Falling in love, making new friends and sharing more of herself than ever

Colbie Caillat believes in fate. In fact, it plays a major role in the songs on her third album, All of You. The 26-year-old California singer wrote most of the tunes about her relationship with guitarist Justin Young. Caillat wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, but she had just released an album and hired a band that happened to include Young. A connection was made. Sure, you can call it coincidence, but isn’t fate more romantic? “Sometimes if you’re in the right place at the wrong time, or you left your house five minutes later or didn’t stop at that stoplight or didn’t get that cup of coffee or whatever—it all happens for a reason,” says Caillat.

That would include her early rejection on TV talent show American Idol, which put Caillat very much in the right place at the right time: Without the Idol grind occupying her every waking moment, she recorded her 2007 debut, Coco, which promptly sold more than 2 million copies. The follow-up, 2009’s Breakthrough, debuted at No. 1 and produced the hit “Fallin’ for You.” Caillat remains proud of both records, but wanted to push herself further on All of You. She collaborated with noted songwriters Ryan Tedder and Toby Gad, as well as rapper Common—and she focused more than ever before on her vocals. “I’m really learning what my voice can do if I treat it the right way,” she says. Here, she discusses other things that have recently gone right.

What’s your writing process like?

Each record has been the same in that I write all the songs differently. I’ll write by myself on the guitar, or I’ll have a writing session with a producer or a songwriter or an artist I know. I’ll write with my friend Jason Reeves or with my boyfriend, Justin Young—we went to Hawaii and wrote a few songs together.

How did Common and Ryan Tedder end up on “Favorite Song”?

I’ve been friends with Ryan for 10 years, and I met Common a year ago and asked if he’d write with me for this record. So the three of us did a session in Los Angeles, and it went so well it surprised us all.

Where did you meet Common?

On a Grammy panel I did at the House of Blues in L.A. with Nas, Doc Brown Band and Common. We were asked questions about songs we had written, and then we sang them. When Common sang “The Light,” Nas nudged me and said, “Sing the chorus!” It was so crazy: Nas was telling me to sing one of my favorite Common songs with Common. I later told him, “I love your music, I’d love to write with you,” and he said he’d like to write with me, too.

What surprised you about him?

You never know how a person is going to be when you actually meet them. He always seemed nice and he raps about positive, poetic things. But that’s really the case—he’s the sweetest guy with the most positive, mellow energy. Every lyric that came out of his mouth was positive. Some who don’t know his music have a misunderstanding about him.

Do you ever find yourself intimidated by your collaborators?

Not really, because I’ve written with many people and we make it comfortable with each other. You just say what you feel and express your ideas, and everyone is respectful. But when it comes to singing the tracks, yeah—Toby Gad and Ryan have recorded Natasha Bedingfield and Beyoncé, so I want to do my vocals as well as I can. They were both so complimentary that it really made me comfortable. We all have different styles, different voice tones, so once I stopped worrying about comparisons it was not a problem.

When you’re co-writing, how do you keep your own sound intact?

By adding my input. When you hear a song on the radio you can tell if Ryan wrote it, but that’s usually a song he’s written by himself or with a different producer, not really with an artist. What I wanted to do with “Favorite Song” was blend Common’s R&B hip-hop style with Ryan Tedder’s rock-pop feel and my soul sound. For example, I wanted to start the song with the chorus, otherwise you start out with the rap part and heavy electric guitar—and I wanted my sound at the start, that summery, acoustic feel.

Why did you lead off the album with “Brighter Than the Sun”?

My manager gets credit for that. I wanted to ease into the record. I wanted to start it with something mellow, but he felt strongly that “Brighter Than the Sun” should lead, and I fell in love with the song after a couple months. I try to listen to people’s input, so I went with my gut and trusted that he was right. You couldn’t go wrong starting with any song, but that one puts people in a good mood right off the bat.

What else did you do differently?

I wanted to show off more vocal range than on the first two records. On Coco, I was really young, not as experienced or tapped into what I could do vocally. I just sang and it was all very simple. With Breakthrough, I had a sinus infection the whole time, and you can hear that. With this record, I wanted to go beyond what I had done. The older I get and the more I learn about singing, the stronger my voice gets.

Do you practice?

I definitely practice, and I take lessons once in a while when I’m not on tour. I should take them more often. You have to. It’s like tuning your guitar—it’s an instrument you have to work on. You have to warm up before every single show, otherwise you’re hurting your voice. You can’t run a marathon without training for it.

How do you make songs personal, but relatable for the listener?

When you write about any experience, someone is going to be able to relate to it, whether it’s falling in love or saying “I love you” for the first time or being in a fight with someone. We wrote “Shadow” for my friend Brianna, who was dating this guy who was leading her on. Everyone has gone through the same things, so I just wrote from what I was honestly, genuinely going through. The reason I titled the album All of You is because I gave more of myself. With Breakthrough and Coco, I wrote from a more general point of view. With this record I named situations and moments and he-she stuff. I opened up more, and I think people can tap into that even more when you’re that honest.

Did Brianna like the song?

She loved it. She actually played it for the guy, which we were a little embarrassed about. Justin and I wrote it for her, and they were still dating at the time and we were hanging out with him. He thought it was funny, but it was awkward with him knowing how we felt about him.

–Eric R. Danton

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