Historically, the relationship between country music and LGBT+ rights has been… well, “rocky,” to say the least. While there are certain highlights — like Ty Herndon and Lil Nas X — the industry as a whole can still be labeled as “lukewarm” towards the issue. There are LGBT+ Americans of all creeds and backgrounds across the nation, many of whom are already country music fans. Many more are future fans, just waiting for the right song to introduce them to the genre. While the industry is slowly waking up to that fact, many artists within the industry are already ahead of the game. One such artist is Cameron Hawthorn.
A member of the LGBT+ community himself, Hawthorn represents an exciting new future for country music. With certain doors already opened for him, Hawthorn is able to candidly address his own identity and openly convey it through his songcraft.
His latest effort, Mustang, is a five-track release that marks a new chapter in Hawthorn’s life: being 100% true to himself. Showcasing his love of both old and new country artists, the EP draws inspiration from the likes of Johnny Cash, The Everly Brothers, Dwight Yoakam and Eric Church.
He gave a great track-by-track for the release to the readers of American Songwriter. Check it out below. If you dig his tunes, get it on your favorite digital service.
Mustang (Cameron Hawthorn, Jeff Laliberte, Paul Laliberte, Shelby Archer)
Sometimes a concept comes to me and I’m not even sure what it means until after I start writing the song. It can even be as basic as one word. The idea of a “mustang” had been whispering to me to write a story. I started learning about mustangs and read that while most people think they’re merely wild horses, they’re actually descendants of once-domesticated horses. I’ve been drawn to horses since I was a kid and this idea that domesticated horses transformed into mustangs fascinated me. Because for the first time in my life, I too, feel like I’m finally free. To write about what I want, to sing about what I want, and most importantly, be who I want to be.
I can remember sitting in my bedroom and starting to write the chorus. The lyrics immediately came out sexual. “Cameron, what are you doing? You can’t write about that” was the voice in my head, used to filtering. But I leaned into it. I felt like a “teenager” – or what would have been my teen years if I was truly able to act on my deepest desires.
This song represents such an important “ah-ha” moment in my life, where I decided to set off on a new journey for honesty and authenticity, which meant being honest about what I wanted deep down: a man’s touch, holding him and squeezing our arms around each other, kissing him, loving him.
“Mustang” later became the title for the EP because I feel like each one of these songs comes back to my journey and how happy I am to be where I’m at now in life.
Oh Hot Damn! (Cameron Hawthorn, Jeff Laliberte, Paul Laliberte, Shelby Archer)
Oh. Hot Damn. Those were the words I said out loud after an escapade with an old flame. Meeting up with him again had been long-awaited, and there was no doubt that sparks flew any time we were around each other. As I lay in bed that night, I couldn’t fall asleep. This can often be the magic time for me for song ideas and lyrics and that night was no exception. I started jotting ideas down on my phone that would eventually build the verses.
The next day I was headed into the studio. I had just released “Dancing in the Living Room” and was on a high from the freedom I felt from being fully known as an artist. I knew I wanted to write more from that place of freedom and also challenge myself to co-write in this new state of mind.
Prior to “Dancing in the Living Room”, I used to get really nervous going into co-writes or working with producers because I felt like I couldn’t be my authentic self. When I met Jeff, Paul, and Shelby (known as The Fund) in their Los Angeles studio, I knew it would be a safe place for me to be vulnerable. We had plans to work with one of my song ideas that was more of a mid-tempo song. But I couldn’t get the steamy night before out of my mind – “Oh Hot Damn!” was clearly yearning and burning to be written. There was something exciting and freeing about exploring my sexuality in songwriting, and I’m thankful that The Fund boys were on board. I remember Jeff saying, “if this is fresh on your mind, we have to do it.”
My favorite part about this song is that there are a lot of little gems hidden with the lyrics with much more meaning than on the surface. It’s kind of like my own little secrets within the song.
Dancing in the Living Room (Cameron Hawthorn)
It was early 2017, and I was sitting in my room of my apartment in Sherman Oaks, California with my guitar, playing around with melodies and sifting through song ideas. I had just gotten back from one of my Nashville trips that I had been going on a few times a year since 2010. Music had looked different for me over those years, but I felt like I was finally at home writing country music. It was as if the 90’s country songs and the classics I used to hear blaring from the old stereo on my Mamma and Pappa’s back porch in Oklahoma had been foreshadowing where I would eventually be all along.
