Cale Tyson is buying a used car. It might come as a surprise, but affordable options are hard to come by these days. He’s (im)patiently waiting for his new ride to be inspected when he hops on a call with American Songwriter. “I got in a gnarly car wreck last week,” he says with a sigh. He’s rattled but grateful.
With horns blasting in the background, and the slow hum of mid-afternoon traffic, Tyson speaks emphatically about his brand new song “Alone,” his first drop of new music in more than 18 months. The somber and moody little number, self-produced and recorded at Lucy’s Meat Market in Los Angeles, signifies a bit of a stylistic shift from his last projects, two EPs released in 2019 called Narcissist and Who Hurt You?. But given his proclivity to avoid any sort of playbook, it’s a switch-up that’s not terribly shocking.
“I go through writing phases where I’ll write a song a day. I’ll make it a point to sit down and hammer out a song. I was doing that for a while. Honestly, I think ‘Alone’ was the first one I did,” he says. “I would write, and in my tiny bedroom apartment, I’d record scratch tracks through my computer. I was just hoping they’d be cohesive.”
A semi-autobiographical tune, he had recently moved to Los Angeles at the time and didn’t have enough new experiences about which to write. So, Tyson reminisced about his time in Nashville. “I was going through so much stupid drama when I lived in Nashville a few years ago,” he admits. He had been dealing with a breakup and “feeling all around miserable, not Nashville’s fault, my own fault.”
Darker the night, lighter you’re feeling / Bed on the floor, moon on the ceiling, he sings in a faint whisper. It’s sad but it’s true, my trust doesn’t lie with you / It’s not fair to say, out loud anyway but / I don’t think you’re alone.
He pulls out a hushed performance, donning the role of jealous boyfriend to give it just enough emotional bite. Silhouettes in your home / Faded voices, dangerous choices / I don’t think you’re alone, he sings, bittersweet on his tongue.
Initially, Tyson had the guitar and vocal tracked, then turned to Logic Pro to select out one of “those fake drummers you can put on there. I added a little Flamenco on it. We ended up tracking exactly how the software drummer had played it─just with real instruments,” he laughs.
With the visual, directed by Manuel Mancilla, Tyson utilizes the rustic, beautiful landscape of San Buenaventura, Mexico to accentuate the old western underpinning. Playing a tear-stained cowboy (droplets marked with colorful paint, á la Billie Eilish), the loner meanders through town and “he keeps seeing the silhouette of his long-lost lover in a window. That’s driving him crazy further and further,” he offers. “I knew that I wanted to get out of LA to film the video. I was toying with the idea that it’d be cool to film there.” On a whim, Tyson flew to Mexico, and the rest is history.
Aimless and wired, at night i’ve been driving / It’s fuel for the fire my mind is igniting, he continues, tears streaming down his cheeks. The stories i’m selling, lies you’ve been telling / I know, i know i need self control but / I don’t think you’re alone.
“Alone,” anchoring a forthcoming full-length record, finds Tyson recentering his work, as well as regaining traction to pre-pandemic momentum. “I definitely felt like the ball was rolling, and stuff was happening,” he reflects back to late 2019. A newly-minted LA transplant, he had been playing a ton of shows and writing quite a bit, even hitting the studio to record a batch of songs. “I was really excited about it and I had all the basic tracks down. Then…. I ended up going home and living with my parents for two months,” he chuckles.
“My roommate had Covid right when it started. I went out to Joshua Tree for five days at an Airbnb thinking this was going to be over any day now. Then I realized I couldn’t go back to my apartment,” he continues. “So, I took like three shirts and a pair of jeans and flew to Texas on a one way ticket. It was absolutely wild to be 29 years old living with my parents after having not lived with them for a decade.”
Tyson quickly pivoted to laying down vocals and overdubs remotely as best he could. “It was nice to actually have the time to do it, too,” he says. Normally, he’d “either touring or working shitty part-time jobs to keep a roof over my head. When I’m not on the road, I’m a very busy-body kind of person. I’m very neurotic and anxious. If I’m not doing something at all times, then I start to lose my mind. If I’m going to be home and not on the road, well I might as well work as much as possible.”
As the world’s been opening up in recent weeks, well, Tyson has been jumping back into the grind. “I literally said yes to everything. Now, I’m stressed constantly. It’s great,” he says.
On the yet-untitled new record, marking only his second long-player, “Alone” saddles up against “some songs that are a little more intense than others,” he teases. “It’s not a very dramatic record. It’s more of an easy-going record.”
Tyson released his first project in 2013, a classic country centerpiece called High on Lonesome. Eight years later, it seems like another lifetime, and understandably, his songwriting has shifted quite a bit. “When I write now, I write from a point of self and being. When I first started writing and putting out records, it’s not that they weren’t personal, but they were me following a formula. Country music is about heartache. I would use the word ‘blue’ as much as possible. Now, it’s about the feeling I’ve felt that I want to convey rather than rushing into it.”