Alberta-born, Nashville-based country artist Sykamore stays true to herself on new EP

‘The more worthwhile journey is to figure out what makes you different and lean into that’

Article content

It seems strange to think of Alberta-born country artist Sykamore as a savvy veteran ready to dole out advice to young singers.

Born Jordan Ostrom and raised on a farm outside of Carseland, Sykamore still seems relatively young. So it’s easy to forget she has been playing music since her college days in Calgary and has lived in Nashville full-time since 2017. As a newcomer to Music City, she went through various rites of passage. Like a number of Canuck expats, she initially lived in the coach house of fellow Canadian songwriter Carolyn Dawn Johnson. In 2020, Sykamore debuted at the iconic Bluebird Cafe, a historic spot for up-and-coming singer-songwriters. It was already a daunting experience, made more so because it was a few days after a deadly tornado ripped through Nashville and wiped out the power in Sykamore’s condo for days.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

Since going to Nashville, she also spent time working in the multi-cogged, star-making machinery of mainstream country, originally coming to town at the behest of singer-songwriter Rhett Atkins who discovered her on Twitter. This led to both a deal with Home Team Publishing, a company Atkins started with his country superstar son Thomas Rhett, and one with Music Knox Records, an affiliate of Broken Bow Records that fell under the massive umbrella of BMG. Her EP, California King, was released on that label in 2020, but she returned to being an indie artist for her first full-length album, Pinto, which came out in 2022 and, so far, has amassed 10 million streams. So Sykamore’s experiences navigating the vagaries of mainstream country make her more than qualified to offer advice to fledgling young singers hoping to make their mark. Her first tidbit is a tried-but-true one.

“It’s advice I had to give myself over the years,” she says, in an interview with Postmedia. “As tempting as it is to conform to what you have seen someone else do that is already working, I think the more worthwhile journey is to figure out what makes you different and lean into that. The most valuable thing you have to offer as an artist is who you are instead of just becoming a pale imitation of somebody else. I think maybe I unconsciously fell into that at different times in my career. It’s just a more worthwhile journey or struggle to be frank with yourself.”

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

It is presumably part of what continues to guide Sykamore, who released her new four-song EP, Through the Static, to streaming services on Friday. The album doesn’t stray too far from what would comfortably fit on country radio, offering a well-crafted mix of country twang and pop on songs that explore various matters of the heart. Produced by Bobby Campbell, who Sykamore met when they both wrote for Home Team Publishing, the album mixes country-pop gems such as opener Emotional, a bittersweet tale of infatuation, and the sweet ’80s-pop number More Where That Came From, with more straight-ahead country ballads such as Highway Towns, a song about loneliness that turns the small-town worship of modern-country radio on its head by referring to towns that are “just built for passing through.”

“I don’t shy away from pop sounds in my music,” she says. “I think that I keep one foot in both worlds and that helps me stay creative and not feel locked into any kind of genre or box. I feel like every time I work, I’m a little more comfortable with how I would like to voice things. I have less pretence around what I’m writing. I think it does reflect in the music that I’m a little more confident in the decisions I’m making and in my relying on what I think is going to invoke a response; it’s a little more about trying to write music that I like and that is authentic to me. I just find that the audience always responds really well when you write your truths and write what you’re passionate about.”

Advertisement 4

Article content

As for her stint on Music Knox Records — Sykamore was the first artist to sign with the then-new label — Sykamore says she never felt pressured to alter the music she wanted to make, even if she was recording for an affiliate of BMG.

“I don’t feel like I felt any pressure back when my team was structured differently,” she says. “I think it has more to do with becoming more familiar with myself and my branding and my messaging and what I want to say. I think if there was any pressure, it was me putting it on myself.”

Sykamore went to high school in Strathmore before attending Ambrose University in Calgary, where she began a general bachelor’s degree heavy on music and English classes while attending open-mic nights at the Ironwood Stage and Grill, Cafe Koi, Sam’s in Kensington, the Atlantic Trap and Gill and The Ship and Anchor while making occasional trips out to venues in Bragg Creek and other areas.

Through the Static takes its name from a lyric in Highway Towns about a Sunday sermon flickering in and out on the car radio through the static.

“It’s from my experience of driving through all these different towns … as a touring musician,” she says. “It predated listening to music on your phone. If you’re driving long enough you start losing reception. You find a good radio station and it fades away the farther away you get from it. I have a lot of memories flipping through the channels trying to find something to listen to. I found there was always a faded, crackling sermon on some AM station.

“I feel like it doesn’t matter where I go in the world, I can find something like that. That explains the lyric but when I started thinking about these songs, I liked the idea that they inspired me enough to break through the static of my brain and all the white noise going on enough to inspire me to write a song about these poignant feelings. These are the songs that broke through the music of my brain.”

Through the Static is on all streaming services on March 29.

Article content