Caleb Chapman was stuck. It was time to make another Colony House record and he had no songs. That’s not quite true; he had a pile of songs, but none that were right for his band.
Q: How do you write a pile of songs you don’t love?
A: Focus on what the market wants.
If you find yourself thus distracted, getting dropped by your label could be the best thing for you. Fewer voices in your head. And Colony House had just been dropped by RCA. Now Caleb was coming back to himself little by little. So yes, he was stuck and he had no songs, but it felt like they were on the train. Any moment now.
Caleb sat at the piano, doing his best to embody the songwriter-as-fisherman metaphor, in which you cast your line out and wait. The phone rang. A welcome interruption. His grandfather wanted to know how songs were coming. They talked for a minute.
And then a sudden tug on the line. The conversation had sparked a memory of Caleb’s great grandfather, an alcoholic and a drifter who had barely known his own daughter. Caleb felt a wave of empathy for this man, and a wave of empathy is as good a song-starter as any. The lyric took the form of a conversation between a man running away from his problems and the porter who takes his bag as he boards the train. Caleb reeled the big fish in and named it “Mr. Runaway.” At last, a keeper!
I was also coming unstuck. A drastic change in my life had dislodged me from years of working around the clock as if my life depended on it. I was out with the Behold The Lamb tour, thinking what a different person I had been a year prior, when Caleb Chapman’s name appeared on my phone. Since I produced When I Was Younger with Joe Causey in 2013, I had not been holding my breath to ever work with the band again. I thought they had graduated from the likes of me. But somehow, when the phone rang, I knew.
Caleb told me they didn’t need a genius, they needed a shepherd. He was right. They didn’t need a genius because they had Caleb, Will, Scott, and Parke. And they needed a shepherd for the very same reason!! I prepared to empty myself and take on the very nature of a servant.
And then I heard “Mr. Runaway.” I was hoping Caleb wanted to make a record with a lot of heart—something rangy and cinematic that spoke to both the spirit of humanity and the spirit of the times. That song told me the answer was yes to all of the above.
We started work in January of last year and proceeded to spend ten days on two songs, “Mr. Runaway” and “Looking For Some Light.” Neither song was finished after ten days and nobody was sure they liked either one and I was ready to get fired. Then the boys left for tour. I took my mentor Brown out for tacos and asked him what to do. He told me I was doing it upside down. I had put myself in the hot seat when it should have been them. We changed the whole plan. When we reconvened in the spring it was at their dad’s studio instead of mine. I barely played a note for the first two weeks. I was mostly a cheerleader, smiling through the studio glass with two arms raised. Some of my proudest contributions to the record are non-musical. It was my idea, for example, to leave Caleb alone and let him play guitar and sing with no one around, not even me. I wanted his wildest performances and this is how I got them.
I eventually re-entered the fray.
“Julia,” for example, took shape between Caleb, Will, and me. Will wasn’t so sure about it, but ultimately it was his feverish bongo playing that made it so joyous.
I was hoping Caleb wanted to make a record with a lot of heart—something rangy and cinematic that spoke to both the spirit of humanity and the spirit of the times. The answer was yes to all of the above. Ben Shive
After days of work, Will had the courage to say “Mr. Runaway” wasn’t right for the album. Caleb raised the knife to kill his beloved, but then we saw the ram in the thicket. Caleb and I sat together at the end of the day and reworked the song in a major key. We had to tweak the melody but we were able to preserve its contour. And then came the idea to split it into thirds and let the serial conversation between Mr. Porter and Mr. Runaway frame the whole album. The first part we recorded together in about an hour on doubled piano and guitar. The second I arranged for strings at the Beehive. The third is a Beck-ish thing featuring my two hands working independently at the piano for once and Caleb playing, to his delight, drums.
Today, we release Leave What’s Lost Behind into the wild. I am grateful to have been there at the inception. I am proud of the guys for writing a beautiful record and supporting each other so well through the making of it. Nobody cared who played any given part. They just wanted it to be good. And nobody took offense when it was time to mute something they’d worked for hours on. This occurred often.
I am proud of Caleb for doing what I want to see every artist do. Look without and speak to the times. Look within and speak to the heart of man. Look intently into the law that gives life and speak to the spirit.
When I Was Younger is beloved by so many. I hope that Leave What’s Lost Behind has even greater emotional and spiritual impact. When Caleb played “Mr. Runaway” for me at that first meeting he told me he felt like he was at war with the hopelessness of the world and he wanted to shed light. Good. Everybody’s looking for some light.