I was proud of the songs I had written thus far on my journey, but I had a couple close industry friends challenge me: “These are good and fun songs, but who is Cameron Hawthorn? What’s the story you want to tell?”
I knew if I was being honest, there was one part about myself that I was holding back from the music. The wrecking ball that I wasn’t sure I was ready for or if I ever would be. I rarely wrote songs about romantic love – I knew they would sound a little different from what other men on country radio were singing about. But that day in my Sherman Oaks apartment, I thought “to hell with it” and wrote from the heart about dancing in the living room with the one I loved. I dreamt about what a music video would look like with different types of couples and how I would put myself into the video at the very end and dance with my partner.
I held onto the song for nearly a year before I decided to record it and then another year before I shot the video and released them both. That whole time I was wrestling with the fear of what others would think of me. I was out to my family and friends, but making the decision to put myself out there as an artist was almost scarier.
When I realized I couldn’t waste my life worrying about what others thought of me, I found freedom. It’s still something I have to work on daily though. Having received the most heartwarming, encouraging messages after putting “Dancing in the Living Room” out into the world is the icing on the cake, and I am beyond grateful. Someone recently told me they consider it a piece of the soundtrack to their own coming out story. That’s such a gift for me to hear that, and it’s affirmation for me that I’m on the right path, writing and singing my truth.
To Break Hers (Cameron Hawthorn, Lena Stone)
Her eyes. I’ll never forget her eyes.
I shot a music video a long time ago during my “straight” days and decided at the time it would be a good idea to put my girlfriend in the video. In hindsight, maybe not such a good idea. But I went back and watched that video recently. There’s a close up shot of her beautiful blue eyes. It’s the image of her eyes longing for a love I couldn’t give her that has been forever branded in my mind since the day I broke her heart. Because I’m the one who brought tears to those eyes. Uncontrollable tears.
The relationship wasn’t a lie. I dated a few girls before coming out and none of those relationships were a lie. They were very much real and there were true feelings and even an attraction I had. But deep, deep down – and I’m talking deep, like in Denial Land – there was a desire for something else.
I needed to write this song as a form of an apology for stringing her along. An apology to her and to myself. Yes, it was a part of the journey for both of us, and I’ll never regret dating women because I believe everything unfolds the way it’s supposed to in life. But there could have been so much heartbreak spared on both sides if I would have had the courage to be honest sooner.
I wrote this song not just because of my story but because of the countless other stories I know of from people who are in relationships they don’t want to be in. Whether you’re straight, gay, somewhere in between, or in the closet in some way, I think we all owe it to ourselves to take a look in the mirror and ask if we’re really, truly happy, despite what may be expected of us from family, friends, religion, society…
The silver lining of this song is that I did have the courage to eventually end the relationship and live my truth. And I know that she’s now in a place in her life where she’s happy as well. But every time I sit down at the piano to play this song, I can’t help but think about her eyes.
Boys (Cameron Hawthorn, Tim Jones, Leroy Powell)
I lived in LA for 5 years after going to college at USC. If Kansas is what built me and where I get my roots in who I am at the core, then LA is what gave me my backbone to stand tall and proud as I discovered more about myself.
The friends I had who were by my side during the happy times and the difficult times in LA were the glue that held me together. This song is a shoutout to them and our unforgettable nights of singing, dancing, and laughing. The weekend before I moved to Nashville, I went out one last time with my boys in LA, and I thought about that night when writing this song.
There’s even a shoutout in the song to the girls in my life who are just as special to me. I get a chuckle every time I hear the “ladies” line because I think about one of my girl friends who dressed up as Dolly Parton for Halloween one year when we paraded around West Hollywood.
This song is also a shoutout to the boys who have played music with me on stage over the years. I’ve played with different bands from LA to Nashville, and all of these guys have been incredible musicians who I have had the privilege of getting to know. I’m looking forward to being on stage with the boys in the band (and would love to add some girls as well) again as soon as possible.