Interview: Colbie Caillat

Colbie Caillat
Colbie Caillat

Colbie Caillat: “It means a lot to someone when they know a song is about them.”

The singer-songwriter and former Gone West member discusses recent album ‘Along The Way’ and the influence of the Nashville scene

Last October, Colbie Caillat released her highly anticipated new solo-country album, Along The Way, which marked the California native’s official transition into country music as well as the first release under Caillat’s own label, Blue Jean Baby Records.

Along The Way is undeniably a breakup album, mostly featuring songs written after Caillat called off her engagement with her long-time partner and fellow member of country pop group Gone West, Justin Long. However, unlike typical breakup albums, the album showcases Caillat’s uniquely positive outlook on the separation. In many tracks, Caillat celebrates the 10 years she and Young shared together, while embracing the new journey ahead. 

Caillat wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album, working alongside some of Nashville’s most respected songwriters including Liz Rose, AJ Pruis, Alysa Vanderheym and Jordyn Shellhart. The album also features a notable collaboration with Sheryl Crow, I’ll Be There.

Having performed at this year’s C2C Festival, Caillat is now fully immersed in the country music world. We spoke with her before one of her shows about her individual songwriting process, co-writing with some of Nashville’s top talents, and her dream co-write… 

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How does Along The Way reflect the evolution of your songwriting?

“This album is my favourite I’ve written and recorded. When I first started writing songs it was a little bit more simple. I wrote about young love and the perspective at that time. In the past, you write a ton of songs, you have a bunch of writing sessions you book. You write 60 songs and you narrow down to 12.

“For this record, I really wanted to write a song only when I had something to say. So I have only written like 14 or 15 songs for the album and 13 made the record. I feel I was concise and I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I didn’t want to say anything more than that.”

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This album is obviously a breakup album, but a healed version. Did you have that tone going into the writing rooms, or was it something that evolved?

“Yeah, that’s what happened. It took me eight months to even write my first song after the endings of all those things. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, am I ever gonna write something?’ Then finally, I had the inspiration. It was just a lot of reflecting and a lot of gratitude for the love that I experienced; what we learned from each other in the relationships. Once I had the idea, the first song I wrote by myself was Blue on the piano. Then the next one was Worth It. And I went in with Liz and AJ and I was like, ‘I just want to write about how much I cherish this relationship, even though we’re not together anymore.’”

You mentioned Liz Rose, who you have been connected to for a long time since both winning Grammys as part of Taylor Swift’s Fearless album. Did your relationship with Liz start at the time or when you moved to Nashville?

“No, it was a long time ago. I was coming to Nashville, writing, for most of my career. I wrote music and I wrote songs with her that were on my previous records. So that’s something that I’ve been doing. But, I hadn’t written with her since the band Gone West that I was in. When I was figuring out how to write for this record, I only wanted to write with a few people. I wanted it to be like a therapy session where I felt very comfortable. Liz is the most legendary writer and she just feels like she has so much wisdom. She understood.

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“My favourite song on the record is Meant For Me. I didn’t really know how to exactly spin it, but I wanted to say how someone can be meant to be in your life, but also not meant for you forever. She was like, ‘Okay, meant for you to lose.’”

You mentioned that you only work with a select few people and I know you get a lot of questions about Liz. But you also worked with Alysa Vanderheym and Jordyn Shellhart – what was it like to work with them?

“I had never worked with Jordan and I already had the writing session with Alysa. She had the idea to bring Jordan in and she was great. Honestly, we wrote one of my favourite songs on the record, and it’s the opening track on the album. I was telling them how I had just ended another relationship and I felt like I didn’t know how to be in the dating world. But, I also felt really okay with it; like I’m okay if I meet someone and something works out. And if it doesn’t, then I’m fine. I learned to be good on my own and so they were wonderful because they helped bring that song to life. They were just the coolest girls.”

I would love to speak about the songs that you wrote by yourself. You mentioned Blue was the first one and you also have Two Birds and Old And New placed next to each other on the album, was that on purpose?

“My dad always taught me with classic rock and Fleetwood Mac, it’s all a listening experience. Hopefully, people listen from start to finish. So, that’s how I ordered the record because I felt like the songs could flow either sonically or lyrically into the next one and tell the story. The songs I wrote by myself I was so proud of because I feel like a lot of times I’ll start a song by myself, but then I don’t force myself to finish it. But these songs, I felt like I could write on my own.”

Old And New is a literal glimpse into your life, whereas Blue and Two Birds are more metaphorical. What can you tell us about the writing process?

“First of all, thanks for doing all your research and listening. I appreciate that you know about them. With Old And New, I was sitting in my house in Nashville and I was looking up on my shelves. I had a candle and I had my dad’s Fleetwood Mac book that he wrote. I had pictures of my dogs and me and my ex with our dogs and my best friends and my sister. I just started listing all the things that I was looking at and that’s how it started coming out. I have a quote that says, ‘She designed a life she loved,’ and it was right up there. So literally, everything was just off of the wall. Right there.”

