Interview with…Kimberly Caldwell!

Photo credit: Matt Beard.

For seven years after her all-too-soon exit from American Idol‘s second season in 2003, the promise of new music from Kimberly Caldwell cemented itself in the form of a permanent “Coming Soon!” on her official website. Though she would occasionally release snippets and full songs for fans on her MySpace, a definitive announcement was never made.

Over the past few years, Kimberly was quite busy in the studio, testing out sounds and covering songs with some of the industry’s most noteworthy musicians. “I’d been in the studio for years with Diane Warren, the legendary songwriter — she’s unbelievable. She had kind of been mentoring me, you know, showing me the ropes and stuff in Hollywood.”

Still, nothing materialized as far as an album was concerned. According to Kim, it all came down to her comfort with the process of finding a recording label. “There were a lot of different producers and labels that I had started the initial process of working with,” Caldwell said of the period of time she spent recording after Idol, “and it just never felt right. It never sat right with me. I always kind of felt like I had to compromise who I was, and who I felt that I was as an artist.”

At the same time, Caldwell wasn’t even sure that she herself was prepared for a debut. “Even though I’ve been performing since I was 5 years old, I just didn’t have the right words to really believe in an album to put out at that time.”

Photo credit: Matt Beard.

As time went by, the singer began to grow more confident; not only in her place in Hollywood, but in her own voice as a writer. “I’ve written my whole life, but I was just really self-conscious about anybody hearing it because I thought “Oh, it’s just not good enough. There’s no way anyone’s going to like this but me.” But then I started hearing my little sister walking around humming the song that I sang to them that I wrote, and I thought ‘Ooh! Well, that’s always a good sign.'”

Finally in 2009, Kimberly sat down and began working on music that was truly meant for her album. “Say Love,” the soaring ballad at the heart of Without Regret, was the song that would solidify Kim’s confidence in her songwriting skills and push her to complete the album.

A gut-wrenchingly personal number, “Say Love” is an impressive showcase of both vulnerability and strength, qualities that can be easily traced in Kimberly’s broken vocals on the track: “You’re broken, and you’re breaking us / I know you need me, but it’s not enough / And the silence is killing us, so say love,” she sings sadly during the song’s chorus. “As soon as I wrote that, I knew that the others were going to come out just like that.”

And so they did. One after one, the remaining songs poured out with all the emotions she’d been feeling over the past few years. “With these songs, I didn’t want them to come across as angry,” she explained of the album’s writing sessions, “I wanted them to come off as empowerment songs. You might bring me down, or I might have brought myself down, but I am going to rise up.”

Packed with eleven guitar-driven stompers and cool, rock-tinged heartbreak ballads, the album is as much Without Regret as it is without AutoTune — unique characteristic in today’s pop landscape. “The cool thing with Marshall [Altman, the producer] that I learned the most over the past year was really embracing the imperfections and the flaws, and letting it just be really raw instead of being so perfect,” she says of her decision to nix the vocal special effects.” In fact, before beginning work on the album, Kimberly already had a specific rule in mind: “Anything I sing in the studio, I want to be able to sing it live. If I can’t do it live, then I don’t want to record it.”

The album comes complete with an array of songs about heartbreak and love (no doubt inspired by her country music origins in Texas), from the roaring, damning cry of “Heart Like Mine” to the slinky cover of “Sleep While I Drive,” a cover of a song recorded by one of Kimberly’s idols, Melissa Etheridge. As for the music legends that continue to inspire her as an artist? “Bonnie Raitt, I’m obsessed with. Ann Wilson from Heart, Pat Benatar‘s been a huge inspiration to me, Joan Jett; all of these women that are just powerful and unapologetic. That’s what I strive to be.”

Photo credit: Matt Beard.

When I spoke to Kim, it was the night before the video premiere of her debut single “Mess of You.”

“I’m freaking out in the best way possible,” she announced giddily when asked how she was feeling about the release only hours away. “That day was one of the biggest days of my life.”

The video, which was shot in the famed Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, was an experience the singer had dreamed of since she first began performing. Before the actual shoot began however, Kim stumbled into a problem: “A lot of the treatments we were getting in all had it where, you know, I was getting messed over by this guy and by the end I was running away with my new hunk, and we would live happily ever after. Well, that’s not realistic whatsoever.”

After being granted the opportunity to co-write the video’s final storyline, she knew just what she wanted out of the story and, most importantly, what kind of message the viewer should take away after watching. “I didn’t want to be making a mess of a guy. That’s very obvious. I wanted to be singing about making a mess of myself, and I wanted the message to be that if you put yourself in a messy situation, you can get yourself out of a messy situation. You can save yourself.”

While promoting her music, Kim’s been having fun sharing in her excitement on a personal level with her fans thanks to sites like Twitter. “I enjoy talking to them so much. They’re so supportive! It’s pretty amazing — the fact that the people that are going to change my life, which are the fans, I’m able to reach out to them and tell them ‘Thank you,’ and let them know that their support means everything to me.”

For now, Kimberly remains hard at work building up steam for the album’s release on April 6. With the full-length video for “Mess of You” now out on Yahoo!Music and the song’s debut on iTunes, Kimberly’s fans have something to tide themselves over while awaiting Without Regret, an album bound to defy all of their expectations.

To pre-order Kimberly Caldwell’s debut album, Without Regret, click here.

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