Callaghan is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from the UK who currently resides in the US, relocating several years ago to pursue her musical career. After recording several EPs, she collaborated with Grammy-nominated artist Shawn Mullins on her 2012 album Life in Full Coulour and released Callaghan Across America in 2013. Her latest work, Callaghan: A History of Now is due out in April and she’s been busy touring in support of her new album.
We had a chance to catch her between shows to learn more about her musical background, on moving to the US, collaborating with Shawn Mullins, and her new album.
GGM: When did you first start your musical journey and do you recall your first performance?
Callaghan: I’ve been playing music from a really young age. I come from quite a musical family so my two older sisters and I were all encouraged to learn instruments and perform at family events. I think my first public performance was singing at school – the song had a really long piano introduction and by the time I came to sing, the mic wasn’t working, so we had to fix it and then go right back to the beginning of the introduction. Meanwhile I was getting more and more embarrassed! I’ve always known though that I loved performing, and even though when I was really young I found it terrifying and exciting in equal measure, now I just get a real buzz out of being on stage and sharing songs with people.
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GGM: We’ve seen you perform and you play both the piano and guitar and you’re equally comfortable on either instrument. Which came first and did you train professionally?
Callaghan: The piano came first. Although I was classically trained, it was on the flute which I started playing at age six. By the time I was 14/15, I was really getting into singing and wanting to be a songwriter so that’s when I took up the piano. Despite doing years and years of training on the flute, I could never manage to sit through piano lessons. I just wanted to play the songs I loved, so in the end I taught myself to play using Elton John songbooks. I still play like that now – I hear a song and learn it by ear. The guitar came a little later in my early 20’s when I was living in London playing the singer-songwriter circuit and getting tired of carrying a really heavy keyboard to gigs! I love being able to switch between the two instruments during shows and enjoy the variety.
GGM: Was your family supportive of your desire to become a musician?
Callaghan: Very supportive. I’m lucky to have parents who were so supportive and nurturing of my love of music growing up. They drove me to lessons every week for years and came to loads of shows. Although they live in the UK they’ll sometimes surprise me and come over for a show – they turned up at my show in Chicago last year and I had no idea – it was such a brilliant surprise!
GGM: Who were some of your early musical influences that helped craft who you are today as a musician?
Callaghan: I remember listening to a lot of the artists my parents played as I was growing up – Elton John, Bob Dylan, Carole King. So I definitely had a connection to artists who wrote great melodies and lyrics that had real meaning behind them. I was also a big fan of John Denver when I was little and he was the first concert I ever went to when I was five. I still think it’s amazing the career he had and how he could entertain a room of 20,000 people with just his voice and guitar.
GGM: Having been bold and reaching out to one of your major influences, Shawn Mullins, about working together on a project; first, what went through your mind when he replied, and, second, what impact has it had on your music and your career?
Callaghan: I still sometimes have to pinch myself when I think about getting to work with Shawn. I was such a fan of his music growing up and his album “Soul’s Core” was one of the reasons I wanted to become a songwriter. So reaching out to him on MySpace and getting a reply was a dream come true. Working with him on my first album and getting to tour with him has been a real learning experience for me. Seeing how he worked as a producer in the studio, writing with him, and getting to watch him perform on stage every night on tour, I really feel like I grew a lot as an artist during that time and learnt to push myself a lot more.
GGM: You grew up in the UK and played many venues, received airplay, and did all of your own PR work at the time, which obviously worked because it got you to where you are today. What advice would you give to artists in that same situation?
Callaghan: It’s definitely a challenge being an independent artist. Sometimes it can seem like so much of your time is taken with things other than the creative side – social media, networking, learning the business side of the industry. I think that these days it’s not enough for an independent artist just to show up at a venue, play and then leave again. You have to be tuned into things like collecting email addresses and taking time to talk to people after the show. My advice would be to really value the people who are supporting your music and try and give back as much as possible. Without my amazing fans I wouldn’t have been able to make my new record which was funded through Pledge Music. And my other advice would be never give up! Luckily I now have fantastic teams on both sides of the pond who work with me, but you still have to be very determined to keep pushing forward and not let anything pull you down.
