Minneapolis to Berklee College to Harlem. That’s the path Caleb Hawley has taken and you hear all of that in Caleb Hawley’s music. Prince, Dylan, Jazz, Soul. A voice that earned him a spot on American Idol. I heard about Caleb through mutual friends for a few years and listened some. This morning was the first time I listened all the way through his full album, ‘Caleb Hawley’. (can’t wait for all of you to have the chance to hear this!!) He sounds natural and genuine in the updated, soul sound material. I’ve heard other contemporary singers record material like this because they love it, but never really find that authentic place that truly connects a singer and band to the truth of that music. They end up sounding like a mediocre lounge band or an album that belongs on an infomercial. But, that’s not the case with Caleb. He truly connects, sings and writes this material very genuinely. I really enjoyed listening through this morning
Independent Harlem based soul singer & songwriter who grew up in the ‘burbs of Minneapolis surrounded by the sounds of Prince & Bob Dylan. Influenced hugely by the two, taking thought provoking lyrics & funky grooves & blends them together as well as possible.
OSW: What is your songwriting/composing process?
Caleb Hawley: Usually I have two stacks. One stack is of musical ideas, the other is of lyrics. I think of them at separate times, because usually musical inspiration comes to me when I’m practicing and lyrical inspiration comes to me when I’m out and about, observing people and contemplating my life. Typically I take from each pile and try to mix and match the vibes and moods that fit each other best. Then I either extend or whittle the lyrics into a place that fits the musical idea best. I hardly ever write them both at the same time.
OSW: What are you most proud of?
Caleb Hawley: My most recent unreleased album. It’s the most “me” recording I’ve ever done and just hope I can find a good home for it in order to release it.
OSW: How does someone go from a degree in Jazz Composition to American Idol?
Caleb Hawley: I chose Jazz Comp while at Berklee because I was super interested in arranging. I’ve used the skills I developed there in my recordings as you will hear. I think my passion for jazz was a little higher at the time I attended school there, but the degree was still a great supplement for the music I’m making nowadays.
OSW: What did you learn from the American Idol experience?
Caleb Hawley: Hmm.. That reality TV isn’t reality? That’s probably the most rewarding knowledge I gained there. As a person who struggled with a need to strive and make it to the “top”, it’s nice to know that the “top” is mostly just a game and a facade played on others not in the biz. On a more positive note, I made a lot of great friends there and also learned how to push myself to really learn a song in less than 24 hours… and attempt dance moves with it : )
OSW: Do lyrics come quickly or do you revise them over a period of time?
Caleb Hawley: Definitely revise them over and over. The idea usually comes quick. I try my best to spill it out on the page as fast as possible and revise later, but that can be tough. When I get excited about a line it’s hard not to revise it in the moment. It’s a balance though, cause I wanna continue the thought at the same time before I forget it, but also make the revisions before I forget those as well.
OSW: What is your favorite songwriting lyric?
“I found myself face down in the ditch
Booze in my hair
Blood on my lips
A picture of you, holding a picture of me
In the pocket of my blue jeans”
To me this portrays is the best imagery I’ve ever heard. There are three scenes in one, which is pretty amazing to me.
Caleb Hawley: Yes and no, for lack of a better answer. Some people say perfect rhyme is the only rhyme. In musical theater that may be true, because you really need to hear the dictation as an audience as it goes by fast. On a record, people can always check the liner notes or lyric websites to find out exactly what you’re saying, so I think being abstract works a little better in that case. As long as it’s not cheesy and too predictable, I’ll always go with the rhyme. It’s the really predictable rhymes that I attempt to stay away from.OSW: What advice would you give to young songwriters/composers?
Caleb Hawley: Make your songs dramatic. And if you’re gonna use an ideas that has been done a million times, like a love song, find your own original twist. Always depends on the style you’re writing in, but don’t be afraid to take some risks.
OSW: If you could go back and be part of any album session what would it be?
Caleb Hawley: ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered” album. Not only is it my favorite Stevie record but it’s one of the few he used the funk bro’s on. I’d love to sit in the room with James Jamerson & Stevie Wonder at the same time. That would teach me more than a Berklee degree easily.
(OSW Note- from that album, this is one of my all-time favorite cover songs. Stevie completely makes it his own and that distorted Clav sound kills me)
OSW: If you could sit down and talk about songwriting with anyone, who would it be and why?
Caleb Hawley: Eminem. I’d love to hear how much he actually revises his internal rhyming, or if it just comes that natural to him. I’d also be curious why if he is so graphic just to get a rise, or if it’s genuinely him. Either way, it’s still brilliant in my opinion.
Also, this is important people, you can get a FREE Sampler by Caleb Hawley at Noisetrade for a limited time. Please check it out.
No bonus material page this time. Completely my error. I let the whole interview slip through without making sure I had 3 videos for his songwriting playlist. But, I will share a couple videos of Caleb + you got the Stevie video above.
Please don’t just go stream the songs. If you enjoy the interview and the musician, certainly use streaming to preview their tracks but then buy it if you like it. They need sales of their music, merchandise and people at their shows to continue making the music you love. Buying directly from them at shows is always the best option, then buying from their website if possible. This is really important stuff people.Have a great weekend and I’ll see you next week.