Originally discovered by Rhett Akins and now releasing music through Music Knox Records, the Carseland, Alberta native Sykamore is an artist that we have very recently started to listen to and become instant fans of. I first came across her when building some pieces on some other female artists that were named by CMT in 2020 as part of one of their biggest and strongest Next Women of Country classes which she was a part of and was one of the few that I hadn’t really encountered before but after listening, I really understood how much I had been missing out. Heading into 2022, things are looking as exciting for Sykamore as they are for her beloved Calgary Flames with her brand new single “Dancing In The Dark” arriving on May 6th. She was kind enough to offer me some virtual company ahead of the release for us to get to know more about her and what else 2022 has in store.
After we had talked about all the random craziness of playing Jumanji for the last two years (at the time we spoke I was still positive after catching Covid), both being from countries that put the “u” in words like colour and honour, how Starbucks tastes different here (always great to chat to people that are on brand with me and have an appreciation of my favourite Seattle based coffee chain) and how she has visited both Ireland and Scotland yet her extent of taking in English culture is limited to Heathrow airport (BUT she is very keen to change that and get over here and play) we touched on how I first discovered her music then dived in with the question that she pretty much will get asked by everyone who speaks to her for the first time. It may come as no surprise to hear that Sykamore is not the name that was given to her by her parents nor is it what you see on her Starbucks order, but where exactly did it come from? “Back in Canada, I had been in a few bands before and at the time I was thinking about going solo, I was kind of a little bit obsessed with artists that had names like that. I feel like it was the time about ten years ago when artists like Bon Iver were coming out and everybody had an interesting music alter ego, so I thought I think I want to do that for going solo. I thought if I was picking a name for myself it should probably be somehow reminiscent of music and reflective of the material. The words that started coming to mind were things like evergreen or rootsy or organic and it all felt very earthy, so I thought maybe there was a tree that could capture all of that in one name. To be honest, I didn’t really have to think about it too much as Sykamore kind of just came to me, I liked Paramore and Macklemore but of course the tree is spelt with a c instead of a k so it’s a little bit different. I did that on purpose because I didn’t want people to google Sycamore and just get pictures of trees coming up, so I changed the c to a k, and it’s done me some favours to be honest. The name is sort of what got my publishing deal rolling, I actually write for Rhett Akins who is Thomas Rhett’s dad, and he likes to tell the story of how we kind of met on Twitter and the reason he gave me a chance way back in the day was because the name Sykamore was a little bit eye catching so it’s done me some favours and I can’t say I regret it at this point.”
She mentioned Rhett Atkins, who is the guy that ultimately gave her a shot in Nashville and allowed her to move south of the border as this relationship was formed whilst she was still living in Canada. “I was still definitely living in Alberta with my big brother. The plan was to get a publishing deal and I really wanted one, I’d been down a couple of times with my manager at the time and we were shopping for a deal. Right around then the Canadian Country Music awards had just happened on the east coast of Canada and I had attended that where Thomas Rhett was popping off and I think “Die a Happy Man” had just come out which was really popular. He was playing the televised show and before that he was still pretty new, and I hadn’t heard that much of him so when I came home from the CCMA’s I thought dang, that Thomas Rhett is pretty good, and I followed him on Twitter then tagged him in all the socials. Twitter likes to suggest similar people to follow and tells you that you follow Thomas Rhett so you may like Rhett Akins. At the time I really didn’t understand the relation or know that they were father and son then to tell you the truth at the time I don’t know why but thought what the heck, I’ll follow this guy too. That sort of notified Rhett on his end and he tells the story of how he saw this name Sykamore, got kind of curious and clicked on the link then went to my YouTube channel and listened to some of my older music which I may have been a little embarrassed of haha. Then he private messaged me on Twitter saying he listened to my stuff, was a fan and didn’t know what I was up to in Canada but if I ever made it down to Nashville, we should get together and maybe talk about your career and see what I can do for you. I wasn’t sure if it was catfishing or if it was real, but we had a trip to Nashville planned anyway and went down about a month later where I was sitting in his house and talking to him. We kind of kept doing that for about a year or so and he was starting a publishing company at the same time and said I don’t know why you are still shopping for a deal when I can just sign you to my publishing company. He put down an offer and we got that ball rolling which is basically why I’m able to legally work in Nashville because I needed a work visa and all that stuff, which is how I got here!”
She grew up rurally on a farm about sixty-five kilometres out of Calgary, where she later moved for college and lived for six years before moving to Nashville. I have very strong personal connections to Calgary, and we talked about the city and its cleanliness before we realised that we were both big on winter sports as she snowboards, and I ski so we geeked out a bit about resorts like Banff and how we both really wanted to make it to places in Utah and Colorado to hit those runs down in the States. We eventually came back to music and I brought up about how there is currently a real emerge of Canadian artists and women in particular that are making waves in town right now and how people like Madison Kozak, Tenille Townes, Lindsay Ell and Tenille Arts are having that transfer over here too. I explored what is the draw to come down and make music specifically in Nashville rather than the Canadian scene itself? Her response was natural in saying that you want to walk the same path as the people that you are listening to and are inspired by then as a songwriter you want to head to where the best songs in the world are being written to get in the room with those writers. Sykamore acknowledged Taylor Swift being a particular catalyst for sparking a movement amongst young, female songwriters and we all know that she is now the biggest star in all music right now, but Taylor’s path was forged through Music City so lead the way and are the footsteps that people want to follow.
