There’s no right way to start, so just start wherever you are. I used to stress quite a bit when I was just getting my bearings in the industry, that maybe there was something else, something extra, something I hadn’t thought of that would be a better use of my time and give my career the boost it needed. But looking back, I know now that everyone’s journey is different and there is no ‘paint by numbers’ way to become an artist. I didn’t know anybody in my local music scene at first, so I started going to open mic nights. It was free to join, there was no audition to play, and I got to meet other musicians every night. I often found myself wondering if that was enough. But the truth is, that’s all I was capable of anyway. I didn’t have any live chops, and I didn’t have anywhere else to play on a stage in front of people. In hindsight, going to open mics was exactly what I needed. Through playing them, I met people who asked me to open their shows, and I met club owners who would book me for paying gigs, and the web began to weave itself. And none of it would have happened if I held back because I wasn’t sure if it was the ‘right’ thing to do. I just started with what I knew, and I learned from there. That’s all that’s required in the beginning. Just show up!
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sykamore.
Written and recorded in her recently adopted hometown of Nashville, TN, breakout newcomer Sykamore’s upcoming EP represents both a beginning and an end, the culmination of a remarkable international journey and the start of an even more promising artistic one. Sycamore’s songwriting is equal parts country and pop, mixing intimate reflection and empathetic storytelling with instantly memorable hooks and sing-along choruses that capture the emotional rollercoaster of youth and young love. Her arrangements are eclectic and infectious to match, drawing on everything from George Strait to George Michael with performances that practically beg you to hit the highway with the volume up and the windows down. The result is an infectious collection all about honesty and vulnerability, about the strength and freedom we can unlock by embracing our truest selves, delivered by an artist who’s learned everything she knows from a lifetime of listening.
“All those clichés you hear in country songs, I lived them,” says Sykamore, who grew up outside Calgary, Alberta. “My parents met on the rodeo circuit, and I was on a cattle ranch. Country was the music of my people, and that laid the groundwork for me when I started writing my own songs.”
It didn’t take long for those songs to start garnering some serious attention. In 2014, Sykamore won the ATB All-Albertan Song Writing Contest, and the following year, she was nominated for prestigious CCMA Discovery Award. Soon, she had her music featured on national television and was sharing bills with the likes of Miranda Lambert and Josh Ritter. Sykamore’s biggest break, however, didn’t come onstage, but rather online, when songwriting heavyweight Rhett Akins came across her music on Twitter.
“I read her name, I was curious,” Akins said in an interview. “I saw her face, I was intrigued. I heard her voice, I was done.”
At Akins’ invitation, Sykamore joined the roster of Home Team Publishing (which Akins founded along with his son, country star Thomas Rhett, his manager, Virginia Davis, and Roc Nation/Warner Chappell) and relocated to Nashville in 2018. There, she released her first EP, ‘Self + ,’ which garnered more than a million on-demand audio streams and helped land her a spot in CMT’s coveted “Next Women of Country” class for 2020. Helmed by acclaimed producer Michael Knox (Jason Aldean, Kelly Clarkson), Sykamore’s new EP marks her first release for Music Knox Records/Wheelhouse Records and previews a forthcoming full-length debut.
Thank you so much for joining us Sykamore! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My pleasure! Well, I’ve always been a voracious consumer of music, and it’s always meant a lot to me, even when I was really young. But I was also a really shy, insecure kid growing up. I liked to sing, and I had some original songs hidden away, but I wasn’t very keen on sharing anything. So I had my dream of becoming a singer, but I kept it really quiet until I was about 18. Thankfully, around that age, I made some friends who were musicians, and they were really great about encouraging me to sing and write with them, and before I knew it, I was in a band with my friends, playing in bars and building up my confidence. It wasn’t long after that I started writing songs for myself and laying the foundation for my solo project Sycamore.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
The most interesting story I have is honestly the story of how I moved from rural Canada to Nashville. I had only been doing my solo project for about two years, and was doing my best to network in the Canadian country scene. My ultimate goal was to move to Nashville and work out of the US, but I didn’t have enough connections yet to make that jump. I had just been introduced to Thomas Rhett’s music, and I was really impressed by him. I decided to follow him on Twitter, which caused the algorithm to suggest ‘similar’ people follow as well. One of the names that popped up was Rhett Akins, who, unbeknownst to me, was Thomas Rhett’s dad. For whatever reason, I clicked ‘follow’ on Rhett, despite only really remembering that one song he wrote about a truck, back in the ’90s.
