If you hopped on the Callie McCullough bandwagon early, you were there for the release of her debut single “Five Dollar Pearls,” and if you are anything like us, you were blown away by the honesty, vocal and instrumentation of the song. It also left us in anxious suspense of the release of her debut EP After Midnight that she had been teasing.
With the release of the fiery “Feathers” and the waltzy “After Midnight,” the excitement for the EP was taken to another level.
Today, After Midnight is here, and puts McCullough’s delicate yet powerful delivery on display as she weaves through songs of love lost, loneliness and the autobiographical tunes like “Three Quarter Time.” The EP features members of Union Station and The Time Jumpers, which was sonically captured perfectly by producer Dustin Olyan. Simply put, we can’t say enough great things about this EP!
We caught back up with Callie to talk about all of the songs on After Midnight, having world class musicians on the EP, what she hopes listeners take away from it, and so much more!
Pro Country: Prior to the release of After Midnight, you released “Five Dollar Pearls,” “Feathers” and the song “After Midnight;” all of which have earned over 30,000 streams combined and have you (on the brink of) gained you over 20,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. Is there a certain level of validation that comes with that response in the months leading up to the release of the full After Midnight EP?
Callie McCullough: Hey Justin! I am so thrilled that these songs are making their way into the world and to so many ears! We set out making this record just following our own path of what felt right musically, despite the trends in Nashville. It probably helped that we were new kids in town (which you are for at least the first three years) so no one was paying attention, and we were just having a blast! To me, building from the ground up; every listen, every personal message, every song sold, every show is personal, and each one is a win! Releasing this music has been a long time coming and a labour of love; not just for me, but my Producer Dustin Olyan and co-writers Scotty Kipfer and Ryan Sorestad; we are grateful for all of it!
PC: Of the three singles released prior to the full EP, “After Midnight” is a song that is resonating very well with listeners. Why did you decide to name the EP after that song, and what do you think it is about that song that is allowing it to connect with listeners the way it has?
CM: Originally, I actually did have another title in mind for this album. There was a lot of finding myself in these songs and these years, so by the time it was all done, I sat down and listened to it with fresh ears. It is mostly a ballad album, and I’ll stand behind that, but to me, it was the kind of thing I would put on a record player and listen to late at night with a glass of wine just sitting alone with my thoughts. These songs are pretty vulnerable, and that is the kind of honesty I really only allow myself when most of the world is asleep or dreaming, After Midnight…it just fit.
I am in love with the recording of the song itself. It has a sense grandeur, whimsical nostalgia and a romantic feeling; it’s like having a really good dream! I think everyone loves those. I really give most of the credit to the all the musicians who made the magic here: Stuart Duncan and Jeff Taylor who coloured it with violin and accordion like a Parisian waltz though the streets, and the visionary production of Dustin Olyan and Scotty Kipfer that brought this one to life.
PC: “Feathers” is an up-tempo song that allows the musicians on After Midnight, which include members of Union Station and The Time Jumpers, to showcase their musical chops. What was it like to record with them and to have them be a part of your debut solo release?
CM: Nerve racking, and also magical! We had called all our musical heroes to play on this record, and I was just trying to not screw up. I was honoured to be in that room; they were absolute gems and went down the tunnel with us on these songs and ideas. A lot of what makes this album different is the fusion of those legendary players with fresh new energy. My Producer, Dustin had such a hip vision for this song, and really heard how to bring it to life. He added a lot of the cool to it building on those original tracking sessions. My favourite part of this song is the dobro solo that Brent Burke (Rhonda Vincent) rips. The fiery Stuart Duncan fiddle doesn’t hurt either!
PC: “Five Dollar Pearls” was the first song you released from After Midnight, and also shot an accompanying music video. What went into the decision to release “Five Dollar Pearls” first?
CM: “Five Dollar Pearls” is the most personal song I have ever written. When Ryan and I first finished writing it, I was terrified to show it to anyone; it was so vulnerable and I didn’t know if anyone would get it. I was wrong. Instead, it showed people who I was and paved my way for this album. We actually recorded a couple versions of it, threw out the bigger production and Dustin built it from the ground up until he had perfectly captured the emotion I wrote it with. I knew when we finished this album that it would come first; that song is me wearing my heart on my sleeve saying “Please love me.” Releasing music that is raw and a part of who you are to the world is kind of the same thing, it’s terrifying, but it felt right to start that way.
