Queensland artist Caitlyn Shadbolt telegraphed earlier this year that she was building to a great album, with the release of the singles ‘Bones’ and ‘Porcelain’, followed by ‘Edge of the Earth’ and ‘Two Lost Lovers’. Her second album, Stages, was released earlier this month and the promise of those singles has been more than fulfilled.
Before the album was recorded, Shadbolt says she and her record label had different ideas about what the singles should be.
‘The first couple of singles was a lot of back and forth between the label and I,’ she says. ‘But then once I actually recorded the album and we just listened to the album as a collection of songs, we completely agreed straightaway. I think it’s a lot easier when there’s a body of work to really get an idea of what the mood is and what the directions.’
That album was not, however, recorded in the way Shadbolt – or most artists, for that matter – was used to.
‘I had all these grand plans,’ she says. ‘I recorded “Bones” with a different producer and then had the rest of the album locked in with Stuart Stuart, and then of course the pandemic hit. So I ended up tracking all my vocals here at home and all the acoustic sound and everything like that, which was a spanner in the works but it was actually a really great blessing in disguise. I actually loved the experience in the end.
‘I’m quite lucky because my partner and I, we’re both musicians, so the spare room in our house is the music room and there’s carpet and just so much crap in that room,’ Shadbolt says, laughing.
‘So it was quite easy to just plug in the interface and a microphone and the set-up was already there. Stuart gave me the microphones that I would normally record, but I just had to work out how to push the buttons and engineer it myself.’
Shadbolt says she found the experience to be ‘a much more relaxing environment because I didn’t feel any pressure like there was people watching me. I wasn’t on any time schedule, so if things took longer it didn’t matter. And if I felt like I needed to have a break, I could, and all that kind of stuff. So in one sense it was really good. But then on the other hand, I didn’t really have anyone to bounce ideas off and just to say, “Oh, is that okay? Should I do one more?” I just had to make those executive decisions myself.
‘In the end it took a little while to work it all out, but I think that’s the best thing about being right in the deep end. You just, you just have to learn and then you come out better for it in the end. It really is a sink-or-swim kind of situation.’
Given that the first time most Australians saw Shadbolt was when she appeared on TV talent show X Factor, one could argue that she’s familiar with being thrown in the deep end. Although, she says, ‘I feel like just being in the music industry in general, you just get used to being thrown anywhere and everywhere and just having to work with the situation that you’re in. And that can be being on stage and something going wrong or with travelling, there’s so many different situations where you do just work it out. So I had a bit of practice, I guess.’
From a technical point of view, for her voice, did being able to have more breaks while recording from home have a positive impact on her singing?
‘I think so,’ says Shadbolt. ‘Every time I record, I actually find it so much better for my talent in general. Because you have to listen and sing so perfectly, as close to perfect as you possibly can, by the time you finish you are really singing so much more in tune and you’re just so much more connected to your voice. And it’s even better when you have to listen back to your own voice and make those decisions as to what you have to change and all that kind of stuff.’
When asked if she considered delaying the album due to the changed circumstances of the year, Shadbolt says, ‘I did have a few moments where I thought maybe we should postpone this and just wait it out. And then I thought, We could be waiting it out for five years, and also I’ve been waiting long enough – I don’t want to wait any more! I was getting really impatient. So I just decided to push ahead and it’s just one of those things – there’s never a perfect time.
‘So I just hope everything will fall into its place and the universe will do its thing. But I did through few tantrums, for sure, being crammed up in a room by myself for 10 hours a day. But it was quite funny and I actually did get to film a lot of that as well. So I’ll put together a little BTS video that’ll come out shortly and you’ll get to see all of that.’
That means in addition to learning Logic to record her vocals, Shadbolt is also making videos – she has certainly added to her skill set this year!
‘It’s one of those things where if you want to do something, you might as well just do it yourself and learn those skills,’ she says. ‘And you also realise that you don’t necessarily need a huge team or heaps of money or you don’t have to travel all around the world to be able to connect with people and come up with an end product that is still quality. And that’s what I found recording the vocals at home – that the end product actually sounds exactly the same as if I were to be in a big fancy studio.
