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Local Music Tap: Chatting w/ Caleb Hawley, Midwest Man Turned NYC Soul Singer

The Harlem soul crooner with Midwest blood in his veins, Caleb Hawley, is bringing his tour back to this great land Friday -- specifically the Icehouse in Minneapolis. So, of course, Local Music Tap had to catch up with him and see what's up.

In our conversation, we talk about everything from his music, his decision to move out to the Big Apple, to his dealings with addiction -- and how he overcame it. Check it out below.

You'll also find various music videos and songs. Enjoy!

First off, could you give me a little background of your Minnesota days and what inspired you to pursue music?

I feel like I've lived on both borders of Minnesota honestly, between Hudson and Fargo. But I kind of claim Minnesota as common ground for where I grew up.

As far as getting into music, my parents always played guitar and sang. They used to actually do the northern Minnesota library circuit, they did like kids' music and stuff, you know? Obviously, it was nothing huge but I was introduced to music and performing from them at an early age.

Then, I started playing guitar when I was teenager … and I started branching off and kinda playing my own music. I played a bunch of bars, even when I was 16, 17, in the Twin Cities. Kinda started off like that. Then, I went to Berklee School of Music and came down from New York from there. And I've been there for about 10 years.

So, what encouraged the decision to make move to Harlem, New York City?

At that point, I was picking a spot in New York where me and my wife could find a cheap place.

I think what really brought me there is the music, the big city and the energy. That being said, every time I go back to smaller markets, like Minneapolis, and catch shows, I'm always amazed. Well, I'm not even amazed. Some people tend to think that Nashville, LA, and New York are the best of the best, but there are gems in every city really.

I guess New York, it's close to the business. That's kind of why I moved out there.

Could you describe 2014 EPs and what it was like getting them together?

It was a phase of going back to early Motown, kind of an early obsession with early Stevie Wonder and wanting to create this big Phil Spector kind of sound.

They both have a throw-back vibe to them, but the first one is more so. Getting that together, I knew it was going to be a challenge. Just to create that big sound takes a lot of people. To this day, I never worked with as many people as I have on that project. I co-produced it with a guy named Dan Molad, he's in the band Lucius.

I'm happy with how those stand up. I'm really proud of those. As far as pulling it off … I don't know if I'll ever do recording that difficult to pull off again because of just how many people I had to use and how many strings I had to pull to make it happen.

As of now, I've been releasing songs and videos along the way to keep stuff out into the world.

That's right ... Every month, you're currently releasing a song paired with a video. How's that whole process going?

Yeah, we're releasing a song and video the first Wednesday of every month. A couple of them have been covers and a couple have been originals. I'm really happy with how they've been turning out.

Will it result in a new album?

No, I'm not planning on it necessarily turning into an album. I have this label deal with Fieldhouse and we're really close to begin the recording process of the next full length album. In all honesty, I have almost all the songs and everything ready, it's just going in with another fresh set of ears so we can really get into the music and it's not just from my perspective.

Like I said, the last albums were made with so many people and this is the exact opposite. I have a like storage unit studio in New York and I've been locking myself in there, doing a lot of it on my own. It's going to be a little more electronic. I mean, not fully into the electronic world, but definitely more so than the past.

Will the original songs you've been releasing, like "Spinning", be on there?

Yeah, songs like "Spinning" will be on the next album.

That song was written while you were dealing with alcoholism, but you're now sober. What made you decide to quit?

Yeah, that was definitely written during a time of really just obsession, honestly. However it happened, my life had gotten into a place where I'd wake up, I'd do one thing. Basically I'd work out and after that, I'd start with the booze.

You know where every liquor store is at – in case you're in the area or whatever. I can just describe my life as literally spinning, as far as spinning completely out-of-control, but then also just the visual aspect of walking around on a daily basis.

I've been sober to nearly 2 years now. I never did a step program. I got to a point where there's usually the rock bottom or whatever, and then I hit it, if not that, close to it. And then I quit cold turkey. Maybe probably six months later, I stopped all drugs and everything as well.

It's been different, compared to how I used to do shows. But I finally have gotten to a place where I feel fully comfortable in my own skin again.

