CM Talks to Caleb Hawley: His Fresh Take On A Throwback Sound

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Calling all aspiring musicians, Caleb Hawley has some advice for you: don’t go to college.

But before you drop out or tell your parents about this bold move, allow me to give you some context.

Hawley is a New York based traditionally acoustic musician—until now. His new, self-titled album has a new and different flavor than the two that came before it, and that is the flavor of soul.

“It’s definitely different than the stuff I’ve done before. It almost felt like a change-my-name-and-start-over kind of thing…but, it’s still me,” says Hawley.

“[Soul] has always been the genre of music that makes me feel good—ever since I was five and watched Sister Act,” he says, laughing. “And I love this stuff, I want to be a part of it.” Hawley ended up scratching his usual singer-songwriter acoustic material and replaced it with six songs inspired by the Stevie Wonder, Motown years. That’s Side 1 of his new sound. Side 2 has a similar feel, but is more contemporary. “All together, the threads that hold it together is soul and R&B. It feels natural…authentic to myself,” says Hawley.

On top of that, this music just feels good. Full and round with horns, strings and sexy background vocals, the album gives a sense of the aforementioned decades with the added twist of Hawley’s unique vocals—a bright yet gravelly acoustic-singer tenor with an undeniable throwback vibe and unbelievable range. Add in the infectious beats and great lyrics and the true value of this record becomes clear.

Although the talented singer/songwriter has been on the music scene for six years with successes along the way, he thinks the best is still to come for his career. “I’ve had a lot of small things happen…As far as the big break goes, no definitely not, I had a break a couple years ago—I did American Idol and made it pretty far—and that was a crazy month of my life when I was like ‘Oh shit, man, maybe this is it.’ The truth is, American Idol…I could equate to, like, a candy bar. It’s really good but it’s not sustainable.”

He thinks that Caleb Hawley, his fourth studio album, will bring about more than just another candy bar moment for his career. “That’s why I’m excited about this record…I think that the songs are recorded in a way that’s original. Hopefully the right person will hear it…” But instead of waiting for that lucky moment, Hawley is more focused on simply doing what he loves. “I’m creating something that feels like me, you know? It’s my voice and I’m proud of it so the rest is just up to the gods, I guess.”

Hawley is opening for REO Speedwagon in the fall, and has played alongside some greats. “I used to say I had opened for big acts like DMB and stuff, but truth to be told I was usually on a side stage… in a parking lot… next to the stadium parking lot,” he confesses.

He also has had his share of epic stage moments. His favorite, he recalls was this past 4th of July.  “I bought a bunch of fireworks before the show and we continued to light them throughout…It's the closest I ever came to pyrotechnics.  Then of course we ended the night with the Star Spangled Banner so I lit my guitar on fire like Hendrix.  Never felt more badass.”

For Hawley, “making it” is all relative. “When I was in college I remember saying that playing for 50 people in 50 different markets would be making it for me.  Now I'd say 500 people. I've gotten selfish,” he adds with a grin.

Now, back to that advice. Despite his rock star counsel, Hawley did in fact go to college and earned his degree in Jazz Composition from Berklee College of Music in Boston. “I tried to really push myself. I would be practicing seven, eight hours a day.”

While he looks back on college fondly, he says if he could go back and do it all over again, he wouldn’t. Instead, he would rather get his career started earlier. “Obviously school is great—my parents both work at colleges—but I was looking at [other musicians’] careers and I was just like ‘Whoa, James Taylor just moved to New York when he was 18.’ It’s just about getting started as soon as possible. I mean, if you want to be a doctor, obviously you have to go to school. I don’t really want the self-taught surgeon.”

For those of us who aren’t musicians or whose parents aren’t quite keen on the skipping college idea, Hawley offers another piece of honest guidance: “just figure out what you want to do as quickly as you can…something that you obviously love. Find the thing you love and go for that. No matter where you are, how little you make, how much you make, the one thing you can always have is to be doing what you love.”

Check out his brand spankin’ new music video for “Little Miss Sunshine,” off his new record Caleb Hawley, set to release this fall.


Junior > English/Communications > Boston College

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