‘And honestly, I think if someone was to say, “Hey, do you want to record another album again and do the same thing?” I would actually say yes. I really enjoyed it in the end and my partner and I are building a studio on our property. I think a lot of people are sort of thinking that way as well. They’re coming up with home studios. And just even working from home – people that work in offices and stuff like that are realising that you can do a lot from home and you don’t have to travel so far.’
Some of these songs on Stages have serious subjects, but the overall feeling is really upbeat and joyful. when asked if that was a conscious direction, Shadbolt says, ‘The reason we decided to call the album Stages is because it really is just a reflection of all my personalities and all the different kinds of experiences that I’ve been through over the last couple of years.
‘For the most part it is really positive and bubbly and fun, and a bit sarcastic and whatnot. But I’m a deep thinker and love to write more in-depth kind of stuff. And there are a few songs that are a reflection of that. And I think it’s good for people to get an insight to my personality just on a slightly deeper level, rather than just putting out lots of commercial radio-friendly songs.’
The title song refers to the stages of Shadbolt’s life but also being on stage, performing.
‘I’ve always loved being on stage,’ she says. ‘Initially my mum actually put me into singing lessons when I was like 11 or something, because I was a really anxious kid and someone said to her, “Why don’t you try and get her to sing? It might be a nice creative outlet.” I would find everyday life really scary but then I’d walk on stage at my Year Seven final end-of-year performance and I’d have no nerves at all. So for me it’s actually been a weird kind of therapeutic escape to be on stage. And it’s funny because so many people say, “Being on stage is so scary!” but for me, no, it’s great – getting a blood test or something is way scarier.’
Part of what she loves about being on stage, she says, is ‘you can connect with people on like a different level and it’s so much more meaningful, I feel, than if you’re in a crowded room for me, small talk with someone that you don’t really know.’
Shadbolt started playing guitar around the same time as she began singing lessons.
‘As a kid growing up, all my friends did sport,’ she says, ‘and I felt like the done thing was that you’ve got to play sport as a kid. And I was so unbelievably bad at all sports and I used to hate it, but I thought, Oh, well, this is just what you do, obviously. So I did it. And then when I was at 12 I picked up the guitar and thought, Hey, I’m actually good at this. I’m learning this quickly. And I really like it. So that’s when I thought, Maybe I don’t need to do sport. I can actually just do this instead.‘
Happily, her parents were very supportive of her musical endeavours. ‘My parents would always just do whatever they could to help feed my creative passion,’ she says. ‘And even my brother, at the [same] time, he picked up drums for a while. That was the line! Listening to someone learn to play drums is really, really awful, so that would be probably when they got a bit frustrated.
‘But for the most part they’d let me just play anywhere and everywhere, and they followed me around to my gigs and gave up their weekends to take me to competitions and all that stuff. I’ve got really good parents.’
Shadbolt’s brother would go on to be in a band with her and two other guys, while they were all in high school.
‘We’d play pubs on the weekend. That was our after-school paid job. But then after a while he quit and that was the end of it,’ she says with a laugh.
The band was Shadbolt’s job while she was in high school.
‘Most people would work at Big W or a coffee shop or something, and I just played gigs on the weekend and I’d get paid the same, which is pretty awesome. And I think that’s the mistake I made, saying, “Oh, I can do this for a living.” And then you really get into it and it’s, “Oh, actually it’s really hard. And you don’t actually make that much money”,’ she laughs.
Her first paid gig was at the age of 15, and by 17 she was playing almost every weekend at local pubs and RSL clubs. ‘I did that right up until I went on X Factor,’ she says, ‘and then from X Factor I’ve been playing festivals and all kinds of different shows.’
That gig experience was very helpful when she appeared on X Factor – ‘a lot of contestants had only ever played in their bedrooms,’ she explains, ‘but I was a seasoned gig player, so I was fine, and with soundcheck and all that kind of stuff it was really easy for me. That was probably the one bit of preparation I had for that show.’
