When Colbie Caillat began work on her fourth album, the uptempo «Gypsy Heart,» the Grammy-winning, multiplatinum singer was at a career crossroads. The record label wanted her to capitalize on the recent success of Miley Cyrus’ «Bangerz» with a sexier release, but Caillat was unsure. A fortunate intervention from producer Babyface kept the singer true to herself and resulted in anthemic single «Try,» which admonishes women to embrace their truest beauty. The accompanying video has garnered 25 million views on YouTube and Vevo. Colbie Caillat opened up to me about rediscovering her authentic self, soul-saving advice from Babyface and Jason Mraz, overcoming stage fright, the importance of family and friends, and her favorite apps.
Your lead single «Try,» which tells women that they don’t have to change a single thing to please those around them, is very inspiring . Why was it important to you to spread this message?
I’m from Southern California and go to Hawaii all the time and always love wearing no makeup. I shower last minute, and my hair is wet throughout the day. That’s how I like to roll. When I first got into this business, that’s how I first started performing. I would wear sandals and jeans. The more success I was getting, the more people came on board trying to change me, and I know it’s ’cause I did need some improving. But they didn’t know how to have me evolve in a way that was me. So I started having tons of hair and makeup put on and stylists putting me in really high heels and short skirts. I have thick, long hair, but they still put extensions in it for photo shoots, ’cause it makes it look that much bigger. So I’ve never felt comfortable performing on TV ’cause it’s not me, but it’s what they’re all telling me people want to see, so I guess I should just follow it. But I’ve done it for so many years. All of my albums were photoshopped. I have blemishes on my skin and a mole on my forehead, and all of that gets removed. They make your arms thinner.
So I was feeling more myself this last year, and I recorded this acoustic record, but my label didn’t like it. They wanted more of a top 40 sound, and that was right when Miley Cyrus’ record came out, and everyone was liking that — the whole «sex sells» thing. I was getting requests to be more like that. I had to take a couple months off, because I didn’t know how to handle it.
Then I went into the writing session with Babyface, and I said, «We’ve gotta write a song now and make it interesting where it gets people’s ears, and let’s talk about something crazy.» And he said, «No, absolutely not. You don’t have to do that or be someone who you’re not. I’m not going to let you.» I was like, wait — Babyface, an all-time legend, who’s so brilliant, is telling me not to listen to these people? And he really freed me from that and reminded me to stay true to who I really am. It really took that for me to pay attention to what I really wanted. So we wrote the song and then everything kept stemming from there, like «Less is more» and «Be yourself.» Then my boyfriend has helped me with so many ideas of the selfies and the people with no makeup and knowing when to wear it on TV and when to wear less, so that’s something I’ve been aware of as well. Today I feel like getting dressed up and having tons of makeup on, but not for tomorrow’s show.
Colbie Caillat’s «Try» video demonstrates that women don’t need makeup to look beautiful:
«Blaze» is about raging with your friends. How do you let loose with your crew?
What’s so funny is that we’re so mellow, actually. I go to sleep at 11 o’clock, even if I’m going to a raging party. I drink but don’t drink a ton. We dance, listen to loud music, and take jacuzzis and swim. We go to Hawaii and have ping-pong tables, or we play beer pong or Uno or canasta. We really play games. I didn’t want to overstate it in the song, because we don’t do drugs and stay up all night. We like to have fun in a mellow, basic kind of way.
Considering the track «If You Love Me Let Me Go,» how do you deal with a breakup?
Sometime ago my boyfriend and I were going through a hard time, and we stayed best friends, even though we broke up. He taught me that just because you end a relationship doesn’t mean you have to throw away what you had with someone for so long. I think everyone has to look at that, because I’ve seen so many breakups where people lose respect for each other and do horrible things to each other and then hate each other. You spent 10 years together and then you just hate that person — I think it’s crazy. To have respect throughout the relationship and throughout the breakup — that’s key.
«Live It Up» touches on your struggle with stage fright. Do you have any tips to share with others who are struggling with a similar issue?
I haven’t gotten over it, but I’ve gotten better at pushing it aside slightly. At the beginning of my career, I’d want to cancel shows, or I’d cry before going onstage, or I wouldn’t talk to my audience, or I’d stand there with my eyes closed. Then I just kept doing it, because I had such an amazing opportunity with this career. Sometimes I think the more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s been 8 years for me, and I’m still totally terrified to perform on live TV. I don’t even know what it would be like to perform at the Grammys. I think I’d have a heart attack.
When Jason Mraz and I were on «Saturday Night Live» and I had all my hair, makeup, and styling team, and everyone was trying to make me look perfect, he said, «Hey can you take a second and be in my dressing room by yourself for a minute?» I went there, and he had incense and candles lit, and he and his team were so mellow. They reminded me that it doesn’t have to be a bunch of stress before you do things, and you can just take some time for yourself and can prepare for what you have to do. Also a stage coach of mine told me to look in the mirror and tell myself five good things about me and give myself a boost of self-confidence.
In light of «Never Gonna Let You Down,» who’s been your greatest support system?
My family and my best friends. My family and I are so close, and we still live down the street from each other. We all work together and vacation together and even share dogs together. I’ve known my two best friends since we were 11 years old. I have other friends and acquaintances, but I think less is more. If I’m touring all the time and can only come home for a few days or a few hours, I wanna hang with just the people I’m closest to and not spread myself too thin. So it’s really my family, my two best friends, my boyfriend Justin, and my dogs that keep me grounded every day.
For those who don’t know, your father, Ken Caillat, co-produced iconic Fleetwood Mac albums «Rumours,» «Tusk,» and «Mirage,» as well as four of your albums. What advice did he give you when you entered the music industry?
Both of my parents gave me the tools to become a musician and songwriter. When I was younger, I just said I wanted to be a singer, but didn’t know where to take that, so they put me in vocal lessons. Then in my early teens, they said that I should also learn how to play piano and guitar and be a songwriter as well. I had no interest, but they kept encouraging it, and then they paid for my vocal lessons and piano lessons and guitar lessons and told me how songwriting works and song structure and gave me the opportunity to work with producers and put a band together and find my manager. They were a part of everything for my career.
What are your top five mobile apps?
1. Twitter is great for communicating with fans. In my MySpace days, I interacted with people all the time, and then there was a long period where I didn’t. Now I just post a pic of me and my dogs in bed, and people will reply with something sweet. I try and write something back when I can.
2. Pinterest is everything. For photo shoots or tour clothes, I’ll send my stylist to my Pinterest page, where I put all these pictures of accessories or clothes I wanna wear. I’ll send my hair and makeup artists pictures of braids or gold eyeliner. When I remodel a house, or I just bought property in Hawaii and want to build a house, I go and find pictures of how I want my house to look, so I send that to an architect. I also go there for food recipes.
3. Snapchat is funny. My friends say it keeps you in the moment, so you don’t have to save every picture. But you can also be funny and send your friends a really horrible picture of you. We just send each other ridiculous faces all day long. It’s another fun way to interact with your friends.
4. I like Frametastic. You can put 2-12 pictures all together on one page, and it frames them and makes it really cool.
5. I have Sonos throughout my house, so its app is really cool.