Growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, singer-songwriter Caleb Caudle was raised on rock n’ roll and Southern hospitality. Influenced by bands like The Clash and Velvet Underground, Caudle was playing North Carolina’s punk rock circuit by the age of 15. Naturally, his music matured with his age and he became more lyrically driven, adopting a love for collecting vinyl. In 2012, he decided to quit his day job and focus solely on music -- five years and four albums later, Caudle is gaining the traction he deserves. He was recently dubbed “the musical equivalent of high-proof bourbon – rich in flavor, with a subtle, satisfying bite,” by Rolling Stone editors for their list of “10 New Country Artists You Need To Know”. He’s played Nashville’s famed AmericanaFest multiple times and his song, “Borrowed Smiles” was featured on last season’s dramatic season finale of CMT’s Nashville. And as 2018 approaches, he’s not slowing down; he’s on the lineup for the 11th Annual Cayamo, the musical cruise that travels from New Orleans to Cozumel, Mexico, and Belize, next to icons like John Prine, Buddy Miller, Brandi Carlile, Patty Griffin, and Lee Ann Womack. And most importantly, he’s gearing up to release his eighth and most refined album yet, Crushed Coins.
Caleb Caudle has always been busy, but in his eyes, things started to really change in 2012, when he released Tobacco Town. While the record was built on a “real shoestring budget” at a friends house, Caudle wanted to replicate the stripped-down feeling of a live performance and gave fans an idea of what to expect. With the intent to tour, he did just that -- traveling around the country playing medium-sized clubs and venues, while simultaneously working on 2014’s Paint Another Layer On My Heart. This time, he wanted to make a bonafide studio record; complete with Lydia Loveless’ sultry backing vocals, the Bruce Springsteen-inspired approach to classic country was a notable transformation in Caudle’s sound. He continued to tour, gaining new listeners, and started garnering media attention. In 2016, he released Carolina Ghost. The album took the leap into real country, in his own words, “About as country as I’ll ever go.” No Depression noted that the record had “a nice progression, sonically and emotionally,” while American Songwriter described it as, “an album that feels pure, natural, and unconcerned with radio play.” Meanwhile, The Bitter Southerner simply put it that, “In a just world, he would be on every country radio station.”
But one of Caudle’s strongest attributes, which journalists and listeners alike continue to find endearing, is his unique and genuine method of songwriting, which Paste Magazine compared to Jason Isbell. “The lyrics are very biographical. I write about what I know, so my albums are a snapshot into a six month window of my life.” From announcing his romantic vulnerability with Paint Another Layer On My Heart to actually finding love on Carolina Ghost, Caudle’s strong lyrical driving force makes him consistently relatable. And his newest project, Crushed Coins, is no exception to that rule. Since his last release, Caudle’s inspiration has shifted; he’s gotten married and has traveled across the country, exploring different national parks (Yosemite, Arches, and Joshua Tree to name a few) with his wife.
Released on February 23, 2018, Crushed Coins is a dark and dreamy narrative about following the light at the end of the tunnel. “I think the overall theme of the record is trying to find hope in a dark place. It’s about relying on the people and the things that you love,” Caudle says, who was inspired by soul, blues, and jazz, specifically Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way. However, producer Jon Ashley is well-versed in a multitude of genres, having produced records for bands like Band of Horses, Hiss Golden Messenger, The War on Drugs, and Dawes. While the two have worked together before, co-producing both Paint Another Layer On My Heart and Carolina Ghost, the duo wanted to take a different approach than ever before.
“Crushed Coins is a departure from my past records in a few ways. We recorded a lot of it out in Los Angeles, which took me out of my comfort zone -- having made the last couple albums at home [in North Carolina]. We discussed how albums used to work as a whole, they were something more than just a group of songs,” says Caudle, who describes the album as, “Not exactly a concept record, but a ‘bigger picture’ project.” On the search for a new sound, he decided to include new instruments, in hopes of transitioning from the country purity heard on Carolina Ghost to a multi-influenced and consequently, genre-less, new record. Crushed Coins features over a dozen extremely talented musicians, including Joshua Hedley, Erin Rae, noted electric guitarist Megan McCormick, pedal steel playerBrett Resnick, and bassist Kevin Black (who you probably recognize if you’re a fan of Sturgill Simpson or Margo Price).
Though Crushed Coins is an 11-song album, Caudle originally headed into Mixtown USA’s studio with 23 songs, all written during one of the most prolific times of his life. “We approached this record with an anything-goes mentality, unafraid to do whatever the songs called for,” he told Rolling Stone Country. And while the album was made with the intent of escaping a specific genre, Caleb Caudle manages to be universally relatable with a mix of empathetic lyrics and a pristine blend of varying sounds. If you’re looking to revive your tastes with something fresh, but also like that warm feeling of musical nostalgia, look no further than Crushed Coins.
cryptically refers to her debut solo album, Psychotic Melancholia, as a “Sodom and Gomorrah concept album” influenced by her childhood obsession with the so-called wicked women in the bible. As metal as that sounds, these are in fact the basic ingredients for a rich and complex psych-tinged garage-country record.
