Cameron Hawthorn is a rarity in Country music – an out gay singer-songwriter.
While there are a handful of out performers in the genre – Ty Herndon, Brandy Clark and Brandi Carlile to name a few – not many choose to be open about their sexuality for fear of it harming their commercial potential. Hawthorn experienced a viral hit with his song ‘Dancing in the Living Room’, which saw him publicly opening up about his sexuality and the response was incredible.
I caught up with Cameron recently to talk about his excellent EP ‘Mustang’, discuss the success of ‘Dancing in the Living Room’ and to find out more about the personal stories behind his songs…
Your EP ‘Mustang’ came out recently and there’s a lot of different sounds on there. How did you bring it all together?
It happened over a long period of time. ‘Dancing in the Living Room’ was the first song that I wrote and that was the beginning of this new chapter I’ve started. That song I literally wrote in my bedroom and I dreamt about putting it out in the way that I did but I never thought I would because it revealed a part of myself that I never thought I would put into my music, especially with the video. For that song I really was inspired around that time by classic country; a lot of Johnny Cash, a lot of Elvis, the Everly Brothers. With the production on the track I really wanted it to be minimal but have a little bit of an old school country twang. That sound came into some of the other songs too.
The next two songs that I recorded were ‘Mustang’ and ‘Oh Hot Damn’ back-to-back. I wrote those and recorded them in LA. I definitely went in with that mindset of being so inspired by classic Country and that Elvis rock’n’roll feel along with the Everly Brothers too. That really was the drive but I also love Shania Twain, I grew up on Shania Twain, she’s a legend. Eric Church was a big inspiration too. He was coming out with some music that I really liked around that time too. There’s country, there’s a little bit of folk, there’s a little bit of pop/rock feel, and I think all those sounds together make up who I am as an artist.
‘Dancing in the Living Room’ was a viral hit for you. Were you expecting the response that it got?
Oh, my gosh, no. I could only have dreamt of it being that good. It’s scary to put yourself out there in a way that you don’t really know what the reaction is going to be. I wrote it in 2017 and I didn’t record it until 2018. I didn’t release it until 2019. Looking back on that I’m like, ‘oh, my God, what took me so long with that song?’ but it really was that wrestling within me of what are people gonna think of me? What does this mean for my career and my path in life? The response was just so positive and so encouraging. It was pretty cool.
Having worked in the Country music industry for a long time, I know first hand how hard it is for an artist to get on the radio unless they’re a white straight male. As we know in the US they don’t play female artists and out gay Country artists are few and far between. Did it worry you about what commercial impact that might have on your career?
Yeah, I think it did. The thing that inspired me the most honestly when I was wrestling with this decision was I watched so many documentaries around that time. I remember specifically, and these have really nothing to do with being gay or Country music, but Gigi Gorgeous, who is a transgender icon and her story came out on this YouTube documentary. I watched her story and she was so true to herself and that I saw how that inspired so many people around the world. Then I watched Lady Gaga’s documentary, just about her passion for what she does, and how that inspires people. For me, it really comes down to being a light, I think, and hopefully getting to show people that you can be yourself and chase your dreams. I tried to put the success and the music industry aside, and really just focused on being true to myself and hoping that even if that shed some light or inspired one kid in Oklahoma, who loves Country music and is gay, or one kid who lives in the country in the UK. If I could be one part of that story that would inspire that kid then it was worth it for me.
I don’t know if you’re aware but here in the UK we embrace artists that are outside of the mainstream much more. We are passionate about female artists and the underdogs that don’t get a fair shot in the US for whatever reason…
Honestly, I haven’t taken my music to the UK yet. I’ve been to London once and I’m really excited to come so that’s really cool to hear.
It would be interesting to see what reception you’d get over here because we don’t care about sexuality or gender. We just love good music and you’ve got that…
I love that! That’s what it should be about.
On your EP you have a really emotional song, ‘To Break Hers’. What’s the story behind that song?
That was a story that I wanted to write for a long time. I dated women before I came out. It was all true and real relationships, and there was emotions and attraction there for sure. One girl in particular that I dated for a good while, definitely looking back on it deep, deep, deep down I knew that it was never going to work out. I remember when I broke up with her how painful that was not only for her, but for me too. That breakup has haunted me and I really haven’t been able to make peace with it within myself. I wanted to write this apology to her and also to myself because I just couldn’t get that out of my mind. I think it’s a story that hadn’t really been told, especially in country music. I wanted to tell it from my perspective.
I’ve never heard that story told in song before and it stays very true to Country’s music’s three chords and the truth ethos…
Yeah, and that’s what I’ve been pushing myself to do, especially lately in my music, is just to tell these honest stories. That’s what I’m finding people, nowadays especially, want to hear. They want to hear honest authentic truth. I know for me, it’s refreshing when I hear an artist sing about something I’ve never heard in music before or if I hear them talk about a song in a way that’s really revealing. I’m always so inspired by that. I’ve been trying to push myself to go there.
It feels like the genre is pushing to change and we’re starting to see that. Are you seeing that in Nashville?
