Monday, January 16, 2023

INTERVIEW | 'I'm Excited For The Journey' - The UK's Caitlin Mae Talks New Single 'Fiona', Nashville and Performing With Carrie

There's no maybes about it - Caitlin Mae is set for a big year.

Caitlin released new track 'Fiona' last week, a beautiful number born out of tough personal experiences, country satisfyingly infused with synth. The release kicks off another exciting year for her - previous years have seen multiple trips to Nashville, winning awards in Atlanta, and performing with a little known megastar called Carrie Underwood in Cardiff.

We had some time to chat to Caitlin about her country roots, that Carrie duet and what 2023 holds in store!


I want to start by asking how you first got into country music as it’s always interesting to hear how someone from these shores got introduced to the genre. Everyone has their own story of sorts, what’s yours?

It’s a very warm memory for me. My parents decided to buy a holiday home in Florida when I was two years old [so] I grew up travelling between the UK and Florida and spending a lot of time there. meeting and being surrounded by people from a different culture and lifestyle. It inspired me to delve into the world of country music as I got older and realized that music was definitely my path. 

From a young age, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. My parents, even though they were supportive, they kinda thought I would grow out of it because a lot of children have these dreams of being singers or actresses. They probably thought ‘one day she’ll wake up and want to be a doctor or scientist’ *laughs* That never happened for me. It was definitely not a phase. My parents realized that eventually and have been so, so supportive. We’re all a huge country music loving family.

Was country the first genre you dabbled in when you decided you wanted to sing?

It wasn’t. I started off in musical theater because, being in the UK, that definitely has more appeal to a lot of people - people kinda understand it more. When I was young, I thought that was the only way forward if I wanted to pursue music in the UK. I knew that I wanted to move to America but I thought, being young and probably a bit naive, that I couldn’t pursue country music until I made the leap and moved. I realized eventually that’s not the case, and you can do it even if it’s not the biggest genre in your area. It turns out that it was a growing genre and the UK scene is so much bigger than it used to be. It’s a beautiful community to be a part of.

It’s not just country your music embraces, as you infuse various other genres too such as pop and rock. Is this a conscious decision? Or one that just comes naturally?

It’s been on my mind to try and make the songs appeal to a more broader audience. I would love, one day, for my music to be played worldwide and I don’t want country music to be a barrier. Sometimes people make up their mind about your music as soon as they hear what genre you are. It’s so important to defy those boundaries, push past them and show that there is something for everybody in country music. There’s so many subgenres and more and more by the day as people have unique perspectives and ideas and bring it to their songs. That’s really special about the evolution of country music. I definitely did that on purpose but it does come naturally to cross the borders into other genres like pop and rock. I went with a synth sound for ‘Fiona’.

As well as that synth-country sound, ‘Fiona’ embraces an important topic, dealing with the idea of loneliness. It’s a song that is ‘personal’ to you. Was releasing such a song a daunting prospect? Or does the idea of it helping others ease any fears of sharing something that close to your heart?

I do hope it will connect with others, and make people feel the way I felt when I was able to write it and release those demons. 

It was daunting as it is personal and very raw. I try to be as authentic as possible, especially when it comes to how we feel in the past, not being able to share those experiences and those emotions with other people. It feels like this big scary thing, [but] the minute we talk about it and share it, the mountain becomes so much easier to climb [because] you’re not doing it alone. 

‘Fiona’ was all about feeling lonely. I wrote it during the pandemic, although those feelings weren’t so much there for me at that time but were in the past with experiences I’ve had - with my older sister, who I didn’t have the best relationship with; and [with] going through school and being bullied. It’s not about one experience in particular but all of them combined and how, sometimes, they make you feel that even when you’re in a room with people, you’re actually very alone.

Was it a song you always had in you and it was the enforced isolation of lockdown that ultimately helped to bring it out?

Yes. I know the pandemic and lockdown had a lot of negatives and we couldn’t really change the position we were in, I also think it had positives. We got a lot out of it as individuals - we learned new skills, we opened up to ourselves, we were able to focus more on our mental health. Even though mental health issues came to the forefront because we were lonely, we were able to give ourselves the self-care and nurture that we usually don’t feel we have the time for when the world is moving at full speed.

Certainly something that you did have time for then was learning to play the guitar. Did you always want to play and it was a case of finally having the time to sit down and learn?

I always wanted to learn the guitar - it lends itself to country music and I didn’t play any instrument. I thought it would be cool to be able to rely on yourself to play and sing, and do it anywhere and anytime whenever you felt the inspiration. 

