Caitlin James has this arresting old world beauty about her, something she must have brought in from another lifetime. She has a calming demeanor, a filthy sense of humor, a penchant for cowgirl fashion. Her first EP, Wild, is a long time coming for her as both a woman and as a musician. It is incredibly impressive to watch someone step into their skin as an artist, and the interview that follows aims to uncover exactly what that process was like.
Caitlin James grew up living the life of a country song, raised in Idaho and riding horses, watching the sun set over rolling hills. There’s a certain longing to her music, an ache you acquire in a place like Idaho, where your heart is set to roam from a young age. Her songs make you want to go for a drive; sweet, poetic and honest about how simple it is to be complicated. The EP has a soft pulse, classic pedal steel, and memorable melodies you will find yourself humming long after these 5 songs have finished playing on repeat in your car. With a certain style and cover art that harkens to the early days of Shanya Twain and 90’s Reba, Caitlin James is finding herself a niche that we more than hope to see revisited. If Wild is a precursor to what we can expect to hear from this newbie, then we should all be rather excited, and packing our bags for Nashville to hear her on stage for the first time.
LF: Nashville by way of LA by way of Idaho. How are you liking your newest home? What are you finding in Nashville?
CJ: Yes, it’s been quite the ride! I wasn’t sure I would like Nashville at first, I have always been such a western girl but there are some amazing things about it that you cannot find anywhere else. Firstly, the music community is present and very strong. It has been easy to find support and help during the entire process of recording because so many people here are doing the same thing. I don’t find it to be competitive or closed off. That is my favorite thing about Nashville. Beyond that, I love living in a place that is small enough to feel like a hometown, but big enough to have some industry to it. I also really enjoy how much live music there is, not just on Broadway but all over the city. You can always count on seeing a show if you are looking. Oh, and eating at Cochon Butcher, hello food. I’ll always miss the West – it is my home, but for right now, this is where I need to be.
LF: If we were to one you up and look at what you carry with you from the West, what might we see?
CJ: When I left California, everything I had had to fit into my car, so it is safe to say I couldn’t bring much. I love trinkets though, and I have a lot that remind me of home. I have my childhood spurs, a beautiful piece of pampas grass from Santa Barbara I grabbed on the day I left for Tennessee, and a bunch of photos that I’ve taken all over Idaho, California, and Arizona. These things carry me through on the days I miss home.
LF: And metaphorically? You can take the girl out of Idaho but you can’t…
CJ: Take the wild out of the girl. I think being from somewhere so majestic, where everything is big and bold, it becomes an intrinsic part of who you are. It is easy to be wildly free in a place so wild itself, the further away from it you are, the harder it is to find yourself in that spirit. So no matter where I am, I just have to remember and honor that. The height and majesty is always with me, maybe not around me, but definitely within me.
LF: How long have you been working on this EP?
CJ: I’ve been working on this since December of 2016. I wrote the songs beforehand, and as I was living in California we flew out to Nashville to record. It’s been a slow process because of moving but I also intentionally took some time away from it to strengthen my voice and get a better understanding of the recording process. I am really glad we have taken our time with it, summer seems like the perfect time to release this EP!
LF: You wrote these songs? What does that process look like for you?
CJ: Yes I did! There really is no rhyme or reason to my writing, but I do have some sacred places that help bring out the song in me. My favorite place to write is in my car. I’ve always found a long drive to be the safest place to create. I am distracted just enough by driving to turn my mind off and just be. That distraction allows me to tap into my creative side without being aware of it because I am focused on the road. Once I think about it, it’s lost. I rarely get something good out of forcing it. Typically I’ll be driving or listening to music and a melody will just pop into my head. I’ll turn on my voice memos and trust the universe to take it from there. There are plenty of memos that never see the light of day, but if something gets stuck in my head, then I know I have to move forward. That’s really when the work begins. The melody for me is the driving emotional force and the words and chords follow.
LF: What are your songs about?
CJ: My songs are about the human heart, relationships in all forms. I write a lot about love or loss. If it’s not my own, it’s from the people around me. My empathy can shoot through the roof and often times it will come out in a song. I also write a lot about what my anxiety conjures up, it sure makes for a vivid imagination. Everybody loves a good, happy song including me, but those don’t happen as often. Songwriting is a way to channel all of my deep feelings and get them outside of my body. I’m a water sign, a cancer, I can’t help it.
LF: Tell me about your guitar Pearl.
CJ: Oh, sweet Pearl. I moved to LA with an old Ovation that my was my grandfathers. It wasn’t a good guitar but I didn’t know any better. It had a huge body and it was really hard to play. I was constantly frustrated by playing because I just wasn’t having fun or improving. When Devan and I met, I told him what kind of guitar I had, and he instantly shook his head. One month into us dating, he sent me a photo of a beautiful Gibson Hummingbird Pro that read, “Meet your new guitar. This is not a gift as your boyfriend, but from one musician to another.” He found her in a pawnshop in Detroit. It was the greatest gift anyone has ever given me. I’ve written all of my songs on Pearl, and I picked the name Pearl because pearls symbolize purity and strength, two things I hope music can always mean to me.
LF: I gather your boyfriend has played a large role in this process for you. What’s it like working together?
CJ: Yes, he absolutely has. When I moved to LA I was writing and (sort of) playing guitar, but it wasn’t until we met that I truly started exploring songwriting and music. I didn’t know if I really had a voice or if I was even capable of making this a reality. Once we started talking about music and playing together, he showed me it was totally possible. He really has pushed me to believe in myself.
Working together is amazing, and it can also be a challenge. But, I think any couple out there who molds work and play can attest to how rewarding it can be. Not only is he my boyfriend, but he is also my producer and a great teacher. He has seen me at my ultimate highs and lows when it comes to being a new artist (and I think it is okay to say for me there has been a lot), but we push each other to become better people AND better musicians. He has seen every one of my songs from start to finish and coached me through the entire process. What I love about working with him is his ear. When I write a song, I don’t have the same type of vision for it. He has a huge imagination and can bring the life out of any song. It’s not something I could ever do, and I totally admire it. I think that is the strongest part about our working together: we both have things to bring to the table that the other does not. This really gives us the environment to truly create together.
LF: Are you going to be performing this EP? Where can we hope to see you? Any chance we can lure you back to LA for a set?
CJ: As of this moment, I don’t have any performances scheduled, but that is the next step! You’ll definitely see me playing around Nashville in the near future, and I am absolutely hoping to come to LA to play. I’ve got the Hotel Cafe on my venue bucket list.
LF: The images we have here, and the cover of your EP were all shot by Alexa King. What’s up with you two? It looks like magic.
CJ: It is total magic! We met through Instagram. I have followed her for some time and just been absolutely in love with her photography. Her work is really nostalgic for me because my childhood was full of cowboys and rodeos. I wrote her once I moved to Nashville hoping that if she was ever passing through that we could shoot or even meet. She wrote me back immediately saying she had just moved to Nashville too! It was kismet. I think she understands my personality, and she is always pushing me to the brink of my comfort zone in photo and in my creativity. Alexa is a complete creative, not just in photo but in many other ways. She is one of those women (like the gals at Live FAST) who totally and truly loves and supports other women in the arts, which is such an inspiring way to be. Speaking of which, we have a collaboration coming up here soon (hint: music video) and I can’t wait to share!
LF: How fast do you live?
CJ: In terms of eating, living, exploring… I live real fast. If you include my bedtime in that, I live fast until about 10pm or so.