Interview: Caleb Caudle Hits His Stride on New Album ‘Better Hurry Up’
Before any of the songs on Caleb Caudle’s new country-funk record Better Hurry Up came to fruition, he found inspiration for the title track while having coffee and playing guitar on his front porch swing one morning. He picked out a chord progression, and the lyrics of the chorus followed. Everything else naturally stemmed from there.
“It was like that line was meant to be there. I was meant to do whatever I did that morning. It was one of those ones where you write it, top to bottom, just one sitting,” Caudle says. “This was the one, and it was the first song I wrote for the record. It was immediately the title track.”
"Better Hurry Up" is also the first song listeners will hear on Caudle's new record, out Friday (April 3). The primary thematic focus of the album hinges on the sentiment of those lyrics: “Time is running out, so you better hurry up.” The songs that follow contemplate time as a concept through the lens of nostalgia and lessons from hindsight that create a sense of urgency to make something of the present.
"Present" is what the record feels like, largely due to the life changes that led Caudle to this point in his career, when he’s hitting his stride with a matured sound and direction. Caudle left New Orleans, La., after a brief stint living there in 2014, got sober and returned to his home state of North Carolina, about which he waxes nostalgic in the songs "Front Porch" and "Monte Carlo." His sobriety opened a new channel of creativity.
"More than anything, not drinking for me is the ultimate time-saver," Caudle reflects. "I’m not foggy in the mornings. That’s when I’m most creative. That’s something that I did not know before I stopped drinking, ‘cause I was always too hungover to sit down with a guitar and try to think about the way words go together."
Caudle settled in Winston-Salem, where he met his wife Lauren. With Caudle spending so much time on the road, the pair had to adjust their relationship and make a change -- specifically, Lauren leaving her job at a creative agency to become his manager -- to spend more time together.
“I was touring full-time when me and Lauren started dating, which is a really good thing, because I don’t think it’s possible to start dating someone then decide to tour full-time. Maybe it is, but it’s so hard for somebody to really understand what that looks like and feels like,” Caudle says. “I was gone so much, and she wanted to be with me and experience everything on the road with me. It just got to the point where ... I was just overwhelmed and needed help ... I’m sure it was really scary for her to do, but it felt like a no-brainer when we were talking about it."
Indeed, although the decision was unnerving for the couple at first, it's paid off. They've toured the world a couple of times since then, which has expanded their perspectives and, musically, allowed Caudle to fine-tune his guitar-playing and singing. He details the experience in "Bigger Oceans," and his musical advancements show throughout the record in his finger-picking skills and vocals that meet grit with distinct rhythmic flow.
Next, they decided to make the move to Nashville: “We were spending so much time here, it kind of felt easy to transition, you know?” Caudle explains. About a year ago, while scrambling to both find a place to live and make a plan for his next record while touring in Europe, Caudle started talking with John Jackson of the Jayhawks, whom he met at a show in New York City. Caudle had cut some demos with renowned bassist Dennis Crouch, who’s worked with the likes of Alison Krauss, a few months prior, and the logical conclusion was to record at Cash Cabin Studios, on Johnny Cash’s estate.
“I chose [Jackson as producer] because I had made the last few records with the same group of people. I just wanted to, as artists often do, change things up -- just needed a breath of fresh air,” Caudle explains. “It just felt so right. When we were talking about ideas for the songs, or even the song choices, we were gravitating towards the same ones.
“We talked about it so much ahead of time, so when we got into the cabin, there weren’t a ton of questions. Obviously, I think it’s a pretty important aspect of it to stay available and stay open to suggestions and open to change, which I feel like I’m pretty good about in the studio, because, ultimately, we’re all just trying to make the best record that we can make," he adds. "So surrounding yourself with people that you trust, that have that same goal as you, then it’s easier to stay open and available for other ideas outside of your own."
The creative trust established between Caudle and Jackson, and the players they chose for the session band, shines through in the sound of Better Hurry Up. Jackson recruited harmonica player Mickey Raphael, Pat Sansone of Wilco, drummer Fred Eltringham and pedal steel great Russ Pahl, among others, while vocal guests include John Paul White, Elizabeth Cook and Courtney Marie Andrews.
“I wanted to put out a record that was like, if you don’t like this, then you just don’t like me. And that’s okay, and I’m fine with it. I just wanted it to be just me."
Cash Cabin is small and intimate, decorated with memorabilia from the family: a stained glass portrait of Maybelle Carter and her autoharp, taxidermy from hunting trips, the final portrait made of Johnny Cash, which hangs on a wall and watches over the scene with a psychic reverence. It’s cozy, inviting and warm, which translated to Caudle's music. He, the band and his guest vocalists all recorded in the open room -- no headphones, no lyric sheets -- playing at a low volume together.
“It didn’t feel like we were constructing this flawless record. I wanted it to be more raw,” Caudle says. “Basically, I wanted to put out a record that was like, if you don’t like this, then you just don’t like me. And that’s okay, and I’m fine with it. I just wanted it to be just me."
Better Hurry Up is undoubtedly Caudle at his most open. Simply earning time at Cash Cabin, in the same room as some of country's most talented instrumentalists, is enough to prove that he's launching into an important space within the genre.
But the songs themselves take it even further, proving that Caudle is a master at emotive storytelling. He's created his own version of mountain music, established by his favorites, such as Doc Watson, that at once is foreboding, sentimental, wise -- and just plain good.
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