When it comes to the simple art of making music and writing songs, Caitlin Crosby is doing what she can to take full advantage of the opportunity to contribute positive messages and a helping hand through her work to those who might really need one.
The young singer/songwriter and actress has wrestled with her own frustrations with the entertainment business (including a stint working with Babyface as a member of the all-girl group Foxy Nova which unfortunately didn’t quite pan out with matching commercial success, although she learned a lot) and channels the experiences of what she’s learned, both from the industry and life in general, into her music.
Crosby’s career has been a balancing act of sorts, mixing songwriting with acting, including parts in a number of well-known television programs, including Malcolm in the Middle, That ’70s Show and 7th Heaven. Ultimately, it’s music that is the driving force behind a lot of what she does and it always seems like there’s a song or two brewing.
Save That Pillow collects six brand new songs from Crosby, produced by Adam Anders (Glee) and Boots Ottestad (Robbie Williams, Macy Gray). Ottestad co-wrote the bulk of the material with Crosby and encouraged her to pursue a vintage sound with her new recordings, which are noticeably stripped down in comparison to her 2009 debut Flawz, which was more pop-driven and heavily produced.
It was a change that Crosby herself was looking for as she began writing songs for the follow-up to Flawz. While she had a general direction in mind, it was Boots who would help her to shape the vision of where the material would go.
“While recording, Boots and I talked a lot about vintage artists and the warmth of their sound, I was then inspired to go in the direction of an artist like Dusty Springfield.” The songs have a more organic feel to them as well, with Crosby playing both guitar and piano throughout.
In a recent conversation as she was getting ready to go out on tour, we had the chance to spend some time with Crosby to talk about the new EP, her past work with Babyface and how she continues to pay it forward with her organization The Giving Keys.
It seems like you have a lot of things going on..
Yeah, it’s just crazy right now, getting ready for a tour and it’s exciting.
I want to talk to you about this new EP — can you share a little bit of the story of how this one came about?
My last record was a while ago — it came out in 2009 and then I kind of took a break from music and went back to acting and also was working on this charity jewelry line I started calling The Giving Keys. That kind of took over my life the last three years, but still in the middle of it all, I was writing and then signed with Adam Anders from Glee and then we just started [working on things].
He set me up with this amazing producer named Boots and we started writing and some of the songs that we recorded were songs that I had already written over the last few years by myself and then some of them we wrote together. We recorded a bunch over the last year and then put this out and I’m really passionate about these songs because a lot of them are about these issues that I really care about.
One song called “Save That Pillow,” the title track of the EP, is all about wanting to encourage girls to not give it up so easily to a guy that doesn’t care about them. I see that so much, so I really wanted to write a graphic song about that, because I just kept seeing that in so many of my friends and it was breaking my heart, because it was breaking their heart over and over.
There’s also a song about things that I’ve seen growing up here in L.A., drugs and all of that kind stuff that I’ve seen here. I wanted to shed [some] light on everything I’ve observed here and try to write music hopefully that inspires people and makes people think.
It seems like Boots brought some interesting ideas into the whole process. Prior to that, did you have an idea of what you really wanted to accomplish with the next batch of songs? How did he really help you to tweak that vision?
I really wanted to do an acoustic EP. Because my last record was really pop/rock, so I wanted this one to just be really stripped down acoustic and just really be focused on the lyrics and the stripped down feel, but Boots encouraged me to add some ‘60s flavor to it and that was challenging and exciting and different for me. So I’m really grateful for him that he encouraged the tracks to be like that and add more dimensions and more stuff to it.
What was challenging about putting yourself in that sound or searching for that scope?
Just because I’ve been in the music industry for so many years, since I was in high school actually, I’ve tried so many different genres of music when I was younger that I so badly wanted to settle on one thing and I thought I wanted to be acoustic, but I was so happy that he encouraged me to break out of the box and add some ‘60s flavor in there.
Were there things that you listened to as you were trying to find that, which helped you find that zone?
