I open up the window and listen to the rain fall
Just ‘cause you want me to
Twenty three days feels more like a lifetime
‘Cause that’s what striking gold will do
Early fall and falling leaves, sky opens up to blue
Tuscaloosa I could use what you’re used to
“Tuscaloosa” by Caleb Caudle
Caleb Caudle is from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, not Alabama, but he is building a fan base across Alabama that keeps pulling him back here. On the first day of football season, he posted on his Facebook page, “You know that you’ve toured through Alabama a bunch when half your feed is War Damn Eagle and the other half is Roll Tide.”
“I love Alabama. I have grown something here and it has become a nice stop for me between Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Waverly, and Birmingham,” says Caudle. “For whatever the reason, people here connect with what I am doing. My first show at Callaghan’s was opening for Justin Townes Earle for two nights (August 18 & 19, 2014). That was my introduction to Mobile and it was the best situation because all I had to do is do my job and it worked. We have been back twice since then.”
Caudle returned to Callaghan’s on September 15, for his own show, and he brought a full band. Touring with a band is new for Caudle and Callaghan’s was only the fifth show they played together, but the band was already tight because most of them played on Caudle’s albums Paint Another Layer on My Heart and the upcoming Carolina Ghost. They will play on Thacker Mountan Radio in Oxford, MS and the Americana Fest in Nashville later in the week. The Southern Rambler talked with Caudle before his show at Callaghan’s.
TSR: You have built a good following with your guitar and songwriting. Why is this the time to grow into a band?
Caleb: Occasionally I have a full band, but this is the first time I’ve been able to get into a van and take everyone out because I can finally afford to do it. I kept putting it off because if I take people out, I don’t want them to worry about paying the rent back home. I want them to have fun and escape reality in some way.
Traveling by myself was fun for the first three months, then it got lonely driving the country on ridiculous drives that I shouldn’t have done. I am happy because I haven’t had to drive on this tour and I now have van-speak and inside jokes with a band.
TSR: You quit drinking. You moved to New Orleans, and then moved back to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. You changed your sound for your next album. Do you need change for motivation?
Caleb: I don’t know if I need change as much as I need to feel satisfied, but I will never get there and I will always be unsatisfied. I am at the place I have been wanting to get to for a while, and it feels good, but I want to grow and grow the music. There is a constant longing that I want the shows to be better and my drive and personality is to constantly move things forward. I need change to feel like it is growing and something is happening. From the inside everything seems slow, but it is progressing. We used to have an occasional good show on a tour. That has flipped and now there is occasionally a bad show on tour.
My girlfriend tells me my standards are extremely high, and they probably are. I get that from my dad. In life I want to eat good food, surround myself with good people, and do the best thing. If you aren’t doing that, then what is the point?
TSR: You surround yourself with good musicians and seem very supportive of other players you see on the road.
Caleb: There is a lot of respect. I have been on the road for three years and when I see someone else doing this, I am drawn to that person. I sent Aaron Lee Tasjan a Facebook message to introduce myself and ask if he wanted to tour, and we were immediate best friends. Same thing with John Moreland. The people who do this instantly understand each other and have a bond. Aaron, Moreland, and I toured together and it helped all three of us in different ways. Moreland and I now share a manager.
TSR: What was touring like when you started three years ago?
Caleb: I did a tour with Shovels and Rope and Michael and Cary Ann’s advice for getting started was “You can do it, but you have to go all in and it is going to be terrible for a while.” They were right, the first year was terrible. I sold everything I owned, a whole house full of stuff, and booked three months of touring myself. It was 80 shows in three months and I knew I was probably going to fall on my face. The money dwindled. A year and a half ago, I drove to Nashville to start a tour with Aaron. I stopped for gas 100 miles from Nashville and only had $5 left. I made the embarrassing call to my dad and he wired me $30 to fill up my car. I made $200 in Nashville that night and I could keep going. It has never been that low again.
Paint Another Layer on My Heart came out last year with some good press and I got on a few tours and bookings picked up. But I burned out last fall, quit drinking, and took time to get my head right. I started to date my girlfriend, started being a good person to my family, and went hiking with my dad. I was re-energized.
TSR: What does the title of the next album, Carolina Ghost, mean to you?
