Indie country singer/songwriter Bridget Caldwell fell in love with musical theatre in high school, but her ability to belt big, dramatic numbers changed when she neared graduation. She had her tonsils removed, which shifted her singing voice.
That loss could’ve changed everything for Caldwell, but instead she pushed on. After moving to Nashville to study music at Belmont University, she began writing songs and soon discovered that her new voice supported the quietly introspective snapshots she enjoyed documenting. She could still affect a room, albeit in a more intimate way.
Her first single ‘Pharmaceuticals’, off her forthcoming EP Kingmaker (out August 6), examines addiction. It resounds with heartbreak, its central rhythm thumping like a heartbeat while Caldwell mourns the loss that’s taking place before her eyes. A vocoder effect modifies her backing harmonies, adding a touch of psychedelic despair to the entire track.
Caldwell co-wrote the song with Luke Preston. “We shared the feeling of despair watching these people in our lives that we loved so much just disintegrating, and thinking, ‘What can I do here?’” she explained. “And coming to the conclusion of, ‘Well, not a lot’”.
Kingmaker showcases a maturity far beyond Caldwell’s years, detailing her ability to see life’s darker moments and translate that pain in moving – and cathartic – ways. “It doesn't escape me that often in order to feel euphoric, you also have to feel extreme sorrow”, she says. But she doesn’t let strife get the upper hand. “That's a hard reality of life, but I think accepting that makes it easier for me to find the humor in adversity.”
Caldwell spoke with Holler about the ways in which her Oregon upbringing shaped her, how her eclectic listening tastes influenced the songwriter she’s become and how stability helps her write the best songs.
Where are you from and how has that influenced the type of artist you are?
I’m originally from Salem, Oregon. I truly think growing up there influenced so much of my perspective on life and music because I learned to be amazed and curious very early. I could see three mountains on the way to my grandpa’s house; the fir trees in my backyard were so tall, I had to tilt my little head all the way back to see the tops of them; and sometimes we drove to a little town on the Pacific coast on the weekends to whale watch from a literal cliff. When you’re around that as a kid, it teaches you to be really curious and open to new (and sometimes frightening) experiences.
Speaking of influences, what were you listening to growing up?
Oh man, all the good stuff. I’m the youngest of four, and my mom used to wake us up every morning by opening all of our doors and turning on the stereo. She’d start playing it quietly, and then gradually turn it up. Those memories are full of Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, k.d. lang, Sting, Fleetwood Mac, Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis. My dad is a country fan, so we also listened to Marty Robbins, Trisha Yearwood and of course Garth Brooks. It was a really good amalgamation of music for my little impressionable ears. I think you can hear that in my writing.
Did you ever want to do something other than music?
I flirted with divinity school after my graduation from Belmont, but other than that, no. I do think this an interesting question, though, as I’ve always been interested in a lot. I’ve kind of felt this weird tug as someone in the music industry in Nashville, because I’ve loved a lot of things. I’ve loved my job as a nanny, even though it’s not music. I love to cook and explore other cultures through food. I am a voracious reader. I’m very interested in religion and politics (hence divinity school) and the way that can impact policy, real people and their lives. Although I’ve never wanted to “do” anything else, I’m compelled by many other things. I’m very interested in being a full and engaged person and citizen of the world.
Oh…actually, I did want to be a checker at the grocery store when I was little. But frankly, I think I would’ve talked with the customers too much and been fired…rapidly.
Are you more creative when you’re happy or when you’re sad?
I think I’m the most creative when I’m the most open and stable, whether that be happy or sad. I very rarely write anything worth a shit while I’m in the throes of anything. It’s important for me, personally, to process before I explain. Of course, there are exceptions, but that’s usually the deal for me.
What drives you the most?
My curiosity and my integrity. There’s always more to learn and see and experience. I also trust myself a lot, and I always try to honor that by making true, clear decisions. This helps in both writing and life.
In general which comes first for you, the title or the song?
Almost always the song. I need the story before I can name it. Usually the title reveals itself.
Who would be your dream collaboration?
Living or dead?! Okay, I’ll give you both. Dead: Judy Garland or Billie Holiday. Living: Sting or Dua Lipa.
I’m going to Disneyland. But actually: the full Kingmaker EP releases August 6. I’m looking forward to playing lots of shows with my friends this fall. Christian Harger, my producer, and I are already hard at work on a full album to be released Spring 2022ish. I’m really looking forward to the adventure.
Bridget Caldwell's latest single Pharmaceuticals is out now - listen above.