Chatting about Songwriting and the Music Industry with Caleb Hawley

Review by Sammi Lanthier:

It’s a Tuesday night and Room 5 is packed. It’s a venue I’ve never been to before, but it’s small and homey, making it the perfect place for a concert. All the seats seem to be filled, but after a moment of panic, I find myself a place. It’s a seat nearly pressed up against the back wall, yet I can still see the stage clearly, making me all the more excited for the show.

Caleb Hawley immediately catches my eye with his bow tie and suspenders, perhaps a bit out of place in a venue like this, but working perfectly for him. It’s a dapper look that somehow compliments his quirkiness.  His goofy personality instantly shines through as he dances and sings along with the radio while tuning his guitar. After three opening acts, the crowd is chatty but relaxed, and more than ready for the last performance of the night. Caleb, done tuning, gets straight to it, setting the tone for the night with a song about a man killing his significant other because of infidelity. He is quick to explain that it is merely fictional, and the audience, though hesitant at first, is quickly laughing along with the humorous lyrics and upbeat melody.

The risky move of Caleb’s starter song clearly pays off as the patrons halt in their side conversations.  He starts in on his second song, and newest available single, “Little Miss Sunshine.” Though the song was written for his niece, after she experienced difficulty with bullies, the lyrics really speak to anyone who is trying to fit in. The chorus — “You’ve just gotta use whatever you got, never try to be somebody you’re not” — is a lesson that people of any age can still afford to hear, and is even better when wrapped up nicely in Caleb’s feel-good guitar riffs and husky, soul-dripping voice.

Caleb, a Jack of All Trades, then moves to the piano, and I am pleasantly shocked. I had seen Caleb perform once before, but he played his entire set on guitar. He thanks everyone for coming, and states that he enjoys playing by himself, but it’s always better with an audience.  By the look of the crowd, I can tell that he has won them over with his quick wit, but with songs as catchy as Caleb’s are, he hardly needs to add jokes to the repertoire.  The crowd grows quieter, giving him their undivided attention.

His first piano song, “Let A Little Love In,” shows us all his range in a way we hadn’t experienced before.  He hits a high note and makes nearly all of the audience clap. After that, he does a solo version of a song that probably sounds better with a band, but certainly still makes its mark. He starts it off with beat-boxing that we sadly only get a hint of and moves in to a chorus of lyrics that include, “This is my sex song, don’t have to feel wrong, don’t have to last long…real men hit and repeat.”

By this point, I can tell that Caleb, as well as the audience, is starting to loosen up. Everyone is swaying to the music, some even clapping along. Caleb doesn’t waste time before jumping into his next number, a slowed down cover song. He justifies to the crowd that many questioned his decision, but the words just mean so much more when sung at a slower pace.

At the very first line, I can’t help laugh. It’s definitely the most unusual way I’ve heard “Sexy and I Know It.”  Caleb again surprises me by pulling it off.  By the chorus, he’s got the whole audience singing, “girl look at that body,”  to which he responds with a simple, “I work out.”

It’s hard to follow up a song like that, but his next, “Bada Boom Bada Bling,” requires a bit of audience participation as well and we are all quick to oblige. On the surface, the song is about a man trying to find a sugar mama, but underneath it’s about the rise of successful women.  It references Beyonce and her popular song “Run the World,” and even mentions Hilary Clinton. It’s fast paced and though the small space hardly allows it, people are up and dancing by the end.

Caleb throws us all a bit of a curve ball with his next song and slows the mood down a little.  This one tells a story about growing up in a house of therapists.  In 7th grade, he faked a myriad of issues so he could be put on medication, just like all his friends. This particular story of his youth, is the inspiration for his most recently released CD “We All Got Problems.” The first song, named after the CD, sets the stage on which Caleb grew up, giving a back story and explaining his introduction to the world of prescription drugs. His second song “Call Me Crazy,” is a slower piano ballad that explains his exit, singing that he is just himself and has no need for pills, so call him crazy if you must.

These two particular songs hit rather close to home with me, and I find myself fighting back tears. Everyone in the room can feel the raw emotion behind the lyrics, and it’s almost as if the songs are a reflection of our own lives instead of his. It’s an interesting social commentary on how so many turn to medicine to solve their problems. This powerful, captivating piece gives way to his next, a duet that he sings alone, called “Playing House.” By the end of that song, the audience is practically on their feet, all of them clapping, and some even uttering a “wow” or two in astonishment.

To end the night, Caleb plays a new song that’s never been heard before by an audience. It has a Justin Timberlake quality with a repetitive chorus and multiple lines sung in nothing but falsetto. It’s clear that for his next album he has taken a more upbeat approach, moving out of ballads and giving the crowd something to dance to. He slows it down a little with “I Just Want You,” before changing his mind and leaving us with one last new song — “Give It Away” — that could be something off a Prince album. With a high sung chorus and full on dance break in the middle, the song is more commonly played with a full band, but that doesn’t stop Caleb.  He even gives us a bit of the horn part himself, and really, who doesn’t love a little “air horn”?

By the time Caleb is retreating from the stage, I have no choice but to go greet him and personally thank him for such a moving show.  Unfortunately, I’m not the only one who feels this way and before I can make it there, he is swarmed by a group of fans. The wait is not too bad, though, as it gives me a moment to fully digest and mentally prepare what I want to say.

When he finally makes it over to me, it’s clear that all my preparation was for naught as he pulls me into a hug and thanks me for coming. The conversation then jumps around from topic to topic, with Caleb seeming much more interested in me than I am in him. Regrettably, he does inform me that his new CD is yet to have a release date, making most of the songs we heard tonight nothing more than a tease.

Before we part ways for the evening, Caleb thanks me again for coming out and gives me another hug. Even if I hadn’t been aware of how talented he was, I’m sure the charming conversation would have won me over completely.  When he has another concert I am sure to be there.

 

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