Caleb Hawley - Spinnin' by Caleb Hawley on YouTube

I'm curious about that. How have live shows changed when you're not under the influence of ... certain things?

Yeah, I remember when I first started really getting obliterated on stage, but I was able to – at least I thought – hide it. No one ever brought it to my attention. No one ever came up to me and said "you seem out of control."

It (alcohol) took the nerves out of performing. It felt easy in that way. But, that being said, I used to perform completely sober and it was always for the love of it. So, once I started relying on it as a crutch, it became harder to perform without it.

A year and a half later, I feel finally back to normal. Sure there are nerves now -- I was used to numbing -- but it's good. It makes me feel more authentic and real.

Really appreciate your candor. So, one of my favorite music videos of yours is the one for "Bada Boom, Bada Bling". How did that music video come together?

That's a song about … on a deeper level, I guess, would be women-empowerment and that whole thing that is prevalent in society.

The song was very much about women running the world, you know, and so I thought what I wanted to do was have a bunch of musician dudes just hanging out – that's not actually true, we do work and stuff obviously (laughs) – but set the tone of all of us just hanging out and we're not doing anything, but just playing music. And I thought that was a fun idea for that.

We did that in Nashville on tour. And Nashville is such a great place because people will just be there. There's one guy from Minneapolis that was there there, some friends from New York were in town. Called up some people and just asked them.

We actually played it live. That was a live recording. Even though it looks like a room of dudes just hanging, in the corner there was a desk with a Pro Tools setup. We just tried to make it as subtle as possible.

Caleb Hawley - Bada Boom, Bada Bling (Live) by Caleb Hawley on YouTube

How does your songwriting process go?

Well, it's always different, to be short with it. I would say there's two different approaches, and those become the two kinds of songs I write.

If I start on guitar, it's usually going to be more story-based. Doing it that way, I prefer to doing it all together, simultaneously.

But then I also write from a producer style when I'm starting with a beat. In that case, I'll consider it more of a production. If I'm doing it production, it's definitely piece-by-piece and lyrics come last.

Those are typically the two main ways I write songs and it's definitely noticeable. If I were to play you two different songs, you'd be able to tell.

Would the guitar-style be more in the realm of the song "I Just Want You"?

Yes, you got it! (laughs)

And "Give It Away" would be more the production style?

Exactly! You nailed it. (laughs)

Who would you love to collaborate with?

Man, my No. 1 to collaborate would be this guy named Lewis Taylor, but unfortunately I think he's retired (laughs). He's this British guy and has this album that he put out in 1996, it's self-entitled, but it sounds like tomorrow (laughs). That's been my album of the year for me, which is funny because it came out 20 years ago. It has a very electro-soul vibe to it … somehow it was looked over. In certain circles, people know it, but it seems kind of rare. So, I'd collaborate with him… he's still around, but I can't find out anything about him.

If not him, then probably another British dude kind of in the same camp: Jamie Lidell. I'd love to work with (him).

I've asked other artists this and I think it's kind of fun: Who would you love to cover one of YOUR songs?

I mean, on full-out commercial level, I guess I'd have to say Taylor Swift. She's like the queen of getting people's music out so how can I deny that? (laughs)

You're playing at the Icehouse Friday – what should fans expect?

We're gonna be very ready and tight. Minneapolis, obviously having some hometown connections, it should be a good turnout. I've yet to play Icehouse. It's a place I've wanted to play for a while, but the dates just haven't lined up.

They play shows pretty late, but we'll be right on at 10:30 p.m. and will play one long set. Will play a lot of new stuff that's not even available, as well as plenty of old stuff as well.

You will play "Give It Away" though, right?

(laughs) Yeah, we're gonna play it. I'll dedicate it to Cole! (laughs)

Lastly, what's next for Caleb Hawley?

Just staying consistent … there's no big next step other than staying true to myself as much as possible. Accepting that what happens, happens. Because a lot the success stories and stuff – all that – is highly out of my control. I just try to stay busy with doing what I love, which is making music and getting a chance to perform it.

Thank you very much for your time.


Local Music Tap is a blog aimed at promoting Minnesota-based musicians, bands, shows and events. If you have music blog ideas, please email or leave a comment below.

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