Katie Callahan — “Lullaby”
Americana Highways brings you this premiere of Katie Callahan’s song “Lullaby” from her forthcoming album The Water Comes Back, due to be released on October 22. The song will be available this Friday. The Water Comes Back was recorded, produced, and mixed at Gray Matters Studio by Matthew Odmark for Original Masters: www.anoriginalmaster.com The album was mastered by Pete Lyman at Infrasonic Mastering.
“Lullaby” is Katie Callahan on lead vocals and acoustic guitar; Paul Eckberg on drums; Kevin Whitsett on bass; Louis Johnson on acoustic and electric guitars; Matthew Odmark on mandolin and acoustic guitar; and Charlie Lowell on organ. Americana Highways had a brief chat with Katie Callahan about the song. The premiere appears just beneath the interview.
Americana Highways: What prompted you to write this song? Is there a story behind it?
Katie Callahan: As is my custom, I was behind and scrambling to submit a song to NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest by the deadline, but, in early 2020, I only had a few unreleased songs completed and wanted something new to share. I sat down to write what I’d hoped would end up being a sweet little folk song for my sisters and best friend, something that would help them feel seen and acknowledge their work and journey, and as I worked on the lyrics it occurred to me that I was in desperate need of my own lullaby. So I started naming the things that I needed to hear about the world and about myself. It’s funny now to look back; a song meant to soothe came just before the world felt like it was imploding. It’s something I’ve returned to a lot over the last year and a half.
AH: “Lullaby” seems to be deeply introspective in some ways, as some of the best songs are. Did you set out to write a song of this sort, or did it just happen that that was the message in this song as it came together?
KC: I’m a mother and the default parent in our home. I’ve put music out before, but this collection of songs is the first time I’ve ever intentionally treated my art as my work, which means adjustments in the way I spend my time and how I am available to my family. The more time I spent working on this song, the more I realized how important it was to me to speak affirmation to myself, to validate my own work, to be the source of encouragement I so often need. So it began as a recognition of the differences in the lives I imagined I’d live when I was younger and the one I’ve ended up living — not with any sort of judgment, just that they are different, and when you choose one path over another, there is loss. And mourning those selves lost along the way — not wallowing in, but acknowledging their passing — is just part of journeying.
This record deals a lot with embracing and celebrating identity, and for me that means my feminine identity as it gains power in ways I never had language for before. As a child of evangelicalism from a military family and being taught to venerate the men who ran the institutions of the church and the country, embracing an independent voice that questions, demands respect, and expects consideration is empowering. Often, though, this growth has been perceived as threatening to those in authority, and there have been lots of times when I’ve been tired and wondering if it’s even worth it. The chorus of this song, the little meditative reminders of steadiness — keeping who I am close, reminding myself to be still, these are grounding exercises to help keep the fear and the discouragement at bay. It’s worth it. Everything will be alright.
AH: What can you tell us about the recording sessions and working on this song?
KC: We came pretty furiously at this recording process since I was traveling to Nashville from Baltimore and there was no end of the pandemic in sight. We literally had only those two weeks in the studio. The second week was more or less all singing, and my body was tired and it seemed like the larger world had reached a new level of ludicrous — the insurrection at the Capitol and the fallout all happened while I was there — and everything felt very intense and urgent. The morning I got in to work on “Lullaby,” I was discouraged from how difficult the previous day had been and worried we weren’t going to get everything done. As we began working, I had to stop quite a few times because I was in tears. There’s something about this song that really offers me a lot of comfort, makes me feel seen, and quiets my busy brain. It was meant to be a lullaby and was one to me even as I recorded it.
AH: Your lyrics are rich and robust, with depth and plenty of catch-your-attention turns of phrase. Who are your biggest influences or artistic inspirations?
KC: Thank you so much, that’s so kind. For me, lyrics are the whole thing; they’re the reason my songs exist. Songwriters who really open up the well of emotional vulnerability and dig into what’s hard and what’s worth celebrating, those are the ones who’ve given me permission to write the way I do. Jars of Clay is a band I’m deeply nerdy about, I can admit it, and I’ve loved the invitation to musical and lyrical evolution that they give through their 25-year arc; they’re very true to themselves. I wouldn’t have begun writing music if it wasn’t for them, honestly. I have a hope Brandi Carlile will adopt me as her musical niece. The first time I heard her, I felt like so much was possible, that I could be part of a legacy somehow. I don’t get out much to see a lot of music but I did have the opportunity to see her near DC, and it was transformational. And Joy Oladokun, I saw her maybe three years ago now when she opened for Penny and Sparrow, and she was just so honest. I love the way she writes melodies and her lyrics are so straightforward. All of these folks tell stories with vulnerability that cracks these seemingly ordinary moments wide open and they’re like geodes: all this emotion, all this beauty, all this invitation inside.
AH: Time to tell us a secret — what is something about this song that you haven’t mentioned anywhere else?
KC: I’m laughing, I feel like the song is one big secret about everything I’ve ever felt insecure about as a mother or an artist or a person. I guess I’d say that line in the second pre-chorus — “Steady now, you’re here”– that line is literally the little something I keep in my pocket when I get overwhelmed, or when depression becomes the biggest voice in my head. Reminding myself that I’m nowhere but here, that I can’t control anything but how I respond right now, that can be very grounding and freeing all at once. Just a simple inhale and exhale: I’m here, I’m here, I’m here. I need the reminder a lot.
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It’s best to write what you authentically know, and Katie Callahan knows soothing music. Check out “Lullaby” for a grown up song of comfort.