It was season 16 of American Idol when the world was first introduced to Caleb Lee Hutchinson and his remarkable country twang. After walking away from the legendary singing competition as the runner-up to Maddie Poppe, the risk-taker packed his bags and went straight to music city to pursue his extraordinary talents.
Upon arrival in Nashville, Tennessee, Hutchinson stepped into the limelight and immediately fell victim to the harsh reality of the music industry. As he tirelessly had his head down producing content, he was receiving outside opinions on his music career.
However, Hutchinson did not let those words or perspectives define him or his music – that’s when he decided to develop a truthful track that sounds like he is pulling an excerpt from a personal journal. After navigating his thoughts, his single, “Who I Am,” was born.
“I wrote it when I first moved to Nashville about three years ago now,” shares Hutchinson during an exclusive Music Mayhem interview. “I just kind of wrote it as a message to myself. I was feeling a lot of pressure and very overwhelmed with where I was in life, not sure where to go and what to do. So, that song was kind of just a song to kind of define myself,” he adds.
With a clear vision of who he is as a singer and songwriter, Hutchinson put pen to paper to produce his forthcoming EP, Slot Machine Syndrome. Alongside Grammy-nominated producer Brent Cobb – the two crafted a modern country five-track collection that showcases his growth as a vocalist.
“I believe this is the most representative sounding of myself than anything I’ve put out thus far,” says the rising star to Music Mayhem. “It’s easily the most involved I’ve ever been in any project, and I wrote all of the songs, if not by myself – I wrote them with some of my favorite writers. I was just very inspired this year with everything going on, just to make something that I was genuinely proud of, and I think we accomplished that mission.”
Fans of Hutchinson could expect to see a whole new man come September 17, as he is not the 19-year-old boy who graced our ears with his 2019 debut EP. Along with his recently released track “Who I Am,” the breakthrough artist sparks difficult dialogues within his emotional-driven collection of ballads.
In fact, he pulled from real-life experiences to carefully craft the title track, “Slot Machine Syndrome,” which scratches the surface of the hard-hitting topic of addiction. It was a personal conversation with a good friend about a relationship that encouraged him to sit back and think about the underlining meaning behind the EP name.
“Slot Machine Syndrome refers to this idea that if you put so much into a thing, and eventually you just keep putting into it because you expect this significant outcome, the big payoff, and that doesn’t always happen,” he explains. “I just thought it was applicable to more than just relationships…”
The complex message and his musical purpose-inspired Music Mayhem to sit down with the rising star to pick his creative brain about his upcoming EP, hear about his potential collaboration with Shane Dawson, and his big plans to hit up cities nationwide.
Read on to find out what Caleb Lee Hutchinson has been up to in the exclusive Q&A below!
Can you tell us about your latest single, “Who I Am.” Can you tell us a little bit of the song and how it came to be?
Yeah, so, “Who I Am.” I wrote it when I first moved to Nashville about three years ago now, and I just kind of wrote it as a message to myself. You know, I was feeling a lot of pressure, and very overwhelmed with where I was in life, not sure where to go and what to do, and so that song was kind of just a song I wrote for myself and for other people just to kind of, define myself, you know? For anyone that cared to listen, I guess.
“Who I Am” is set to appear on your upcoming five-track EP Slot Machine Syndrome, What can fans expect from the EP, and can you tell us what inspires the story of the title track?
So, the title track “Slot Machine Syndrome” was inspired by a lot of personal experiences I’ve had with people, things I’ve seen in terms of addiction and whatnot. At the time “Slot Machine Syndrome,” my buddy and I were talking about his relationship. We were just talking about the tendencies that people have with like relationships in general, and the “Slot Machine Syndrome” refers to this idea that if you put so much into a thing, and eventually you just keep putting into it because you expect this significant outcome, the big payoff, and that doesn’t always happen.
I just thought it was applicable to more than just relationships…you know? I feel like a lot of people just kind of do the things they do because they’ve been doing them, and they think like, you know, it’ll all work out. The EP itself, I believe this is the most representative sounding of myself than anything I’ve put out thus far. It’s easily the most involved I’ve ever been in any project, and I wrote all of the songs, if not by myself. I wrote them with some of my favorite writers. I was just very inspired this year with everything going on, just to make something that I was genuinely proud of, and I think we accomplished that mission.
If you had to explain the EP in three words, what would you choose?
Oh, man. That’s a heavy question. I, hopefully, good, maybe. No, I’m just playing…Uh, best thing ever!!
You wrote three of the songs and co-penned two of the songs. What does that mean to you to be a part of that writing process? How do you pull from your personal experience and put it into a song?
