Mic Check: Country singer Caylee Hammack trying to accentuate the positive

Editor’s note: With live music and concert reviews on hold due to COVID-19, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is focusing on how Georgia musicians are spending their time in our feature, Mic Check.

The roller coaster of Caylee Hammack’s year started with a delayed debut album and scuttled tour dates with Reba McEntire and Luke Bryan and ended with the release of said album and a collaboration with one of her musical heroes.

The burgeoning country star — feisty, self-aware, gregarious — a few months ago teamed with Art Alexakis of ‘90s band Everclear for the video for her country-rock cruncher, “Just Friends.” It’s another superstar pairing for Ellaville native Hammack who, in 2019, gathered with Miranda Lambert, Elle King, Ashley McBryde and Tenille Townes for a charming remake of Elvin Bishop’s 1975 hit, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”

In between came the release of “If It Wasn’t For You,” her official arrival on which she co-wrote and co-produced 13 songs.

Hammack, who attended Southland Academy in Americus and grew up with fellow Ellaville native Brent Cobb — “He’s part of the reason I got into music,” she said — frequently visits her family in the small Georgia town.

But it’s been a trying year for a young musician, especially one with fiscal responsibilities. In April, Hammack’s bandleader, Lance Herring, and tour manager, Brayden Griffith, decided to start Family Tree Lawncare Service — its name a nod to Hammack’s first single — to make money while touring was stalled. Hammack happily helped them promote the company — and picked up some yard equipment a few times herself. (“It turned into a blessing, I think, because it made Lance and Brayden step into unknown territory,” she said.)

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Calling recently from her new fixer-upper home in Nashville, the candid Hammack talked about her new album, her infatuation with Kate Bush and plans for 2021.

Q: I know one way the pandemic affected your year was that you were supposed to go on tour with Luke Bryan as well as Reba McEntire. Is that still the plan for 2021?

A: The Luke Bryan dates have been confirmed, but some of the Reba dates are tentative, so we’re working on the scheduling now. She performed on my record (the song “Redhead”), and we’ve gotten to see each other at events, which is awesome. She gave me a sense of validity I didn’t have.

Q: “If It Wasn’t For You” came out in August. Had you finished it before the pandemic, or did having that downtime give you the extra time to complete it?

A: I had finished it and was going to release in April, and when the pandemic hit, they said, “We had all these (TV talk show appearances) lined up, so we need to hold the record.” It broke my heart, to be honest. But I’m glad we made the decision. Around June, we agreed that there was no point holding on to something I created to try and help heal others who may have gone through things like I have. I’ve never released a record before, so my idea of what it would feel like — I don’t have a clue. Putting out a record during a pandemic, that’s very different. But I’ve gotten so much closer to my fans online and created a snail mail account so they can have access to my P.O. Box. It’s given me more ways to connect with people rather than just the 30 minutes I have onstage. I think (the pandemic scenario) humanized artists. The more you take artist off their pedestals, it makes people connect to the music together.

Q: What have you been listening to?

A: A lot of Kate Bush. I found (her 1978 debut single) “Wuthering Heights” one day, and I saw the video and was like, what the hell is this? It sucked me in, even though it was my least favorite (Emily) Brontë book. Then I got to (Bush’s 1980 song) “Babooshka.” She’s one of those artists I can listen to again and again. I also love Ashnikko, who went viral on TikTok. I like to find any type of music that makes me sit back and go, “Huh. Where did that come from? Why do I want to sing that over and over again?” When I tell my stories, they’re country, and when I talk and especially when I drink, I’m country. But that said, how I fell into country, there’s something about classic country I hope I can keep alive in my music in the lyrical songwriting. Classic country was built on the songwriting of the pain and the joy, but I find musical influence everywhere. David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Cher, Tom Waits — random people.

Q: What was it like to meet Art Alexakis?

A: It’s so wild. The one song that inspired me on “Just Friends” was (Everclear’s 1997 hit) “I Will Buy You a New Life.” We recorded a version of it on the video shoot day (for “Just Friends”), and it was so much fun. Looking back, I wished I had gotten to hang out with him just a wee bit more before so I wasn’t as shell-shocked. When do you get to sing with someone whose music raised you and shaped you? It’s crazy. He’s such a good man and a good father.

Q: What is on the agenda for 2021, besides those tour dates?

A: I’m writing the next record already. It’s nice to get it lined up during this quiet time. December and January, you can’t get anything done in the industry; it’s like everyone clocks out. I’m trying to use the time to focus on the new house, and I’m stockpiling ideas and songs. I’m excited to see what next year is.