The fact that she had mentioned Taylor gave me a very organic transition into talking about the last single that she released as “Go Easy On Me” was a song that she had written with Liz Rose, who in addition to be renowned as a member of The Love Junkies and has a truly iconic back catalogue of songs, she was instrumental in the songwriting on the first two Taylor Swift records, so to work with her was a really cool experience for Sykamore. “It was really amazing. When I first got to town, someone told me to make a list of all the heavyweight writers that I wanted to write with, and she was probably at the top. You have writers that you want to work with that are truly great and you have writers that you think you also might have chemistry with. I always had a hunch that Liz and I would write well together because her bread and butter is this authenticity. That’s what I love to infuse into my lyrics, it’s always inspired by my life and feel like it needs to be authentic, not necessarily show the ugly side but show the real side of a lot of human emotion. I brought the title “Go Easy On Me” into her and said what if this is from the perspective of someone who is not the first person to move on after the breakup and is not straight up ready to face the reality of the person moving on. They are asking this person, their ex to lie to them or conceal the fact that they have moved on. I feel like it’s not really an emotion that people say that they have but also feel like it’s something that we’ve all experienced so I brought that to her intentionally because I knew Liz would be able to bridge the gap between maybe complicated, messy emotions and the beauty in expressing that. I love what we came up with and I’m so glad that she was part of it.”
This song was released a year ago and there has been a large gap for new music to be on the way which she acknowledged the pandemic played a part in but: “Basically, our plan was to do what we are doing in April and I’m not going to give too much away but this was kind of the beginning of a rollout you know. We wanted to have a pretty big ramp to run up and 2021 just didn’t seem timing wise and Covid wise like it was going to give us that ramp, so we just decided to wait. I’m really excited to get back on it, for sure.”
The rollout as she put it, begins on May 6th with a track called “Dancing In The Dark” which you can tell is a song that she is really excited about (and rightfully so because it has such a cool vibe) as she described the writing process “I wrote it with a songwriter called Ben Johnson. It’s fun when you have two young writers where it’s kind of level playing field and nobody is trying to impress each other, especially with Ben who is just out to create something that sounds cool and it’s just our opinions that matter in the room which is such a great way to create. It’s how much inspiration and how much magic that you can stir up in the moment, so it’s really fun to write with Ben for that reason and with writers of your own age, it’s just about the art and getting hyped on it. Honestly, we wrote it a couple of years ago, maybe in 2019 and I want to say like Halloween for some reason. We were both sort of vibing in the pop lane at the moment, we were both sort of thinking about The Chainsmokers, Jon Bellion and we really just wanted to capture those infectious melodies. I think the first thing that we really nailed down was that Daaaaaaancing in the Dark hook and that was the centrepiece that we built everything around that, and it was a really fun way to write because it doesn’t necessarily roll out that way, but it turned out super fun.” From the lyric videos that I have included in this piece, you pick up a lot of Dua Lipa vibes with the styling and aesthetic and that sort of retro yet completely up to date feel comes across in Sykamore’s music. The other artist that I really could sense as potential influence was Lana Del Rey in both melodic and lyrical perspectives, but she is able to develop this into her own brand of pop-country. “Thank you. I love Dua Lipa, and Lana Del Rey is a huge influence on me personally and I think musically. I feel like when you’re letting yourself shine through, your influences will come out. Not in the ways where you are being a copycat, but your output is the same as your input in a lot of ways so, I’m happy to hear that those influences that I’m proud to listen to are coming out in the music that you hear coming from me. To me that means there is affirmation that my brain shines through because that is what has influenced me and that’s super great.”
Like most Canadians, hockey is also a huge thing for her, and I applauded her on the fact that after moving to Nashville, she hadn’t completely sold out and defected to the Predators as right now things are looking really good for the Calgary Flames. “I will say that Preds games are really fun and as a franchise I root for them, but they would NEVER replace where the Flames live in my heart. I’m happy to go to a Preds game at any point and I think they are a decent team, but they are kind of my solid second, but they could never overtake where Calgary is as I think my dad would kill me!” Our chat started talking about coffee, so it felt very fitting after talking all about Sykamore, to end by finding out exactly what Starbucks are filling the cups with that have Jordan written on the side? “I have two. When the weather gets hotter, I start getting iced vanilla latte’s and, in the winter, I get a grande latte with a shot of white mocha and a shot of cinnamon dolce, Some people call that a Snickerdoodle latte, but it’s not well known enough for me to just say it, so I usually just say it like that. It’s not too sweet, that’s the thing with flavoured latte’s and especially with hot drinks where there is no ice to water it down, they are just overly sweet but if I just get one pump of each, you can taste it but it’s not overtaking the espresso. I’ve been perfecting it for years, so I recommend you try it as it’s really good!”
I need to work on how to try to recreate the Snickerdoodle here as in the UK, Starbucks only do white mocha as a drizzle, not a syrup but it definitely sounds so good, and fingers crossed I can get it sussed out in the hope that at some point she heading over to visit as she is definitely an artist that fans on this side of the pond will very quickly become big fans of! The new single “Dancing In The Dark” from Sykamore will be released on May 6th which you will be able to find on SPOTIFYAPPLE MUSIC & AMAZON MUSIC.
You will be able to find more information and future tour dates on her WEBITE and keep up to date with her socially through TWITTERINSTAGRAMFACEBOOK.
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks