You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Callie McCullough has made quite the mark with her debut single “Five Dollar Pearls,” which has skyrocketed to a serious single of the year contender.
The single serves as the lead single from McCullough’s debut EP After Midnight, which is set for release in early 2020.
Featuring a deeply personal lyric paired perfectly with McCullough’s vocal, “Five Dollar Pearls” cuts like a knife.
Get to know Callie and her deep musical roots, the making of “Five Dollar Pearls,” what listeners can expect from After Midnight, what she has learned from her time in Nashville, and more!
Pro Country: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Callie McCullough: SO MANY….honestly the biggest one has to be my parents. Growing up, they were always traveling and playing shows, and I just thought they were rock-stars! We were always jamming around the house. There were albums everywhere; I literally sat in front of the Cassette player at the time, listening to every single thing I could get my hands on. Very quickly though I became obsessed with the stories, feels and sounds of country music and went down that tunnel to discover bands like The Kendalls, Pam Tillis, Keith Whitley, Don Williams, and Olivia Newton John in the traditional country chapter were huge for me too! My dad was always a gem for introducing great folkier music like Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, and my all time favourite writer John Prine. One of my earliest memories is sitting in the home studio at maybe 4 years old singing duets with my Dad.
PC: You grew up in a musical family and began to perform at a young age. What was it about music that spoke to you that early in your life?
CM: My mom likes to say I was born singing (or screaming perhaps). I think I was probably a pretty weird little kid; my favourite thing to do was wonder around the yard and make up little songs and sing them to myself. I just always sang, always wanted to sing, and never knew that wasn’t a normal thing most people did. I think in those moments and emotions where we don’t have the words to say what we are really feeling music takes us there. When it’s good, it transcends to a whole other level of emotion- and those are the moments I live for; both in listening and making music, that’s what I want to feel.
PC: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
CM: It was the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. My mom sent me a picture of a drawing from my grade one journal on a particularly tough week in Nashville. It said “When I grow up I will be a singer,” The dream was always there, it was just a matter of deciding not to listen to people who didn’t deem it possible and start going after it. .I started playing shows and touring in bands from about 14 onwards, and it just slowly grew from there.
PC: What emotions were you feeling as you’re preparing to release music for the first time with “Five Dollar Pearls”?
CM: This release is very special to me because unlike music I’ve released with previous bands, this is just me; there’s nothing to hide behind. The songs on this album, and especially “Five Dollar Pearls,” are all extremely personal to me. It feels pretty vulnerable to say “Hey, this is me” for the first time; but I am so proud of the way that we made this album, and honoured the songs in their production and stayed true to the roots of the music that I love that it mostly feels like a long time coming and I’m excited.
PC: Why did you decide to release “Five Dollar Pearls” as the lead singles from your upcoming After Midnight EP?
CM: Five Dollar Pearls was that light bulb moment for me. I had been in Nashville for a while, writing a ton and the minute we finished it, I was in love with it and for the first time started to see who I was going to be as a solo artist. It really paved the way for the rest of the album, and I was always 100% sure that it should be the introduction.
PC: Can you talk about the inspiration behind “Five Dollar Pearls”?
CM: I was dating someone that didn’t want me to meet his parents. The sassy side of me kicked him to the curb, but inwardly, you feel that and have the moment of feeling that “there’s something wrong with me, I’m not good enough.” I’ve never been perfect; I’ve always been a bit loud, a bit wild, somewhat of a hot mess and never that sweet perfect girl. I think we’ve all felt in one way or another that feeling of “I don’t measure up.” Without thinking, the second verse and melody just fell right out in my bedroom late one night, and I sat down with my genius writing buddy Ryan Sorestad about a week later, and we brought the song to life.
PC: On “Five Dollar Pearls,” you really open up and allow yourself to be vulnerable in the lyrics and performance. What is it about yourself that allows you to be vulnerable in your music and lyrics?
CM: It’s funny really, if you talk to me, I’m generally very funny, upbeat, and I keep an “I don’t care what anyone thinks” firecracker attitude. Making music for me is that chance to lay the armour down and let that innocent version of myself out. To really write and see the world through that lens, somehow it feels protected in that musical space, and that it’s okay to say and feel those things you can’t quite talk about.
PC: What can listeners expect to hear on After Midnight when it is released?
CM: Lots of ballads, emotional storytelling, absolutely fantastic pickers that we were so stunned to get to collaborate with, intricate production, and just honest singing. It runs the gamut between bluegrass, contemporary and traditional country. I set out to make this album with my two best friends, Dustin Olyan and Scotty Kipfer. We really took our time with this one and stayed true to the emotion of each song, letting that lead the way. These songs are written and inspired by the past five years of life in Nashville; some are love, breakup, being apart, and some are about music and this crazy journey.
PC: You had members from Union Station and The Time Jumpers play on the After Midnight EP. What was it like to be in the studio with musicians of their collective caliber, and how did their presence make After Midnight better as a whole?
CM: It was insane! Here you have these 3 kids who are big music nerds that dream up the idea to call all our musical heroes and ask them to come play on a bluegrass album for a girl they’ve never heard of, and it happened!!! The energy on some of those tracking days was amazing. Just letting those guys dream up these beautiful parts and then feed off of each other was astounding to hear. A couple stand out moments were Stuart Duncan and Jeff Taylor creating this intricate dance of a fiddle/accordion solo on the title track “After Midnight” and Brent Burke (Rhonda Vincent) ripping a next-world Dobro solo on “Feathers.” When we got to the last song “Three Quarter Time,” producer Dustin Olyan said “Let’s just ditch the click track and let ‘em loose,” and trust me, he was right!
PC: On the bio on your website, you mention that you “didn’t know what to do” when you first got to Nashville. What has been the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself and your music since you got to town?
CM: When I first came to town, it was this open-minded discovery chapter. Though I’d been touring and making music most of my life, I had never been a solo artist calling all the shots. I wanted to take my time and let the music lead the way. That was what I learned. The industry will always come in cycles of what is hip and selling. For me, I’ve got to go out every night and play music that I can stand behind and that I love, or what is the point? Stay true to what you love. And the biggest piece of the puzzle was to stop waiting for some guy in a suit with a cigar to come save you; find your people, write together, hang together, record together, tour together, and we will all climb up that latter together. That’s what this town is about.
PC: What are your plans for the rest of 2019 and beyond?
CM: Releasing music!!! “Five Dollar Pearls” came out TODAY! We’ve got the next single ready to drop when the time feels right, then of course the album in March 2020! Lot’s of regular shows in Nashville, sprinklings of Fall/Christmas tour dates TBA soon, and setting up lots tour dates for next spring with the album release. Still writing all the time, and building this thing in every way possible!
PC: Is there anything else you would like to add?
CM: Thanks so much for chatting with me guys, I’m delighted to be included, and especially love that you are dedicated to my most favourite thing; Traditional Country Music! The best way for new friends to stay posted on updates from me is www.calliemccullough.com or @calliemcmusic on social media!
*Images by Amanda Van Sandt and Chrissy Nix and courtesy of Milestone Publicity*