A few hours after that, I saw that not only had Rhett followed me back, but he had sent me a private message. He told me he had visited my YouTube channel and listened to my songs, and he liked my material. He said, “I’m not sure what you have going on in Canada, but if you’d like to come to Nashville sometime, I really want to help.”
A few months later I was sitting in Rhett’s house, and we were talking about ways that he could be involved in my career. A year and a bit later, he had signed me to a publishing deal, and I moved from Alberta Canada to Music City. It still blows my mind that I found my ticket to Nashville in my Twitter DM’s! Never thought in a million years it would go down like that.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I used to have a little residency gig at an Italian restaurant — it was fun and easy, I would come down and play acoustic dinner music for a few sets, and they would pay me some money and give me great pasta. One of my first times playing there, I was in the middle of a song and knocked a bottle of wine off its display mount on the wall. It shattered, and chianti was leaking everywhere. It looked like a crime scene. I had to stop the song so they could come over and mop it up.
I guess the lesson there is, be aware of your surroundings! You never know when a bottle of red might try and ruin your life.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Well I just released an EP of five songs that I’m really excited about, called “California King.” It’s a small part of an album I’ve been working on for about two years, so I’m anxious to get the whole thing out to the people. The EP is the perfect introduction to the new music, so I’m hoping people get as excited as me to hear the whole thing!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
A few years ago I met Gwen Stefani backstage at a Blake Shelton concert. I was starstruck, obviously! But I tried to play it really cool and I actually wound up talking to her for a few minutes about the music industry, which kind of blew my mind because I figured she’d just say hi and move on to more important things. Anyways, I thought I did a pretty good job seeming normal and not fan-girly, until it was over and I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror — I realized I had completely broken out in hives, all over my chest and neck. It was a great day to be wearing a deep V top.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I’ll say, first of all, this is different for everybody so I guess it boils down to knowing your limits — but I find I can only write songs 2–3 days a week, at most. If I try to do more than that, I find the work suffers. I’d say the best way to thrive is to be aware of yourself and know the most efficient way to accomplish your goals. One of my favorite phrases is “work smarter, not harder.” If you’re writing two songs a day, five days a week, and they’re all garbage, you’re wasting that time. Reduce your time writing so you have your creative stores built up and you have more to give in those situations — while spending your ‘not writing’ time doing whatever else you need to get done. It could be working out, answering emails, recording demos, meeting with staff, anything.
Something else I like to emphasize with other creatives is to try to create SOME semblance of routine in your life. Since songwriters’ and artists’ lives are seldom the same on a day to day basis, I find it grounds me to look forward to a few things every day that I get to do. I try to always find a good cup of coffee every morning, and I try to spend an hour or so at the start of the day to just listen to music and scroll through my phone and be relaxed before I go into whatever I need to accomplish that day. Funny enough, when my manager and I first started working together he would always try to call me in the mornings, and I ended up having to tell him that he can’t call me during my ‘time’ because I have to be prepared for the day before it happens to me, otherwise I am frazzled the whole day.
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.
Sleep is so often overlooked in our society but it’s very important! A good night’s sleep changes so much for me so I try to get in at least 7 hours. It stabilizes my focus, my productivity, and my mood during the day when I have a few solid hours of sleep. If I can help it, I like to diffuse essential oils while I sleep — like lemon or lavender. That’s not for everybody, but it definitely helps me get some rest.
I also take skincare pretty seriously. My skin is prone to eczema, so I am a huge advocate for a moisturizer that contains oatmeal, for its soothing, anti-inflammatory properties. I also have a daytime serum that I apply after I wash my face in the morning, and a night time serum for after I’ve removed makeup, etc. Also, I love to use coconut oil as a natural makeup remover as well as a moisturizer. Lots of great things in coconut oil.
For mental clarity, I like to do cardio. I always feel 10x better after I’ve had a decent sweat session.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1] There’s no right way to start, so just start wherever you are.
I used to stress quite a bit when I was just getting my bearings in the industry, that maybe there was something else, something extra, something I hadn’t thought of that would be a better use of my time and give my career the boost it needed. But looking back, I know now that everyone’s journey is different and there is no ‘paint by numbers’ way to become an artist. I didn’t know anybody in my local music scene at first, so I started going to open mic nights. It was free to join, there was no audition to play, and I got to meet other musicians every night. I often found myself wondering if that was enough. But the truth is, that’s all I was capable of anyway. I didn’t have any live chops, and I didn’t have anywhere else to play on a stage in front of people. In hindsight, going to open mics was exactly what I needed. Through playing them, I met people who asked me to open their shows, and I met club owners who would book me for paying gigs, and the web began to weave itself. And none of it would have happened if I held back because I wasn’t sure if it was the ‘right’ thing to do. I just started with what I knew, and I learned from there. That’s all that’s required in the beginning. Just show up!
