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Musical DNA makes Callaghan Belle "obsessed," and active
Callaghan Belle is, on one hand, just getting her music career started.
On the other, however, she's something of a veteran, even at the age of 25.
Music is in her DNA. Belle's father, Gerald Smerek, is a Grammy Award-winning engineer and producer who's worked with Anita Baker (Belle's godmother), Bob Seger, Aerosmith, Aretha Franklin, Gary Clark Jr. and many more. Born during Baker's Rhythm of Love Tour — her mother was the singer's personal assistant — Belle was surrounded by sound and carried away by its impact on her.
"I'd be this baby that would go on stage during sound check and would get the hiccups because I was so scared," Belle — who's just released an atmospheric new pop single, "Sleepwalking," and an accompany video — recalls by phone. "'I'm so scared, I'm so scared. ... Hmm, maybe I'll do music."
It wasn't a shared sentiment in the family, however. "My parents didn't want me to do music," says Belle, an only child raised in Farmington Hills — middle name Isabelle, from which she adapted her stage moniker. "They were like, 'Please, be anything. Be a waitress! (Music is) the worst career ever!' But they really couldn't fight it. I was obsessed with it."
That obsession made Belle "a very weird child" by her own admission. Though she "never consciously decided to write music," she eschewed video games and other standard kid pursuits and instead played guitar and piano and wrote songs every day. "The Tooth Fairy would leave me notebooks rather than dollars," Belle says.
"I just grew up in there, in music. "I don't always love it. It's not always something I want to do — it's almost like I NEED to make music. It just feels like home, I guess, which sounds cheesy but it's true."
Smerek remembers being introduced to his daughter's musical prowess when she was 11 years old, when she presented him with a stack of composition books that contained 400 songs. "At the age of 11 she wrote a complete song — verses, bridges, chords, the whole song was there," he says. "We finished eating dinner and I go, 'OK, play this one,' and I'm in disbelief, shocked. I was tearing up, actually. These (songs) could have been coming from a person, like, 20 years older.
"It was jaw-dropping. I've watched Seger struggle at writing a song more than my daughter."
Even now, he adds, Belle's songs have the quality of an older, and wise soul.
"She is a natural at this," Smerek says. "She hears voices, she hears notes we don't hear. She's almost on a mission of what is real. She has that twist of searching for honesty and truth, as she sees the world. That's what makes her unique."
Belle's break came when she was 15 and producer Ken Caillat, who spotted her on YouTube, recruited Belle to co-write songs for his daughter Colbie Caillat's Christmas album. She also met up with the Newton Brothers writing-production team, working with them on songs for Netflix films such as "The Bye Bye Man" and "Extinction" — the latter of which allowed her to work with JoJo, one of her early musical heroes.
"I remember listening to JoJo's first album and thinking, 'Oh, of course I'm gonna be her. I'm gonna be the next JoJo'," Belle — who also lists the Beatles, Mariah Carey, Hilary Duff and Anderson.Paak as influences — says with a laugh. "I was very serious. I knew what I wanted to do. It was pretty annoying, I'm sure."
Belle, who's taking classes from Penn State University online, moved out to Los Angeles four years ago for a deal with a new label started by Ken Caillat. That didn't pan out, but in addition to the movie songs Belle released an EP, "Sovereign," last year that got some favorable notice in Los Angeles.
Prior to "Sleepwalking" she released another single, "Run Into You," and she's planning two more EPs — one a fully produced pop set, the other "more acoustic, more lyrically, story-oriented." Belle feels like she's at the start of something now, but it's something she's been working towards for most of her life.
"It's definitely a new beginning, kind of," Belle says. "That ('Sovereign') EP I put out, that was just me trying to have a reason to move in L.A., a 'Look what I can do!' kind of thing. I played, all the instruments and everything. It was a lot of work — to the point of burn-out.
"Now that I'm out here and collaborating with people, it's brought a whole new element to my music. It's just fun. I really have found that not being so serious and just having fun and seeing what the songs sound like is really cool. It makes me really excited for the future."
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