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February 19, 2014IM -
With almost overnight success, Caillat went from a small town girl to pop singer in demand, and had to adjust her lifestyle accordingly. “I’m a lot busier now,” says Caillat. “I used to be all about canceling work in the studio to go to the beach and hang out with my friends. Now, I think about things more in relation to my career—I’ve matured a lot.”
Her sound is a mix of acoustic pop, a little folk soul with clear influences by singers Jack Johnson of Local 308 (San Francisco, CA) and John Mayer. But it was singer Lauryn Hill from The Fugee’s who first encouraged Caillat to explore her singing voice.
Caillat started singing when she was 11, after she heard Hill’s soulful version of “Killing Me Softly.” As a sixth-grader, Caillat performed the song in a talent show with friends. “I think Hill’s voice is absolutely beautiful and it made me want to start singing,” she says.
Although Caillat’s dad, Ken, co-produced Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Tusk albums, and later owned his own record label, he never pushed her into the music business. “My parents never talked me into singing, but they helped me take it to the next level,” says Caillat. Being friends with musicians like Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, both of Local 47, Ken supported his daughter’s interest in music and singing and set up vocal, piano, and guitar lessons for Caillat.
Playing the piano never clicked with Caillat, but she stuck with voice lessons and picked up the guitar when she was 19-years-old. It was at this time that she wrote her first song. Since she first expressed her desire to become a singer, Caillat remembers her parents, her dad in particular, encouraging her to write songs as well, so she had something to fall back on. Ken reminded Caillat that many people had good voices, but songwriters commanded real respect in the business. “I thought about that for a long time,” says Caillat.
After learning four chords on the acoustic guitar after her first lesson, Caillat wrote a song. “I fell in love with it; I never wanted to stop,” says Caillat of her debut song. “If something’s bothering me, I hold it in because that’s the kind of person I am. Then, it comes out in songs.”
That release of emotion is what inspires Caillat to write songs. On her debut album, Coco—her childhood nickname—several songs are about events in her life like her sister getting engaged and her friend having a baby. “Songs are about whatever I’m feeling at the time,” says Caillat. “Songwriting is a therapy of expressing feelings inside.”
Caillat started working with producer Mikal Blue several years ago when he hired her to record some songs he’d written for a fashion show. Blue later introduced her to Iowa City Musician Jason Reeves of Local 47 and they ended up collaborating on songs that appear on Coco. Reeves also co-wrote several tunes with Caillat. “I liked working with them [Blue and Reeves] because you get a mixture of everyone’s styles,” says Caillat of the sound on the album. “Blue is very pop and that mixes with Jason Reeves’ folk sound—I’m all about the melody. It makes music more rounded; there’s more people can relate to.”
It wasn’t until a friend set up Caillat’s MySpace page that things really started taking off. “I didn’t even know how to use the site,” she says. It was her friends who pushed her to perform, book shows, and post songs online.
There was little activity on Caillat’s site for several months, that is, until she posted a little tune called “Bubbly,” about a “crush” on nobody in particular. Caillat says it was a rainy day and her friends wanted her to go out to a club with them but she had little motivation to leave her room. “Normally, it’s exciting to go out when you have a crush on someone or you like a guy. I didn’t like anyone at the time and missed having those feelings—and I started writing ‘Bubbly,’” she says.
The response was astounding. “The song got to 10,000 plays a day, and would go up by the thousands,” says Caillat. “I had no idea this could happen.”
For four months straight, Caillat was MySpace’s number one unsigned artist, gaining 10 million plays from a growing online fan base. Soon after, Caillat began talking with record labels and signed with one that let her stay true to herself and her fans. “The great thing about MySpace is that you can build up an army of fans and then when you go to a record company, there’s no point in them trying to change what you do because it’s already been tried and tested,” says Caillat. “It’s a great system because fans can listen to the music before the album comes out and I can get their opinion.”
Fans were involved in a number of ways whether it was suggesting the songs they wanted on the album or providing input on what her first single should be. “It gets them involved and makes them feel special and a part of it,” says Caillat. “They can help with the decision making instead of getting a package already done.”
Another advantage to having leverage with the record company was staying true to her image. Caillat sports sunny, California beach style and often tops it off with a slouchy, knit beret. She rarely wears makeup and feels most comfortable in flip-flops and jeans. Caillat says she’s dressed up her act a little bit and will wear makeup. “I’m in the spotlight so it’s also OK to be open to other things,” she says.
Callait, who is currently on a break after 18 months of touring, finds that songwriting is a little different now, than back in the days when she sat in her bedroom and wrote whatever she was feeling. “It used to be a spontaneous thing; it was about getting everything off my chest,” says Caillat. “Since I’ve been home I’ve been meeting with different songwriters, I’ve written about 10 songs in the past couple of weeks; before it was a slower process.”
Besides adjusting her songwriting routine, Caillat had to master the art of cramming all her activities into a working schedule. “I didn’t expect how busy you have to be,” says Caillat. “When I’m not in the studio or performing, I’m doing radio or TV interviews, going to songwriting meetings, and personal training; it’s a constant state of growing.”
Caillat first went on tour in the summer of 2007 as the opening act for the Goo Goo Dolls and Lifehouse. Besides adjusting to life on the road as a relatively green performer, Caillat struggled with stage fright and says she still gets nervous to this day. “I actually like playing bigger venues because there are so many people that they become a big blur,” says Caillat. “That’s less scary than the smaller venues.”
When she first started booking shows, Caillat would stand motionless onstage clutching the microphone for dear life. She later hired a choreographer to help her loosen up, move around the stage, and interact with her audience.
Her most recent tour was international and Caillat was the headliner. “This was a breakthrough tour for me,” she says. “I’ve never had that much fun on tours before.” This time around, fans knew her more, she was better prepared for the negative aspects of touring, and she had more time to sample the culture in Europe, Japan, Australia, and other countries she visited.
Another album is in the works for the summer of 2009 and Caillat is still in the writing process. She plans to travel to Hawaii in January to finish writing with her creative team. “It will be good to get a lot of writing done with my friends in that easygoing atmosphere,” says Caillat who rented a house on the beach. “We have three months of hard dungeon studio work when we get back. I get inspired by the beach. I have an idea of what I want to do but it’s like painting a picture—you add some different colors and you’re surprised how it turns out.”