Her voice and hit songs are loved by millions of fans worldwide allowing this GRAMMY-award-winning, singer-songwriter to powerfully bring people together through music. We caught up with Colbie Caillat to ask her how she got her start in music and to get her thoughts on how music unites us. We also learned she has a brand new album out called “Malibu Sessions” just in time for stocking-stuffer season!
Can you tell us a little about how you got started in music?
I got started in music really young just because I loved singing. It wasn’t like I was influenced by anyone, or was told to do it. My parents were in the music industry but it was never pushed on me. I just loved singing. I would wake up doing it. And then I heard Lauryn Hill in Sister Act 2 and once her album came out I was just obsessed with her voice. And ever since then I was taking vocal lessons. That was when I was 11 years old. So singing is what got me started. It was great because sing my parents were in the music industry, my dad had instruments around the house that I got to play and my parents told me I should take piano lessons and guitar lessons and they were so supportive in what I wanted to do and gave me the right tools for that.
So you talked a little bit about lessons – so much of what we do is lessons can you talk about what you gained from having a lesson instructor?
You know, you can teach yourself how to play an instrument…a lot of people have done that and do really well, but for me I needed someone to tell me these guitar chords. I learned 4 chords and wrote my first song because of that. So I needed to be influenced. And with piano lessons I had a really hard time focusing and making myself rehearse and practice and take the lessons. It was so beneficial for me to have that opportunity because it forced me to learn something that I wanted to do and gave me the right tools to be able to be able to write my own songs and accompany myself when I’m playing live. By having a teacher helped me understand how to play that instrument and learn everything about it. And especially with my voice, with vocal lessons, that was my main instrument, and to learn how to sing properly and warm-up and warm-down. That was really great for me to learn young.
A lot of times you hear the singer, but you don’t always hear the practice that goes behind that performance. Can you tell us about the importance of practice and how you practice today?
Practicing is the most important thing. A lot of it is because it gives you the confidence as well as knowing what you’re doing. When you have prepared yourself in every single way you give a better performance because you know exactly what you’re doing, you don’t have to distract yourself or think about anything else or worry about messing up. Being prepared and practiced is honestly so key. It’s something that I have learned by trial and error of not doing it on the road before a TV performance if I was super nervous or super busy and I would just be beyond unprepared for the show because I wasn’t in the right mind for it. I feel like the performance was bad and the interview was bad and it just kind of has a chain effect. I think that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned, is to make sure that you are prepared.
What about the structure of your practice?
My vocal coach told me one time you’re not running a marathon, you have to take your time with it. Whether it’s doing vocal riffs or vocal warm-ups or learning that guitar lick, a really fast tempo, whatever it may be, – even actually with harmonies, like when you’re practicing with other singers and you’re doing harmonies together, a great method is to do it slowly and sing it so you get the exact timing right and then do it faster and faster to where you have the breaths in the right position, everything in the right place. Giving yourself that time to do it slowly and accurately then it teaches you how to do it when you have to do it in real-time.
Who inspires you to play?
Well Lauryn Hill inspired me to become a singer. John Mayer, his song-writing was so incredible, his guitar playing was incredible. And I think falling in love with how it feels to write a song and lyrically to be able to send a message out there about something that you’ve gone through in your life or what someone around you has gone through. I tap in to that a lot, I’ve written enough about myself. I fall in love with singer-songwriters. Classic rock I grew up with Tom Petty, Steve Miller, Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac, and records where you could listen to the whole way through and the lyrics told stories. And so those kinds of articles vocally and musically and songwriting, it was just so inspirational to me.
Many of our customers are not musicians themselves, but parents of young musicians. What advice would you give to a parent who may not be a musician but wants to encourage their child’s participation in music?
I think for parents that have kids who are interested in music, I think it’s great if they can learn it as well with their kids to help them – they can practice together, they can have a better understanding of why their child has a love for this instrument or this direction and this art. I’ve heard that a lot of parents maybe don’t understand why their kids are in music and doing art. Sometimes they think it’s a waste of time or they should go in a different direction. So I think the communication and understanding that people have different loves and I guess if they tried it too they might understand the passion for it.
What are the benefits for a young kid being involved music?
There’s so many benefits to young people playing music and doing art. It’s a creative expression. And honestly, even if its not something that you end up doing as a career or in your future, as long as you are expressing yourself and you are learning from it, it’s another outlet. I think it’s important whether it is your career in the future or it’s a hobby or it’s just something you learn and experiment with. Especially when you’re young because when you’re young you’re not sure who you are, who you should be, or who you’re going to become one day. Even going to school, you don’t know what direction you’re going to take yourself so being able to be creative with any form of art and for me especially with music – it’s just the most freeing feeling. My favorite thing about songwriting is that you connect with other people. I think that’s what I’ve always loved about it. I can tell a story of something I went through and when I see my fans in the audience singing along, or crying, or telling me that my song was at their wedding or helped them through divorce, it reminds you that we’re not alone in the situations that we go through in life and the feelings that we have.
How do you think music brings us together?
I think music brings us together in so many different ways. Whether you put music on and you dance to it with someone that you love or with a group of people or you’re in your car blasting it on your way to work whatever it is, it brings you together, it connects you. Lyrically, it completely connects you because again, you feel like you’re not alone in that situation, whether it’s a really difficult time in your life or a really passionate/happy time in your life – you realize that everyone in the world at different times goes through these same things. And it really relates us, connects us, and you feel like you have that bond with someone, it kind of makes you feel like you know them. And gatherings, live concerts, at dinner parties and holidays and I love music from different eras because I feel like there’s always a different time of day or event that I’m doing where I can listen to those different styles of music and again connects me with whoever I’m listening to we have that bond.
