Keely Chisholm ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Music Editor
Walk through Faneuil Hall on a weekend and someone might be heard busking near the North Market buildings. Armed with a guitar, a loop station, and a mic stand, it’s Cam Crowley, a 15-year-old musician whose passion is making popular songs his own.
Cam grew up in Dallas, Texas, before moving to Boston three years ago to pursue music. His YouTube channel features his covers of songs by The Weeknd, The 1975, and Shawn Mendes, to name a few. Emertainment Monthly got the chance to sit down with him to chat about his inspirations and aspirations.
Emertainment Monthly: When you were busking, a lot of people went up to you and said you sound very much like Ed Sheeran.
Cam Crowley: Yeah, that’s something I get a lot.
Is he a big influence of yours?
Yeah, I think he was sort of one of the main people that got me into music. He was the first album I ever looked forward to before it came out was one of his, and the way he performs with his loop station is really sort of one of the first things that inspired me to perform how I do. For example, a couple years ago, I would literally just try to learn a song just like how he would play it, and I’d be happy with that. But I’ve been taking more influences now, because I’m kind of not happy that I’m exactly like him and try to get my own identity with it.
Who would you say has been influencing that new identity?
A couple different artists. I’ve been experimenting now with more effects in my performance, and there are a couple guys that I see doing solo acts that I think are really cool. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Jack Garratt, he’s not that big and he’s from Britain, and he’s been doing a lot of interesting stuff. And some people that really aren’t that famous, like Tall Tall Trees. He’s been a really big influence. He’s doing a loop station thing with a banjo and a million different effects, and I saw him live and I’ve met him a couple times. There’s some really cool stuff that has made me want to expand my sort of sound besides just a guitar.
You said you were inspired in the beginning by Ed Sheeran. Was music something that you grew up with in the house or that was around you growing up?
Not really. I’ve been singing as long as I can remember. In fourth grade, that’s when I started taking music lessons with guitar, piano, and voice. I was kind of a jerk when I was a kid, and I’d be like, “I’m going to become famous” — I thought this as a kid — “but I’ve got to learn how to play guitar first. So I made my mom sign me up for guitar lessons. But I wasn’t that into doing lessons at first, but when I moved here, which happened when I was 12, my guitar teacher here was someone who really got me into it and made me actually interested in playing.
Were your parents big music fans? What kind of music did you have playing in the house, if any?
My dad’s really into classic rock, but that’s something that would never really get to me. When i was a kid and I was in elementary school, what I heard all the time was mostly just pop on the radio, like Top 40, and that’s what I was really into up until when I was 12. I’d really only heard pop on the radio but after that I started to get into more things that weren’t as popular. But as a kid it was really just whatever was popular on the radio—people like Katy Perry, Christina Perri, Black Eyed Peas—you know, the classic people from the 2000s.
What are your goals with this? Is music something that you’d want to do professionally or is it just something that you enjoy for now?
If it were possible for me to be able to do this for a long period of time and have that pay my bills and be able to live my life off of that, that’d be something I’d really be happy with. I think the first step of that is to start writing and recording and putting stuff out. I’m doing only covers right now; I haven’t put out anything that I’ve written just because I don’t think it’s good enough yet, but when it’s something I’m really proud of, I’m want to do that.
How have your family and friends been reacting to you doing music?
Especially my mom is pretty supportive of it. They’ve funded me studying it at Berklee College of Music in the summers, which is something I really like doing. And a lot of my friends think it’s cool and they like to hear it, and I’ve made a lot of friends through music also, which is awesome.
Do you do local shows or is it mostly busking at this point?
It’s mostly busking right now, and it’s playing any event I can get to. I’m trying to get in and play coffeeshops right now—that’s sort of the farthest out I can reach at the moment. But I’m hoping to be able to play more places and be able to eventually get to venues.
What’s your process for finding songs that you like to cover?
Usually, it’s not a process, like, “oh, I need to find a song to cover.” It’s usually something that I already like and something I already really like playing. So in terms of what makes me really want to learn a song, it’s a combination of one, do I really like this song, but it’s also when I find a song I want to cover, a lot of it might be because I hear something that I’m like, “oh, I might be able to recreate this in this way with the equipment that I have and do something cool with it.”
What’s your favorite lyric that you’ve heard in pop music that you wish you had written?
That’s something I really have to think about. The thing is, with lyrics with me, I actually tend to favor lyrics that are more straightforward, although I love listening to lyrics that are something you sort of have to figure out and have a deeper meaning and then finally solving the puzzle. That’s a fun feeling. But I really tend to prefer lyrics that you listen to it for the first time and you instantly get the story, you instantly get what’s going on, but not simple enough to where it’s all cliches. So I might not like lyrics that tend to be praised for being artistic, but I like lyrics that are fun, that sound nice. For example, one of the songs that I really like the lyrics to is actually “Don’t” by Ed Sheeran. And where most people would just say “oh, those are regular lyrics,” I really liked the way he told it; I was able to imagine the story. It had this chronological narrative and it’s something I liked for that reason.
So where do you plan to go from here? What are the next steps for you?
I’ll go back to releasing things. For the last year or two, something I’ve been working on especially is performance rather than songwriting or production. That’s something I was really focused on a year or two ago, but when I started getting the loop station and I started experimenting with effects for my guitar and my voice and stuff like that, that’s something I found a passion in and something I wanted to focus on moreso than songwriting. See, I’m jealous of all the people that find songwriting fun and that’s what they really love doing rather than performance, but for me, I’ll get home from school and then I just get the get the guitar and I’ll sing things that I like instead of songwriting. Whereas with songwriting, it’s something I’ll have to sit down, maybe I’ll go “okay, I have to do this.” Or maybe some sort of emotional thing would draw me to it. But the past year with performance, I’ve really been focused on the best way I can sound and the best way I can look when I do it, to the point where I wish I could have written more songs and recorded them, because I know I need to be better at this. Because I want to release a project by the end of the year or something like that, but I’m just worried it won’t be something I’m proud of in a couple of years.
So this is very much just the beginning for you.
Yeah. I’m sort of in a formative process in that sense because if you look at my music a year ago, it was extremely different. I think I’m a better musician and a lot of the techniques, I was really bad at that I’m good at now, but also, my style’s sort of changed. The sound I thought I would eventually have is different from the sound that I’m striving for now, and it’ll probably change a year after that. When I graduate high school, I’ll probably be a very different musician. I’m trying to take in as many influences right now as I can—I’m trying to listen to more music from all different eras. I’m listening to some old stuff, from a couple of decades ago, to new stuff. I’m just trying to hear more things and hopefully create something I like out of that.
Editor’s Note: Since the interview, Crowley has released his first single “Box.”