Caleb: The title is from the lines “From the Blueridge to the coast, the notes they float just like a ghost through Carolina,” from the song “Carolina Ghost.”
I moved back to Winston last year to write. I had lived there for seven years before moving to New Orleans. The routine in Winston was to work at a pizza restaurant, get off work and go to the bar, stay there until midnight, go home, wake up, and do it again. Then play on the weekends. Touring is all I do now and my days are much different. I often walk past the old bar, but I haven’t been in since I moved back home. That seems like a lifetime ago and I can’t believe that is what I did every night for years. It was so much wasted time, but many lessons learned. You have to forgive yourself and move forward. Carolina Ghost is about forgiving myself for acting like an idiot for those years. And it is a lot of love songs.
TSR: Why did you go back to North Carolina?
Caleb: North Carolina is home. I left once and I don’t want to leave it again. When I lived in New Orleans and went home, I wasn’t home. I wanted to go somewhere two miles away, but had no idea which two miles I was heading. I needed a GPS to get around the city I was living in. In North Carolina, I don’t need a GPS.
For a long time I thought I needed to move to Nashville, but I am getting the same opportunities as friends living in Nashville and no longer feel the need to be there. North Carolina is my family and my beloved (Carolina) Panthers. When I Iived in Winston the first time and worked at a pizza restaurant, no one cared. Now I am touring and somewhat removed and it is a little bit of being the hometown hero. It takes leaving and touring to be appreciated.
TSR: Carolina Ghost is finished and will be released next year, but you have already started writing again?
Caleb: I have four new songs and two others waiting on lines. I constantly write and the notepad on my phone is full. I write a lot on the road and take a few days off at home to think about it. Sometimes I realize I was out of my mind and have to scrap it. I pull a few lines from here and there and try to figure out what I was feeling in that moment. I will write a song and have it down to all but two lines, but I have learned to stay calm and wait because it will come. Don’t write things you don’t mean just to finish a song.
After I finish a record, I won’t write another song for three or four months. That is time to cleanse the palate and find new music that will inspire me and influence me down the line. I don’t want to make the same thing twice. I am trying to sell records and make a living, but I don’t want to sacrifice the feeling I had when I first started writing. It is such a relief when you finish a song. There is no other feeling. I love it more than anything. That, and singing.
TSR: You say the songs on Carolina Ghost reflect your love for classic country, Conway Twitty, Neil Young, Merle Haggard, and Hank Williams Sr. That influence is clear when you play the new songs along with songs on past albums.
Caleb: I have always loved classic country from the ‘60s and ‘70s. The production reminds me of growing up, my grandpa’s truck, and the smell of Camel cigarettes deep in the seats. I got into the Merle Haggard records Big City and Going Where the Lonely Go and that was the world I lived in for six months going into Carolina Ghost.
I am a fan of Dean Dillon who wrote songs for George Strait and many others. I am blown away by how he could write from the heart and still have mass appeal. It’s not that way anymore. There is a subculture in country music of people just killing it and following after George Strait, Randy Travis, Merle Haggard and George Jones. We are touring around in small clubs, but we will never have the fan base those people had because of radio. No one buys records anymore, so there is no money in publicity. People are still writing good songs, but we have to adapt and get more creative in making records, and crowdsourcing is one way to do it. I could not have made Carolina Ghost without Indiegogo. Some of the hard work touring pays off in different ways.
TSR: You and John Moreland got started in punk bands. Is there a reason?
Caleb: John and I grew up sheltered and have very similar pasts. We both grew up in the church and we both tried to rebel. What is the furthest thing from singing in the choir? Singing in punk bands. I was drawn to the feeling of freedom. Now I find it in country songs. Those two musics are similar because they are both simple at their core and based on emotions. I went from being an angry kid to developing real emotions and thoughts about real-life situations. I am not mad at the world any more, I am just observing what happens in my life. I love records that are a snapshot of someone’s life and those are the albums I try to make.
Sometimes the emotions change and the place you are writing from isn’t the place you are going to be in three years. I have different emotions from the people who are hearing it. Once I put out a song or a record, it’s not mine anymore. It’s for everyone else to decide what the meaning is. I try to keep that in mind. Songwriting is the way for me to keep my sanity and connect with people. That is all I can ask for in any job in my life.
Cover photo by Shane Rice. Gallery photos by Shane Rice and Michelle Stancil.