2] People are always going to tell you their opinion on what you should do with your career. Whether they’re credible or not. It doesn’t mean anything. Total strangers will come up to you at a gig and say, you should play THIS song as a cover! Or, you should go to The Voice! Or, you should dress differently! This used to happen to me a lot, and it still happens from time to time. People think they know you, they think they get your brand, and they’ll project whatever they want to see onto you. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong — you don’t have to heed their advice even for a second. The only peoples’ opinions you should care about are your own, and those in your trusted circle. Strangers are always gonna say something — just filter it out. It means nothing.
3] If something goes wrong during a live show — always laugh. Even if you’re mad about it. I’ve been in situations on stage when there’s been an issue with the sound, or a guitar falls off the stand, or someone starts in the wrong key, or the track isn’t synced. Those things are all frustrating, but if you let it get to you in the middle of your show, two things are gonna happen: you’re gonna get flustered and probably make additional mistakes, and your audience is going to walk away with a memory of you being upset and frazzled, instead of a memory of a cool artist who had a tough break on stage that day. You only have an hour or so to make an impression on your audience, so you don’t want to turn them off by appearing angry and unfriendly. Not long ago I was playing an acoustic show and mid-song, my guitar strap disconnected from my guitar. I felt it pull away, and I had to stop the song in order to catch my guitar before it crashed to the ground. I definitely had a fleeting moment where I was mad at myself for not double checking my strap, but I was honest with the crowd and told them my strap had just come off, and we all had a laugh about it. I fixed it and moved on with the set, and the moment passed like nothing had happened. If you can shake it off, the crowd will too.
4] You are not in a race with your peers. This is something I used to believe when I was first starting out. I would get anxious or upset when I saw someone else on the same ‘level’ as me, receive a really great opportunity. I would think, am I falling behind? I don’t have as many Instagram followers as they do, I don’t have a record deal, I’ve never had a song on the radio, does that mean I’m not working as hard? The truth is, we’re all in our own little orbit. I heard a great quote the other day about popcorn — the kernels are all poured into the pot at the same time, held over the same heat, and they still all pop at different rates. We are all individual kernels, and we will pop when the time is right for us. Don’t worry if someone has popped and you haven’t yet. It’s coming.
5] If you’re on a heavy tour schedule, or a long press junket where you’re speaking a lot, do the 60–10 rule. For every hour that you speak, spend ten minutes resting your voice. Giving your voice rest is as important as giving your body rest, especially if you’re on a demanding schedule. I’ve had to cancel a show or two in my life because I thought I could push through and yell in a crowded bar after singing for an hour at night; it’s just not worth it. The more you try and push your voice beyond its limits, the longer you will have to rest it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite movie is David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” based on the short story by F.Scott Fitzgerald. It’s about a man who is born old and ages backward. In the film adaptation, the main character narrates the story of his life from a memoir he’s written, addressed to his estranged daughter. Having lived a very unique and full life, one of his last passages he writes has always stuck with me and has become something of my life’s motto: “For what it’s worth, it’s never too late, or in my case, too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change, or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. You can make the best or the worst of it — I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. And if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” I love the sentiment of this quote — how it encourages to live authentically, to care only about things that really matter, and hold yourself to a gold standard that you’ve created, with integrity and passion. It’s how I strive to live my life and the legacy I hope to leave behind.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Someone I am eternally thankful for is a guy named Neil, who was the first to take me under his wing in the music industry and show me how everything really works. I was very green as a performer and a songwriter, but he always believed in me, and above everything, encouraged me to just be myself — to never change for people who told me to change. It’s been a long time since we’ve worked together but I still send him demos and whenever I go back to Canada, we try to grab a coffee and catch up. He was the first person to really have confidence in me as a songwriter, even back when I was waiting tables and still in school. I’ll always be grateful for him and the time he spent teaching me.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’ve heard of these really awesome restaurants and kitchens that have the option to pay not only for your food, but if you can spare it, purchase a future meal for someone who can’t afford it. I thought it would be really cool to apply that to therapists’ offices. To have a fund in place for people who are in need of grief counselling or CBT but unable to pay for it. I think having someone to talk to and give you the tools to manage stress and anxiety is such an amazing resource and I wish everyone had easy access to it.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Ever since I read his autobiography “Open,” I’ve been a huge fan of Andre Agassi. I don’t know that much about tennis, but I’d love to chat with him about his experiences and how he’s learned to deal with ‘image’ vs reality. His life is very inspiring to me.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!
Thank you! These were great questions! I really appreciate it!