Just because you take your time, doesn’t mean you’re not working. In 2011, Caleb Cornett released his debut album, Came Along, under the moniker Amtrac, and he’s spent nearly nine years writing the follow-up.
It’s been a real journey to the finish line — an Oddyssey, some might say. In the time between, he moved from Kentucky to Los Angeles, opened up for Kaskade’s Atmopshere arena tour, released five EPs, 14 singles, and two Hey There, Kiddo mixtapes built of all-original and unreleased material, and started his label called Openers.
His sound is chameleonic in style, jumping from sing-along indie jams to deep-bumping house, but it’s always fresh and infectious. His latest single, “Between the Lines,” is a little bit of all that. He sings his own repetitive hook over a twinkling arpeggiated synth and some distant, wailing guitar. It’s uplifting and catchy, while the video depicts a man on a constant search for other life.
It’s only the beginning of Oddyssey, the next chapter in Amtrac’s career. Billboard caught up with the producer to hear more about the forthcoming album, the story behind the debut single and what other treats are waiting in the wings.
How are you feeling? You just announced the album. “Between the Lines” is the first single, yeah?
First single from the album, very exciting time.
What was the inspiration behind it? I sing “stuck on a loop” to myself for like an hour every time I listen to it.
I was more focused on having an upbeat song at that moment, and that was what came to me. I usually use vocals and samples a lot of times, especially when I’m remixing things, kind of create loops with vocals. I approached this that way, creating a loop more-so than a verse or a chorus. It sits in the song as a musical component more than just like a vocal. It drives like a sample. I sampled myself.
What about this video? Is this filmed in Kentucky?
That’s right outside of L.A. — I’m just kidding. It’s Minnesota. It definitely ties really close to where I grew up. It looks like Kentucky. A lot of my friends will probably assume it’s that, but it’s Minnesota; where they filmed Fargo, actually.
What brought you out there?
The director is from there, Lillie Wojcik, so she had a lot of great ideas, places and things she went to as a kid. Really big cinematic scenes. The video turned out great. I really love the whole aesthetic of it. I approached her kind of throwing an old X-Files episode at her, that’s the vision I had for this song. It worked out. She really nailed it — and that actor, I love that guy. He’s one of a kind, that’s for sure.
What about The X-Files inspired you?
Once we started the video, it became a new meaning for things being on loops, as in everyday things that you’re always going through, kind of repetitive. You obsess with doing these certain things some people might find odd, some people might find different than most people. The video translates that very well, because this guy is just obsessed with whatever you think he’s looking for. To some people, it may seem completely insane, but to him, it’s very focused. That’s his every day.
Do you have a strange obsession beyond listening to the songs you’re producing on a loop for 500 hours a day?
That definitely could tie into that. I listen to my own stuff a lot over and over. That’s probably where a lot of the vocal came from when I wrote it.
What about the rest of the album? When did you start it, and what has been the overarching theme for you?
It’s mainly the sonics, sounding cohesive and all together. I probably seriously started like four years ago, but I’ve definitely been trying to make one since my first album. It’s been a lot of trial and error, things coming together and falling apart, not really feeling comfortable with it. I finally got to a place where it feels like it needs to get out there, because I can’t just keep working on it forever. That’s the curse of being in the studio all day, you always want to change things, update it. You just lose track, but I put my foot down this year, and uh, it’s done!
You definitely jump around between a lot of different sounds, moods and styles. Were any of the songs you released in the years between Came Along and Oddyssey rejects from the album process?
No. All of the stuff I made for singles and EPs were always thought out, never just thrown away. I have the Hey There, Kiddo project where I do the mixes, and that’s where that stuff ends up. I still have a ton of stuff that will never come out [from the album process]. I got it down to the final. It’s all over the place. There’s some songs that are definitely more indie rock, post-rock influence to heavily electronic. I’m curious to see how people take it and see if it works, but I enjoy it.
Are you singing on all of them?
Quite a few records, and then there’s quite a few features as well. Not so much instrumentals, but definitely a fair share, because I like those as well. I haven’t been singing. I’ve saved all the vocal stuff for the album.
Are you planning to do a live tour?
That is a plan. That’s what I’m building right now, which is a lot. DJing is a lot less involved. The live thing is more fun actually when you get into it, but it’s been so long that I’ve performed [live] in front of a room of people, it’s kind of a lot. There’s a lot more prep that’s going into it, but that’s what I’m in the process of doing. I’m excited. It’s going to keep me on my toes more — and I can still DJ the after parties.