Caylee Hammack was one of our favourite discoveries here at EF Country when she burst onto the country scene back in 2019 with her first single ‘Family Tree’, and it’s safe to say we’re still big fans.
The Georgia native released her debut album, ‘If It Wasn’t For You’, in August 2020 to critical acclaim and has since performed alongside artists including Reba McEntire, Miranda Lambert and Chris Stapleton. Now she’s back with her latest single, ‘All Or Nothing’, and a new LP due for release later this year.
I caught up with Caylee before her performance at C2C as part of Introducing Nashville earlier this month to talk about her travels in the UK (including staying in a Scottish castle!), the reaction from British fans, how she approaches her songwriting, working with Ashley McBryde on last year’s ground-breaking record ‘Lindeville’ and what’s coming up for her in 2023.
Welcome to London!
Thank you! I’m so excited to be here.
How has your trip been so far?
It was wonderful. Actually this year I’m really tryin’ to focus on not just surviving on the road but thriving. So I had a couple of days off, I flew in and stayed in Edinburgh, went to the Highlands for a bit. I found out you could rent the kitchen quarters of a castle for kinda cheap, and we did that. I felt like kind of more like a scullery maid than a princess [laughs], but a really happy scullery maid. And then I get to be here and yesterday was the first show back in London.
It’s a beautiful full circle for me today because I’m playing The O2, and this was the next day after the travel ban was put in place [when Caylee was originally due to play the 2020 edition of C2C that was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic]. So I missed the rest of the week of shows in London. It broke my heart I didn’t get to stand on that stage and just connect with people before I left. But I’m finally back and so this show is really important to me.
How have you found the reaction of the fans here?
I absolutely love it. But, now I will tell you this, because you may not know this. At first I thought all of you hated me because I’m used to drunk, rowdy, rowdy folks in America, and I appreciate all kinds of kinds. But at first, y’all were so silent during the song that I was like, “Oh no, they hate me”. And then I finished the song and the last note rung out, and all of a sudden y’all just started applauding very loudly. And I realised that you didn’t not like me. What it was was, you have such reverence for the music that you wanted to soak up every single bit of it.
As a young songwriter, as a singer, as someone that creates anything, the time that people give to listen to your songs, that came from hard times in your life or whatever, it means the absolute world to us that when we come over here, we are so just supported and loved. I don’t know. It’s just good to be back over here and be able to hug people that I haven’t seen since 2020 in the crowd, and get to sing some new songs for everybody. ‘Cause I feel like, even if I mess up a song, y’all still will love me, and I just can’t tell you how much it means as a young songwriter. I cannot tell you. But yeah, I love being able to play new songs.
Are there any songs you’re particularly enjoying playing live at the moment?
Yes, actually. I have a song I wrote during 2020, really right after we got back, and it was the only good song I wrote in 2020, at least in my opinion. All the rest are garbage! But I wrote a song because I love David Bowie, and I grew up watching ‘The Labyrinth’, and I just remember the part of it where he says, “Words have power”. And even in the Bible it talks about that your mouth is a door to guard. And I believe we have the ability to manifest things, and at a time of so much sadness and isolation and loss, I really just wanted to create a song that if you’re singin’ along to this you are saying, “I’m gonna have a good day, it’s all gonna be all right, and I am linin’ up with good things and when I’m gone people are gonna remember the good things. That’s what I’m gonna work hard for”. And that song is called ‘Only Good Things’.
How do you feel your songwriting has evolved since the last record?
You know, one thing I had learned years ago but was very much amplified and brought back to mind in 2020 was, you gotta live in order to write. And I didn’t do much livin’ in 2020, I just kinda tried to keep my head above the water while puttin’ a record out. In ’21, we got back on the road and I was finally able to be around a couple of groups of people and all of that, I realised that I finally started living again, and I could start writing. And I think one beautiful thing for me at least, is now when I’m approaching some of these songs, the more I produce my stuff, the more the production comes in play while writing it, you know, taking little segments.
