Interview: A Conversation with Caleb & Carolyn
Written/Conducted by Scott Fugger
Caleb and Carolyn are an acoustic singer/songwriter duo out of Buffalo, NY. Earlier this year they released their debut EP, Give Me Anything, and recently opened for Pentimento on their fall headlining tour. I was lucky enough to catch them on one of those dates and was truly blown away by their smooth harmonies and the way their rich voices were able to completely fill the room. I knew right away that I wanted to set up an interview with them and even started thinking of questions while they were playing. They happily obliged my request and we ended up having a wonderful conversation covering the tour, their origins, and their plans for the future.
The run with Pentimento was their first proper tour and it went great for them. Caleb and Carolyn expressed how easy it was to get into the swing of things – after a few nights of getting on stage and performing, things really started to flow. Now on the opposite end of tour, things haven’t changed much. Carolyn said, “Because it was so long it’s nice to be home, but we feel like we would be ready to jump right up and go back out if we needed to.”
Because it was a mix bill with more of a rock orientation, the duo went in with low expectations. However, they were presently surprised. “People were attentive” and they were really well received by the audience. Part of this may be due to precedence. Acoustic acts opening for heavier electric bands have become more common recently, with Into It. Over It. being a prime example of this. “I think it just works well,” said Carolyn, “especially when looking at the overall performance of the entire show. When you think about the dynamics of the set, you want some songs that are softer and some that are louder. So it’s cool to have quieter and louder groups on the band as well.” It also comes from the fact that bands are getting more invested in their openers. Caleb and Carolyn have opened for Pentimento in Buffalo before and the audience was definitely receptive. For this tour, the band made a point to show that they handpicked the opening acts and were personally excited about the lineup. Caleb and Carolyn have seen an increase in audiences coming early and staying for the whole show. “When you think about it people used to look at what time the show started and plan get there an hour later… I think it shows more of an appreciation of the performance and the art and music as a whole, which is really encouraging.”
Backing up to discuss their origin story, Caleb says “It all started with piano lessons when I was a kid. I hated it, but my parents made me.” From there he taught himself to play guitar and eventually released a full-length under his own name. “You can probably find that online. Hopefully not,” he said with a laugh, “but probably can if you look for it.” He then did some work with a band in Rochester called On Horses. Things began to change when he met Carolyn in Philadelphia. “We were working at a coffee shop and she was singing a tune or I was playing a tune and we just connected over that.” Once she brought up her musical background, the two became even more intertwined. “And we got married a couple years ago so we’ve been making music together for a long time now.”
Listening to their EP, the recording does surprising justice to their stage performance, capturing the richness of their voices as well as the live energy. It turns out this is because it was recorded live. The vocals and guitar were recorded together, live at a church in Buffalo, with fiddle later overdubbed. Caleb has “always been interested in the performance aspect and capturing the energy of the song. I find it hard to sort of get things across the same way and keep the same energy when I record guitar and vocals separately. I mean I’m sure I could do it, but this just works really well.” Caleb and Carolyn plan to keep this spirit alive with their debut full-length, which they are currently getting things together for. This time around they might even try to record the full band live because they think that would be especially awesome.
I asked Caleb how he goes about balancing his strong sincerity with the storytelling aspect of the songs. As far as the writing process goes, inspiration comes and goes in different forms. “I write about a lot of things, a lot of things,” he told me. He just writes about what he knows. “Some of it is purely fictional and I will get really invested in the characters” and writing from their perspective. But in the end, it’s all rooted pretty deeply to a personal level. Caleb writes the majority of the songs, just him and his guitar. Then Carolyn will listen and layer in her own harmonies. Sometimes they’ll tweak the melody a bit to fit certain harmonies, but their chemistry means that they will often meld things together on the first go around.
Reflecting back on the year, Caleb and Carolyn agree that 2015 has been great to them. “We’ve been wanting to get more serious for a long time so we just finally got things into gear.” They poured themselves into their work and were able to finally put their names on a product they were proud of with the release of their first EP. Keeping their sights forward, the couple is looking to finish up their full-length early next year, hopefully for the springtime. “Then we’d love to piggyback on another tour to promote it.” I asked if they’d like to continue their path touring with punk bands or to stick to the singer/songwriter scene. They immediately said they were down for anything. They’ve always been in love with the stripped down stuff, but they love working with full bands, too, so they’re “sort of just feeling it out.” No matter what path Caleb and Carolyn take they without a doubt have the chops to make big waves and win over the hearts of fans far and wide.