Colbie Caillat has entered a new phase of her career — one that has her reasserting artistic control over the music she writes and records.
The sunny singer-songwriter with the bright, throaty voice left her major label, Republic Records, after five studio albums and recorded her latest, “The Malibu Sessions,” in 2016 on her own label, PlummyLou Records, in a rented house in Broad Beach in Southern California.
The balmy oceanside location not only proved a healthy environment — allowing Caillat and the musicians she recruited to take morning walks down Zuma Beach to get smoothies or burritos — but it found its way into the recording of the album’s first single: “Goldmine.” The breezy track opens with the Pacific sounds of surf and seagulls and feet sloshing in sand.
Caillat’s detour from the demanding career of a major-label pop diva to the more laid-back one of a self-directed indie artist also means fewer concert dates. She will perform March 25 at the Grand Sierra Resort Grand Theatre amid a schedule of sporadic shows. Like most artists who’ve hit high on the charts but continue writing, Caillat (who was not available for an interview) will likely perform a mix of old and new.
Her set on her acoustic tour in late 2016 included monster hits “Fallin’ For You,” “Bubbly,” “Realize,” “I Never Told You,” “Try” and “Brighter Than the Sun,” and two cuts off her new album: “Goldmine” and “Never Got Away.”
Testament to love
“Goldmine” is a catchy, upbeat, country-poppy tune with a whistling hook. Written in a vein expected from her songsmith approach, “Goldmine” is a testament to vitalizing and enduring love.
Caillat was backed on her acoustic tour by players who performed on “The Malibu Sessions,” including her fiancé, Justin Young, and members of the mellow duo High Dive Heart, which includes Jason Reeves — a longtime songwriting collaborator of Caillat. For her current shows, she’ll be backed by a band.
Caillat’s 10 years as a marquee performing and recording artist might make fans forget that her rise to stardom was dramatic — and, initially, not orchestrated by the traditional star-making machinery.
Caillat blew up as a singer-songwriter on social media — garnering millions of fans in the mid-2000s when MySpace was cyberspace central for discovering homegrown music. From there, her sunny, girl-next-door approach and catchy tunes such as “Bubbly” landed the Malibu native a major-record label contract at the tender age of 22, and stardom both on the adult-music and Top 40 charts.
As the hits and download sales accumulated over her next few albums, her sound grew more produced to compete with Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande. Caillat also collaborated with the likes of Taylor Swift and Jason Mraz, Ryan Tedder and Babyface.
Leaving a major label mean less promotion of her music, which could explain why “Goldmine” did not register on the Billboard Hot 100 (it reached No. 37 on the U.S. Adult chart) and has chalked up 327,000 Youtube views to date — in contrast to the 60 million-plus views for “I Never Told You,” “Try” and “Bubbly.”
Nevertheless, Caillat’s career has been impressive, and includes two Grammys.
A little history
Caillat, who turns 32 in May, was raised in the affluent town of Newbury Park in Ventura County, California. Her father, Ken Caillat, is a successful music-industry professional whose accolades included engineering Fleetwood Mac’s huge-selling 1977 album “Rumours.” Colbie began piano lessons in childhood but wasn’t fired up about seriously pursuing music until she saw the movie “Sister Act 2” at age 11 and was blown away by the chops of neo-soul vocalist Lauryn Hill, who played an unruly student. Intent on becoming a professional singer, Caillat started taking vocal lessons, though she soon discovered what stage fright was all about when she nervously performed in public for the first time, in a sixth-grade talent show.
She eventually caught the ears of producer Mikal Blue, based in nearby Thousand Oaks, California, and he hired her to sing techno songs for soundtracks played at fashion shows. Caillat also heeded her father’s advice about the merits of being a singer-songwriter instead of a hired throat: “If you’re really going to be a singer, then you have two choices. You’re going to have to write your own songs, or you’re going to have to buy somebody else’s.”
Caillat began playing acoustic guitar at 19, but her live performing and stage appearance still were shaky. Her voice was engagingly soothing, a trace throaty and naturally pretty, not bent toward vocal gymnastics. She failed two tryouts for “American Idol” — getting cut in the pre-audition phase the first time. For her second shot, she set herself apart from the mass of canary-voiced candidates by singing an endearingly cute and catchy song she’d co-written herself, titled, “Bubbly”: describing in first person a girl’s physical infatuation for a boy, though not in vulgar terms. Caillat’s voice mixed a girl-next-door tone with a measure of soulful swagger, but her performance did not generate a pass to advance to the televised competition.
Her fortunes soon would change. By the mid-2000s, MySpace was emerging as a platform for indie musicians to expose their songs. Caillat’s profile, uploaded by a friend since Caillat wasn’t tech savvy, featured “Bubbly.” Cyberspace surfers were captivated by its sweet, confessional tone and effortless hookiness and clicked on it 22 million times: pushing Caillat’s profile to the No. 1 MySpace ranking in her genre for four straight months. It was enough to get her signed to Republic Records — and let her quit her tanning-salon receptionist’s job. Republic released her folk-pop debut album, “Coco” in 2007. The album, titled after the nickname Caillat’s parents had given her in infancy, was co-produced by Caillat with her father, Blue and “Bubbly” co-songwriter Jason Reeves, and kept true to her simple, personable approach. Featuring “Bubbly” (which hit No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100) and two other charting singles (“The Little Things” and “Realize”), “Coco” sold more than 3 million copies despite CD’s declining as a music medium. It also made Caillat a star not only in the singer-songwriter-friendly adult-contemporary music world, but, a bit improbably, in the eye candy-dominated pop world.
Like her breezy, sunny musical style, the earthy, 5-foot-9-inch, honey-blond Caillat didn’t try glitzing herself up into a made-over pop diva. Her popularity continued to soar with numerous collaborations, including recording “Hear Comes the Sun” for the soundtrack of the movie “Imagine That,” co-writing and singing background on Taylor Swift’s single, “Breathe,” and singing a duet with Jazon Mraz, “Lucky” for his 2009 album, “We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things.”
Caillat has fairly much sustained her chart-hitting recording and headline touring status ever since. For her sophomore album, “Breakthrough,” in 2009, she overcame writer’s block by again collaborating with Reeves to craft the likeable, toe-tapping, mid-tempo tunes that drew her a mass audience of mellow music lovers. “Breakthrough” hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, buoyed by three more hit singles (“You Got Me,” “Fallin’ for You” and “I Never Told You.”). Caillat continued charting well with her albums “All of You,” “Christmas in the Sand” and “Gypsy Heart” (the latter veering more toward dance pop, including a collaboration, “Hold On,” with One Republic’s Ryan Tedder).
Despite pushing a poppy approach in most of her music, Caillat during her five-album run with Republic Records did not shy away from progressive political and social stances. She performed at the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Concert, in Oslo, Norway, and — as a vegetarian — supports the New York-based Farm Sanctuary. Her 2014 megahit “Try,” written with Kenneth “Babyface” Evans, was an empowering anthem for girls to not have to try so hard to fit an image of beauty, but can wash away their makeup and feel good in their own skin.
Caillat’s new indie approach may be leaving her longtime fans curious where her career will go. In a promotional statement she released when “The Malibu Sessions” dropped, she claimed disenchantment with the material she’d released following “Coco” — citing “a huge disconnect to the music I was putting out and to everything involved.”
Caillat said she wanted to recover creative control and return to the free-flowing spirit of the sessions with Mikal Blue and Jason Reeves that had created “Coco.”
“I knew I’ve got to go back to the first way I did it when it actually did work,” she said in the statement.