With a little help from Shawn Mullins, the British singer/songwriter is making U.S. inroads with her debut album, 'Life in Full Colour.'
" Shawn Mullins' storytelling got me interested in songwriting," British-born singer/songwriter Callaghan reveals. "His (1998) album 'Soul's Core' was one of the very first albums that I bought. I still listen to it a lot now."
Fourteen years later, the artist who sent his breakout single "Lullabye," with its earworm "everything's-gonna-be-alright" chorus, to No. 1 on Billboard's Radio Songs chart for two weeks, has more than just a fan in Callaghan. Mullins serves as producer on her debut full-length album, "Life in Full Colour," released today on the independent Green Town label.
How did an unknown folk/pop artist get the attention of the Grammy-nominated Mullins? MySpace.
"I really thought, 'I have absolutely nothing to lose from trying to get in touch with him'," Callaghan, who omits her first name, Georgina, professionally, said in a visit to Billboard's New York offices last week. "He had a profile on MySpace, but I really didn't know whether he even looked at his messages."
After sending an e-mail in 2009, "I thought, he's never gonna see this," Callaghan admits. "But, I'm just sitting here in London and there's no one else I want to produce my album, so, why not?
"A couple weeks later when I got an e-mail back from him, I just completely fell off my chair. I couldn't believe that he'd seen the e-mail … and loved my songs."
Following their cyber pen-pal correspondence, the Boston, Lincolnshire-born Callaghan (who, after a visit last year, calls the stateside city of Boston "gorgeous") ultimately decided to move to Atlanta to work with Mullins on what would become "Colour." The pair recorded three songs in 2009, prompting Callaghan to return to stay a year later to complete the set.
(The biggest geographical transition she had previously made had been relocating to London at 18 to live with her sister while fostering her career. "My oldest sister had a tiny apartment. The only space that she had for me was under her kitchen table, so that's where I slept," Callaghan remembers with a chuckle. The then-almost starving artist's diet? "Just catch the crumbs".)
Three years after arriving in the U.S., Callaghan offers "Colour," a 12-track set infused with folk, pop, rock and country influences and, above all, immediate hooks. Referencing such standout tracks as the pretty ballad "It Was Meant to Be" and the midtempo pop/rock nuggets "Close My Eyes" and "Sweet Surrender," Callaghan says, "That's what I'm driven by: a catchy melody.
"Because I grew up in the '90s, there was a lot of pop music around. Obviously, you want to have lyrics that make you think, or take you down a road that aren't complete nonsense - although sometimes lyrics that make no sense are cool, as well! - but, that's what definitely (matters to) me: melody, and whether it stays with you."
Callaghan is making such an impression at radio, with "Best Year," the lead single from "Colour," receiving airplay on such tastemaker stations as Triple A chart reporter WCLZ Portland, Maine, and the nationally-syndicated weekly program "Acoustic Café."
Having recently played SXSW for the first time ("Everything I'd heard about the festival was true: it's just a crazy few days of non-stop music. Great musicians playing and a lot of fun"), Callaghan kicks off a 13-date U.S. tour on May 19 opening for Steve Forbert at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, Mass. She'll open for venerable alternative singer/songwriter Matthew Sweet on dates in Philadelphia (June 8), Washington, D.C. (9) and New York (11), as well as for Mullins on July 7 in Durham, N.C.
Not bad for a singer whose career took its key turn from a few keystrokes on MySpace.
As she prepares to tour, Callaghan is excited to bring "Colour" to live audiences.
"The title came from looking at the mix of songs on the album," Callaghan says."They definitely seem to be about those common experiences of falling in love and falling out of love, having your heart broken or getting to a point in your life where you think, 'Things can't get better than this.'
"It's about living all of those parts of life, the good and the bad, and just appreciating it all."
"Best Year," especially, summarizes Callaghan's ascent from unknown artist to one who's quickly added touring and, now, her first full-length album, to her resume. "That one I wrote a couple months after moving here. It's special to me for the feeling of leaving everything in the U.K., coming over to the States and following my dreams to be able to do music full-time. It felt like such a big gamble at the time because I didn't know how it would pay off, but it's been such a fantastic experience.
"Every time I sing that song live now, I get this kind of rush, this feeling of freedom of being over here and getting to do what I love, which I never take for granted."