This Saturday, the Ventura Hillsides Music Festival takes over Arroyo Verde Park for its eighth year of live tunes and eco-conscious family fun. Since its start back in 2003, this annual event has helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy, as well as provided an intimate and cause-worthy destination for some of Southern California’s finest talent, including area legends Jackson Browne, Jack Johnson, and Glen Phillips. This year, the fest, which doubles as a fundraising event for open-space land acquisition and conservation, has outdone itself yet again, building on its family-friendly motto with a lineup that quite literally appeals to all ages. Headliner and renowned activist Emmylou Harris will share the stage with the Phillips-fronted folk collective Works Progress Administration, pop rockers Gin Blossoms, and acclaimed singer/songwriter Colbie Caillat.
A Thousand Oaks native and current SoCal resident, the 25-year-old Caillat will no doubt be representing for the youngsters, with material off her 2008 debut, Coco, and its equally well-received follow-up, last year’s Breakthrough. In addition, Caillat—who recently scored a Grammy for her songwriting contributions on Taylor Swift’s Fearless—is currently hard at work with producer/father Ken Caillat on album number three, which is slated for a February 2011 release. Colbie recently phoned in to discuss her Ventura ties, new tunes, and how she’s working toward a greener tomorrow.
You come from a musical family. When did you first pick up the guitar? I picked up the guitar at 19—I was a real latecomer. My parents had been telling me to take up an instrument like piano or guitar since I was younger, but I was a lazy teenager who just wanted to do whatever. I thought singing was the only thing that mattered. Once I realized it was more challenging than that, I took my first guitar lesson. And I went home that night and wrote my first song. That’s when I realized they were right, that I couldn’t just be a singer, and that if I learned to play an instrument, I could write songs, and that was how my career started: writing songs for other people.
You’ve talked a lot about how Breakthrough was about your struggles with fame and getting over stage fright at the start of your career. What’s the focus of the new album thus far? [Laughs.] These are a lot of love songs. I’ve been in a relationship for a year now with this guy that’s in my band. It’s a lot [about] when you realize that you’re falling in love with someone that you’ve known for a couple of years, but that you never looked at in that way before. I’ve been writing all these songs about love from all different angles, I guess.
How far along into the process are you? Well, we’ve recorded nine songs, but I haven’t done lead vocals on any of them yet. That’s what I’m going to be doing over the next month. Half the record we’re doing with Greg Wells in Culver City, and the other half is with my dad at the Village Recorder in Santa Monica.
How does the father/daughter relationship translate into the studio? It’s actually really cool. Other producers have schedules; they have to go home and be with their families. With my dad, I tell him when I want to go in, and his schedule is open, and my mom will come in, and our dogs will come in. You don’t have to leave at five o’clock; we can stay ‘til whenever and get the song right. It’s his first priority, so he wants the songs to sound as good as they can. It’s actually better, in that way; I feel like I get to actually work with him.
You’re playing up here as part of this big fundraising concert. Are you pretty familiar with the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy? Yeah. I know that they’re working to preserve land, so there aren’t constructions and communities being built on it, which I find really important. I was just driving around Thousand Oaks today, and there’s rolling hills everywhere that are beautiful, but I just looked and two of those beautiful hills are all dirt now. And you can tell they’re going to build houses on them. People live in these beautiful places because of the mountains and scenery, but if we build up on it, we’re not going to have it anymore. When I heard about [the festival], I definitely wanted to be a part of it. I also love Ventura and just playing my home city. It’s going to be fun.
A lot of musicians are working to greenify touring lately. Have you found yourself trying to incorporate more environmentally friendly practices on the road? Absolutely. You don’t even realize, but they have water bottles every place, and you open a million a day, so we’ve been rocking the tin [Klean] Kanteens and big jugs of water instead of a bunch of water bottles. Instead of plastic cups, we have compostable cups. And when we went on tour with Sheryl Crow, we had all the biodegradable silverware and plates. It’s just stuff like that, but there are so many things that I still need to be learning and doing.
The Ventura Hillsides Music Festival takes place on Saturday, September 25, from 1-5 p.m. in Arroyo Verde Park, Ventura. For tickets and information, call 643-8044 or visit venturahillsides.org.