Songwriting catches up with US-based British country music singer-songwriter Callaghan, who previously featured in our Introducing… slot earlier this year
Callaghan, a singer-songwriter who’s equally at home with a piano or guitar, has been steadily building a reputation in the USA, as we first reported back in February. Here in the UK she’s been championed by Bob Harris of BBC Radio 2, who called her a “wonderful artist… beautiful, warm and hugely talented”.
Earlier this year the songwriter, who trained on the flute from age five and has been writing her own material on the piano since she was 14, made a successful appearance at the Cambridge Folk Festival, where Songwriting took the opportunity chance to find out more about her new album and, of course, her songwriting.
A History Of Now is Callaghan’s first album release in her native UK, but its predecessor, 2012’s Life In Full Colour, has already racked-up five-figure sales in the US, where she moved to work with successful Americana artist Shawn Mullins – best known in the UK for his 1998 hit Lullaby. She is currently on a mini-tour of the UK, before heading back to the States for a number of concerts.
You’ve made a name for yourself in the US, and are now based in Nashville, but you’re originally from Lincolnshire, in England. How did the move come about?
“I moved there in 2010 to record my first album with a musical hero of mine, Shawn Mullins. I decided to move there and do the album, and go on tour and stay for a year. That somehow turned into five years. It’s been a great adventure.”
Do you find the atmosphere in Nashville helpful for your songwriting?
“Yeah, I do, because even though Nashville is known for the country music scene and that’s definitely the biggest area there, what I love about it is there are so many different artists from different areas – a real mix of genres. Not just country music. Kings of Leon, who are rock, are there. Jack White has a studio there. You get a lot of people from LA, so the more pop-oriented people are there, and New Yorkers and a lot of Brits are now moving there. It’s a good blending place.”
Do you have a chance to do a lot of collaboration with other artists in Nashville?
“Yes, I do, do a lot of co-writing now. I’ve been on the road a lot since January this year, but Nashville is a great place to go back to. My producer who I wrote five of the tracks on the new album is in Nashville. So it’s nice to go back and re-connect.
“When I collaborate, I have to at least co-write the lyrics”
“It’s important to co-write, but it’s also important to write by yourself. Co-writing can push you as a writer, it can take you down a road maybe you wouldn’t have gone down by yourself, but don’t ever stop writing for yourself. When I collaborate, I have to at least co-write the lyrics. There has to be an emotional connection to me, I would always say.”
What would you say your music genre is?
“These days it’s so hard to say because so many genres overlap. A lot of people in the UK describe me as country, which is interesting to me, because the country music scene here is getting bigger. Country music is expanding and you have so many different influences, such as folk and singer-songwriters. I think a lot of it goes back to the Celtic and English and Irish folk music. It draws country and folk artists together.”
What sort of music has most influenced you?
“My influences come from a lot of genres. I love the folk singer-songwriters, the country vibe with the story that draws you in. But I also like rock music and pop music. It’s a real escape from your day-to-day life. You can zone out and go into an entirely different world.
“I was lucky to grow up in a musical family. My mum and dad encouraged me and my sisters to take up instruments from when I was really young, so I was playing violin and flute from about four. It’s definitely been in my blood.”
What music was playing in your house while you were growing up?
“A lot of the American singer-songwriters like James Taylor and Carole King, and Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash, and then I remember we had Elton John on a lot and I absolutely love Elton John. I’m still a huge fan of his music.
“And then the first concert they took me to was John Denver, and I was five, and I remember I knew every word of every song. I still like the positive message of his music. To me it seemed he always had a positive outlook on the world – kind of going out and saying life is good and it’s good to be alive. I connect to that message.”
It sounds like you had the perfect musical upbringing for a songwriter?
“Yeah, and my era was also the 90s the Britpop bands and the big pop bands. I went to see the Spice Girls and Take That and I’m sure all of that had an influence as well.”
Tell us about your new album, A History Of Now…
“This one was recorded in Nashville and the producer is called Dennis Matkosky. He’s spent a lot of his career in LA and so has worked with slightly more pop artistes. But he’s also written a massive number of songs with some huge artistes like Keith Urban, Leann Rimes and Diana Ross. The two of us got together through writing and I found he was one of the easiest people to write with. There are also some amazing Nashville musicians on the album.
“I try to write about things I’ve been through that are also universal”
“The title sums up the theme of the album, which was the things we all go through in life. Everybody falls in love or has their heart broken. These shared experiences we all have. I try to write about things I’ve been through but things that are also universal.”
One of your songs, When You Love Me, wonderfully evokes a lost love with lines such as: “When you loved me, I had everything I wanted/Reality was sweeter than the dream”. What inspired you to write it?
“I was living with this family in Atlanta when I first moved to America. And the grandmother was about 85 at the time and had grown up in New York. She told me this amazing story about someone she’d met when she was 17 and had fallen madly in love with and it was her first true romance. They both ended up marrying other people, but she said for the rest of her life she would always remember this man and every few years she’d think about him and wonder what had become of him.
“Even at 85, she could still close her eyes and remember the exact way she felt when she was 17. I thought that’s just amazing, that you can live through your entire life and never forget that feeling.”
Another standout track on the album is We Don’t Have To Change The World. What inspired you to write that?
“I played at someone’s wedding in an amazing part of the Caribbean. It was one of those moments when you pinch yourself. Everyone has these moments when you feel, “I don’t have to worry, I just have to live life to the fullest”, and that song came out of it. It’s just a pure singalong pop song.”
Interview: Nic Rigby
For more information on Callaghan, visit her website, or find her on Facebook and Twitter. You can watch the video to her song We Don’t Have To Change The World below, or catch her at the following live dates:
Old Bookshop, Leeds (2 November)
The Lexington, London Folk & Roots Festival (3 November)
Lock 91, Manchester (4 November)
Blitz, Preston (7 November)
Hare & Hounds, Birmingham (8 November)
Nic Rigby is part of Norwich band Emperor Norton, and organiser of the Uke East Music Festival. Find him on Twitter: @nicrigby1