Born and raised in Detroit, Callaghan Belle has been surrounded by music her whole life. She’s been working at a career in this industry since she was a teenager and all of the hard work is finally paying off with the release of her debut single, “Dear Detroit.” Callaghan and I talked about everything – from how she got started making music to the role Detroit plays in her music to the story behind “Dear Detroit” and everything in between. Keep reading to see what she had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
My very first performance was when I was 12 or 13 and my mom brought me to this open mic at a coffee house. The owner came up to me after I sang and she said, “Can you come back next weekend and play a two-hour set?” I agreed to it, but when my mom and I got back in the car, she said, “You know two songs. There’s no way you can play a two hour set in 5 days.” Anyways, I figured it out and most of my set was Led Zeppelin songs, including “Stairway to Heaven,” and I played the solo, which was really bizarre. That’s kind of when I really had to dig in and learn some music.
Is that the moment that made you realize music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?
Yeah, I think that was the moment where I realized it was something I could work at and get good at. A couple of years later, I think I was 15 or something, Ken Caillat, who did Fleetwood Mac stuff and is Colbie Caillat’s dad, he actually found me on YouTube and flew me out to LA, so that was the moment [when I realized] that “Oh, this is going somewhere.” That was my big break of my teenage years [laughs].
Yeah, it happened relatively quickly once I committed.
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. So how would you describe your sound without using genre names? What kind of music do you produce?
I would say, adjective-wise, it’s very emotional and story-oriented. For me, my favorite songs all have a story, regardless of genre.
Going off of that, you mentioned the Led Zeppelin song you performed at your first show, but who are some of your musical influences?
So many. Zeppelin is definitely one of them. My dad had me listen to The Beatles from the time I was born. Lana Del Ray, Kelly Clarkson, JoJo, Dolly Parton — I think she’s just like the coolest. Aly & AJ, The Pretty Reckless. I could go on forever.
So many good names in that list.
They’re all different genres though, which is bizarre.
Let’s talk about your first single, “Dear Detroit.” What inspired this song?
That’s kind of a weird story. I had a meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel before I moved to LA. It was basically one of those meetings, as a girl I feel like we’ve all had these meetings, where a guy in a suit is telling you who you are and who you should be instead. He was sitting in this very privileged environment, going on and on about how my song should be, his words – not mine, more about guns. I was just sitting there in a sundress nodding along, trying to not cry. But anyway, I went home to Detroit and thought about it and ended up writing the song about an internal battle: about leaving home, how homesick you feel and when two cities are your home at the same time.
Like you just said, you’re from Detroit, which obviously has a rich music history. Aside from this song, how much does Detroit play a role in the music you create, whether it be referenced in the lyrics or just the overall sound of your music?
This song is definitely the most of a tribute to Detroit. The rest of it is, for me, personally, in context about Detroit because it’s all about growing up, knowing you need to leave home, knowing your dreams are somewhere else and how hard that is. But in terms of the Motown vibe, it’s not really there; it’s more dark pop. But I did grow up listening to a lot of Bob Seger, and Anita Baker is actually my Godmother, so you would think it would be a little more of that.
I always love hearing about the songwriting process so I was wondering what was your songwriting process like for “Dear Detroit”?
For me, a song happens so many different ways. This song is one of the ones I wrote all by myself, and for me, those kind of songs… it’s so weird because I’ll just have the urge to sit at the piano and 15 minutes later, there will be a song. Honestly, somebody could be like, “How did you come up with this lyric?” and I’d be like, “I don’t know.” It’s just like some sort of magic. It sounds stupid, but that’s what it’s like for me when I write by myself. When I write with other people, it’s just as magical but more collaborative.
You mention that you write with other artists. Would you say it’s like half and half, or do you typically write by yourself?
When I lived in Detroit, I was pretty isolated. There is a lot of music that comes out of there, but everybody’s kind of underground, doing their own thing. In LA, everybody is always collaborating on everything. Since I’ve moved here, I write with people a couple of times a week. The stuff I write by myself is more therapeutic and getting yourself through a heartbreak or whatever [the case may be]. But I’d say it’s half and half, at least.
Are you writing songs for other artists, or are you writing songs that you would want to perform?
A little bit of both. I’ve written for Colbie Caillat and JoJo. Nobody knows this, but last week, a friend and I wrote a song for one of the girls in BlackPink. So I have been writing for other artists. But at this stage, I’d like to just continue as an artist myself.
Going back to “Dear Detroit” for a second, were there any major changes made to the song once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
I actually recorded this in my parents’ basement back home in Michigan right after I wrote it. It was a pretty solitary experience so there weren’t a lot of changes made. A friend of mine, out here in LA, did some final production tweaks to it a year or so later. But for the most part, it stayed exactly the same, even the vocal is mostly the demo vocal because the raw emotion was so on.
I know it’s only been a week since it was released, but what’s the response been like to the single so far?
People have really related to it. I was a little hesitant because it’s so unique. For me, personally, I didn’t want to just put out a pop-cutesy single as my first song. I wanted to say something a little different. So I was worried; I didn’t know what people were going to say. But everyone has related so much, especially people who have moved away from home. It’s been good.
Going off the heels of “Dear Detroit”, what are your plans for the next couple of months in terms of more new music? Are you going to release more singles or an EP?
Next Friday, I have a song called “Paranoia” coming out. It’s a little more pop than this one, and I just wanted to give everyone a little bit of both. So that’s coming out, and then the EP is coming out hopefully this spring or summer, because it’s been done for a bit, so it’s ready. I’m finishing up a second EP too, so there’s just going to be a constant stream of music from now until forever, hopefully [laughs].
Second EP already? So were you writing them both at the same time and then you just picked a few songs for each? How did that work?
No. The first EP is called Sovereign and it’s been done for 2 years. No kidding. At least. “Dear Detroit” was probably recorded 3 years ago because I’ve lived in LA for almost 3 years now. Basically, I was signed with management for a while and had all different deals here and there. They were all like, “Oh, you should just wait, you should just wait.” I listened, and I’m not really sure why. Now the second EP is done, and I need to get moving. So yeah, they weren’t written at the same time.
Even though it’s been so long since you wrote and recorded Sovereign, I assume you can still relate to them even though you’re in a completely different place in your life?
It’s funny; it’s almost like looking at baby pictures or something. Not quite as extreme, but [with] every song, I know exactly who or what it’s about and how the story started and ended. It’s just so sweet for me. Dark pop would be the genre, but it’s still vulnerable and sweet. It’s like my baby. I couldn’t not put it out.
And you still feel like it represents who you are as an artist today and the music you are working on in the current time?
Yeah, luckily, the genre is still pretty similar. Obviously, the next EP is a bit more mature. But in overall vibe, it’s still the same.
You’re still relatively new to the music game, but what are some music industry-related goals you aim to reach in your career in the next couple of years?
I want to continue writing for other artists. I’ve done that for a bit, but I want to continue doing it as I’m also releasing stuff on my own. It’s always been a challenge to balance that because you get caught up in someone else’s career and projects, which is thrilling and awesome, but I’d really like to balance more things. [I’d also like to] release the EPs, and I’d really love to tour at some point. That’s been a dream since I was a little girl. I’d love to open for someone or do it on my own.
Do you have a dream city or venue you’d like to play?
I would love to play LA again. I played Hotel Cafe last summer. I’d love to play in New York; New York is just so awesome. So yeah, either city.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd so what is something you nerd out about?
I’m nerding out about Friends. My friends make fun of me because I can watch any episode; you can give me 15 seconds of any episode and I can give you the full context. It’s really kind of embarrassing.