Caleb Lee Hutchinson recalls being “terrified” at the prospect of working with famed country musician Kristian Bush.
Hutchinson recently released the first two of six songs recorded and produced by the male half of country superstar duo Sugarland at Bush’s Atlanta studio.
The songs make up Hutchinson’s first release of new music since “American Idol” brought him to national attention in May after finishing as the runner-up. It was the first season of ABC-TV’s broadcast of the iconic music competition show.
The Paulding County resident’s new songs are being released over a series of weeks to the public and radio stations. The first release on Jan. 18 included Hutchinson’s self-written “Left of Me” and a cover of hip-hop artist Post Malone’s 2018 hit “Better Now.”
They are available through digital outlets such as Spotify, iTunes, Pandora and others.
Hutchinson recorded the new songs at Bush’s The Projector Room studio soon after finishing the 2018 American Idol Live! nationwide tour in the fall.
He said he had not met Bush before recording the new songs and admitted being “terrified at first.”
“I’ve been listening to Sugarland as long as I can remember, so I was a bit scared to work with him and meet him and ... worried I might make an embarrassment of myself,” he said.
“He is just genuinely one of the coolest, most laid-back guys,” Hutchinson said.
Bush’s hits with Sugarland partner Jennifer Nettles included nine Top Five singles and six Top Five albums between 2004 and 2010. The duo reunited in 2017 and its latest album, “Bigger,” was released in mid-2018.
Hutchinson said Bush called him before they went into the studio to record.
“(Bush) said, ‘How are you feeling?’ and I told him, ‘To be honest with you, I’m kind of freaking out. I’ve never been in a studio before.”
However, Bush “kind of talked me down” and assured him it was “a relaxed place.”
“Recording those songs, we just had such a good time,” he said. “We just kind of hung out and happened to record songs while we hung out. It was an awesome experience.”
He also was able to concentrate on his vocals and not worry about playing an instrument during the sessions, he said.
“I was fortunate enough to have some incredible musicians help me record so, other than a little rhythm guitar here and there, I am mostly just singing,” he said.
On “Better Now,” Hutchinson said he had “country-fied” rock songs for his live audiences in the past and Malone’s song had lyrics typically associated with country.
Bush felt Hutchinson could do the song in a way that was “kind of weird and different,” he said.
“It was more so the idea we could take that and do — not even a whole lot of changes. Kind of make it have more of a kind of country sound,’ Hutchinson said.
“I had already toyed around with playing it like that beforehand. It wasn’t that hard — just kind of took what it was and made it a little bit more country.”
Hutchinson’s original song “Left of Me” came to him while he was on the American Idol Live! tour, he said.
“As I remember, I tried to write but we were so busy the whole time that I didn’t really get a chance to,” Hutchinson said.
“One night, I just managed to find some time in the back of the bus and came up with the riff for the song, and wrote the first verse and chorus pretty quick. I had it for those months until we actually recorded it.
“I was kind of hesitant to record it because it’s always scary recording your own stuff, especially when you’re working with a legend like Kristian Bush,” he said.
“He was very supportive of me recording my own thing and I think it worked out pretty well. Folks seem to like it, so it’s very encouraging.”
Hutchinson said he had “kind of envisioned” taking a more up-tempo, guitar-driven approach to the song — with inspiration from bands like Georgia-based country rockers Drive By Truckers or Drivin’ ’n’ Cryin’.
The 19-year-old singer said none of the new songs and upcoming releases "sound the same, which was the goal.”
“It’s going to be really cool to keep dropping new stuff because it’s all sounding different,” he said.
The upcoming releases include “As Good As You Think I Am,” which “connected in part to the double-edged sword of ‘American Idol’ fame,” a promotional release stated.
“It’s not about living up to expectations and pressure but just trying to be a person someone else can be proud of,” Hutchinson said.
Other upcoming releases include “Steering Wheel Prayers,” which is described as “an early-morning conversation between God and a regular Joe presented in quiet, piano-forward desperation.”
“If I Ever Will” is more traditional country, while “Belle of the Bar” is described as a song that “takes a turn toward dreamy modern rock.”
Hutchinson described “Belle of the Bar” as “a good mix of what I’m going for” which is “traditional, modern and experimental at the same time.”