On one of 2017's final evenings of t-shirt friendly weather, we met up with CALEY CONWAY and band at Spinning J in Humboldt Park to talk recording, performing, and just the right balance of creative isolation.
Emulsion: What are you working on right now? Writing, recording, touring?
Caley: I just got done feverishly recording a Christmas album. It was my first foray into engineering a work by myself, and it was a really fun challenge for me. I wanted the project to help fund the rest of a studio album that is (shocking!) quickly exceeding what I had budgeted for it. As far as writing goes, I find myself in the unprecedented position (for me) of actively trying not to write any new music. I have almost a full album's worth of stuff written for the next recording, but I need to focus on nurturing the album that I'm almost done with, before moving on from it.
Emulsion: What was your recording process like for this one?
Caley: The recording process for the "Heart Be Light (my Christmas album)," was painstaking, since it was my first time and I was very new to the DAW. I spent a lot of time experimenting with mic placement, amp, and pedal settings to find just the right tone. As I got further along, I got a lot more intuitive about my guitar tone and was able to be more fluid with it, which was rewarding because I've always felt like I've had to consult with someone who "knows better" than me (always ends up being a dude) about my own guitar tone. I started each song by laying down a scratch guitar track, then would arrange and build the vocals, then bass, keys, or more guitars, and lastly drums and percussion (performed by my partner, John). It's not the most conventional system, but it was cool to build the arrangements around what was, for me, at the heart of each song.
Emulsion: Where are you from and where are you making music these days?
Caley: I'm from Milwaukee. I've pretty much always made music there, and it's still my musical home base, though I recently relocated to Oostburg (45 mins north of MKE) with my partner, John. We live in a tiny cabin in the woods which is also quite conducive to music making. We have a recording setup here, which I tracked the Christmas songs in, and John has been recording an album of his own. It's ideal for everything except practicing with band mates. And playing shows.
Emulsion: Oh wow! That's very cool, I can see how band practice would be tricky though. What are your shows like and how many people do you usually play with?
Caley: My performances tend to vary based on who's available to play with me, whether the gig will bring in enough money to support a band, what the venue and setting is like, and what I feel like doing. It's really nice having that versatility, though it can be lonely and sometimes I'm like gah what am I doing this is so unorganized and inconsistent. Hah. But I can encompass a very wide range from the chillest, quietest, tenderest of shows to the fairly noisy ones.
Emulsion: Tell me a little about the roots of your current project and the bandmates you're currently working with.
Caley: The current band formed a little over a year ago. I met Luke (the drummer) at a friend's wedding last fall. After talking briefly, we discovered that we lived just a few houses down from each other, and I wasted no time in asking him to join me for this show I had coming up. I was sick of playing solo and had a hunch about him, I guess. Having John play bass was a no-brainer-- he's my partner, for one, and he can play anything. He's good at everything he touches and has great instincts. And I like him, which doesn't hurt. Since I had all this momentum going, I asked my best friend, D'amato, to join on backup vocals. D'amato and I have been singing together for a very long time, and he sang in my last band-- Caley Conway and the Lucy Cukes-- as well. His girlfriend, Treccy, also has an amazing voice, so when they're both able, we play full band shows and I have the distinct pleasure of singing over a background vocal section. It's one of my all-time favorite things to do.
Though the Christmas season has passed, it's not too late to check out Caley's awesome holiday album on her bandcamp: https://caleyconway.bandcamp.com/album/heart-be-light