Thompson-King has carried the seeds for Psychotic Melancholia for quite some time. “I was the skeptical kid with her hand up in Sunday school. Also, I spent weekends performing with my church youth group called Clowns for Christ. I guess you could say I was obsessed with getting to the bottom of what exactly would send one to hell."
“I consider myself agnostic at this point,” she says, “but I’m still inspired by the questions I had as a kid about disobedience and about the characters I was taught to believe were evil, like Lot’s Wife and Judas and Lucifer. Upon revisiting these stories, I was inspired by their questioning. I thought they were strong and exciting and I could put myself in their shoes.”
Her intellectual curiosity is evident in lush songs referencing Romantic works of art, her passion for opera (she has a Master’s degree in Opera Performance from New England Conservatory of Music), and her upbringing in a very small town, Sebastian, Fla. Thompson-King sees the album as an amalgamation of her classical training and Southern roots. “I grew up riding and showing American Quarter Horses," she says. "My dad was a team-roper and trained cutting horses. I spent alot of time in the dually listening to country music. And then I went to opera school.”
Thompson-King explains that her songs often begin outside of herself, but ultimately they reflect on her inner experience. “I write about real things that have happened in my life," she says. "My relationships, like with my folks, the people I love, but using the landscape and stories of outside characters. They’re all about me, I guess, but it’s easier to write if I'm looking at a third party. So I look at myself as another character.”
If there's one unifying theme on Psychotic Melancholia, it's the dismantling of false idols. In “Teratoma,” Thompson-King sings, “False idol, I put you on my shelf / False idol, just hair and skin and nails / I’ll cut you out / I’ll cut you out of myself.”
This tendency is illustrated in opening track “Large Hall, Slow Decay,” a blazing country burner directed at a former bandmate with whom Thompson-King had a harsh break-up. The title also references the reverb effect that reminds her of this time in her musical life. But Thompson-King doesn't need to hide behind effects when it comes to her vocals. Her powerful voice and classical training rank her with operatically schooled rock belters like Pat Benatar and Ann Wilson. Her training is brought to bear in the power of “Lot's Wife,” a dirty roadhouse scorcher that re-imagines the Biblical character as a defiant and fearless woman who turns back one last time to watch the city she loves burn. On “Soul Kisser,” a meditation on the midwifery and violence of the creative process, she evokes Goya's bizarre painting Saturn Devouring His Son. Thompson-King's impassioned vibrato creates a temporary calm amidst the album's tempestuous guitars. The proceedings are closed out with a cover of Schumann's “Wehmut” (in English, the album's namesake: “Melancholy”). Originally composed for piano and voice, Thompson-King and bassist Chris Maclachlan present their sparse re-arrangement omitting much of the accompaniment, save for the left-hand piano part which Maclachlan deftly covers on upright bass. Thompson-King sings with full operatic bravado, "Ich kann wohl manchmal singen / als ob ich fröhlich sei / Doch heimlich Tränen dringen / Da wird das Herz mir frei" ("Sometimes I may be singing as if I were full of joy, But secretly the tears are flowing and then my heart feels free").
This new LP is a labor of love six months in the making. Thompson-King co-produced along with guitarist and engineer Pete Weiss. The band, assisted by engineer Sean Cahalin, spent the good part of October 2016 through March 2017 working in Weiss’ Verdant Studio in Athens, Vt., where they obsessively tweaked songs, and experimented with instrumentation and mic set-ups to create an affecting soundscape. “We wanted it to be emotional and exciting. In the end, we did most tracks live and with limited overdubs. It was a lot of pre-production, drum sounds, where to stand in the room, shaping songs and playing together as a band. Verdant (Studio) is really conducive to working this way. The engineer is in the live room with you. It's a beautiful space to spread out. We weren't trying to do something that was perfect," Thompson-King says. "We were trying to do something wild and very real—human.”
Thompson-King resides in Massachusetts, where her artistry has already been widely recognized. She currently receives a grant from the city of Somerville and the Somerville Arts Council to live as an Artist in Residence. Along with Weiss, she is joined on Psychotic Melancholia by bassist Maclachlan of veteran Boston New Wave band Human Sexual Response, and drummer Jonathan Ulman, Boston Music Awards' 2016 Session Player of the Year. While off the road, Thompson-King teaches classical voice lessons to select students in her home studio, but she feels a strong sense of place as a writer, artist and performer. Reflecting on the departure from a career as an opera singer to that of singer-songwriter, she notes, “I knew I had this big voice and I wanted to use it in a serious way, but it needed to be my vision. I needed to write for myself.”
Ultimately, though, she sees a connection between her music and opera. “It's emotional and intense with dramatic, mythological characters," she says. "But the stories are really pretty common and human.”
Psychotic Melancholia is out now on Hard To Kill Records.
Fri, August 16, 2019, 8:30 PM EDT