Yeah, I’ve always loved Johnny Cash and I love Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers and I love Adele. But then he introduced me to Dusty Springfield so I listened to that and that was an inspiration for a couple of the songs.
It’s interesting hearing this stuff after hearing your last album. I can definitely hear that it’s stripped down, but it also just feels more organically constructed with live drums and other elements that weren’t present on that last batch of stuff.
This is an EP and not a full album. What made you decide to go that route?
Well, we’re going to do a complete album next year, but we just wanted to put these out and get some licensing [on some of these songs] and just take it from there and have a slow build. [We’re going to] make some videos and then do a solid release later on.
There’s a balancing act these days it seems like between being an artist and writing material that can also be licensed. How much do you wrestle with that or think about that?
Yeah, I wasn’t really thinking about licensing too much. We were just wanting to construct a good song. Some of them were honestly 100 percent therapeutic. “Consolation Prize,” I wrote that when I was going through a breakup and literally, I wrote it as therapy, so I definitely wasn’t thinking about trying to make them bankable or anything like that.
You mentioned writing with Boots on some of this stuff. Do you do a lot of writing with others? How important is that element of collaboration to you?
I usually prefer writing by myself, because it’s really hard for me to come up with things when I’m writing with other people, especially if I just met them and it’s like an awkward business environment. With Boots, he was one of the only people I felt comfortable writing with. I just prefer writing by myself and now just Boots. Now, I only want to write with Boots pretty much, because I have just had so many awkward writing sessions that we get nothing done because I have brain freeze. A lot of times I like to start a song about something that I’m feeling or going through and then Boots will come in and help me construct it and add his “Bootsisms.”
The Giving Keys is a very cool thing. If I read it right, it sounds like it really began as a thought for something interesting to sell at the merch table.
Yeah, I started making them and selling them at the merch table and I would pay a locksmith at the time to make them, but then little by little, I knew I wanted the money to go to charity. So I met an awesome homeless couple on the Hollywood Boulevard, so I started hiring them to engrave the keys and then it has just grown over the past three years and now we’re in like 200 stores and we have a lot of employees who are trying to transition out of homelessness and I came up with the whole “pay it forward” concept early on. You get one and you wear it for a little bit and then you have to give it away to somebody at some point that you feel needs the message on the key and then you go back to the website and blog the story of why you gave it away. It’s been an awesome project.
How quickly did you see it start to transition into what it’s become?
It’s really just a long process. I started the “pay it forward” process and then six months later, I met Cera and Rob, the first homeless couple that I employed. And then I got it into Fred Segal, because I used to be the barista [there] in high school, so I kind of stayed in touch with the people there. And then it just kind of grew and I hustled my way into other stores and it was just a slow build.
Between the acting stuff that you’ve done, the musical stuff and the websites, that seems like it would be a lot to manage. How do you keep everything balanced?
It’s actually been really difficult to keep it all balanced. Just because I’m constantly multi-tasking and constantly not really doing everything the best it could be if I was just focusing on one thing. The way it’s all turned out is fine and I’m grateful for it and I’m just trying to stay focused on each task at hand.
When did you first start writing songs and at what point did you find the confidence that you might have something worth pursuing as a possible career?
I actually won a contest when I was 17 through KIIS-FM. Everyone at my high school was doing it and it was kind of a natural thing [for me] to do because I did a lot of musical theater. I got it and that kind of jumpstarted me into that world and I met a ton of people in the music industry.
Was that the Foxy Nova thing?
And Babyface was involved with that…
Yeah, he was our main producer and I really learned how to write music from him and play the guitar and he was really influential in teaching me how to write.
I was really interested to read that in that time period, you participated in writing about 150 songs for the group. That’s a lot of tracks. Was that output amount an element that came from the Babyface association?
Kind of. We wrote with a ton of different producers, but we were signed to him for many years. So he and the different labels we were at — we were at Interscope for a couple of years and Arista and his direct label, Nu America, which was Robin Thicke’s label [too], Robin was the only other person signed there. So Robin used to produce for us and we would all write together. Everybody was always wanting us to find that hit song.