Even well-meaning potential fans might still think of Caleb Lee Hutchinson as the small-town teen with huge dreams from the 16th season of American Idol. He's changed in many ways since then, as most anyone will between the ages of 19 and 22, with some of that wrongly overlooked growth made even more apparent through his progression as a tradition-grounded singer of earnest country songs.
"A lot of people know me as this kid from when I was graduating high school and just trying to figure out what to do with my life," Hutchinson told Wide Open Country. "I think what's most important to me is just that I make music that I believe in and that keeps me living in this world [of country music]. The most important thing for me is to be known for that."
New EP Slot Machine Syndrome serves as a snapshot of this moment in Hutchinson's creative trek, as represented by a title track about the long-term toll of addiction, autobiographical statement "Who I Am" and three other songs produced by an inspiration turned peer: fellow Georgia native Brent Cobb.
'When I first moved to [Nashville], he was on my dream list of people to write with," Hutchinson said of Cobb. "He's one of my favorite artists, one of my favorite writers. Easily in the top five dream writes. So when I first moved to town, I told my manager who I'd like to write with in a perfect situation.
"He ended up being down to write with me," Hutchinson continued. "He didn't really know who I was. So I got to meet him, and we just sat and talked about country music. We're both just two guys from Georgia, so it really just felt like two guys from Georgia sitting around and talking. We ended up writing 'Slot Machine Syndrome,' which is the title track, the first day that we met."
The fast friends clicked so well creatively that Cobb followed the lead of his cousin Dave and sat in the producer's seat for the first time.
"We met up to write again, and he goes, 'Man, you've got so many songs. When are you going to make a record?' I said, 'I don't know. When are you going to produce one for me?," Hutchinson added. "And he said, 'Well, I guess I could try.' That's pretty much it. Brent and I have very similar tastes in records, especially within the country music genre. I love the sound of all of his records, and I know he's always had a hand in what his sounded like. I felt very confident that he would kill it at that role."
Before working with Cobb, Hutchinson crafted his debut 2019 EP with another home state star, Sugarland's Kristian Bush, as producer.
'It's such a gratifying feeling to have folks that you love and look up to and have been listening to for years and years and years to take such an interest in what you're doing," Hutchinson said. "I can't fully describe that feeling."
In all, the EP does as good a job as the message in the opening track "Who I Am" at establishing how far Hutchinson's come while seeing through his singer-songwriter dream. Which raises a valid question: why not call the EP Who I Am instead of Slot Machine Syndrome?
"I think for starters, to point out the obvious, it's a super cool name," Hutchinson explained. "I don't think I've ever heard of a record titled Slot Machine Syndrome. Also, I think that song is the most personal for me, and if you want to get into super artistic interpretation, I feel like the record itself is reflective of the theme of 'Slot Machine Syndrome.'"
Slot Machine Syndrome Tracklist
1. "Who I Am"
2. "Love You Tonight"
3. "Slot Machine Syndrome"
4. "I Must Be Right"
5. "Whatcha Got"