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Released in a Pandemic, Caleb Caudle’s New Album Is His Best Selling Yet

Nashville songwriter pivoted to promoting ‘Better Hurry Up’ after coronavirus derailed his tour

Caleb Caudle spoke to 'Rolling Stone' in March about how the coronavirus could decimate the livelihoods of touring musicians.

Bret Scheinfeld*

In early March, as the full threat of the coronavirus was becoming imminent, Nashville songwriter Caleb Caudle made the preemptive decision to begin postponing a 70-date tour in support of his new album, Better Hurry Up. SXSW had been canceled a few days earlier and the forecast for live music wasn’t looking good.

“The worst-case scenario is I go do the whole album release tour and no one shows up because they’re scared,” he told Rolling Stone then, candidly spelling out all the ways that a scrapped touring year could decimate his livelihood.

But eight weeks later, he has no doubt he made the right move. “When that story hit, I thought, ‘I wonder if people are going to think I’m crazy,’ ” he says. “And then two days later, I was like, ‘People definitely aren’t going to think I’m crazy.’ “

Caudle was ahead of the curve. Soon after he postponed his dates, Live Nation and AEG made the unprecedented move to cancel and postpone tens of thousands of shows. With his touring halted, Caudle shifted his resources from the road toward promoting Better Hurry Up, getting out the word by playing livestream gigs and doing interviews with his friends at radio. Just this weekend, he appeared with Lilly Hiatt on NPR’s All Things Considered, talking up Hiatt’s new LP, Walking Proof. “A lot of our fans in this world, if you like one person, you’re going to like several people from this community,” he says. “So I’m trying to help promote other records too, because there are so many people going through this same exact thing.”

We caught up with Caudle to see how the record has been received and when he thinks he may get back onstage.

What has the fallout been of the pandemic for you and your music?
We did lose over 70 shows worldwide, so that was very tough. But what I have noticed is the coverage for the record has been really good and a lot of DJs are still spinning it, even though a lot of them are working from home. All things considered, we’re really happy with how it’s all going. I think it’s provided a time where people are spending some time at home with a record that they wouldn’t have if they were still at full pace living their life. It feels like there’s a real love and appreciation for art right now, and that’s a nice silver lining.

Knowing what you know now, would you have delayed the release of your album?
I don’t think it’s wrong for artists to hold a record back, because there are so many moving pieces. We talked about it, but at the time, we had already released a couple songs. We were ready to go, so I’m glad that we didn’t push it. Like I said, there are more people who are listening right now. I can’t even tell you the amount of notes I get: “Thank you so much for putting the music out. It brightened my day.” That stuff is awesome. When I was making the record I didn’t think that obviously this was going to happen, but it provides a bright spot in people’s lives.

Is the record selling?
Absolutely. We feel so fortunate. It’s by far the most records I’ve ever sold. It’s been great. If we didn’t have the record come out during this, it’d be hard to stay afloat. We were scared as everyone else, of losing a year’s income. But you see it all the time in tragedies: The best of people really show up. People are kind. Maybe I’m being naive, but I’ve been shown kindness.

Do you have any idea when you may return to the road?
I’m checking in on everyone, all my touring friends. The biggest issue with everyone is nobody knows when to reschedule. We’ve rescheduled some shows for summer, but is that too soon? Or because we’re playing small clubs, maybe it’s not too soon? Are the small venues even going to be there? It’s really hard to gauge.

You said you have sold more copies of Better Hurry Up than any of your other records. Why do you think it’s resonating with your fans so much?
This was the most vulnerable I’ve been on a record, with the writing and with the recording process. I think people who have been coming to see me perform for the past two or three years, they’re connecting with this record because it’s a good representation of what they saw and experienced at the shows. I think there is a good hopeful message about it, too. I think that’s playing to our favor now, when people need a hopeful message.

The title track certainly has taken on a new meaning now …
It’s interesting, especially the line “When you feel the walls closing in.” I started thinking about it because people were sending me the lyrics to that song, saying, “Man, you called this one!” I really didn’t want to call this one [laughs]. … The song is about living your life to the fullest. If it took a pandemic for some people to do that, then maybe there’s some good that could come out of this.