Editors’ Notes “I knew that everything that came my way, either I was going to have to learn more about the game and take it as a learning experience or I could let it dissuade me from going after my dream, and I just wasn't going to let that happen,” Caylee Hammack tells Apple Music. The singer, songwriter, and producer got an early start on the small-town Opry circuit, studying iconic country singers of earlier eras so that she could win over crowds her grandparents’ age, only to be immobilized by a two-pound tumor. After recovering, she secured a college scholarship to a premier music program in Nashville, but gave it up for a boyfriend who cheated. Hammack moved to Music City anyway, starting from scratch, and was just getting her foothold with a songwriting contract when her rental home burned, and her belongings in it. She animates tales of those events with wit and warmth on her 13-song set, building bewitching pop drama out of down-home sensibilities with her co-producer Mikey Reaves. “This is me,” she affirms. “All of this is sounds and things that have happened in my head that I put forth and tried to translate sonically. I am a maximalist; I'm not a minimalist in any capacity.” Here she goes through the stories behind each song on her hard-earned debut.

Just Friends
“I love too easily, I think, and I love too intensely for me to be able to just date on and off and it not really affect me emotionally. Music has never let me down, but boys and love have. This boy was like, ‘No, I'm going to prove you wrong.’ So he did, and we had this whirlwind courtship and then he was like, ‘Maybe we should have stayed just friends.’ It was like the goal was to let me be vulnerable and open up just enough to really hurt me, and then he's like, ‘Okay, I'm done.’ I love that the song is definitely a bait and switch. I loved it how it showcased the two different sides of emotions I was feeling. I also wanted a nod to my mom, like, ‘I should have listened to my mama.’ My mama knew from just the way I talked about this boy that I didn't need to date him.”

Redhead (feat. Reba McEntire)
“My grandmommy had red hair—a lot of women in my family do—and when she died I was like, ‘I want to be more like you. I want to literally emulate you and your strength.’ With ‘Redhead,’ I thought about when I was four or five years old and my older cousin Jennifer was going into nursing school, the fiery redhead, and she needed a place real cheap to live. So Mama and Daddy were like, ‘Well, just live back there in the single-wide trailer. You don't have to pay anything.’ So I just wanted to write something for her because she always hated her hair and I was like, 'That's a gift from God. You're the rarest breed there is.' Having Reba on there was a fluke of a situation. Her manager mentioned to my manager that Reba liked my stuff, and my manager let her manager hear ‘Redhead’ and Reba liked it. Then I said, ‘Well, can you just ask her if she'd sing on it?’ It was unreal. She definitely has inspired me.”

Looking for a Lighter
“It was the morning of my 23rd birthday and all I wanted was an idea. I went to get a cup of coffee and a lighter, and I went into my kitchen junk drawer. I yank it and everything just shuffles to the front. It's a little army figurine, a little button from senior year, and a fake ID that I moved to Nashville with. Right behind that fake ID are a big bundle of letters, and I didn't remember what they were from at first. I started going through them and I realized it was all the letters from the boy that ‘Small Town Hypocrite’ is about, the first true heartbreak of my life. For some reason—man, I'm a sentimental fool—I held on to them. Anyways, instead of smoking what I wanted, drinking coffee, and just having a good relaxing day, I sat down against the counter underneath my kitchen sink and just cried and read those letters again and I started getting mad. I was like, ‘I haven't seen you in years, and still I can run into you in the back of the kitchen junk drawer.’ I went back to my little [recording] rig in the corner and started writing about all the memories I seem to rifle through, and I'm looking for a lighter.”

Preciatcha
“I think love is always a learning lesson until you find the right one. The song was really based off of a saying my mom had: ‘Every hand you hold is a blessing or a lesson, and you got to figure out which one it is you got.’”

Sister
“Me and my sister were so close growing up, and then life has just ripped us apart in different ways and pulled us away from each other. That song is really about me addressing how me and my sister both kind of felt like we're out alone in the world. It's like we forget we had each other the whole time. I knew I wanted strings on it, but I didn't know if the budget would allow it, and heaven worked it out for us.”

Just Like You
“That was the first time I ever got to write with Jarrod Ingram or Blake Hubbard from The 720 production crew. They started making up a cool track and I just sat in the corner and started venting in diary form. I was just like, ‘I'm mad at you. You don't get to treat people like this and think that they're going to treat you better. If you want to do this to someone, you need a little bit of your own medicine.’”

