Chatting about Songwriting and the Music Industry with Caleb Hawley

Interview by Valerie Parker, Concert Review by Sammi Lanthier

Caleb HawleyDiscovering a musician at a live performance can be rough. The noise, the crowd, the atmosphere: sometimes these factors can distract so much from the performance that it’s hard to know just what you really think of the artist at the end of the set.

That’s why you know you’ve found something truly special when you connect with an artist from the get-go, hearing them on stage for the first time.

Which is why the talent, charm, and stage presence that Caleb Hawley has is such a gift, making it so easy for him to connect to an audience. With his soulful voice and influences from pop to jazz, with artists like Randy Newman and Ray Charles as his inspirations, Hawley takes humorous covers (his favorite at the moment is “Sexy and I Know It,” which he slows down) and lyrics-driven pieces of his own, and draws the audience in.

For a taste of Caleb’s music, head over to his iTunes page.

I first discovered his music when he performed before Theo Katzman at The Mint in late March, and met up with him last week when he came back to LA for a more intimate acoustic show at Room 5 Lounge with his friend, Morgan Karr.

Hawley and I met up at Intelligentsia in Silverlake, a very hipster coffee joint where the baristas wear page boy caps. “Theo would love this place,” says Hawley as we settle down, declaring that wherever they go, Katzman is always on the lookout for the most hipster joints he can find. Neither Hawley nor I drink coffee (he’s had to quit, due to concern for his vocal chords), but the charm of the place isn’t lost on us. It’s a gorgeous day in Los Angeles, and what better way to spend your morning than discussing music at a sidewalk cafe as the noisy MTA buses drive by on Sunset Blvd?

As we take our seats, talk turns to the show he’s playing that night at Room 5 Lounge. At The Mint back in March Hawley was joined by a full band, but that night he would be on his own. Just him, a guitar or piano, and the audience. It’s clear the more relaxed performance is a lot more relaxing for Hawley himself. “Touring solo is so easy,” says Hawley,”whereas when I tour with a band, I’m not at a level where I have a tour manager, so then I’m tour manager, and I gotta be like ‘hey guys, lets go.’” Of course, after having grown so accustomed to performing on his own, the challenge now is for Hawley to prepare for the pull back, and to perfect the sound for his solo performance, especially when it comes to his new pieces. “All the new music I’ve written is totally band oriented, so it’s a little harder to translate it onto acoustic guitar.”

Little Miss SunshineHawley recently completed a new album, for which he has yet to find a home. The reception for the first single, “Little Miss Sunshine,” has been positive. So has reaction to the album itself from those who have heard it, but Hawley is trying to find the right place and right time to release it. “The music business, it’s tough. I can play music, and write songs, and all that, but the business side, that’s just not what I’m great at. I feel like at the end of the day it’s all about business.” It’s the struggle of every young artist, trying to find his niche in what can be such a fickle industry.

With the new album Hawley is attempting a full rebrand, and if “Little Miss Sunshine” is any indication, we like where it’s going. Hawley feels the piece explains him and his music stylings well. “I write from experience, and I’ve always been a lyrics first kind of guy. Lyrics are important to me. So it kind of has a story to it, it has a good message, and it’s fun. So I feel like it’s a good way of saying ‘hey, here’s what I do.’”

The piece was loosely inspired by his niece, whom Hawley describes as quite the character. He shares a story about standing in his sister’s kitchen when his niece walks in with a cane and a top hat, just like something out of the film, Little Miss Sunshine, and he knew then that his sister had raised a “total nerd.” His song of the same title is to celebrate that. “I just want to promote being yourself and being original,” because he feels like, “Even though she may see some difficulty in 7th or 8th grade, who doesn’t? If you stay true to yourself and who you wanna be, by the time you’re an adult that’s who people look up to. In the end they’re the cool kids.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean all of Hawley’s lyrics are autobiographical. “I just try to keep my stuff interesting, so I don’t necessarily only write about life experiences. It doesn’t have to be your own life. I just want to create interesting music, lyric driven, that speaks to people, whether it’s true or not.” When prompted, Hawley uses Ray Montagne’s “Jolene” as an example. Stating that he’d love to have written the lyrics to a song that paints such a perfect picture. That the fact that he can visualize the story being told in the song: it’s what he aspires to.

So where to now? Finding a manager is a first step, and the new album is being used to feel people out. Hawley hopes to release two more singles this summer, and the album in full sometime in the fall. From there, more touring: “I love touring, because I love playing music.” Hopefully, sometime in the future that will include leaving the confines of the US, where all artists seem to have a hard time really finding their niche, and exploring opportunities in Europe. He notes the difference in the music atmosphere of Germany to the US. “Germany doesn’t care about “buzz” [the way the US does]. They like you because they like you, and don’t care what others say. They’re also brutally honest.” He equates it to the US music scene of the 60s and 70s, which was much more open and accepting than the industry as we now know it.

Wherever he goes, we’ll be sure to follow. And it’s with much excitement that we await the album.

For a review of Caleb Hawley’s Room 5 Lounge show, see the next page.

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