for her new album. "But I still feel like I might get there."