And one thing I’m really trying to do now is, you don’t have to sing every single second of a song Caylee [chuckles]. I was really stupid, and did not realise that I never put breath in my songs. And when you’re in the studio standing still, it’s easy to sing, but not when you’re dancin’ on stage if there’s no breath. I felt like Eminem trying to desperately rap some of my songs. But anyways, it has definitely, at least I think improved, but I’m grateful for the time, y’know? I sat there wondering if I’d get out of it and people would have forgotten me by then, but I’m grateful I had the time that I could learn covers for people on Instagram Lives and stuff. Because the more chords I learned, well, the better my songwriting improved. So it was two years of practice, that’s for sure.
It sounds like it’s been a really huge experience in terms of growth for you…
Most definitely. And honestly my favourite thing I think that happened, was, yes, I didn’t get to go in front of crowds. I didn’t get to hug people, and that’s one of my favourite things to do. But on Instagram, I started getting DMs, and they were long DMs about how certain songs connected with people, things they were going through. And I mean I know I’ve said this, I can’t tell you how much it means but truly I don’t know how to put it into words, what it means when you’re sitting at home, with an album out, and you’re just praying that people care enough that you can keep your deal and you can just keep doing this. And then you get a DM from someone, and they go, “I went through that exact same heartbreak and that song helped me”. It is the most beautiful thing in the world, to be able to write songs about the bad times in my life and help somebody else through ’em. And that was the thing I feel like the most out of it was I did get a deeper in-depth connection with a lot of my fans. Because I had the time to sit down and read everything. We all had a lot of time to sit down and read, but yeah, learning how to communicate in a different way than just hugging your neck at a show.
Were there any songs that particularly surprised you in terms of how people responded to them?
Oh most definitely. ‘Small Town Hypocrite’ was not ever supposed to be released in a million years. It was about the first love of my life, my true love, and me giving up a scholarship to bring me to Nashville, Tennessee I’d worked my whole life for, because I wanted to be with him. And I cuss in the song, the song is just a journal entry, but my team said “You need to put it out” and I said no. I said, “It’s too vulnerable, it cusses too much, people won’t like it”. And to hear about other men and women who have gone through similar heartbreaks and that song connecting with ’em, it made every single bit of that heartbreak worth it, and I’m so grateful that I got to put one of the most vulnerable pieces of music I’ve ever got to write in my life out, and that people connected. I like being vulnerable with people, and I think we need a little bit more vulnerability in the world. That’s the word. So I’m glad I could share that part of my heart with y’all and that you accepted it.
I also wanted to ask you about working on ‘Lindeville’ with Ashley McBryde…
Oh my God it was one of my favourite things I’ve ever done in my whole life!
Tell me how that came about and what that experience was like?
So during 2020, 2021, Ashley McBryde would come over and we’d sit around the bonfire and drink a little and play guitar, and we’d invite different friends over. Tenille Townes came over a bunch as well. I love both of those girls dearly. So Ashley started, one day I remember her showin’ up and goin’, “I wanna play you this song”. I was like, “OK, I’ll get the fire goin'”. And she played ‘Bonfire At Tina’s’. And I was like, “Wow, that is such a good song”. And then she goes, “Listen to this one” and she played me ‘Brenda Put Your Bra On’. I went, “I need both of these, can I have the work tapes? Will you send it to me?” She’s like, “Sure”. So she sent me the work tapes and I had been a fan of this since 2020, y’know?
Well, all of a sudden I get a call one day from Ashley, and now of course I kinda wanted to be in it. But I wasn’t on the writers’ retreat, and I was not gonna push into somebody’s project. But when she called me, and she goes, “What are you doin’ today?” and I said, “Actually, nothin'”. And she goes, “Will you come by? Will you be Lynette? We need one character. She owns the diner and the strip club, and we think it’s you”. And I was like, “I would love to be Lynette”. So we went over to John Osborne’s house and we went in his little studio in the front, and I sang on a little microphone sittin’ down on their couch with John and Lucie’s [Silvas, John’s wife] dog Barley, and Ashley walked me through the parts she wanted. And the beauty was I already knew the songs because I was already such a rabid fan about it.