King Size Bed
“I was writing with Troy Verges, Gordie Sampson, and ‘Tawgs’ Salter. We kind of went through all these different ideas, but nothing had settled, and I told them that I had a lyric that I wanted to start a song with. I wanted to say, ‘We’re just a bomb ticking in a king-size bed. This is all going to blow up in our face in the end.’ Talking about a tumultuous relationship that was passionate and fiery but something that could burn us up in the end. When I said that line in the room, Troy and Gordie were just like, ‘Uh, that’s not the first line of a song—that’s a title.’”

Forged in the Fire
“At 23, going through that [fire], I had my family and also I had my friends, and I realized so much about that. I put a lot into ‘Forged in the Fire,’ because you don't realize how much you put your worth into the things around you. I realized how much I loved my little things, because it was almost like visible proof of ‘You're on your own. You have your own couch.’ Yeah, it was hand-me-down, but that's your own couch. All of a sudden that was all gone. I had good friends that just showed up out of the woodwork, and we went through everything and found a bunch of different little things that meant the world to me, like my grandmother's quilt that inspired the first verse. A piece of Sheetrock fell over it right before the fire came through that part of the attic. I realized how little that meant in comparison to people showing up to help you. It's funny, it was so hard at the time. Everyone kept telling me, ‘Oh, you're like a phoenix. You're going to rise from this.’ And I was like, ‘How? Who builds the wings, buddy?’ It was frustration, but also me trying to desperately find some hope.”

Family Tree
“It was kind of funny to send to my family. It really just came from me saying, ‘I finally know about my sister smoking cigarettes. I'm the only person in the family that knows that she goes out back past the shed and smokes every day.’ When I said it, I was like, ‘That sounds Sammy Kershaw or Joe Diffie,’ like, some weird, very colorful insight on this Southern country family. [Mikey Reaves and I] spent probably 50 or 60 hours recording that song. It was like a love child of our brains on a $500 demo budget. We added a few little things—we mixed it, obviously—but what you heard on the radio is what we made together that first time.”

Mean Something (feat. Ashley McBryde, Tenille Townes)
“When we sat down for track listing and we were going through all these songs, [artist manager] Mary Hilliard was like, ‘Who would you want on the record?’ and honestly I hadn't even thought about it. The first two names that came to my mind was Ashley McBryde and Tenille Townes. I was like, ‘These are two people that I feel like are genuinely creators for the purest reasons. They just want to make something that means something.’ I want to always surround myself with people like that. I had gotten inspired for the verses and stuff by watching Chance the Rapper's performance at the 2017 Grammys. So I just started writing, ‘Don't we all just want to mean something?’ It all came together.”

Small Town Hypocrite
“Honestly, when I wrote that one, it wasn't really about the cleverness of it all. I was just venting. ‘Small Town Hypocrite’ started with hand-me-down dreams. I was talking about how I was the runner-up to the homecoming queen kind of thing. [The winner] was one of my close friends, and at a young age, it hurt me. It was about me feeling upset about that, and meeting the boy that I was talking to secretly that night after the football game. He’d had a cancer scare, I’d had a cancer scare. We didn't have tattoos, but we talked about if we'd get them, we'd get them together. I tried to just put in different little parts of my story. I felt like my town was always considered a one-horse town and we just found each other, these two different broken in different ways, but similarly put together people. I loved him, and I think maybe he loved me. I just don't think he knew how to be faithful at the time. I didn't know how to handle that, and I don't think I ever will, but I gave up the Belmont scholarship. I stayed in my hometown for a year wandering around and I was very bitter. When I recorded it, I wanted it to feel like a diary entry.”

Gold
“On the drive into the studio, I was having my morning talk with God. Finally, this line just came out of the sky and it was like, ‘If pain is art, you have given me gold. You have truly given me gold.’ As a kid I used to pray, ‘Just give me a life that I would read about. Give me a life that's exciting on every page.’ I feel like that's exactly what he kind of did, and it made me laugh that morning. I just walked in and asked Mikey, ‘Will you just record me?’ I sat down and started playing an old guitar, thumbing around on it. It was a very odd tuning that is so hard to find again every time I play it, but I started just singing, and that first take is really me just ad-libbing through. That's the take we kept. I just wanted one on the record that was no production, no Auto-Tune, no tongue-in-cheek thing I'm saying.”

New Level of Life
“One of the boys I dated was all about money. All he ever wanted to talk about was money. That's why at one point he's like, ‘Well, you can't go there without me.’ Like, ‘I'd be paying for that trip.’ Finally I was like, ‘Oh no, honey, if I want it, I'll get it. I don't need you.’ I like to pay my own bills. It was the first breakup that I went through that I could do that. I also felt like, ‘Wow, I really am on a new level of life. This boy broke me, but now I'm an artist getting to have creative control over her entire project. I am living the life I wanted.’”

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