During high school, I met this incredibly talented performer named Cam. He was a small kid that had this ridiculous, powerful voice. Through a mutual friend we started hanging out, and our place of choice was the vocal music classroom in the high school. Teachers seemed to give him free reign of it, because he was using it right and was the nicest kid.
The songs we made up made no sense. None whatsoever. I believe one was about seducing cougars (not the animal). Cam would play the piano, sing the talented parts, and I would add the inappropriate lines.
There was a fun game we would play at his family’s ridiculously lavish Christmas parties. You play a song off an iPod, and Cam would start to pick it up and play on piano without any sheet music Set in a central location in a grand living room, everyone would just sit around and listen to him play for hours. Cam doesn’t want to be the centre either; he’s the first person to point out the talent of the people around him.
He’s the best example I have of meeting someone with just a pure, unbelievable talent who also works hard.
That’s why I decided to catch up with him. In the nine or so years since we first met, Cam has graduated high school after starring in a musical, grown a man bun, gone to Berklee College of Music in Boston, chopped off his man bun, and grown as a performer and artist. I called him on a Sunday morning before he was off to a gig in Cambridge to catch up, talk about the musician lifestyle, and see what makes a good whiskey.
Evan: What’s your favourite joke?
Cam: My favourite joke? Donald Trump. No, my favourite joke that’s tough.
Cam then proceeds to tell a minute long version of a two-day long joke about an ice cream sandwich. If you ever meet him, ask him to tell you.
When it came to choosing a school, it was Berklee or bust for Cam. While he also planned on applying other places, his heart was set on the College of Music located in Boston. After being accepted, it was off to the U.S. for college.
E: What was the college experience like in the states?
C: It’s very different, from what I gather. Music school is a very different vibe in general from another school.
E: Is it like High School Musical all of the time?
C: It’s not. That would be amazing. No, everybody is tired all the time, which I’m sure is the same as a regular school. Everything seems way more important than it is, which I’m sure is the same. The things that are different are the class sizes. The average class size was only 11 students.
Some of the policies are different because they’re trying to reign in a bunch of musicians. For instance, the earliest class is 9 am, which isn’t early, but oh my god it feels early. If you miss three classes you immediately fail that class, just straight up. You have to keep them in check or else [the music students] will just skip and do gigs instead of going to class.
The extra-curriculars are different. We had no sports teams… well we had an Ultimate Frisbee team.
E: That’s the most musician sports team I’ve ever heard.
C: The extra-curriculars a lot of the time weren’t school-run stuff, and if it was it was social events. I spent a lot of my “free time” doing not what the average person would spend their free time doing. A lot of it was sessions from 12 am until 6 am, studio work, or shows, or rehearsals, you name it. That was my free time. I didn’t sleep a lot. It definitely was a unique college experience for sure.
E: What was the music scene like in Boston?
C: Huge, and vibrant. Alive and well. Especially compared to here [Cambridge, Ontario where he lives now]. It’s one of the biggest things I miss, the other being all my friends. The scene there is really well put together and everyone is in it. There’s a lot of support back and forth between bands. I was very much involved in the metal scene down there fronting two bands, and we did lots of local shows. You’d go and network and it’s really really healthy.
The other thing that I miss is if I was in Boston, and I use this example all the time because it’s happened: “Hey, I need a drummer in 20 minutes to play these five songs, can you do it.” and someone will be there. Up here, that’s not a thing. If you lose your drummer last minute, you’re screwed.
E: You’re big into metal, and when I met you, you were playing everything. What made metal your focus?
C: I always really liked metal. Musically I was interested in it because it’s complicated. It’s a lot going on. I really liked the vocal style, even though it’s not for everybody. I wanted to learn how to do it without hurting myself, because I also really love to sing choir stuff, and barbershop. I love to sing, so I needed to find a way that would do that without ruining everything else I loved to do. So when I went to Berklee, this was the time.
I was around all these musicians, and all these people who really know what they’re doing, but none of the teachers there teach it. So I found a teacher [Paul Pampinella] in Berklee, and said “this is what I’d love to do” and Paul said “I can help you with what I know, which is the breath, the anatomy, blah blah blah. But the rest you’re on your own.”
I spent about 70% of my electives on vocal pedagogy or anatomy, so I know everything in here now (gestures to his throat) and how it all works, and I basically taught myself how to do it. No damage, nothing.
E: A lot of people when they think of metal just think of screaming, but it’s much more than screaming.
C: It’s so much more than that. There are people who do that, they just yell and they can’t talk after, and it’s like “wow, that’s permanent.” Then those who know what they’re doing can do a set for an hour and be no more vocally tired than if you had sung powerfully for a set.
From a musician side, the instrumentation, everything going into that is so much more in depth than your average pop song on the radio. If I’m doing a set of pop songs on the radio *whispers* like I am today I tend to get bored quickly.
