A modern songwriter inspired by timeless bluegrass and old school country music, Callie McCullough has chased her unique muse for years, making contemporary roots music that nods to the legends who came before her. It’s a sound anchored by intimate ballads and McCullough’s gorgeous voice, whose Alison Krauss-worthy tone and Dolly Parton-sized beauty stand in contrast to her dry humor and larger-than-life personality. With “After Midnight”, McCullough makes her debut as a solo artist. The six-song record was tracked in her adopted hometown of Nashville, where she resettled after spending nearly a decade on the road with other projects.
We had the opportunity to chat with Callie and talk debut album “After Midnight”, working with Grammy winners Union Station, and what’s next.
Kat: Can you talk about the inspiration behind your debut album “After Midnight”?
Callie: Hey guys, thanks so much for having me and sharing this music! “After Midnight” was a passion project that I dreamed up with my best friends (Producer) Dustin Olyan, (Assoc. Producer/Songwriter) Scotty Kipfer and (Songwriter) Ryan Sorestad. I had been in town (Nashville) for a few years already, writing, playing gigs, hustling and working with a few different producers, had an almost deal, a lot of ups and downs. This album is the journey of those years, I was finding myself as an artist, honing my craft and finding my people. This group of songs all came together within 2 years I’d say, each one paving the way to the next. We focused on bringing each song to life in its best light and letting that lead the way.
My Producer Dustin Olyan has the ability to see and hear an Artist as the truest version of themselves, which is why this album turning out so honest and vulnerably me in that snapshot of time. When we had finished I sat down and listened to it all and thought this really sounds like something you would put on a record player late at night with a glass of wine… that’s when After Midnight became the clear title.
Kat: Can you talk about your song writing process, does it differ from song to song?
Callie: I really do think each song is its own movie so to speak. I started writing actual songs when I was about 14, before that I was just making scribbles and strange poems. I spent my teenage years and early twenties writing whatever came to mind, whatever inspired me. I had read books and interviews about song writing by Tom T Hall, Steve Earle, Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell and I just let it happen naturally.
When I moved to Nashville I was determined to learn the “Nashville way” of writing songs, which is setting an appointment and putting 2-4 people in a room to come up with a song in 3 hours. I learned it, I lived it, I wrote with hundreds of people up to 10 times a week for years…and I realized that factory way of creating wasn’t really for me. I’ve written a handful of good tunes that way, but all the best times I got together to write was when it felt organic…there was coffee or tequila flowing, probably a ton of snacks and something on our hearts we needed to share…slowly, I found the people that I connected with musically- we shared similar roots, visions and beliefs in what we thought music is meant to do…make you feel something. That is how this album was written with my good friends Scotty Kipfer and Ryan Sorestad…one at a time we brought these songs into the world, every time having a willingness to dive into the honest and real, unglossy parts of life.
Most of my inspirations will drop in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, and I’ll knowingly just climb out of bed, pick up a guitar and try to catch what’s falling out before it’s gone…I’m always making notes, keeping a file when something sparks in my mind, my phone is riddled full of voice memo melodies with no lyrics, and lyric notes with no melody…It falls out of everywhere. I try to make sure that in a town so focused on co-writing that I make time to write songs alone too to keep that muscle working.
Kat: The album features members of the Grammy-winning bluegrass band Union Station and western-swing super group The Time Jumpers. How did they come to feature on the album? What do you feel they brought to the album?
Callie: Honestly, it’s still pretty surreal! When we started planning this album my Producer Dustin Olyan and Associate Producer/Co Writer Scotty Kipfer and I sat down in my kitchen and made a laundry list of all our favourite musicians in the genre. We thought, okay, this is a bit crazy but what if we call them all and ask them to come make this record with us…well, they said yes and it happened! Those tracking sessions (recorded at legendary “The Tracking Room” in Nashville) were incredible and also highly nerve racking for me. Those guys are all legends, and the level of musicianship they brought to these songs is amazing, the title Track After Midnight is a standout from those sessions! I’m completely honoured to have had such phenomenal musicians grace my songs.
This album is a fusion of those sessions and sessions at Olyan’s own studio- where we built songs from the ground up piece by piece, honed in and really captured those intimate and vulnerable moments of music; Olyan playing each instrument one at a time- to me those are magical. We tracked all the vocals with sitting in a chair wrapped in a blanket in sweatpants…this album was a fusion of all kinds of sessions, the magical group energy and those quiet intricate moments- it was about being real.
Kat: If you could work or collaborate with any artist, who would it be?
Callie: My answer to this question will always be James Taylor, living or dead, anytime, anywhere lol!
Kat: What’s next?
Callie: Well, if you had asked me a month ago I would be spouting off album release tour dates…but right now so much is up in the air. I’ve got a plans for a couple music videos, and definitely LOTS of shows when things move closer to normal, but for now I’m really enjoying connecting with fans online doing Facebook and Instagram lives!
You can visit my socials @calliemcmusic to stay posted on those, and calliemccullough.com to buy albums. In the meantime, I’m actually loving a bit of rest, down time to read, work on my back yard, write and just play music on my couch…there are worse things. We are in a once in a lifetime moment in history, so for now just staying safe and hoping everyone out there does the same!
Thanks so much for chatting with me you guys, it means the world to me that you are lifting up this music!