"It sounds very corny, but the album is an accumulation of really hard graft..." Callum Beattie talks his debut album People Like Us
It's been a long road for Scottish singer-songwriter Callum Beattie, but his debut album, People Like Us, is now on shelves.
He's been slogging around in the bars and clubs of his native Edinburgh for almost a decade, and, since 2017, has been dropping a series of singles and EPs, all building up to a debut album that has been a long time in the making.
Produced by Ken Nelson, whose credits include Coldplay's Parachutes and A Rush Of Blood To The Head, the album is a collection of uplifting and heartswelling tracks, chronicling Beattie's journey thus far.
With the album now in hmv stores, we spoke to Beattie about the long journey to making People Like Us a reality. You can also check out an exclusive look at the making of the album, and, in particular, hit single 'Salamander Street', by scrolling down to the bottom of the page.
You’ve been releasing EPs and singles for a long time, how did you decide which tracks would go on your album and which would be brand new?
"The album took a long time to put together, and because it was my debut album, I actually had lots of songs to choose from. Between my label and myself, we managed to whittle it down from around 35 songs."
"It was a long, arduous process, but hopefully we picked the right ones! We’ve had an amazing response so far and we are currently in the midst of the same process for album two, which is really exciting."
When were the songs written? Do they go back a long way or are they all quite recent?
"Some of the songs were written when I was 15 years old! Then again, some were written just before we recorded them! I really have no set way of working, I just follow the idea and see what works. I’m obsessed by the ideas and where they actually come from."
It is a strange, mythical process...
"I’d like to make a TV programme about the process, and in actual fact, my manager and I have been discussing such a project for a while. I've always been of the opinion that a good song is a good song no matter what, so I’m not really too concerned with whether I wrote it ten years ago, or wrote it yesterday!"
"Sometimes though, I have writer's block and it can take me ten years to finish a song off..."
How many songs did you have to choose from for the album?
"We whittled down from around 35, and knocked it down by five every time we had a meeting until we got down to the final 15. My label boss is very hands-on, and his input into the process was critical. He was amazingly open to ideas and allowed me to have great creativity, so between us, I think we did come up with the most interesting bunch of songs."
You worked with Ken Nelson on the record, how was he to work with?
"Ken’s a straight-talking, old-school producer, and it’s very daunting to go from recording in your bedroom to sitting with the guy who produced your favourite Coldplay tunes!"
"I’ve always tried not to be too starstruck but it’s hard in that environment not to be overawed by someone with his amazing credentials, but overall, it was a wonderfully enlightening experience, and I loved every single minute of it."
What did he give you as a producer? He’s worked on some big records...
"I think he gave me a pointed sense of focus and allowed me to just get lost in the songs. I was able to focus on just getting the best performances and doing the absolute best I could, and obviously I had nothing to worry about on the other side of the mixing desk."
Which song on the album took the longest to get right?
"The song 'Some Heroes Don’t Wear Capes' is all about my lovely dad, and that took a while, even though it’s actually a very simple arrangement. I was very determined to get it exactly the way I wanted it, as it’s such a significant song to me."
And which came together most quickly?
"That’s a hard one, as with most of the songs, the original ideas come together quickly, it’s the finishing that takes a while - are you seeing a theme here around my writing process?"
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to it?
"This might sound really pretentious, but I hope not, because I don’t mean it to be. The theme of it lyrically is that it’s truly an album full of songs from the heart. I’m deeply connected to every song on the record and I genuinely hope that connects with the listener. That’s more important to me than any statistic, or chart position, or review - it’s all about being able to change the way people feel through the song. God, that is starting to sound pretentious! But I’m being honest!"
"It sounds very corny, but the album is an accumulation of really hard graft, playing to two men and a dog on a Wednesday night in Leith in Edinburgh. I think it’s often the case with a debut album, but it’s a snapshot of my entire musical life up until that point, and now it’s out there on its own and getting a brilliant response. I find it all very overwhelming."
When did you decide on People Like Us for the album title? Were any other titles in contention?
"No, never, it was always going to be People Like Us. When I was a kid, my brother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told him I was going to be a singer, selling out massive gigs and being on the radio. His response was “Callum, don’t be silly, that just doesn’t happen to people like us”.
"There you have it, there was always a sense of destiny about the title. I’m still waiting to actually grow up though."
Have you been able to make any live plans? Or is everything simply on hold at the moment?
"We have three sold-out Scottish shows in December, but have no idea at this stage what the state of play will be in December. In actual fact though, my manager, label and I have really used the lockdown to put together some massive plans for 2021."
"My second album will be out in the first half of the year and we have some thoroughly massive gig plans in 2021, which we will hopefully be able to announce really soon."
An exclusive look at the making of 'Salamander Street'...