I think, especially for women, we feel that – by the time you hit 30 – everything needs to be completely in place. Did you purposely put your age in there to go against that idea?

“I’m 35. When we’re this age, we can feel like we’re getting older, but also 35 is young. I was alone for the first time ever and I wanted to express how I’m still shy, but I’m also happy and figuring stuff out. So just literally spouting off things that were exactly relevant to that moment.”

Colbie Caillat. Photo: Patrick Tracy

Colbie Caillat: “This is genuine, what I’m writing about and experiencing.” Photo: Patrick Tracy

How has living in Nashville impacted your songwriting?

“It’s living in Nashville, always being around country music and artists and writers and musicians, and literally living the country lifestyle. The guy I was last dating has a ranch with horses, goats and a tractor and drives a truck. I understood it before, but I wasn’t raised with country music or that lifestyle. So I was like, ‘Oh, I get it.’ This is genuine, what I’m writing about and experiencing. And the community, they’re so amazing. Everyone is friends and everyone hangs out all the time. You live life to the fullest there.”

Is writing songs alone part of your normal songwriting practice?

“I haven’t written a song for I would say – I don’t even know – maybe 10 months to a year. I just feel like I’m living life and I don’t think to pick up my guitar. I’ll try sometimes and, if I don’t feel like anything good is coming out, I’m just like, ‘Okay, it’s not there yet. Then, like what happened with Blue, finally, after eight months, I played the piano and the lyrics and melodies started coming out. So I feel like that’s my process, even though it’s quite slow.”

How did the song Blue come to you?

“I just sat at the piano and I started playing these chords and then I was thinking of the guy. Actually, his last name was Blue so the original lyric was just the name. I started saying those things and then, kind of like Bubbly where it just came out, the verse and chorus came out quickly. And then I took more time to write the next verse and chorus and everything.”

So it wasn’t in one session?

“No, I think it took me a couple of weeks when I look back at all the voice notes, I had a big chunk the first day and then I worked on the lyrics. That is a slow process. When I recorded the record, I changed that last line when we were recording, which was two years later.”

And then how about the process of writing Two Birds?

“That song is about my ex-fiancé. We were together for ten years and we were just best friends. I still look at our relationship with so much love. We’re still friends and share our dogs. So, I wanted it to be a thing of how we love each other and drifted apart, but how we’ll love each other no matter where we are in the world.”

Colbie Caillat. Photo: Patrick Tracy

Colbie Caillat: “I wanted it to be like a therapy session where I felt very comfortable.” Photo: Patrick Tracy

Do you feel like songwriting allows you to share a message that would be harder to articulate in other ways?

“I feel like I can articulate, but in a song, you can say it differently. It means a lot to someone when they know a song is about them. So, when I sent him that one, he loved it. I feel like when you get to write a song, it might be a very vulnerable thing for the people to hear it and know what you’re experiencing. But for me, I find comfort in it because I realised that people aren’t alone or I’m not alone in that. For Two Birds, I got a lot of friends reaching out telling me that that song meant so much to them.”

Is there any songwriter in or outside of Nashville that you haven’t worked with yet that you would love to?

“Oh, my gosh. Yes, Julia Michaels would be so great. I love her. I love Post Malone. I’m obsessed with Morgan Wallen. So those are some people that are on my list of duets or co-writes and all of that.”

Looking ahead, are there any new territories, themes or topics you want to explore in your songwriting?

“You know, it’s interesting. Whenever you sing and you’re playing your shows, I’m like, “Oh, my God, every song is a heartbreak song.” It makes you think, should I write about something else? But, it’s just what we write about. It’s therapy. All I want to do is try to keep looking at writing from different perspectives. That’s helped me write in the past. My song Fearless, which I wrote off my second album, was about the guy who I ended the relationship with, and his feelings and perspective. I feel like that can help me write if I get any writer’s block, shifting perspectives.”

Are there any emerging artists in Nashville that inspire you or you’re listening to?

“Have you heard of Nate Smith yet? He’s been blowing up. I’ve known him for a bit and his voice is amazing. He’s the sweetest. I love his whole album.”

What advice would you give to an aspiring songwriter?

“Learn your craft and try to perform live and practice. Learn the business side of it. Learn whatever instrument you play, vocal lessons, all of that. Just be so prepared. Also, just remember to enjoy it because it can be very stressful, deflating and exhausting.”

Lastly, what do you look for in collaborators, especially if it’s someone you haven’t worked with before?

“There’s always the balance of having someone help you grow and branch out. But, I don’t want to write with people that are going to make me sound like someone different or that it’s going to be a battle in the room. I want us to understand each other and understand the song we’re trying to write. As long as they understand me as a writer and we can enjoy our writing session together, I think that’s the goal.”

Along The Way by Colbie Caillat is out now and Colbie will be playing shows in the US this summer. Find out more via colbiecaillat.com



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