Lockdown gave me that extra time and pushed me. My excuse previously had been that I didn’t have time. I thought, if I don’t do it now then I will never do it and will continue to make excuses. I pushed myself. I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to go, especially doing a lot of the learning through YouTube videos! I was lucky enough to have virtual lessons with a guitar teacher but it was a little uncertain at the beginning. It changed my perspective with songwriting.

When it comes to songwriting, what is your process? Where do you start with a song?

Sometimes I might start with the hook of the song, and have this really cool idea for a chorus and write that then the rest of the song will develop around it. Usually, I will write a song start to finish, from the very beginning with a middle and an end - I know in songwriting that doesn’t happen a whole lot, because [some] people will come up with a title first or they’ll have an idea. 

For me, it is storytelling. You tell the story from the very beginning and you go on that journey as you’re writing - it’s almost like the ending is a surprise as you don’t know how it is going to progress and inspire you as the lyrics are written. You’re entering this whole new world when you’re writing a song. 

A few years ago, back in 2019, you performed with Carrie Underwood at the Motorpoint Arena. That must’ve felt like stepping into a whole new world in itself! I can imagine how surreal a moment that must've been for you to have that sort of opportunity.

Oh my gosh…it was the best night of my life. I’m keeping everything crossed that, in the future, it’ll be something that I get to do all the time. 

It was an incredible experience and feeling. There was so much energy and electricity in the room, I was on cloud nine. Carrie was so kind and down to earth. I saw her before I went on stage. I’d been told by the team not to say anything to her about performing with her. As I walked in, and the camera crew were filming, she said ‘I’m singing with you later!’. She was the one that was surprising me! It shocked me to my core. 

We got to have photos together and got to talk. She said ‘make the stage your own, I’ve seen your YouTube videos and I know you like to perform and move around so go for it’. That made me a hundred times more comfortable. What comes naturally to me is being able to perform, not just the vocals but everything, the visual and sharing with everyone in the crowd. I didn’t know if that was something she’d want me to do or if she’d want me to stand on an X - I knew that wouldn’t be a possibility anyway, that I’d be on every inch of the stage! I’m so glad she said that, so it wouldn’t be at the back of my mind. It was an incredible moment that I’ll remember forever. Being on stage, in front of a sold out arena was, like you said, surreal. To hear the crowd, they were singing the words back and the applause, the screaming…it was a dream come true!

You’ve already done so many incredible things besides performing with Carrie. You’ve toured Nashville multiple times, playing iconic places like The Bluebird and the Listening Room, as well as attending the International Singer Songwriter Association Awards where you won awards. For anyone those are big things but especially as someone from the UK. What’s that experience been like for you?

It’s been a whirlwind and incredible to be a part of. It’s such a welcoming community in Nashville. Everyone wants you to do well, there’s so much opportunity that if a friend gets an opportunity then there’s another one around the corner. There’s enough to go around, there’s a mark to be made for everybody - one person is never going to be able to steal your spotlight. We’re all so different and unique and we all have something to share with the world. There’s never this clash where you can’t connect with somebody because they have something that you don’t. We all have something that is special and different about us. That’s what we should be sharing with our music and that’s what Nashville is all about. I’m really excited to be playing new stages this year, and making the permanent move in July.

I was actually going to ask if moving over there was on the cards for you. And it is!

Yes! I got into university. I found out during my last trip to Nashville, which was October through November. I was excited to receive the email but I actually didn’t realize I had been emailed and been accepted…I saw it a week late! I can’t believe I missed such an important email! I was ecstatic to not only hear the news but to share it with my parents who were in Nashville with me. It was a dream come true and I’m excited to make it a reality. I will be moving in July and starting classes in August.

That’s so exciting, congratulations! What else does 2023 have in store for you? What can we look forward to?

I have a lot of things in the pipeline that I’m hoping will run smoothly. I have the release of ‘Fiona’ now and two [more] single releases coming soon in the lead up to the release of my sophomore EP which is called Seasons Change. I will be back in Nashville touring in March - I just booked my flights! I have some different shows and events lined up for the time I am in town, and my tour schedule will be shared very soon. I also have an induction day at my university so I will get to meet some of my future peers. 

I’m excited to get back into the studio this year too, probably looking more likely when I’m there in person permanently in July. I’m excited for the journey that 2023 will take me on.

'Fiona' is out now.

To keep up to date on Caitlin Mae, visit her website.

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