I caught up with NYC’s Caleb Hawley at Pinewood Social in Nashville recently; a former resident of the Music City, Caleb was glad to be back in town, meeting people and catching some live shows. We discussed everything from must-go places in Nashville, Prince, summers in Harlem, to recent lip-synching showdowns on Jimmy Fallon. Check out the highlights:
Eo8: You were on American Idol for a good hot minute, did you enjoy that experience? Have you found that there is a stigma associated with being on American Idol or has it been helpful for you?
CH: It was three years ago, it was a crazy experience. I still have some friends from that experience, it would be weird if they weren’t in my life, and if it weren’t for American Idol, I wouldn’t have made those friends. In all honesty, I tried out on a whim thinking nothing would happen. I didn’t watch my season because I’m not really into those shows. I do think there is a little bit of a stigma; I’ve tried to get all my American Idol stuff deleted from YouTube because I don’t want to be associated with all of that really. At this point there are so many reality tv shows, that if you meet 10 musicians, odds are one has been on a reality tv show.
Eo8: Are you touring right now?
CH: I’ll be touring in about, just over a week, and we’re doing eight shows in eight days, touring with my band; I used to play a lot more acoustic music and I was able to pull that off solo, so I’d play like 150 shows a year, just going nuts, crazy, you know? It was just me and my dog, he would sit up on stage with me; but now, with a band, I just have to make sure all the shows really count. I’m really pumped about that. I’ve never played in Nashville with a band. It’s fun to hit these markets that I’ve played before but that I’ve never played with a band.
Eo8: Do you prefer playing with a band or do enjoy playing acoustic sets more?
CH: I prefer playing with a band by far. The acoustic thing was a little bit of a phase; I grew up around folk music, but I always loved soul music. It seemed like the most logical thing for me to do right out of college, to go out with my acoustic. I still respect the style, but I guess I just got a little burned out on it. There’s so much more you can do with a band.
Eo8: It seems there’s been a resurgence in popularity of soul music recently; I took notice when I was introduced to Amy Winehouse’s music several years ago, and I keep seeing more soul and soul-inspired groups like St. Paul and The Broken Bones gaining recognition. Do you consider yourself a soul musician?
CH: Yeah! I think it’s awesome. One of the things I love about soul music is the charisma you can bring, you can go crazy, and I like going crazy! When you’re one guy with an acoustic guitar, you can go crazy, but it’s hard to roll on the floor and play an acoustic. I love the energy, I like getting people up and making them happy. I grew up on a lot of a cappella gospel music, and I think that planted the seed, there are a lot of similarities between gospel and soul music. I was the odd ball in my family; my granddad gave me a Ray Charles album when I was about 12, I listened to it nonstop, and then gradually started getting into Stevie Wonder, Donnie Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, and all that stuff. The reason why I finally started doing it was that before, I just didn’t have the tools or the means to be able to do it. I mean, you can create soul music any way you want, but the stuff that I listened to had such big arrangements. I was able to raise some money and make that happen, get a horn section and a string section using some people from the New York Philharmonic, it was the most intense and fun session I’ve had in my life.
Eo8: What are you listening to these days? Any favorites or anything that just moves you or wrecks you at the moment?
CH: Actually, being originally from Minneapolis, I’ve always dug Prince. That dude has a ridiculous amount of music; currently I’ve been spending time listening to each of his albums, 5 to 10 times each, so I can really know the music. Sometimes you can dislike a song when you first hear it, and love it the fifth time you hear it. I’m currently on album number 30; I’ve basically been listening to Prince nonstop for 3 or 4 months. I’m trying to figure out which discography to explore next, there are so many artists I love and it’s fun to hear them progress. It’s a singles world these days, but that’s just not me; I guess it’s old school, but I like listening to whole albums. Whenever I look on someone’s iPod and I see and artist and think ‘oh I want to hear this,’ and it ends up being only one of their songs, it drives me nuts! I like to hear the whole thing! Lots of amazing songs never get played on the radio and people don’t even know what they’ll miss. I think my all-time favorite song is ‘Untitled’ by D’Angelo; Questlove plays drums on that song, an he literally plays the same beat the entire time, no fills or anything, but there’s this energy. I could listen to that song every day.
Eo8: What kinds of things inspire you to write music?
CH: I’m a big people-watcher so I do a lot of social commentary. Lately I’ve been writing a lot of love-themed songs, which is the most overwritten subject ever, but the reason why it’s overwritten is because it’s such a strong thing and it’s something people really relate to. I feel like you can write about any subject as long as you can find a way to twist it around and make it interesting. I hear a lot of musicians in Nashville do the co-writing thing; I wrote all the songs on my album myself because I think co-writing would be so tough. Going into a room with someone, sometimes someone you’ve only met once, and trying to hash out something with genuine emotion in it, it would feel kind of fake. I can’t write a song if I’m not feeling it.
Eo8: What would you be doing if you weren’t a musician?
CH: I think I would be a city planner, as nerdy as that is; I don’t know what it is, but like, when I’m driving, I’m obsessed by lights that are perfectly timed, I think that’s amazing.
Eo8: Using your best descriptive phrase-making ability, how does performing make you feel?
CH: Simply put? Validated. Seriously. I can be a pretty shy person, but something in me, I don’t know what it is, even if I’m shy in really life, the stage is somewhere I am most comfortable, I can really be myself, it’s what I love doing. No crazy metaphors, just validated. I write songs with the intention of performing them live, so that I can perform them, because that’s my passion.
You can discover Caleb’s music on iTunes, Spotify, or BandCamp. If you’re in Nashville on April 7th, you should definitely go with me to experience his sweet soulful sound live at The Basement, or catch his show when he comes to your neck of the woods this spring.