A songwriting session with Zac Brown changed everything. Multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Caroline Jones initially conceptualized her song “All of the Boys” from the male perspective, but Brown proposed keeping the song for herself and rearranging the lyrics.
The hook originally read: “She makes friends with all of the boys.” Lyrical tweaks proved to be monumental. “He gave me a real gift with that suggestion,” Jones tells American Songwriter, “but I would never have written ‘I make friends with all of the boys’ of my own accord. Those lyrics just wouldn’t occur to me; I would think maybe it was a bit presumptuous or braggy.”
In its official version, “All of the Boys,” from 2019’s Chasin’ Me EP, spits fire with electric guitars and a fierce vocal take. “I make friends with all of the boys / But I make love to you,” she switches from declaration to confession within the hook. It’s a rock-country configuration that showcases her musical chops as much as her charming personality.
“I’m really glad I kept it for my own record, because it is a high-energy staple in our live show,” she admits.
“All of the Boys” is undeniably Jones’ shining moment, but Brown’s influence can not be understated. “Zac has a great sense of melody and arrangement. He really knows how to build a song and make it exciting ─ especially musically and instrumentally, since his career has been spent primarily with one of the best live bands in the world playing all his songs,” says Jones.
Most notably, Brown cooked up “the bridge build-up that you hear on the record before the solo.” He also told her to go listen to some James Taylor for inspiration, particularly when it comes to hooky melodic guitar lines. Those building blocks have served Brown well, and it looks like Jones took extensive notes.
Now, “All of the Boys” is stripped down in a new music video, a Coffee House Mix, premiering today. The clip unearths the song’s barebones vulnerability, which is unintentionally lost in the original version. In rearranging the song, Jones re-recorded the song at a much slower tempo inside Brown’s Southern Ground Studio in Nashville. The acoustic performance stars musicians Jason Roller (acoustic guitar), Jones herself (Rhodes piano), Glenn Worf (upright bass), and Nir Z, who plays “brushes on a cocktail drum kit.”
“Ideally, a song can stand up on its own foundation of lyric and melody, and production serves only as an accessory or enhancement. I truly enjoy rearranging and reimagining songs,” she explains of any roadblocks. “Actually, I find it more challenging to finalize the definitive production of a song. Often in the studio, I feel a song could go five or six different ways, stylistically or production-wise, and committing to one or alchemizing the best possibilities often proves to be my greatest challenge.”
Under an acoustic microscope, “All of the Boys” feels even more urgent than expected, as if cashing in all her emotional currency. “The intimacy happened very naturally when I sang the song and played with the guys in that configuration. On the surface, [the song] is a very sassy, sexy, fun song, but it’s actually a song about commitment. It’s about having a trust with someone that is so deep and rooted that you can go out and have fun and flirt at a party or in a crowd, still knowing that you are always going home to the person you love.”
Jones’ collaborative relationship with Brown goes back three years. She opened for the Zac Brown band for a one-off weekend of shows, and when it was all over, he called her up 10 days later to finish out the rest of a 2017 tour. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” she confesses.
Since then, she has continued to be one of his go-to openers, and opportunities have flooded her way. She’s primed stages for such other artists as Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, Vince Gill, and Kenny Chesney.
Jones has also co-written with pop elite Ryan Tedder, and a peek into his well-flexed songwriting muscle stuck with her. “He’s super fast. He’s just very practiced in the craft of songwriting as a discipline,” she recalls of the experience. “He gets on a wave of inspiration and just rides it. That’s the best way I can describe it. It flows that way because he expects it to, because he’s honed that craft.”
Since her 2019 EP, she has further immersed herself in her own “practice regime,” as she puts it. “[It] constantly results in me writing instrumental hooks or themes that become songs. The biggest evolution I’ve noticed over the years that I’ve been writing is that I am much more idea-selective now,” she says.
Looking back, she used to write (at least) a song a day and 100s every year. That’s all different now. “I only write a song when the idea knocks me off my feet. I know that’s not the conventional Nashville style of writing, but it works for me at this point in my life. I’ve just learned for myself that the best songs come when the inspiration is potent, undeniable, and fills your body and soul with so much energy and certainty that you cannot not write the song.”
Songwriters are naturally “super self-aware, super sensitive and hyper-emotional,” she observes, and so, tapping into such a combination can be explosive, even damaging, especially for the headspace. “Tools like meditation and time in nature are essential for my mental and emotional health and prime creativity. Another thing I’ve noticed over the years is that you can feed what emotions you feel and therefore write about.”
“One of the benefits of being a very aware and sensitive person is that you can become aware of your own thoughts and patterns that feed negative emotions like sadness and overtime, work to replace those patterns with ones that feed more positive emotions like passion or joy or purpose. Developing that emotional autonomy is like working out, like muscle-building. It takes time and patience and practice.”
Jones never pays lip service. She lives it whole-heartedly, and it shows in colorful shades in her music. “You really have to feel it out for yourself. So, songwriting is not only a device of expression but also of intention or affirmation. You can envision how you want to feel and who you want to be just like you can envision the kind of songs you want to write.”
Photo Credit: Tyler Lord