Why do you think the idea of music bringing us together is important, especially now? What is it about music that helps solve problems?
I think music is a form of therapy. Listening to it lyrically or just to the music, it puts this emotion over you and it’s always a different emotion and I think it’s extremely healing and empowering. And I love when songs can allow you to cry or dance or laugh. There’s really an emotion for every style of music and it’s so – it brings people together, it relates people. Because even if you have different beliefs or your from different places even different languages, it’s the most amazing thing when you travel overseas and I’m singing a song in English and whatever country I’m in, they are singing along with me or it feels good to them. And again if you have different beliefs with someone but you like the same music, you can still relate to that. It’s just there’s no barrier with it.
You have a very musical family. Your parents were in the music industry, your fiancé, you. Are there any musical traditions you tie in to the holidays?
During the holidays I love it when my fiance plays the piano for everyone because we have a piano at our house and he plays it all day long and it’s my favorite thing, but he’s super shy so whenever we have Thanksgiving or Christmas whatever it is, I always talk him into learning some oldies like Frank Sinatra or Louie Armstrong, whatever, I like that kind of music for the holidays. And singing for everyone. It’s also really fun to get everyone to sing and gather in a room together.
If you were talking to a 11 year old Colbie, what are 5 things you’d pick up at a Music & Arts?
If I was talking to a 10 year old me, I would tell myself to pick up any instrument and learn it and practice more because I didn’t put in the full time I should have. I would choose a great microphone and learn how to use it when I was really young. A beautiful guitar or a cute amazing little ukulele. A tuner because you gotta have that if you can’t always tune it yourself. And capos are very important. Honestly, you gotta have capos. I actually write most of my songs like that. I use the same chords, but if I use a capo on a different fret, it helps me, changes the sound of the guitar and I can write a new song on the same thing.
You have a new album and tour coming up. Can you tell us what all is going on in your world right now?
I just released my new album called the Malibu Sessions and I will have been on tour.
My album the Malibu Sessions just came out in October and right after that we went on tour for a month and I just wrapped up that tour. It was amazing tour because I got to bring out my best friends who I actually wrote and recorded the record with. So it’s my fiance, Justin Young and my friends High Dive Heart. They both opened the show and they’re my band members. We were all in one tour bus together, we brought our dogs and it was the first acoustic tour Ive ever done. And I’d always wanted to do that and it really fit the vibe of the record. I recorded the Malibu Sessions actually 3 years ago at a beach house in Malibu with my team of people that I work with – my producer, John Shanks, and Jason Reeves who I write most of my songs with and we all moved into this house together for 2 months and I had already written like 60 songs, we have 29 to record and halfway through it, we wrote “Gold mine” which was my first single off this record. And it was one of the best experiences of writing and recording an album I’ve ever had.
What is different about this album versus when you came out with your first album 10 years ago?
When I came out 10 years ago I was so new at songwriting. Honestly the songs on my first album “Coco” were the first songs I had ever written. There weren’t extras. That was the first time I had written songs and those were what made my album and those were actually the demo. And so every album after that I really got to experiment with new sounds and new styles and work with amazing producers and meet new writers. And collaborating is really fun. It’s great to learn as a songwriter from other writers. For this last album, I really wanted to take it in a direction that was inspired by Paul Simon and his record “Graceland” which he went to Africa to record and he had the local musicians playing these unique, insane instruments and these incredible background vocals and harmonies. And that’s what the whole record was about. And so I’ve always loved harmonies, I’ve always loved acoustic music, and classic rock, and so I went full that direction with this album and was inspired by that.
Exciting to hear you’ve created your own music label. Can you tell us more about that?
I started my own label this year called Plummy Lou Records and actually when I recorded the Malibu Sessions, it was 3 years ago and the label I was on, I wasn’t able to put this album out. So I left and I started my own. I wanted to have more control of what I did creatively and the music I put out and it’s the best feeling because I’ve been in charge of everything. I mean making the music video using b-roll from when we recorded the album Malibu Sessions. And my fiancé and I edited it together at home. I made the album artwork – the picture for the album cover is a picture of the beach I took while we were recording and the artwork I did at my friend Jason Reeve’s house in Nashville, TN and my producer John Shanks took the back photograph. I mean everything that is surrounding this album and the tour is very organic and it felt really nice to be able to do that and have creative control like that. So I am relieved to be out on my own.
Can you tell us about your partnership with Martin Guitars? And what is it about Martins that you like?
So I’ve been working with Martin Guitars for a couple of years now and I’ve always been obsessed with Martin, it was actually the first guitar I ever played. My dad has a ’68 Martin and it’s been in our house forever growing up and it was actually used to be recorded on Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors.” So that was the first guitar I ever played. The sound is just absolutely stunning – bright and full and to be able to play that for my first guitar when I didn’t even really know how to play guitar, I really learned to respect the instrument and the quality of it. and so I was super stoked when I got to partner up with them and try out all of their beautiful guitars and bring them on tour and use them on photo shoots and use them to record the album – it’s been great.
Music & Arts is an advocate for music education. What are your thoughts on the needs for music education?
I think it’s so incredible for children, really for anyone, to be able to have something like Music & Arts where they can go and learn and practice and buy anything that they need in the music world. To be informed with every variety out there – there’s so many tools that you need in the music industry, whether it’s for recording, or touring, or just writing and practicing and rehearsing with the band, anything that comes with it – kids are lucky to be able to have that opportunity and outlet and information behind them.
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