Born in a small town outside of Calgary, pop/country vocalist Sykamore grew up on a cattle ranch surrounded by country music which laid the groundwork for her to start writing her own songs. Soon her songwriting would garner attention in Canada, leading her to be nominated for the Canadian Country Music Association’s (CCMA) coveted Discovery Award in 2015. Her biggest break came when songwriting heavyweight Rhett Akins came across her music on Twitter. He invited her to join the roster of his Home Team Publishing firm in Nashville. In 2020 Sykamore released a five-song EP called “California King,” which she followed up with a string of singles. All of these songs are gathered together on her latest album “Pinto,” spear-headed by two new songs, including the title track, which somehow successfully combines romance and a Ford automobile that was most famous for bursting into flames if involved in a collision.
“I’d heard a little about the reputation this car had back in the 70s,” says Sykamore, who is calling from Nashville, where she has been a resident for close to five years. “What kind of jogged my memory before I wrote the song was coming across a Pinto owner’s manual in an antique shop. I remembered that it was this car that was really messed up, causing engine fires and blowing up. That sparked this inspiration to write a song where the car is kind of a metaphor for young love or first love for somebody. I think a lot of us can relate to the concept of something being really exciting and exhilarating at times, but also the emotions can be really high, and it can be really explosive in that way. That song sort of ended up being the lightning rod and serves as the centrepiece that kind of informs the rest of the album.”
“Pinto” is just one of the car songs on the album. In “Dancing In the Dark,” she finds a little romance on the hood of her boyfriend’s ’98 car that “still plays cassette tapes,” and in “Cheap Thrills,” her beau picks her up in a “Hand-me-down Pontiac.” Driving songs always seem to find their way onto the Top 40 charts, from “Mustang Sally” to “Little Red Corvette” to last year’s smash “Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo. Perhaps Sykamore can add to that list.
“I love ‘Driver’s License,‘” she admits, reacting to the mention of the song. “I was late to it, actually, but it blew up overnight, it seems. I’m not really conscious of the cars in my songs, but I realize there are quite a few references on this album. I guess it all works in the theme, so to speak, but it’s not something I’m super cognizant of in the moment. It’s funny, but years and years ago, the first music video that I ever did for my song ‘Better Half’ featured an old sports car that was almost a character in the video. I may have to figure out a way to get around that because I don’t want people to think I have some sort of a gimmick where I always have to have these vintage cars in my videos.”
The singer’s most recent single, “Just 4 July”, a passionate number about a summer romance, evokes memories of Dido’s plaintive vocal on her hit song “White Flag.” But then Sykamore can turn it around on a dime and become a country crooner, singing about drinking doubles on “Local Singles.” So is she a pop singer with a country twist or a country singer with pop sensibilities?
“I think I’m more the latter,” she says. “I say that because I feel very strongly about the story-telling aspect of songs, and that’s something that country music does so well and is embraced by country audiences. Country was really the first music I heard when I was growing up. My parents were rodeo athletes, and of course, there’s a ton of country music and agricultural culture that you experience going to stuff like that. In a lot of ways, I feel that I’m programmed that way. It doesn’t really matter how pop the song sounds. It’s always going to have the same kind of plot mechanisms, and I accredit that to my country music upbringing.“
“Regarding the pop element, I feel like I get quite a few comparisons to female artists that are really into using their mix and their falsetto because that’s one of my favourite go-to moves,” she continues. “I end up getting a lot of references like Joni Mitchell and Dido. As far as my own influences go, I loved Taylor Swift when she was country, and I love her even more now that she’s pop. Lana Del Ray is also a huge influence of mine.”
Sykamore has a cluster of different co-writers on the album, and they represent some of Nashville’s finest tunesmiths. While several of them are mainstream country veterans, the singer also clicked with some of the non-traditional writers in Music City, including Bobby Campbell.
