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Album Premiere: Katie Callahan's The Water Comes Back

By Holler

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Baltimore-based singer/songwriter Katie Callahan will release her sophomore album The Water Comes Back on Friday, October 22. But today she's premiering the full album with Holler. Listen below.

The thirty-something Americana artist wanted to pursue music from a young age. She played coffee shops during college, but those appearances never solidified into a bigger opportunity. Callahan never stopped writing, though. She kept pushing her craft, even if she didn't perform as often.

In 2019, Callahan released her debut album Get It Right, which collected the many experiences she'd had over the course of her twenties. A longtime fan of Nashville Christian rock band Jars of Clay, she reached out to their general email address and was surprised when they wrote back, telling her to be in touch if she had anything else to share.

Over the course of the pandemic, Callahan video chatted with Jars of Clay's Matt Odmark and Dan Haseltine, as well as Louis Johnson (Lone Wave, The Saint Johns, Lonas) on what would become The Water Comes Back. Over sparse arrangements and meditative lyricism, the album untangles Callahan's feelings about her evangelical upbringing and the person she's become.

"The Water Comes Back is about women", Callahan said. "It’s about taking up space. Moving freely. Singing loudly. And almost every time there’s a lyric about ‘you,’ it can be replaced with ‘me.’ It’s a record about honestly looking at identity, and about sadness and pain and joy and triumph — all held together".

Callahan opened up about her writing process, the struggle with faith that informed this album, and how Americana became a space for her to find and hone her voice.

Can you walk us through how you came to gather this collection of songs?
I am not prolific, so the idea for a whole project usually starts to take shape when I have one or two songs finished. I was in the doldrums of post-release from my first album Get It Right and I had a few songs kicking around.

But what really captured my imagination was this little chorus I couldn’t get out of my head about the water coming back, a metaphor about trust and letting go. As soon as I realized it could be a whole song, I latched onto that line, “the water comes back”, and I knew that was the title of my next album.

I took time over the next few years to sort out what that little meditation meant to me in a lot of different areas, including reclaiming and empowering a feminine identity, and faith deconstruction. That the entire world all but imploded in 2020 gave me lots of space and a real-time opportunity to learn how to trust that message.

How do you describe your music?
I’m a folk singer; I’m just trying to sort out what’s going on inside out loud. My music is folk at heart, lyrically, and story-driven with a lot of feelings. It uses my primary instrument (voice) as its biggest tool.

Discovering the Americana genre has been one of the great gifts of my creative life because it’s so broad and includes so much history, even for somebody like me who finds her sound unrooted to a physical place. It’s given me a place to land.

Who are some of your favorite artists and musicians and how have they impacted you?
Brandi Carlile’s reference to Americana (at the 2019 Grammys) as the “island of misfit toys” was the first time I’d even dug into the genre, so she’s been a huge influence. She made me realize that so much of what naturally resonated with me and inspired me — Joy Oladokun and Penny and Sparrow are two contemporary examples — were part of that world. There’s so much room here.

Because I was raised in the church, we weren’t allowed to listen to a lot of “secular” music (not a term I use today... everything is holy, if you ask me) besides the Oldies station, so I really got into the Christian band Jars of Clay.

They also sort of defy genre, though — lots of roots music, lots of folk influence — and their lyrics explored spirituality that felt off-limits for a lot of other artists.

Here were these guys who sang about doubt and fear and failure and sadness, but also about hope and beauty about things as close as their heartbeat or as far away as the global water crisis, and they seemed to offer a doorway into another way of making music.

They’re really the reason I write songs at all, and the fact that this record was made in their studio with Matthew Odmark (acoustic guitarist) and Charlie Lowell (keys) and Dan Haseltine (lead vocals) helped me along the way make it even sweeter.

What is your writing process? Where do you tend to get your best ideas from?
I’ve learned that my best ideas come when I’m doing something else, like taking a walk or driving somewhere or housework. They arrive as little phrases — a lyric and melody — and I make a quick voice memo and then generally forget about it until I’m in a place where there’s enough space to start making songs.

Sometimes those memos sit for years, but I come back to them and see what feels like it could become something and work to build around it.

Songwriting starts for me with a relatively specific idea or subject, something emotionally evocative that can be explored in depth and with focus. The songs on this record were interesting because I knew what the goal of the album was before I had a lot of the individual songs, so when the songs arrived, I was trying to look at the same gem from a lot of different angles. That gave me a focus and made the work more purposeful.

Some of them took rewrite after rewrite, some were pretty solid after a few weeks of writing tucked into the margins of pandemic life, and some of them fell out onto the page in an hour. They’re delicate little things, songs, and they move the way they want to.

What are the major themes on The Water Comes Back? What messages were you hoping to convey with some of the tracks?
These songs are the beginning of unlearning a lifetime of internalized narratives about smallness, perfectionism, and fear. What’s funny to me about this album is that my first was a collection of songs written over the course of twelve years, and when I finally carved out the space to record them, nothing was fresh.

The songs mean a great deal to me (then and now), but there was just enough time between when they were written and when they were released that the vulnerability was at arm’s length.

With The Water Comes Back, I’m working with themes, observations, and struggles that I’m literally experiencing and processing in real-time. Some days I’m listening through and feel defensive because it’s like somebody is pointing too acutely at my insides, but that “somebody” is actually just me and it feels exposed because I’m still learning.

I’m still learning that there is peace in remembering how the seasons move and cycle and how it relates to the way I feel motivation and productivity. Some days I still sit with the grief of a changing faith. Other days, anxiety keeps me from breathing deeply and being present in the moment. I want to make sure that this album is received as a process and not a conclusion. I want to take you on this journey, but also remember I’m still on it.

Pre-save The Water Comes Back ahead of its release on Friday.