GGM: So you bravely took the plunge and moved to the US. What was one of your first experiences upon arriving here?
Callaghan: When I first arrived I lived in Atlanta and one of my first memories was dealing with the interstates – they were about 4 times as big as anything back home in the UK! Another first experience was getting to play at Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta which I was so excited about, knowing its history of all the amazing artists who had started out there – including Shawn Mullins, Jennifer Nettles and John Mayer. It felt amazing to start out playing an open mic night there to being able to sell out my own shows a couple of years later.
GGM: The Callaghan Across America tour back in 2013 was a series of house concerts from coast-to-coast, which lead to the Callaghan Corner-to-Corner Tour, and the Callaghan All-Four Corners Tour. What was (and still is) the inspiration behind hosting house concerts?
Callaghan: House concerts were something I’d only become aware of since moving to the US, although I now know they’ve been around for a long time. I started out doing them in-between regular public shows as a way of staying out on the road and not having so many nights where I wasn’t playing anywhere. The first “Callaghan Across America” tour was really a challenge to see if it would be possible to make it from coast-to-coast only doing house concerts. That first tour began in Boston on May 3rd and ended in San Francisco on June 2nd with 28 shows in-between. It was 10,500 miles of driving, and it was so much fun! I met so many wonderful people along the way and made so many friends. Quite often now when I’m touring I’ll stay with people I got to know when doing a house concert.
GGM: These house concerts definitely get you close and more connected with your fans, which most likely resulted in your successful Pledge Music campaign. Can you share with us that experience?
Callaghan: The house shows have been a great way of making new fans and I love the intimate atmosphere they create. I find that I make a really strong connection with an audience in that situation because it’s a lot less formal – you’re in someone’s living room! – and there’s loads more time to chat and get to know people after the show. I’m really looking forward to this year’s house show tour because it’s going to be two months long this time with 40 shows – it’s going to be a real adventure!
I was really overwhelmed by the response from my fans to my PledgeMusic campaign which reached 170% of the target we had set. I really enjoyed getting to share a lot of the behind-the-scenes aspects of making a record as well – things that are usually hidden. Going through PledgeMusic I was able to share videos from the studio, demos from writing sessions, and get fans to vote on album artwork. I really enjoyed having people involved and being part of Team Callaghan!
GGM: Your new album A History of Now is due out in April of this year through your own label, Green Town Music. What can fans expect to hear on this new album, and can you give us a little background on the inspiration behind the music and the recording process?
Callaghan: Life is a journey of moments and experiences. We’re all writing our own story through the decisions we make, the relationships we have, the things that happen to us and the moments we experience. I hope this album reflects that journey and those moments. From happy uplifting tracks, to more reflective, emotional ballads.
There are universal things all of us experience as we go through life – moments that might seem insignificant but which shape who we are as people and our outlook on the world. I hope that listeners find songs on the album that make them reflect, some that make them cry, and some that make them want to dance around the room!
I really enjoyed the process of recording this album and experimenting with different sounds. I got to work with producer Dennis Matkosky, who I also co-wrote a number of songs with, which was so much fun. We had Casey Brown from Owl City create some tracks for some of the songs to give a more modern vibe, but also had some amazing Nashville musicians play on the record, and we recorded a lot to tape. So it was a real mix of the old and the modern and I’m really pleased with the result we got.
GGM: Currently on tour, where are you headed next?
Callaghan: I recently finished playing at Folk Alliance in Kansas City, MO, and then back in the UK for some touring, followed by more shows on my Album Preview tour in March in Nashville, TN, Marshfield, WI, Evanston, IL, Safety Harbor, FL, and Atlanta, GA. All my tour dates, plus a free EP, are available from my website, www.callaghansongs.com
GGM: Thanks for taking the time to fill us in on your music and career, have a great tour, and we look forward to catching another live show soon!
Callaghan: You’re welcome! And, yes, come see a show!