SPOTLIGHT: Caleb Caudle on Going Outside for a Better View Inward
Caleb Caudle (photo by Joseph Cash)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Caleb Caudle is No Depression’s Spotlight artist for October 2022. For more about him and his new album, Forsythia, read our interview. Look for more about Caudle and Forsythia all month long at ND.
I’ve always felt connected to the woods. I spent my childhood wandering through them. I was the kid waist deep in the creek looking for crawdads and watching out for snakes. When the mountains walk into a room, you can’t take your eyes off of them. Nature has a power and a beauty that commands you to pay attention to the grand vistas and hidden details alike.
A couple years ago, I was set to put out my record Better Hurry Up with an extensive world tour to support it. When the pandemic hit, I was left with no shows. I had all the time in the world and that stillness was truly terrifying. I had been running up and down the highway for the better part of a decade, and sitting still in one place simply wasn’t something I was interested in. I began thinking of who I was before all of this. Who was I before the touring, the songwriting, the worry and regrets? I was just a kid in the woods, paying attention.
A few weeks prior to the world shutting down my wife Lauren and I were living in Nashville when a devastating tornado ripped through town, destroying houses and beloved venues. The sirens echoed through the city as we gathered in our hallway with candles and quilts. Our house was spared, but when we drove around our neighborhood the following day I couldn’t help feeling some sort of guilt about that. What makes a tornado choose one path over the other? Trees that were already fully grown when Hank Williams first arrived to town were knocked over like toothpicks. The Basement East simply wasn’t there anymore. I’d never seen so much raw destruction, or so many chainsaws. It was beautiful to see the community respond the way they did, coming together to rebuild. There was a benefit show at Dee’s for the tornado relief fund and little did I know that would be the last time I was on stage for the next couple of years. I started hearing about coronavirus here and there but once SXSW got canceled I knew the house of cards was gonna fall.
We were told things would be back to normal in a couple weeks, which is laughable now. I did some interviews about the early impact on independent artists and that story was shared a bunch. My fans really helped me through that first part of the pandemic. They supported me in exchange for livestreams, vinyl, and merch. So many folks reached out to me during that time, checking in to see if we were doing alright. Lauren was on the road with me full-time at that point, so when I lost my work she also lost hers. At some point the novelty wore off and we were all left with the new normal. The rescheduled shows became canceled shows and any hope of supporting my record through a tour was completely lost. I felt the darkness creeping in. I had always thought that I could make this career work as long as I was willing to put in the time and effort. Having no control over my career sent me spiraling. I was a farmer who did everything he knew to do and still lost the farm. I felt helpless. After many sleepless nights I knew I needed to come up with a plan. I needed to use this time to reconnect with nature and begin to heal.
I started walking through the woods daily, first in Nashville and continuing when we moved to North Carolina, paying attention to the smallest of details. I was that kid again, just appreciating the forest and its many wonders. I would see a family of raccoons, and a fawn with wobbly legs who still had its spots. A curious red fox jumped out of the thicket and stared at me, wondering what I was so worried about. I went every day. Some days held thick air, the type of humidity you could cut through with a knife. I walked through storms, the sky turned black and the wind blew through the fields of wild grass. I would come home soaking wet from the downpour. I kept my eye out for birds of prey, as they have always been my favorite. I saw so many that first year, and I began collecting their feathers as a way to pass the time. Being back in the woods, I started missing home. I missed my family. I wrote a song called “Forsythia” about it and immediately knew it would be the title track of my next record. That song opened up the door, and just like the creeks rising from the storm there was a flood of new songs.
I wrote about home, love, loss, family, depression, helplessness, and hopefulness. I wrote a song with John Carter Cash one day while we were fishing. We started talking about making a new record as a pandemic project of sorts. He very kindly offered to produce the record, and within a few minutes we had put together an incredible band for the project. I knew I wanted the record to feel timeless. I wanted it to be something my great grandpa would have enjoyed. We got Jerry Douglas to play dobro and Sam Bush to play mandolin and fiddle. I brought back Fred Eltringham and Dennis Crouch to be the rhythm section again. They both played on my previous album. I was the lone guitarist. I called up my friends Elizabeth Cook, Carlene Carter, and Sarah Peasall to come sing with me. These songs came alive with these masterful musicians.
This album would have never happened had there been no world pandemic. I thought it might be my last album, so I brought the 10 best songs I could come up with. At that time, because there was no more touring, I couldn’t see a way forward with my career. The woods saved me from despair, I found peace within them. I wrote most of this album there and when you listen I hope I’ve created some kind of place you can escape to.
I’m very thankful that I had the opportunity to slow down and reassess what I wanted out of life, reconnect with nature, and let it remind me of how small I am in this universe. I see a path forward and it will always involve the force and beauty of nature. I truly believe if you go outside and simply pay attention, nature will begin to heal your soul.