A great song, says Colbie Caillat, should lift your heart, warm the soul and make you feel good. Taking her own sound advice, "Coco", the debut album by the 22 year-old Californian singer-songwriter is simply crammed full of them.
In an age when marketing has been elevated above content and so many songs are written and produced to a pre-ordained formula, Caillat comes as a welcome breath of fresh air. Records these days seem to fall into two categories. The vast majority tend to contain one or two good tracks which you download to your computer so that you never have to listen to the rest of the album again. Far more rare are those that demand to be listened to from start to finish, with every song in perfect symmetry. Think of the kind of vintage, organically-crafted albums that Carole King or Joni Mitchell used to make. Thankfully, it's a tradition that is being kept alive today by the likes of Norah Jones, Jack Johnson - and now Colbie Caillat.
"If you listen to an album like Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, every song has its place," she says. "If you took one away you'd spoil the balance of the entire record. That's the kind of album I wanted to make. It wouldnt feel right to have my name on a record that was just a few good tracks and then lots of filler."
The reference to Fleetwood Mac is revealing. Caillat grew up in the idyllic clime of Malibu, California with music all around her. Her father, Ken Caillat, co-produced Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" and "Tusk" albums and later ran his own record label. As a child she recalls the likes of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie being around. "Of course I've learned a lot from them. You'd be a fool not to," she says. Yet she is totally her own woman.
She began singing with serious intent at the age of 11 after hearing Lauryn Hill's version of Killing Me Softly. "I think her voice is absolutely beautiful and it made me want to start singing so I entered a talent show and of course I sang a Lauryn Hill song." As she grew older, however, her father offered one crucial piece of advice. It was all very well having a great voice, he pointed out, the people who command real respect in the music business are the songwriters. "I thought about that for a long time", she says.
In truth, it took some time coming - but when it did, the floodgates opened. "I needed to play an instrument to write songs and although I had piano lessons as a kid, it never went anywhere because I was never in the right state of mind to practice," she recalls. Surprisingly, it wasn't until she was 19 - little more than two years ago -that she eventually took up the acoustic guitar. "I wrote my fist song after my very first guitar lesson and then it just all flowed out," she recalls. "If something's biting me I hold it in because that's the kind of person I am. Then it comes out in songs. Things builds up inside of me and I'll write three songs in a weekend. It's a release. I don't choose what to write about. It's just there."
Along the way, she found two key collaborators in Mikal Blue, who hired her when she was 15 to sing some songs he'd written for a fashion show, and singer/songwriter Jason Reeves. Together, they helped to craft the songs on "Coco," which Blue also produced.
"The songs always start put with me," she explains of the collaborative process. "I'll be sitting around at home getting bored and something will come out. Then if I get stuck, I can take it to Mikal or Jason. Having people you trust to bounce ideas around keeps the creativity flowing."
Once she had a bunch of songs, she put a few of them on MySpace, more in hope than expectation. "Nothing much happened for a few months," she remembers. "Then I wrote this song called Bubbly and put it up there and it got this huge reaction. I mean thousands and thousands of hits every day." In the end, she became the number one unsigned artist on MySpace for four successive months, garnering an almost unbelievable 10 million plays. Record labels started courting her and she signed with Universal Republic because, she says, they offered her total creative freedom. "The great thing about MySpace is that you can build up an army of fans and then when you go to a record company, there's no point in them trying to change what you do because it's already been tried and tested," she points out.
Quite what it is about Bubbly that struck such a chord, she's still not entirely sure. "I guess it's the simplicity of the lyrics and the melody," she says. "It's meant to make you feel good and everybody can relate to it." And "Coco" - the album is named after a childhood nickname which stuck - is full of similarly memorable songs imbued with an irresistible warmth which draw on a rich array of influences. "I love all kinds of music and I've been influenced by all of it," she says. "Classic rock like Fleetwood Mac and the Steve Miller Band. Original soul like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Lauryn Hill. Bob Marley and reggae, John Mayer. Anything that makes you feel good."
And from the sunny, upbeat promise of songs such as Bubbly and Oxygen to the gentle, semi-r & b groove of The Little Things and the lilting reggae of Tied Down, "Coco" is one of those classic albums that simply makes you feel glad to be alive. "You make me smile, please stay for a while," she sings on Bubbly. It really ought to be her mantra.
Biography by colbiecaillatmusic.com 2007