So getting to be a character in it, getting to bring my dog on set, y’know, as Crankiedoodle in my Vera Bradley, getting to do it with a bunch of strong women that I revere, it is so cool. I can’t tell you. It’s awesome to do your own music videos and stuff, but it is a different level of fun when you’re out there with three other women, and we’re in high heels in the middle of a cow pasture, and doin’ donuts in a car that we’re about to set on fire. I mean, it was an exhilarating experience. But I’m forever grateful Ashley asked me to be part of it, ’cause it was a dream come true.
It looked like the most fun ever from the videos…
It was. OK, we were flying in, we messed up in customs, and I almost didn’t get my work visa to play these shows. I was so stressed out. Thank goodness, it was handled, but as we were coming in I was so stressed and then Taylor says, my manager says, “Check your email”. And I go to check it. And it turns out that we have been nominated for Music Video of the Year at the CMT Awards. And so it’s really cool when you get to do it with friends. And I automatically texted the group and I was like, “Oh my God!”, and Ashley was like, “Whoa whoa whoa, what happened? I just woke up” and I was like, “Check your emails!” It’s exciting. It’s an honour.
Is there anything from working on that project that you’re taking forward into your own music now?
I think what I took from working on the ‘Lindeville’ project was that you can be as country as you want, and you can tell of the little dirty secrets and the saucy gossip in these kind of country songs. And people will like it. I mean, when we played the Ryman, there were people throwin’ bras on stage during ‘Brenda Put Your Bra On’. I have a video of me like slingshotting one into the mezzanine. It was so much fun!
It’s really funny, fun to have funny songs. I have a lot of serious songs or rockin’ songs, but [sings] “bra on, bra on” is a little different. So I’m hoping I can bring some of that fun and flavour to my stuff.
What’s the song you wish you could have written?
Oh, I already have that! So the two songs that I’ve heard in my life that I bawled like a baby when one of my best friends Thomas Fincham played ’em for me. ‘Guillotine’ by Jon Bellion, which if you don’t know go listen. And the next song, the one that ripped my heart out and I cried at the kitchen table, was ‘The Bird and the Rifle’ by Lori McKenna. Those two, probably. They’re the ones that come to mind when you ask that. Because I mean, I sobbed, and Thomas was like, “Yeah, I know it’s a sad song”. And I went, “No, I don’t know if I’ll ever write something like that”.
Another one, if you want a great lyrical song, Ashley Monroe and the song is called “The Blade”. You know that? Oh, goodness gracious, good.
What does the rest of this year look like for you? I know you’ve got your new single and you’re working on an album – is that going to be the focus?
Yes. So I’m finishing up, I’ve pretty much done all the songs on the record, I’m co-producing it. And got to record all the vocals at my house. I recorded a party and then spent about 15 hours cropping little sections of it to make it fit, and cut out the cuss words my friends said during the recording [laughs]. Anyway, right now, we’re about to release a new song in about a month’s time called ‘History Of Repeating’ that I wrote with Ashley McBryde and Pillbox Patti, and Ashley might be singing in the background. Who knows, who knows? But after that we’re releasing a record at the end of this year, probably in the fall time. I guess around August if things go well. But please keep an eye out for it. I’d appreciate y’all listening.
Oh, we definitely will! And lastly – have you got plans to come back to the UK after this trip?
Any time that y’all will invite me back over here. Every time someone says that to me, “When are you comin’ back?”, I just grab them by the shoulders, lean in and I stare in their eyes and I go, “Please request me so I can”. And my hands shake. Any time I get to come here, it’s an honour and also it’s a lifetime experience for me. So thank y’all for being you.
Caylee Hammack’s latest single, ‘All Or Nothing’, is out now on Capitol Records Nashville/UMG Recordings.