Singer/songwriter Colbie Caillat speaks to Atwood Magazine from her home in Nashville about ‘Along the Way,’ her first album in seven years, her songwriting process, and why it’s important to know who you are as an artist.
Stream: ‘Along the Way’ – Colbie Caillat
There’s just such a good community here [in Nashville] and because it’s so much smaller than LA, you run into your friends everywhere you go and there’s so much fun stuff to do. I feel like I live life more here.
Colbie Caillat was brought up in California with her sister Morgan and her parents, Ken and Diane Caillat. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it is: Ken Caillat produced Fleetwood Mac’s most award-winning and critically acclaimed song, “Dreams.”
When young Caillat decided to pursue a career in music, her dad said she needed to learn an instrument, take vocal lessons, and practice her craft of songwriting, all of which culminated in her critically acclaimed 2007 debut, Coco. Caillat continued this with 2009’s Grammy-nominated sophomore record Breakthrough, All Of You, Gypsy Heart, Malibu Sessions – and now her first album in seven years, Along the Way, produced with Jamie Kenny.
Caillat also found time to collaborate with Jason Mraz on the global smash “Lucky” and with Taylor Swift on “Breathe,” from Swift’s sophomore and record-breaking album, Fearless (both the original and “Taylor’s Version”), as well as starting country band Gone West with her then-partner, Justin Young, and friends Jason Reeves and Nelly Joy.
Atwood Magazine met Caillat at her home in Nashville over Zoom. The scene was pristine, with large open windows and the end of summer drifting in. We compared the weather in the UK (torrential rain and oppressive cloud cover) to the weather in Nashville (sunshine and trees starting to turn).
Caillat’s music was first given to me by a friend 16 years ago when I had my first job. Coco was such a breath of a fresh air at the time among the waves of very polished pop stars. The record appealed to my wistful nature as a then-20-year-old starting adulthood.
Along the Way, Caillat’s first album in 7 years, has been marketed as Caillat’s first foray into country music, but if you’ve listened to Caillat’s musical output over the last 15 years, you’ll hear a natural progression that is anything but forced. Her music has always had a rootsy, Laurel Canyon, relaxed singer/songwriter vibe, and this album is no different. Where it has shifted however, is in Caillat’s songwriting itself. There’s more grey on this album. Caillat brings a different, perhaps older perspective when sifting through her own love and heartbreak than she did when released Coco. Along the Way is the perfect soundtrack to finding love and yourself in your 30s.
“I haven’t released a solo album for like seven years, maybe more, and when writing songs, you write about what you’re going through in life,” she says. “It’s just a different season in my life, so before it was about love and break-ups from a different perspective and now it’s love and a breakup, but I feel like in a loving, caring, optimistic way. I really thought it was important to share that you can not be with someone, but you can still love the time that you had, loved the things about them, but also learn who you are now; me at this age, being single or independent, all of that. There’s just all these different life lessons that I hope people can relate to.”
Caillat was 23 when her debut album was released; she was new to writing, touring, and performing. I asked Caillat how she views her writing then and now.
“I think perspective always shifts and evolves and my writing has as well because I was a lot younger when I made Coco, and the way I thought was different back then so the relationships I was in were different,” she muses.
“For this album I only wrote 15 songs, and I only wrote a song when I had an idea. I didn’t just book a session just to book a session and see what we came up with. If I had an idea, I would text songwriters Liz Rose and AJ Pruis, and I would ask them to help me get it out. I was probably writing a song every few months, that’s how slow it was, and how natural it was.”
There’s something to writing a ton of songs and getting that momentum up and honing your craft, but what I really wanted with this album, was to let it be what it was and not overwrite or overthink: Just say what needed to be said and nothing more.
Fully ensconced in Nashville’s music community, Caillat, a Malibu beach girl at heart, found that Music City’s writing sensibilities and craft aligned more with her own heart and storytelling than she expected.
“They’re so clever here with the twists in songs,” she smiles enthusiastically. “There’s always a really cool twist and that’s something that I’ve learned and become a huge fan of, and I do find myself trying to see, ‘OK where is that twist?’ or sometimes a song doesn’t have, but sometimes if you find it. Like my song, “Meant for Me.” I love how we wrote that song where it sounds like you’re talking about being meant for someone that you’re with, and then the last line of the chorus says, “You were meant for me to lose.” I love those kinds of things where I think it just grabs the listener at your heartstrings.”
You were meant for me to find
Meant for me to touch
Meant for me to learn from
Meant for me to trust
Meant for me to hold
Meant for me to choose
Meant for me to love
And meant for me to lose
The song “Blue” is one of the solo writes from Caillat. The colour blue is used to describe Caillat’s love and sadness for a relationship that’s over. Caillat’s writing with this song is beautiful and like the Nashville songwriters she so admires, so clever. It is such a centrepiece of the record and one that is critically impressive. It’s also a favourite of Caillat’s.