All of my favorite songwriters are storytellers, and I think it’s cool that sometimes you can tell a story based entirely on your own experiences – it can be very like autobiographical, and other times, you’re just telling a story out of nowhere, I think like this EP definitely has a mix of both. I think writing, in general, this year became much more important to me. It’s just kind of an escape from all the circumstances of the year. I think everybody tried to find that in some capacity, and whether they took up cooking or whatever. I just definitely felt more angst and started asking myself more and more why I liked the things that I like in terms of music and songwriting. I think the EP definitely benefited from that.
How hard was it to pick just five tracks to put on this EP, and how many did you have altogether before choosing those five?
Oh, man.. I had like probably twenty or so songs that I was like, ‘I love these, I believe in these, let’s go.’ But, you know we’re doing the record like independently and everything.
So, I really, just came to Brent Cobb, who produced the record with me, and I sent him all the songs, and just said like, ‘Hey man, tell me which of these speak to you.’ At the same time, I kind of was grouping some together as well and just trying to figure out what felt right, and we came together and played all the songs and picked them all out together.
How would you say this new EP compares or differs from your previously debuted EP?
Yeah, I think it’s just more reflective of me. I love the whole EP. I loved working with Christian Bush, who produced [my previous] record, and I’m very proud of it. But, I just think like after so much time and with more experience. I really got to take my time with this record, and I knew exactly what it needed to sound like, and I knew exactly what it didn’t need to sound like. It was just a much more natural feeling, and I think I was much more comfortable doing it.
So, it seems like you were raised more on the traditional country music vibes, like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and so many others. Would you say that your music leans more traditional? What does it mean to keep the traditional country music sound alive?
I was definitely raised on kind of everything, but I gravitated towards that. I think country music has a bunch of different branches on the tree of country music. I think most people would call, you know, what we refer to as classic country just real country music.
I never write purposefully like, ‘oh, I want this to sound like it’s from the ‘70s or the ‘80s or whatever.’ I think it’s just naturally what I write, and I don’t ever try to make it sound vintage or whatever. It’s always just very much however it comes out.
I have the gift/curse that anything I sing will sound country. Even if I’m trying not to sound country, it will sound it. So, I just feel like it’s less that I’m trying to accomplish any kind of mission and more that I’m just opening my mouth and going with my first instinct.
So, you and your girlfriend Maddie recently performed at Shane Dawson’s birthday party. What was that experience like?
I don’t even think it was technically a “birthday party.” I just linked up with him on Twitter, oh, not Twitter – sorry, Instagram, and because I have been following that dude since like middle school, and it influenced my early emo haircuts a lot, we just were sort of talking and he kind of pitched me this idea about a song. So, I may or may not have written something with him. And it may or may not be a thing that comes out at some point in time.
That’ll be a pretty cool experience. So, talking about Maddie, have you guys ever written songs together, or plan to release any duets together?
Not really, no. It’s funny because we get that question a lot, mainly on Facebook. We really don’t talk about music much together. We have a lot of overlapping stuff in our tastes, but for the most part, it’s pretty different. I wrote with her out in LA this past week, and we wrote a couple of little things together, but I don’t know. I think it’s better to keep your career stuff separate probably.
So aside from your girlfriend, have you been in touch with any of your other Idol buddies on Idol? I mean, Gabby Barrett, Cade Foehner. Do you have any advice for those maybe wanting to audition for American Idol maybe this coming season?
I casually keep in touch with everybody. Honestly, it just feels like it’s kind of ‘do you talk to your friends from high school?” It’s like, you don’t have anything against your friends, you like your friends, but you’re not necessarily calling them every day. That whole experience to me just felt like summer camp or something, you know? And after three years of living in Nashville now and doing the entire thing, I look back on it fondly, but it just kind of feels like my senior year or something.
For anybody who wants to do any of those like singing shows, you know, it’s one of those things. If you want to do it, do it – take advantage of it for what it is. It all depends on what your goal is, I think. I think just to have that assessed and aligned before you walk in doing anything, really.
Have you made a trip down to Broadway to perform in any of those bars yet?
No, I haven’t! I’ve stayed away from Broadway thus far. However, I played at Tootsie’s when I was like 12, 14, or something when we came up for vacation. We got to sit in the VIP booth, and I think the band that was playing thought that we were rich. So, they let me sing a song or two with them. But since then, I’ve yet to make my return.”
Who would you say your dream duet partner would be, and what’s coming from you next in 2021?
Oh, I mean dream duet partner. I feel like, after the conversation that we had, I have to Miranda Lambert. That would be incredible. Or Eric Church or Sturgill Simpson. That would be keepin’ it country, for sure. And then what’s next for me is this record that’s about to come out, and excited about that, excited to keep hitting the road. I’ve done quite a few shows this year, so I’m looking forward to keeping those up, and other than that, I’m just, I guess, my first instinct, man, you know? Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.