PC: “Missing You” is our favorite song on After Midnight. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
CM: Wow, Thank you guys! No one has really heard that recording yet, that means a lot to me! My buddy Ryan Sorestad and I were having a typical Tuesday finishing up some other tune. We wrapped it, I poured a coffee and said, “Great, now can we write something sad?” It’s pretty much my signature line. He said yeah, I’ve not one: ”That’s what I do, when I’m missing you.” We started there. I’ve spent more time away from than with my family and loved ones in the past 10 years chasing this thing, and because of that, I have lost some of the people that I loved most without having the chance to say goodbye. Ryan and his lovely wife also had a long distance marriage until recently, so that he could be here chasing things as a writer. We have both lived that story, we just wrote it all down that day.
PC: “No Good Way” concludes a three-song portion of After Midnight that discusses love lost and heartbreak in different ways. Was putting those three songs together done intentionally?
CM: [Laughs], Actually no, that’s a cool observation though, I didn’t even catch that. I just thought they flowed well into each other! But yes, ballads and broken hearts are a theme on this album for sure; I’ve always been a sucker for those stories. I can’t help but love them, write them and sing them.
PC: “Three Quarter Time” is a song that describes your time in Nashville leading up to the release of After Midnight. Was that a song that was easy for you to write, or was it a song that took time to come together and get right?
CM: Oh it fell right out as I was living through it, you can’t make that stuff up! I turned over my tip jar and found a nickel and four pennies; nine cents, not a dime. There were all these shots of whiskey I couldn’t drink sent to me on stage that day, a bar owner telling me to play more modern country songs, and a deal I had been working on for months and pinning way too many hopes on falling apart over creative differences (aka bad music) all in one week. My friends Scotty Kipfer and Ryan Sorestad were right there in the chaos, heartbreak, car repair bills, dreams falling apart and love of traditional country music with me. We spewed out those feelings and it became my anthem, my reminder, to always make music that I loved and could proudly stand behind as I hustled around town for the next couple years. That drive and vision became this record.
PC: Throughout After Midnight, you delve into bluegrass, folk and traditional country sonically. Was it at all important for you to showcase that range on your debut solo release?
CM: It was always just about bringing the songs to life in a way that honors them. We were on our own here; no one breathing down our backs saying what was right or wrong, and we had that freedom. Making this album with my incredibly talented friends and our musical heroes is what I always dreamed I would get to do as an artist. We took risks, we took our time playing with multiple versions and arrangements of songs. Dustin Olyan is the rare kind of producer in Nashville that still makes music looking for a feeling not perfection; we let that guide us. Scotty Kipfer, Ryan Sorestad and I had a collection of songs that all needed a little something different from each other, so we got to stretch our legs and let these incredible musicians do their thing. We played around building some songs with the most intimate of treatments, and others with grand ones. We just had fun, and for the first time in my musical life (and I started really young), it felt like there were no rules! I come from all over the place influence-wise, just falling in love with songs and melodies that catch me with moments of beauty, and that is what we chased. We crossed borders between genres; no one knows what to call it, and I’m okay with that!
PC: Do you have a favorite song on After Midnight? If so, why is it so special to you?
CM: I love them all for different reasons, but if I had to hang my hat on one, it would be “Five Dollar Pearls.” To have not just a song, but a recording that captures the heart of who you are at a moment in time on a record is rare and special, and not something I take for granted. I owe that to Dustin Olyan for seeing the soul of this song and building the track in the way he did, and to Ryan Sorestad for sitting down with me and a page of my broken bedroom heartaches and helping me craft them into this song.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from listening to After Midnight all the way through?
CM: I hope that they get to pause in the rush of their day and feel something honest. I hope that for a moment in there somewhere, something touches them in that way only music can. Maybe it’s a feeling of loneliness, or feeling like you don’t belong, or being apart from someone you love, or feeling daydreamy or romantic or anything at all; but I hope they will feel, and that maybe these stories will show people they are not alone in those things. If I don’t make music, it explodes out of me anyway, so I don’t have a choice, and it is what I love. I just hope to leave something beautiful behind me as I’m doing it.
PC: Along with promoting the release of After Midnight, what are your plans for the 2020?
CM: 2020; what a crazy year so far. I think everyone’s plans are already out the window!
In Nashville, especially the tornado, followed by Covid-19; if this year has taught me anything in the first two and a half months, it is to take nothing for granted! I do plan to get back out on the road travelling when it is safe and sharing this music as much as possible! Lot’s more writing in store as well, I’m 1000% here to make music and for the whole crazy ride that it brings, but I will also be making more time to be with my family. I recently became an Aunt for the first time, and I’m super excited about that!
PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?
CM: I just wanted to thank you guys so much for chatting with me again. It’s really amazing all the support you have shown me and this music over the past year; it really does mean the world! For updates on all things Callie McCullough, folks can find me on social media @calliemcmusic and www.calliemccullough.com.
Images courtesy of Milestone Publicity and Callie McCullough Facebook Page*
*Read our first interview with Callie here*
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