“Bobby co-wrote ‘Go Easy On Me’ and ‘Out Of Luck,’ and although he lives in Nashville, he’s a keyboard player, and he’s a lot more into getting his music in film and television. We work together really well when we write, and it’s kind of this cool mish-mash of what probably ends up being my influences. When Bobby and I wrote ‘Out Of Luck,’ I had been listening to a lot of Adele, who is kind of the reigning champ of sad songs, and we were talking about this concept that some people subscribe to, that there’s one person out there for everybody. We took it one step further and said, if that’s true, what happens if it wasn’t meant to last and it wasn’t yours forever? Bobby wrote this really sad piano part, and then we dressed it up with some vocoder in the background to do a lot of the background vocal effects. It ended up being very heavy but colourful at the same time.”
If cars are one of Sykamore’s passions on record, another is certainly listening to music. On “Record High,” she sings about laying on a Persian rug with the lights on low and her headphones on high. She proves to have very wide-ranging musical tastes as her playlist in that song includes performers as disparate as Led Zeppelin, Prince and George Strait.
“When we introduce this song on stage, I like to tell people that most musicians or songwriters, before they were any of those things, were just big suckers for music. They were just consumers of music, and that’s definitely the case with me. My parents didn’t have a huge music collection or taste that they were super passionate about passing down to me. That wasn’t such a bad thing because it’s the reason why I have such an eclectic set of influences. I definitely started with country music, but when I was a kid, I realized at some point that the radio had a dial and that you could change it.”
“Stay Broke” features perhaps the cleverest piece of writing on the album as the singer declares, “If I need fixing from your hold on me, I think I’ll stay broke.” The song, similar in lyrical sentiment to “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want To Be Right),” showcases Sykamore’s skills as a songwriter. But perhaps she saves her most powerful words for the last song, “Wallflower,” where she’s waiting for someone to sweep her off her feet on a figurative dance floor.
“I actually was an English literature major in college, so I have an affinity for language and the way something is expressed,” she begins. “Sometimes you can say so much by saying so little. I think it’s a tool that can be very powerful if you use it right so I try to really dig into that side of it.
“I wrote ‘Wallflower’ with Nathan Chapman, who’s a much-decorated producer and is responsible for a lot of early Taylor Swift material. The song ended up being a neat moment that’s really very vulnerable. It’s the other new song, and it was a late addition to the album. I’m glad we put it on at the end because it’s kind of a nice way to bring the curtain down.”
Sykamore will be performing at the CCMA’s in Calgary in September, with more dates hopefully to follow. In the meantime, perhaps she will shoot a video for “Pinto” in which we can watch one of these babies get rammed and explode on the screen.
“I don’t know about that,” she laughs. “Maybe we would just do a nod to it, like a car on fire in the background.”
Other Country stuff:
Prince Edward Island native and current Hamilton resident. Alli Walker is back with a new single called “Red Wine or Whiskey.” The track is the fourth single off her upcoming sophomore album and gives fans a glimpse into the two sides of Alli — her calm, laid-back red wine side and her outgoing whiskey side.
“I love being a homebody, lighting some candles, cooking a nice meal, and pouring a glass of our favourite Cabernet Sauvignon,” she says. “But I also love drinking Jack Daniels and turning up for a night out.”
Staying with the drinking theme, award-winning Canadian country artists Tyler Joe Miller and Matt Lang have teamed up to deliver “Never Met A Beer.” The upbeat, twang-infused, honky-tonk country track is the perfect summer jam to sing and dance along to with your favourite drinking buddy. With tongue-in-cheek lyrics and Tyler Joe and Matt’s southern drawl harmonies blending together seamlessly, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more refreshing duo.
Platinum-selling country music star Jess Moskaluke has just released her new light-hearted official music video for her top-shelf single “Knock Off,” which recently went Top 20 in the Australian country market. A clever play on the song’s title, the video sees Jess kicked out of her own look-alike audition while a bevy of new contenders takes the stage, making their best impressions of the celebrated singer.