Calico‘s Rancho California rewinds time toward the breezy Laurel Canyon sound nearly a half-century ago. CMT Edge spoke with singer-songwriter Kirsten Proffit, who’s benefited from several movie and television placements over the years, about the new band and their buoyant debut.
“Manda Mosher and I had solo careers and ended up on the same bill in late 2012 and hit it off,” the California native says. “She said something about being a lone ranger, so I started writing that song ‘Lone Ranger’ on the record. I invited her to finish it with me, and that’s how the band got started.”
Results speak for themselves. Calico and the album are nominated in three categories at the Los Angeles Music Awards to be held Nov. 12 in Hollywood.
CMT Edge: Describe how the new album took shape.
Proffit: We didn’t even have a plan to have the band, so we just kept writing in the same style. We had the luxury of studio time, and we ended up with an EP. From there, it just made sense to make a whole record. Aubrey (Richmond) joined us later with the fiddle, and that completed the sound. We use that fiddle as a weaving thing in the landscape of the music. It’s not always a featured instrument, but it is always in there. It wasn’t hard to continue writing songs together because we’re all songwriters.
Explain the title.
Way back in the beginnings of California — before Hollywood and the urban sprawl — everything was “Rancho this” and “Rancho that” out here. So it’s kind of a throwback to Rancho Sepulveda or these different areas like the San Fernando Valley that were outside of main Los Angeles and Hollywood. It’s supposed to feel old. There wasn’t a Rancho California, but we’re encompassing all of that thing.
Do you think your music itself is a throwback to a certain time?
Absolutely. We’re all really inspired by all that stuff that was happening here in the late ’60s and early ’70s, music like Fleetwood Mac and the Byrds with Gram Parsons, the three-part harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Mamas & the Papas. It’s harmony-based pop music that was a fusion of pop music and the country feel that had nothing to do with Nashville country. We love that stuff. We’re totally into it.
What draws you to the music in the first place?
We’re all from here, all Californians. It’s part of what we grew up listening to. I know my parents and Amanda’s parents did, too. It feels like home. It’s beautiful music with these lush harmonies and beautiful guitars. There’s not this harsh twang. It’s very real music.
Tell the story behind writing “Runaway Cowgirl.”
We had a pile of songs going, and we realized there wasn’t one love song in the bunch. We thought it would be a good idea to have one, but we wanted to make it into a story, and I had that guitar riff. What better story than a trucker making his way to the West Coast and stopping in Bakersfield only to find a beautiful girl? (laughs) It was really fun creating the story.
How important is television placement today for indie artists?
That’s one of the last places we get to make any money and one of the best places we get exposure. Hopefully, that’s not gonna go away, too, but right now, I think it’s better than radio. People still watch TV shows and especially if you get a good one. We had the Nashville placement and that new show The Night Shift. Manda and I have quite a lot of movies and TV in our past.
It’s sustained my entire career, the thing that’s made me able to continue. On so many levels, it’s important. It gets you attention and credibility and also can sustain you financially and fund things like making records and touring. It’s hard to do those things as an indie band. We started our own label and put it out ourselves and are paying for all the press and radio and everything on our own.
Are you opposed to signing to a label?
No, I’m not opposed to signing to a label, but it would have to be the right deal. What I’ve heard so much is that labels sign bands and then want a piece of their publishing, and that doesn’t make sense to me. That would be like buying eggs from the animal feed store. You don’t buy something from some place that doesn’t sell it, so why would you give your publishing to a record label when they’re not publishers? I would totally welcome a record label if they were doing a good job and offering support, though. It’s just hard to find these days. They’re not making money, either.
Describe your typical songwriting process with three writers.
Somebody will come in with an idea, which is either a concept or a melody with some chords. In most cases, it’s a concept like the “San Andreas Shake” song. That was supposed to be about a hurricane in the beginning symbolizing a relationship, but we decided to make it about an earthquake because it’s California and all.
So it’s usually sitting in the room together just talking back and forth, “How about that? How about this?” We all just hang out and, luckily, we all get along great. Everybody has their notebooks out, and it’s a free-for-all. You have to bring your best maturity into the equation and leave your ego at the door. It’s not like we’re throwing television sets out the window into swimming pools. (laughs)
Do you think that can be sustained?
I know. That’s the question. Maybe we’re all grown up enough now that if you have a problem, then you know you have to talk about it. Maybe we’re able to see that the music business is different now than it used to be. You don’t get the same opportunities that used to come around. We have some really great opportunities and are trying to make the most of them and not take them for granted. I think we’re in a good situation in that regard. I don’t think we’re going to take that or each other for granted.