My introduction to Chicago based band Young Man happened surprisingly enough from a suggestion based purely on my love of Sondre Lerche. I hadn't ever heard of Young Man but man if I wasn't intrigued. I came for the pop jams but stayed for the thoughtful attention to detail and the interesting concept. Where nowadays it seems like lady singer/songwriters get all the fun with creative, atypical, or even just unashamedly intellectual songwriting, I was drawn to Colin Caulfield's arresting, well utilized plainspeak. Vol. 1 reminded me in a rather odd way of Laura Marling's I Speak Because I Can. The two were certainly different and Caulfield strayed toward poppy accessibility and universalness but the idea of young people growing up and learning about life was their common thread. It wasn't exactly I Speak Because I Can from a male point-of-view but it was close enough to pique my interest and make me explore the rest of the Young Man canon.
Caulfield's always been rather open about the fact that after the release of the final album of his coming of age trilogy, the band Young Man was over. With the release of Beyond Was All Around Me creeping ever nearer until its eventual release and what I could only assume was the band's final tour together it only made sense to try and sit down with Caulfield and discuss the end of the project. Which Caulfield obliged by inviting me to chat right before their headlining set at Glasslands in the front of the band's tour van.
Dante (All Around Sound): So thanks for meeting with me today. Let’s just dig right in, alright?
How exactly did the Young Man trilogy start? Did it kind of evolve from the Boy EP?
Colin Caulfield: I wrote a bunch of songs – like the first Young Man songs I wrote, some of which are on Beyond Was All Around Me like “School”, “In Time”, and “Unfair”, I wrote those before Boy and then I started writing Boy. I started to realize the songs that I had written would be better for a full band so I wanted to do something before that kind of as an introduction to the project. But kind of concurrently during the writing and recording of all that I continued to write so all these songs happened in the process of the last four years.
Did you write the whole song cycle at the same time? Or has it taken the whole four years to write all of this?
Colin: The songs that are on this new record that are old have gone through so many different variations. I mean, I wrote versions of them a long time ago but started really drafting them and stuff.
How was it going back to these older songs? Did you have different feelings about them? Did you have to update them?
Colin: Mm. Yeah, definitely. I mean “Unfair” especially went through a lot of changes but it didn't feel that weird because they were always so new – they always felt so new because we were doing these different versions with the band and stuff. It was like new territory for me. Even though we were playing songs that I had written prior to that point it was very, I don’t know, exploratory because I didn't know what I was doing with the live stuff yet.
You play a number of instruments; you play guitar and drums and piano, right?
What made you decide to go with a guitar as basically the main instrument of Young Man?
Colin: I guess the songs that I started writing for Young Man I was writing on guitar and the guitar and voice combination is just very natural for me. I guess it just made sense. I’d love to be a drummer in a band that sings but for this it just wouldn't make sense if the lead singer was the drummer.
On Beyond Was All Around Me and Ideas of Distance you have these pretty beefy string arrangements how much say did you have in that? What’s your musical background?
Colin: I took some theory classes in college. I didn't major or minor in music but I know a good bit about part-writing and stuff like that. But I had help on both of them; especially with the new one. I flew to Boston and did all the arrangements with this string arranger named Ben Talmi who goes to Berklee. He might be graduated now actually but I went there and I spent a week with him and we just sort of workshopped everything in his apartment. I wrote all the lead melodies and then he would write the accompaniments and we kind of just went from there.
Since Boy you’ve pretty much released all of this stuff on a pretty consistent basis of about an album a year. Was there any particular reason why you wanted to get the music out so fast?
Colin: This has been very much a learning process for me, this project. My best album is definitely still in me maybe even in me right now. Songs that I’m writing now are just better; they’re just all around better songs. I think just because it’s about youth and coming out of youth, because I feel like I have done that now, that now I just don’t want to be treading over that material for too much longer. So I felt this compulsion to get everything out really quickly and I think that’s just in my nature too. Hopefully now that I've gotten that out of my system the next release I do, whatever it is, I’ll be ready to really milk that one release, you know? And take it one at a time instead of thinking about the next record.
I mean, it doesn't come across like you just trying to get these songs out of the way. It definitely feels like you've spent time on them.
Colin: Yeah, no doubt. I did and we've spent time working on them but still once they were done I wanted to be like “Okay, let’s do more.”
How long was your recording process?
Colin: We were here for three weeks tracking and then I came back for a week of mixing. So it was like a month.
Each album kind of has a different method that you went through. Ideas of Distance was mostly self-mixed and produced, right?
And then you had John McEntire on Vol. 1 and then… so is there any particular reason why you went through all these methods and didn't just stick to one producer or one way?
Colin: Well I moved on from doing it myself because I can’t record a full band. I don’t have the equipment to do that and so that was an obvious step. With McEntire it was a good experience but it just didn't gel perfectly, you know? So we started thinking about other people and then Nicolas [Vernhes], yeah I would make another record with Nicolas.
Yeah, everyone pretty much goes to him.
Colin: Yeah I know, he’s awesome. But yeah it was just kind of out of necessity.
Beyond Was All Around Me is way more band-centric than Vol. 1 was that kind of the intent going into it? Did you want a more band-centric album?
Colin: Yeah. I wanted to somehow balance it being like really personal music with the fact that it was a full band. I mean it got to be weird this dynamic of being the main songwriter in a band that like the live show is like so original in terms of original from the source material. We’d take the songs in such different directions and stuff so I wanted the record to reflect that more instead of just being a representation of me.
I also read that around the recording process of Vol. 1 you were listening to a lot of ambient/electronic music and that kind of comes out in it. Was there any specific thing that you were listening to going into Beyond Was All Around Me that might’ve inspired it?
Colin: I can’t really think of anything to be honest. Beyond Was All Around Me felt the most like a culmination of everything, of all my influences and stuff like that. So there wasn't necessarily one thing.
So if you had to pick three tracks from your whole works that summed up what you were trying to do with Young Man, what would they be?
Colin: Hmm. That’s a good question. I think “Enough” off of Ideas of Distance or maybe “Felt”. Man, that’s a tough question ‘cause there’s so many songs.
I mean if you want to go more than three feel free.
Colin: “Felt”, the closing track on Ideas of Distance…
Which actually counts as “Enough” because there’s the whole it comes back in it…
Colin: That’s true. Good call. So “Felt”, man this is hard. It’s a hard question. Good hard question. Um “Waterford”! Yeah “Waterford”, off the new album, lyrically I think is really strong in terms of that and I think “Five” off of Boy is really clever and deals with the idea of growing up and that transition really well. Those three: so “Five”, “Felt”, and “Waterford”.
And I’m sure everyone wants to know, what are you doing after this?
Colin: I don’t know. I’m moving to New York but I’m trying to just give myself some time. By the time we’re done with touring with this record, I will have another album done if I want to record it but I don’t want to jump into it too fast and make sure I really really really want to put it out, you know?
Are you planning on going in like a radical new direction?
Colin: I don't know. I've demoed a couple things that could be considered very different. Who knows though. It's so hard to decide on one thing. That's kind of the reason I want to wait and make sure the direction I go in I want to commit to it.
Thanks again to Colin Caulfield for agreeing to sit down and chat as well as to Hannah May at Sacks & Co for helping coordinate it. If you haven't heard it yet, listen to arguably the best Young Man record to date (and ever, so it seems) Beyond Was All Around Me. My review here.
If you have the opportunity to see them on this, their final tour as a band, do so. It's an experience I couldn't recommend any more highly. Dates here.