Colbie Caillat Talks Inspiration Behind New Sound + Her Grammy Nomination
Colbie Caillat has perfected the art of crafting breezy, ridiculously catchy songs that are so heartfelt, it’s as if she can read your mind.
In person, Colbie is just as genuine. When she sat down with PopCrush to talk about her upcoming album, one member of her team insisted on joining us — her adorable dog! Colbie explained how working with OneRepublic‘s Ryan Tedder changed the direction of the record and some of the songs she’s excited to share with her fans.
It’s been a big year for the singer, who received her fourth Grammy nomination for ‘We Both Know.’ Colbie also divulged how she heard about the news and her surprising reaction to it.
Your new single ‘Hold On’ talks about trying to decide if you should walk away from something; ultimately, it comes down to that little voice in your head telling you the answer. Can you talk about a time when you relied on your instincts in regards to music?
All the time. Honestly, from the start (when I met with record labels), I followed my gut and I knew I wanted to go with Universal Republic. I met with eight different ones and I just had a sense about these people here. I think because of that I started following my gut with everything. Who I wanted to work with, what songs I wanted to put out, what instruments needed to be on the record, certain vocal takes. Especially with my song with Jason Mraz, ‘Lucky,’ there was a lot of people that didn’t think it was the right time for us to do a duet and release it. We thought they were crazy, so we stuck to our guns and followed our guts and we put it out and we won a Grammy together. I’ve really learned that following your gut in anything you do is important.
‘Hold On’ was co-written by OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder. You worked together before with ‘Brighter Than the Sun.’ How was working with him different this time around?
Working with Ryan, he always wants to push the bar and create something different, and I went in [the recording studio] with him in July and I had a couple ideas of what direction I wanted to go. I had been writing songs in this acoustic [setting] and he’s like, “Okay, we can do that, but why don’t we kind of go crazy and do something off-the-wall that people won’t expect.” And he started playing piano and I was like, “You know what? He’s right. We don’t need to stick to guitar.”
So we started writing ‘Hold On’ and he can write so fast and produce so fast. He really is brilliant at what he does and he loves it. It’s not like he clocks in and out of work. It’s like, “How late can we finish this song right now?” He’s so enthusiastic about it. Working with Ryan is always an exciting thing for any writer that gets to be in his presence… and I’ve known him for years. I knew him and the band when I was 18, before either of us were touring musicians, so it’s cool to have that friend in the business for so long.
How long did it take you to write the song?
I think we had it finished in under a couple hours, for sure. It really happens at the beginning so fast. You get the melody down instantly and then it’s like, “Okay, after we finish the first verse lyrics, now what are we going to say?” Lyrics are usually what takes the rest of the time. Figuring out how you say what you want to say in the best way.
You are nominated for a Grammy for ‘We Both Know,’ your collaboration with Gavin DeGraw. That must be so exciting!
It’s so exciting. It took me actually a few days to let it sink in. Gavin called me right when he found out and it was the night when everyone found out and he was like, “Oh, my God! We did it!” And I was like, “Yeah, it’s cool.” And then I don’t know why it took me so long, but a few days later, I was sitting there thinking about it and then I started jumping up and down and screaming. It’s really an honor to be acknowledged by people in the music industry that you admire and when you love albums and other artists that win Grammys and you can be in the same category as them. I’m in the same category as Coldplay and Lana Del Rey and everyone else in the category is amazing, so it’s really just so exciting.
Do you have a spot where you keep your Grammys?
Yeah, I’ve moved them multiple times, redecorating the house and stuff. Right now they’re in my dining room shelf with all of my family’s pictures and stuff like that.
Your new album drops in the spring of next year, and is going to be more upbeat, like you were talking about before. Can you tell us more about this new direction?
It really started with Ryan in that session. He kind of showed me that it’s okay to branch out. I always love doing every different style song. I love listening to pop music and folk music and hip-hop, but when I have my certain fan base, it’s scary to change your style in any way because someone can get mad. When I wrote that song with him and it sounded so good, it was such a refreshing direction. It really made me think that people should like it. I mean, I still wrote the song, I’m still singing on it and as artists, we should all grow in any career that we’re in and challenge ourselves. I started writing more songs with producers in that vein and I had a lot of fun. People can party to some of the songs on the record and then I have some beautiful ballads.
One that I wrote with Babyface … It’s called ‘Try’ and [it's about] how us girls always feel like we need to put so much makeup on and change our hair and buy expensive clothes and make sure our nails are perfect and it’s so ridiculous, even though we still do it every day. It’s about talking to girls and saying it’s okay if you look in the mirror as you are and liking who you are.
Is there a track on the album your fans haven’t heard yet that you’re really excited for them to hear?
That one ['Try'], I’m really excited about because it’s such a stripped-down, beautiful [song]. The one that we’re thinking will be the next single is called ‘Blaze.’ It’s so much fun. I’ve already completely planned out the music video if we go with this as the single. It’s all up in the air, so who knows… but, it’s just such a fun song for people to dance to. When I can have my parents listen to it and love it, and my sister and my friends, and then my label and my management and everyone on all platforms can like it, it makes me think that it’s okay that I’m doing a fun, up-tempo dance [track] – you can totally move to it and it’s really fun.
I feel like when artists evolve, as long you can still feel they’re true to themselves, you like them because of what they’re saying in the lyrics.
Since I’m writing the lyrics, I use specific things. What I made sure of with all of these songs since the direction is new, is that the lyrics are something meaningful that I’m going through. I do have fun with my friends at times. That’s what it’s about.
Can you talk about your fashion style?
My style is all over the board. Lately, I’ve been going for this gypsy kind of theme. Fringy, flowy and then tall boots. I’ve been wearing lots of big hats lately. I always love tons of turquoise jewelry, but then I also love just blue jeans and a white or black tank top with sandals and no jewelry. I can be super simple and obviously for stage and pictures and stuff like that, fancy it up. Colorful and fun. It has to be comfortable, that’s the main thing. Otherwise, I’m stiff and can’t move. You can’t really express your personality. I wear vegan boots and shoes. These [pointing to her shoes] are Stella McCartney, but there’s so many different brands since I don’t wear animal products.
Have you thought about a Grammys dress yet?
It’s so far! There’s so many other things before then, but it will be really fun to start planning what to wear. My stylist and I, we usually try to design something together because — do you ever find that when you try on dresses there’s always something wrong with it? It doesn’t fit in the right places. We always alter things and change the color and dye them. Just makeshift them.
Like you said, it’s all about comfort.
So many times I’ve had dresses with sleeves and you can’t even lift it, so when you go to hug, it’s awkward. So, yeah, really my main thing with clothing is as long as it’s you and you’re comfortable, you [can] express your inner personality.
What are the top songs on your iPod right now? Any artists you’re excited about?
I’m obsessed with A Great Big World. That song, ‘Say Something’ is so beautiful and heartfelt and vulnerable. I always love Katy Perry. I love Katy and John Mayer’s new song, ‘Who You Love.’ Fun. and Pink, Imagine Dragons, Phoenix. All of those styles.