That’s an interesting question. I do think you’re right. I think Nashville is pushing forward and I think a lot of these artists that are pioneers for change, like the Maren Morris’, the Kacey Musgraves, they’re really advocating for many, many different people, which is awesome. I think they may be up against the part of the industry that is holding on to what they think is Country music and what, frankly, is probably making a lot of money in Country music. I don’t want to necessarily want to say the majority, but sometimes it seems like Country music is ruled by Bro Country, or like the really Southern way. I think that Nashville is definitely pushing forward and it’s inspiring to see.
It’s really interesting to find out your perspective as an artist living in Nashville and seeing it first hand…
I’m from Kansas and I went to college in Los Angeles. I lived in L.A. for a little bit after and I moved from L.A. to Nashville right around the time when ‘Dancing in the Living Room’ came out. Everybody was like, ‘oh, my God, what was that move like, to go from such an open, liberal place like L.A. to Nashville? Nashville is pretty progressive. Yes, you have the strip of Broadway where it’s very touristy but in terms of the industry, I would say it’s very progressive and very open. As an artist who’s a part of the LGBTQ community, I’ve experienced nothing but positivity.
I like the irony in Country music that one of the most successful songwriters in the genre is Shane McAnally, an openly gay man. It seems that people either don’t realise that or don’t care because he’s a songwriter rather than performing. Has his success been an inspiration to you?
Oh, my gosh, yes. Shane has been an inspiration for a while. It is very ironic that he’s writing the songs and he’s kind of behind the scenes, in a way. Lately, he’s been getting more of a spotlight, which is amazing that people are getting to see more of his personality and who he is. It’s people like that, that push it forward and that’s inspiring.
The reviews for ‘Mustang’ have been really positive. Are you already thinking about the next project?
Well, my plan this year was to tour with the EP but obviously that’s on hold. As soon as I can get out there and play shows in whatever way possible that is a goal for me because I really am looking forward to connecting with the people who are listening to the music. I’ve been writing a lot during this time and I would say an album is my hope and goal. We’ll see what ends up coming in 2021 but an album album would definitely be the dream.
I’m a champion of the album so I’m glad to hear you’re not just planning on putting singles out moving forward…
We live in this day and age where people have a very short attention span so singles are good in that way. I really was challenging myself to put this project out as an EP, as a collection of songs, even though I’ve released some of them as singles. When I look back on projects I’ve done, it’s so cool to see the EP, or album, as a chapter in my life and be like, ‘Dancing in the Living Room started that and these songs bookended that’. It really represents where I was. I agree an album is a lot better and even as a listener you get to take in the whole project and the artist.
I’m still a physical product buyer. It makes me mad when artists only release albums digitally. I completely understand the reasons for releasing singles and EPs digitally but I want a physical album I can hold in my hands and read the lyrics…
Yes, I feel that. A lot of people actually have been asking me if I’m gonna have vinyl or if I’m gonna have CDs. I think vinyl is super cool and it’s something I would love to do with this EP, or the album in the future. I don’t even know the last time I listened to a CD, which is funny because they’re not that old. I do have a record player now and so I would be so excited to see my music spinning on a record player. That’d be cool.
The artwork for this EP would look great on vinyl too…
Thank you! It’d be pretty cool. We’ll see if I can push towards that. I would love it but I think I have to be able to, to justify it. If enough people are saying it to me, that’s kind of the justification for it.
We’ve touched upon the pandemic but what’s your experience been like these past few months? Have you been able to stay creative and what was it like to release an EP during this time?
I didn’t know if I was gonna release (the EP). I had these songs basically ready at the beginning of the pandemic. It put me into that state of what do I do? I don’t want to waste this song because it means so much to me and I want people to hear it, and I don’t want it to get missed. I did hold on to it for a while. I held on to the EP but I’m really excited that I did decide to release it. Obviously music is being released and I think artists are pushing to get stuff out there. One thing that’s really helped me is not being cooped up in a bigger city. I’m honestly really thankful that I don’t live in L.A. anymore right now, because L.A. is kinda crazy. Nashville is getting back to normal and I’ve been a handful of times over the last couple months.
One of the best things that I chose to do was come to Texas. My family’s here, I’ve been dating somebody new and that has been such a blessing in my life. We’ve been out in the country and that’s a nice breather from everything, especially what’s going on in the world, just to unplug. It’s inspiring for music. I’ve been out on a ranch a lot and that’s super inspiring, and just taking time for myself. Somebody said to me the other day, maybe the pandemic is the universe/the world/God’s way of being like, ‘we’re going to slow things down a little bit because things are getting crazy. People are not taking time for themselves’. I think there’s some truth to that. I know, for me, I was like, go go go all the time. It’s nice to be able to slow down and see my family and have a night on the ranch, and actually enjoy the sunset without checking my phone. I think that has been one of the biggest blessings of all this.
Cameron Hawthorn’s EP ‘Mustang’ is out now. Watch the video for ‘Dancing in the Living Room’ below: