"I think a lot of the time, that's a bullshit statement," Cale Tyson says. "Like, saying that the studio influenced your sound. But that place really does have a vibe, and everyone really does play to it."
The place Tyson is talking about just so happens to be one of America's most storied recording studios. Florence Alabama Music Enterprises Studios, or FAME for short, birthed the Muscle Shoals sound and ushered in a rock and soul revolution.
So naturally, Tyson knew his new record Careless Soul needed the FAME flavor to it. "At first I thought, 'There's no way I'm going to be able to record there,'" Tyson notes. "But [producer Mike Rinne] told me it's surprisingly affordable. I was like, 'Oh my God.' We could afford to go down there and spend five days."
Tyson left with a 12-song collection steeped in country soul. It's almost impossible not to imagine the band playing these tunes in the hallowed FAME Studios tracking room. And for some reason, it always comes out black and white.
Songs like title track "Careless Soul" evoke a 1950s "breakup in a diner" movie montage while still maintaining a bit of the neotraditional country sound that sold out Cale Tyson's shows overseas. "Railroad Blues" takes a page right out of Johnny Cash's book while "Ain't It Strange" flirts with heartbroken yodel territory while somehow feeling like the most modern song on the record.
"I wrote that song about a week before we went into the studio," Tyson says. And others came from years prior. All of them carefully selected for a record that actually feels like a complete body of work.
Born in Cleburne, Texas, Cale Tyson spent most of his formative years in Fort Worth. He dabbled with guitar in high school, playing all different kinds of genres before transitioning to his freshman year at Southern Methodist University in Dallas (studying, as he remembers it, "computer science engineering or something"). That's where he really actually started paying attention to music as more than just something to do with your friends.
"That's where I started writing and playing my own songs," Tyson says. "It was sort of an indie folk kind of thing. It was terrible [laughs]. But I took it more seriously, played more gigs and realized it was a career path I could go after." (His parents, for the record, supported his musical habit but reminded him only a lucky few turn it into a profession).
A friend eventually convinced Tyson to head up to Nashville, telling Tyson how much his sound could fit in the scene. And then, a week before Tyson arrived, his friend moved back home. "I didn't know anybody and had a weird couple of years acclimating and finding a community," Tyson explains. He transferred to Belmont University to do music business.
But that's also when Tyson started listening to music with a bit more "twang," as he says. That includes some Texas artists like Hayes Carll. "I got excited by that," he says. A friend made him a playlist featuring artists like Ray Price, George Jones and Merle Haggard, and he fell in love. He eventually released two EPs of neotraditional country music.
Eventually, a label in London picked up Tyson's music and released both EPs as his debut full-length album. That led to touring overseas, often to sold out rooms. "It was crazy," Tyson says. "I do really well overseas, which I'm really grateful for."
Even though European audiences consume music totally differently. "The entire audience is just completely intent on digesting the whole thing," Tyson says. "No drunk guy at the back of the bar hollering the whole time. You can't tell if people like it, like, 'Oh my god nobody liked it at all.' And then people will come up and say, 'That's the best show I've ever seen in my life,' and it's like, 'Dude you literally didn't move for two hours.' They pay more attention to the lyrics and the craft of it all, it seems like."
When it came time to make Careless Soul, Tyson's sound again evolved. "This was not going to be the same classic country ripoff record," he says. And that's when FAME came into play.
The real kicker? "I've had Careless Soul done for over two and a half years now," he says. Audiences just now have a chance to hear it. Tyson is ready to tour it as well, but he's also got another project coming down the pipeline. "Hopefully I don't have to wait two years before that one comes out," Tyson laughs.
Even if he does, fans should be more than happy with Careless Soul until then.