For Colbie Caillat‘s fifth studio album, Gypsy Heart (Sept. 30, Republic), the singer-songwriter enhances her California cool by moving in a decidedly modern direction. Though Caillat initially started out with a ’70s-leaning set, the “Bubbly” singer’s music received a modern makeover thanks in part to some of pop music’s elite such as Babyface. Still, the album, which debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard 200, doesn’t entirely ditch her former style. Lead single “Try” is signature Caillat emboldened with a welcome sense of empowerment. Caillat recently spoke to Billboard about her shift in song styles and how she finally broke down the barrier between herself and her fans.
Initially, you had a different set of songs written for this record, and the label wanted a different sound. What happened as the album was coming together?
It’s been like a three-year process when I first started writing for the record. I was really inspired by Paul Simon‘s Graceland album, and I wanted to make a record that sounded like that with all these beautiful, acoustic, organic, unique instruments. I did that, I wrote up the whole record and recorded at this beach house in Malibu. It was such a great experience. When I was done, the label liked it but I think they wanted a little bit more. At the same time, I had a writing session scheduled with Ryan Tedder [to pen the song “Hold On”]. It just had this really fun sound to it that was more synthetic and heavily produced and uptempo pop. I called my record Gypsy Heart because I am that. I love all different things. That’s how it is with the music I listen to and ultimately the music I write. After I wrote that with Ryan I was just inspired to keep writing with songs in that style and that mind frame. So that’s what I did, and I kept writing knowing that I was going to use songs from both genres and both records.
Which songs on the album are the biggest departure for you musically?
Probably the opening song “Live It Up” that one and “Blaze” are really just filled with tons of instruments, tons of sounds. There are only a couple real instruments on [the tracks] and that was the goal. We wanted it to sound really huge and loud and strong, then having the lyrics be more vulnerable. I wrote [“Live It Up”] about my stage fright and how I’ve struggled with that my entire life. To me, it was a really fun balance having a song that sounds so different but lyrics that are just honestly what I’m going through.
What was it like working with different songwriters like Babyface?
It’s so fun working with all these different writers and producers because you learn new techniques from them and it makes every song different and nothing gets stale. [The sessions with] Babyface were my favorite. He is this legendary piece of talent, and he’s just so amazing — his writing and his playing and he’s such a kind, soft-spoken person. When we wrote “Try,” it was all because I was venting to him about what I was going through. He’s the one that broke that wall down and allowed me to express it and write a rebellious song, and I love him for that.
“Try” peaked at No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August. What’s been your takeaway to the response the song has received?
It’s such an amazing feeling because I wrote the song about myself, about what I’ve gone through. It’s this song I’ve had in my head my entire life about personal insecurities, imperfections, self-confidence issue. I thought I was the only person who felt that way and now I release this song that so many people around the world are relating too, so many different age ranges, men and women. It makes me feel great that I’m not the only one in this situation. For them, hearing a song that speaks to them about something they’ve gone through, it connects us. I feel like this barrier is broken down and I don’t have to try so hard every day. It’s a reminder — in every set, every show, every interview I do, I can be me, and that’s what people actually like more than being someone that you’re not. It shows.
An edited version of this story originally appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of Billboard.