E: I went and listened to your metal, and your solo stuff, and it’s very varied. Do you want to not be in one category? Is it something you work for?
C: My idol that I was following through the beginning of college was Dallas Green. What his career was like was the opposite of what I wanted in terms of the order in which it happened. He was in this awesome metalcore band Alexisonfire which was doing awesome, and then he branched out and did this singer-songwriter stuff. I started the other way. When [Dallas] finished with Alexisonfire, he was doing both simultaneously. That’s the life I want.
E: What’s the worst gig you’ve ever had?
C: Solo, I haven’t had one that made me go “holy crap, that was the worst thing I’ve ever done.” But I’ve had a couple where it’s been either a very dead crowd and that kind of gets you down. The worst solo gig I’ve ever done though is the kind where it’s an empty room, or maybe three people, cause it’s very hard to connect with a lot of energy. Especially if they’re having their own conversation, because you’re just kind of wallpaper at that point.
E: Best gig you’ve had?
C: It was a house show, for a private party. It was a celebration for a friend’s mom beating breast cancer. It was an evening garden party, and it was enough people and enough energy that it was a good vibe, yet it wasn’t so big or so small that it was weird. It was just the perfect size, the perfect amount of engagement, and it was laid back. Everyone was feeling great, and all around 10/10 gig. I’ll remember that one forever.
E: Best advice you’ve received on music?
C: Best advice and hardest advice are often times the same thing. So one of them is one I get all the time from my mum, especially when I’m discouraged, which is “keep going.” Which is really difficult when you don’t feel like continuing and you just want to say “f*** everything and f*** everyone” you know what I mean? That one is definitely a big one and I try to take it to heart.
As a performance, it’s just connection. What is your end goal in your performance? Do you want to make everyone go “wow, that was good,” or do you want one person to go home and say “that guy changed my life,” or what? You have to go into every performance saying “what is my goal here.” For me personally it’s to connect with everybody at some level.
E: Switching gears here. You are, out of all the people that I know, probably the biggest whiskey expert. What makes a good whiskey?
C: For me? Because it is subjective I’d say.
E: Is it like art?
C: Yeah, a good whiskey is like a good painting. If you look at it in a different light, it might hit you a little differently. Scotch is also the same way, and beer is also the same way. I mean, not Coors Light or something like that.
Lately I’ve cut back on my drinking, because in college it’s like ‘Oooh yeah, I’ll try something new every day of the freaking week” but a) I can’t afford that and b) just laying back a bit.
For me what makes a really good whiskey is a little burn. It’s gotta have a burn. Just a touch of sweetness on the finish, but too much and I’m out. Jack Daniels used to be my jam, but now when I drink it I find it very, very sweet at the end. Poitin, which is basically Irish Moonshine, that’s been on my list as a good one. Basically, anything that gives enough burn, but isn’t firewater.
E: You’ve been to Ireland..
E: Can you pour a perfect Guiness?
C: I can, I have a certificate. I wish I had it handy because I’d pull it out. I also have the Jameson taster certificate so I’ve been educated on how to properly taste.
E: So you’re the expert then?
C: I’ve been certified, what can I say?
E: One of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time is that you wrote a song for a movie that’s coming out.
C: Yeah! It’s called Black Donnellys, and they had a contest open for a song to fit that movie. I didn’t have any songs at that point that fit, so I spent maybe three days shopping ideas and then it hit me all at once and I busted most of the song off in a day. Then I ended up winning, which is pretty cool. They just wrapped up their filming and now they’re booking all their screenings.
E: It’s a weird experience to watch a trailer for a movie, and not just recognize the artist singing, but also know “hey, that’s my buddy.”
C: It’s weird for me to see it too, because for me it’s just that I wrote a song. It’s not bad, and I’m happy with it, but it’s cool to see it paired with stuff. I genuinely see it like that: they’re making a cool movie, I made a cool song, put them together and that works for me.
E: The movie doesn’t look scary, but it looks thrilling.
C: Yes, absolutely. They really captured all the action parts of the story and also the nuances and that. It’s really cool and I’m excited to see it.
E: Anything else you got on the go?
C: Lots of irons in the fire. I recently did a project that I’m not fully allowed to talk about yet for some people in Japan. I’m writing and recording a lot of my own stuff right now. Teaching voice and some beginner piano and stuff, and scoring a movie for our friend Connor Jarvie. A while ago I scored a short film called Fish, with my friend Tim Erhart. Just finding gigs, and looking to get a band ready.
Cam is always working. Whether it’s on a solo project, his skills, or work with a band, he is constantly moving. I hope the next time I catch up with him isn’t so far down the line, but it’s hard to keep up with him. Even if I don’t get to chat with him, I’m sure I’ll be hearing a ton of him down the line.