Growing up, Shadbolt listened toI listened to ‘Shania Twain, of course, but also heaps of Jimmy Barnes and Accadacca [AC/DC] and a lot of rock.
‘But then once I was in high school, I was actually really lucky, there was an Australian Institute of Country Music at the time, which was like an after-school program where you could join a band, learn an instrument and play, pretty much. The only catch with that was that you had to play country music. That’s part of where I started listening to a lot more and picking songs that I liked and learning how to play them on guitar. And from there I really fell in love with the genre and just kept kept at it because I felt like I really connected with it.’
Shadbolt wrote three tracks on the album with Sarah Buckley from The Buckleys: ‘Edge of the Earth’, ‘Two Lost Lovers’ and ‘Your Lady’.
‘We got together at the Sugar Beach Ranch [in Ballina, NSW],’ says Shadbolt, ‘not long before I started recording, actually. And that was our first time writing together and we just got along like a house on fire. We wrote three songs and then all three songs I ended up recording. She’s a really cool chick and I think personality wise we’re quite the same as far as living life to the edge of the earth and really knowing what we want, but also having fun and being indecisive with like breakfast options! We had a really good time and I think she’s a crazy good writer. I can’t wait to see what she’s doing in like five, ten years.’
There are some other co-writes on the album, and Shadbolt says of the co-writing process, ‘I feel like the last couple of years I’ve worked with so many different people and I decided to write with all different producers and different genres and all that kind of stuff, just to see how far to take it before it was, “Whoa, that’s taking it too far, let’s rein it in.” And I think the great thing about writing with people not necessarily in the country circuit is that you can come up with a different end product. I always want it to sound different and be a bit left of centre. And I definitely got to do that, and it’s great because sometimes when you work with people, you learn more about yourself where you learn different songwriting tips and styles and tricks and things like that. You just never know what you’re going to wind up with. Sometimes it was unexpected and really great and they ended up on the album, and other songs – I did a trip to Nashville and I didn’t actually end up using any of any of the songs. So you just never know.’
When asked if it’s frustrating to travel so far to write and return with nothing, Shadbolt says, ‘I try to take it all as experience, because every time I go to Nashville I absolutely love it anyway. I’d go there just for fun. But it’s also really nice to say, hey, there’s so much talent here in Australia. I don’t actually have to go anywhere if I don’t want to. And sometimes it’s good to support your own and keep the Aussie writers and that industry alive.’
Now that Stages is out in the world, is Shadbolt keen to get onto the next one or will she focus on the new album and see where it takes her?
‘It’s a bit of both,’ she says. ‘I mean, one, because we’re always thinking about the next thing and how can we be better and all that kind of stuff, but also because I’ve written these songs and I’ve recorded them way before when people listen to it, for me it’s old news by the time it comes out for everyone. So in one sense it’s, “What can I do next?” But then in the other sense it’s, “Okay, we’ve finally arrived here. I’m going to make the most of it, soak it up, get as much leverage out of this as we can.” And then take a breather and let my brain stop for a minute, and then get started on the next one.’
This year has provided an unexpected breather for Shadbolt, who says that she has loved the chance to slow down, ‘because I’m one of those people that I can’t have a day off without feeling really guilty. And if I feel like I don’t have much to do then I’m failing with something.
‘But this year I feel like because it’s been out of my control, I can actually sit back and I had a couple of months where I could really just relax and be a human and hang out with my dogs and just focus on my health and exercising and things like that. It’s been the best thing that could have happened, honestly. And it’s at a time that I felt like I really needed it.
‘So I’ve been really trying to hang on to that and say, you know, it’s okay. I need to take a few days off and just be yourself and whatnot. You don’t have to work on the music thing every day. So I’m going to try and take those lessons from this year into the following years. But in saying that I’ve still had this album to sink my teeth into. So it’s kept me sane and I feel like I’ve still been able to be productive during a year that been so weird for everyone.’
Stages is released by ABC Music/Universal Australia.