Wish your love still felt right
but it’s fading out with the light
And my tears fall
“My favourites always change, but when I wrote “Blue,” I loved that song, and my friends loved it so much,” she beams. “I would play it on the piano, right here in my living room, and I would get such a positive reaction and for it come from a song I wrote by myself, I really was surprised, and my friends are very honest with me too, so I felt very accomplished that I wrote it by myself. I love the first verse because I’m talking about all the things that are blue, all the different meanings of it and then I love the second verse because I’m talking about “I was painting some red flags green” and taking responsibility for it even though I’m hurt that this person doesn’t want to be in this relationship.”
“Then I think the honesty of the bridge where I say, “Do you think of me at all?” I think when you’re in those feelings you truly feel alone in it and then you realise like ‘Oh, other people feel this way,’ or ‘Maybe the person that ended it with you has missed you,’ or ‘Maybe you’ve hurt someone else and they’re wondering that about you.’ I think that’s the thing when you can look at every perspective, it’s not like it’s done to you, it’s just kind of a part of a life that we’ve all experienced one way or another.”
Blue like the color of my heartbreak
I wish you still loved me right
Hours and the days go by
And my tears fall blue
Baby, after all the space
I wish that I could love you best
Oh, but I still fall for you
“I feel like when you’re going through whatever the situation is that song is, the one that means the most to you at the that moment,” Caillat adds. “I’ll even sing old songs on tour and find new meaning with them now. I think that’s the coolest part with songwriting, is that it can be written about one thing in your life when you write the song, and you can then find new meaning in what you’re experiencing now or you’re witnessing a friend go through it and you’re like ‘Oh my God, this is exactly what they’re feeling now’ and you feel like you’re the only one who’s felt it, you know?”
Caillat has also found that she has had more to write about since moving to Nashville. “It really felt like a natural fit because I had people that could introduce me to people where I live and who did like making friends and all of that. It was the best decision ever. I always thought I’d move back to California, but I really find Nashville to be home. There’s just such a good community here and because it’s so much smaller than LA you run into your friends everywhere you go and there’s so much fun stuff to do. I feel like I live life more here and I feel like everyone is really supportive of each other’s careers.”
The last seven years have been tough for Caillat. Forming the country band Gone West with her then-partner and two best friends, writing and recording their album Canyons, touring and then the breakdown of the relationship, and subsequently the band, nearly drove Caillat away from music permanently.
“I had been in the band Gone West, and we had been working at it for three years here in Nashville. It was hard because we were all friends, we were two couples, I was new to Nashville, and it was all these things and then touring on top of that… I was really burnt out and I was really over music. I had no intention of making music. I had the first six months of being here, being still and having that break in that space is when I started getting fueled and feeling at ease to have the desire for music again, but it wasn’t the plan. It’s taken me a long time to even be ready to release it, but I feel like timing is everything.”
This hasn’t been the first time Caillat has grappled with the industry and its intense and often unrealistic demands.
When Caillat first appeared on the music scene in 2007 with a major label contract and a No. 1 song, she was having to learn the different between what was constructive and what was unrealistic pressures to become an artist she wasn’t.
“They critique you a lot and they make you shift toward things that might not be a good fit for you and that was always the hard part; knowing when to say no and knowing if I should grow in this area or no, ‘that’s actually not who I am, and they don’t know who I am’. I was encouraged to lose weight, I was encouraged to dress sexier and have a full hair and makeup team and stylist, and all these things and be groomed to be this sexy woman, and I wasn’t ready to be that. I didn’t know what I wanted then. You have to know who you are as an artist.”
Along the Way is a rebirth of sorts for Caillat. “I started writing the Fall of 2020, so three years ago, and then it took me even eight months to write my first song after everything unravelled; ending my engagement, ending the country band and being this independent person for the first time in my life, and then pandemic happening… it was just this bizarre time where everything felt like it was starting new.”
You have to know who you are as an artist.
“It took me a year to write the album because I was taking my time with it and then we recorded it in a month. We were trying to figure out a winter release and then when I was starting to think of that, the songs were too fresh, and I felt I hadn’t healed yet from what I was experiencing… I couldn’t imagine singing the songs and talking about them, it was too hard for me, and then this year I felt excited for people to hear these songs. As a listener it’s therapeutic to feel connected, so now I feel like it’s the perfect time.”
Along the Way is out now via Blue Jean Baby Records.
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© Patrick Tracy
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