For the first time in her decade-long career, Colbie Caillat has made an album exactly the way she wanted. It’s also the first for her newly minted label, PlummyLou Records, distributed by RED.
Eschewing traditional recording studios, the Grammy Award-winning, multiplatinum-selling singer-songwriter—and renowned beach lover— recorded The Malibu Sessions, out Oct. 7, over a two-month period in a rented house in Southern California’s beautiful Broad Beach.
The result is a sun-kissed collection of breezy, buoyant, yet often vulnerable, songs, with timeless harmonies, catchy melodies and a harmonious vibe that recalls classic ‘70s rock.
“I knew that I wanted to change the way I’d been recording,” Caillat says, adding that making the rounds of endless meetings with producers and songwriters as she’d done for past efforts “took the fun out of it. I made a promise to myself that when I recorded the next album, I’d do it this way.”
So, Caillat, who has sold more than 20 million singles worldwide, rented a house and moved in her musical family, including longtime collaborator Jason Reeves, her fiance, musician Justin Young, and producer John Shanks.
“Every morning we’d do these beach walks down Zuma Beach and get smoothies or burritos. We’d get our exercise, get our sun, get our nutritious food, and we’d all be doing it together. It was a great way to start the day,” she says. Then, she and the band would decide which of the 29 songs they recorded for the album—ultimately winnowed down to 11—that they wanted to work on that day. Each evening, they’d finish with a healthy dinner, often prepared by Caillat’s nutritionist sister. “I didn’t go home once to my real house during the two months,” Caillat says.
Caillat enlisted John Shanks (Sheryl Crow, Bon Jovi, Kelly Clarkson), to produce. He dismantled his Los Angeles studio and trucked his vintage equipment over to the Broad Beach house.
“There was a whole week of just set up. It was just insane how much he brought in,” Caillat says. “It filled one bedroom and the entire downstairs living room, bar and hallway. We had to get custom curtains to line the entire inside of the downstairs or you’d hear the ocean waves really loud.”
Caillat and Shanks worked together previously on 2009’s Breakthrough, but The Malibu Sessions marks the first time she picked one producer to helm an entire album, which played into her desire to have the recording process run as smoothly as possible. "I didn't want to add confusion to the table by working with multiple producers,” she says. “ I knew I loved working with John, and I knew he completely understood the way I wanted this record to sound and he delivered exactly that. And bringing in Jason for the entire process was key."
Her real life love story with fiancé Young plays out in the 11 songs she co-wrote for The Malibu Sessions— from love’s giddy first blush to the relationship’s growing pains to reaching a place of devoted contentment.
First single, “Goldmine,” one of the few songs not written before recording started, is an infectious, whistling tribute to the intoxicating power of lasting love. Caillat’s friend and collaborator Kara Dioguardi passed along a song that Taylor Berrett, a young songwriter Dioguardi worked with, had written with Caillat in mind. “We were done with the album, but I thought it doesn’t hurt to open the email and listen to it,” Caillat says. She liked the sunny tune so much, she and Reeves immediately Skyped Dioguardi and finished it in 30 minutes. “I loved that I was writing with two of my favorite writers and working with a new guy even though I’ve never met him. Still haven’t met him.”
Similarly, the shimmery “Only You” pulses to the joyous beat of finding true love. But the album examines love’s darker side as well. “All the songs were written at different times and about different things I was feeling,” she says. “Sometimes you tap back into old memories and vulnerability.” On tender, acoustic ballad,“Never Got Away,” Caillat implores her partner to stay because “I ain’t got any more love left to waste.” On ‘In Love Again,” written after she and Young went through a rough patch, Caillat longs to fall back into love with him again.
Throughout, the album’s melodies and harmonies recall the acoustic side of such indelible artists as Fleetwood Mac (Caillat’s father engineered the band’s landmark Rumours and Tusk albums), Tom Petty and Crosby Stills & Young. The most pervasive influence for Caillat was the innovative, collaborative spirit on Paul Simon’s 1986 masterpiece, Graceland, recorded largely in South Africa with local musicians. “He had the most unique harmonies and background vocals, really crazy instruments, stuff that we’ve never heard before,” she says. “It was just the coolest, most infectious thing to listen to that entire album and I wanted to make my album have people feel that same way.”
Caillat recorded The Malibu Sessions in 2013, but her then-label, Republic Records, wanted her to go in a different direction. She temporarily shelved The Malibu Sessions and released 2014’s Gypsy Heart, which spawned the hit single, “Try,” and its video which had drawn more than 64 million views.
But Caillat knew that despite appreciating the tremendous success she and Republic had experienced together since her 2007 debut Coco through massive hits like “Bubbly,” “Realize,” “Fallin’ For You,” and “Brighter Than The Sun,” she was ready to helm her own label, PlummyLou, which takes its name from two beloved family dogs.
“I’ve actually been wanting to do this for a long time and I’ve said it for years that I was going to,” she says, but after the tumultuous last few years and feeling “a huge disconnect to the music I was putting out and to everything involved,” she reached the point where she yearned to regain creative control and return to the effortless joy she felt when she, Mikal Blue and Reeves made Coco in Westlake Village, Calif. “I knew I’ve got to go back to the first way I did it when it actually did work,” she says.
The do-it-yourself ethic spilled over to all elements of the project, including the album artwork, which was photographed by Caillat, Shanks and Reeves, and the video for “Goldmine,” which comes from B-roll footage shot by drummer Victor Indrizzo and cell phone footage Caillat shot while making the album. Young and Caillat edited the video together at their home. “I really didn’t want the album art to be some posed, ‘look at me’ thing,” she says. “I wanted it to be from real experiences recording the album so I tried to keep that as the common thread through every part of this process.”
Immediately following the album’s release, Caillat kicks off her first ever acoustic tour, accompanied by openers Justin Young and High Dive Heart.
She is, in essence, taking the Broad Beach house on the road. “I’m so excited for the tour because it’s with the people I wrote and recorded the album,” she says. “We’re on one tour bus together, so the way we recorded the album is the way we’re going on tour as well.”
Caillat will perform The Malibu Sessions from start to finish, then answer fans’ questions during a Q&A session, as well as play several of her hits.
As this new chapter begins, Caillat remains grateful for the experiences that have brought her to this place of renewal and a clear vision for what lies ahead for her and her millions of listeners. “I’m not trying to be in competition with whatever the biggest pop song is at the moment,” she says. “I’m just trying to put music out there that my fans like to listen to.”