Photo credit: Courtesy of MSO

By Paul Freeman

A few years ago, Colbie Caillat was toiling at a Ventura County tanning salon. Things have been extraordinarily sunny for her since then.

The pop singer-songwriter released a delightful debut CD, “Coco,” scored a hit single with “Bubbly” (BMI’s Song of the Year) and recorded a “Little Mermaid” tune for “DisneyMania 6.” Her “Lucky” duet with Jason Mraz won a Grammy. She earned another Grammy for her work on Taylor Swift’s “Fearless” album.

Caillat’s own second album, “Breakthrough” is a smash. Her total album sales have exceed four million worldwide.

Caillat has toured with John Mayer, who has been helpful to the 25-year-old. “We’ve been e-mailing back and forth over the past eight months,” Caillat explains. “I’ll have a question like, ‘How do you get over your stage fright for a live TV performance?’ He’ll just say, ‘Be yourself, have fun, take deep breaths and remember that the people out there aren’t judging you.’

“He’s so amazing. There are 20,000 people in the audience every night, screaming for him. The guy is so good on stage. He’s a comedian. He’s a great performer. His band is wonderful. It’s so inspiring.”

Caillat grew amidst the inspirational wonders of Malibu. Her father is Ken Caillat, a producer/engineer who worked with such stars as Fleetwood Mac (co-producer of “Rumours” and “Tusk”), Frank Sinatra and Billy Idol.

His daughter grew up hearing a wide range of styles - ‘40s music, classic rock, reggae, R&B and hip-hop.

At 14, Colbie Caillat expressed an interest in piano, so her parents began lessons. She didn’t practice.

“When I turned 19, I took a guitar lesson and that’s when I wrote my first song. Piano is beautiful, but it doesn’t inspire me to write songs. The sound and style of the guitar are a lot better for me.”

“I always remember saying, ‘I want to be singer when I grow up.’ Writing or playing an instrument were not goals for me. Once I got older, my parents taught me that, in order to have an established career, I needed to progress, learn how to play an instrument and become a songwriter.”

By 11, Caillat was already performing. “I heard Lauryn Hill sing ‘Killing Me Softly,’ and loved it, so that year, for the sixth grade talent show, I sang that with a couple of friends at school.”

Stage fright was an issue. “When I was like eight, we were in musicals - my mom, my sister and I - and I would never audition for the main part, because I was always too nervous. I’ve always had that fear.

“I’m still working on it. It’s been a year that I’ve been performing professionally now and it’s gotten a lot easier. But I still don’t feel a hundred percent comfortable on stage. I’m still a little nervous.

“Stage fright comes and goes, but the more shows that I’ve played, the more I actually love it now. And when you see and hear the audience singing back to every word of your songs, it makes you feel really wonderful up on stage.”

Her parents are a little nervous about having a daughter in show biz. “When I was growing up, they were just trying to help me, paying for piano, guitar and vocal lessons, so I would have some knowledge.

“Once it actually started happening for me, they kind of freaked out - ‘Now you’re going to be on tour, we don’t want you to get involved in anything bad,’” Caillat says with a laugh. “My parents are so involved, it’s great. They’re good friends with my manager, producer and tour managers. It’s like a big family.”

Even though her father was working with bands like Fleetwood Mac, Caillat was never exposed to the wilder side of the rock world. “

“I didn’t see that. Like my parents, they didn’t bring my sister and I around that. I mean, you always hear that people did drugs and that everything kind of got a little crazy, but it’s not the same anymore.

“My parents raised us well, and it was all about family and love, and just spending time with each other. So luckily I didn’t get involved with anything like that.”

MySpace played a big part in the lucky Ms. Caillat’s rapid rise. She became her genre’s number one unsigned singer for four months.

“I put my songs up and it just happened. People would add my songs to their page, then their friends would hear it and add it and their friends and it just spread over a six-month period of time.”

Now Caillat is riding the whirlwind. “This year has been a huge learning process for me. I do interviews from morning until afternoon, then I have a sound check, then play the show, then I have a meet & greet. So I wake up at like six or seven and I go to bed after midnight.

“I’m trying to learn how to find out who I am and be able to open up to people and, I guess, just grow up.”

She’s trying to maintain a balance between work and personal life. “That’s the hard part,. I’ve been home a month-and-a-half the past year. I miss my old lifestyle, being home everyday with my family and friends and my dogs and going to the beach. I’m trying to go home as much as I can, when I have time off.”

Her main glimpses into pop stars’ lifestyles had come from reality TV shows. “People think it’s so glamorous being on tour. It’s really not. It can be fun, but it’s a lot of hard work and it takes lots of energy.”

Caillat can always turn to her father for advice. “On tour I can call my parents and, especially my dad, and tell him what is going on with the shows and how the interviews were and he just knows what to tell me and reminds me that I can stay who I am and just be honest, that it’s about the music, because that’s how it always started out and that’s how it should stay.

“So he’s given me a lot. Like he’s the one that told me I should become a songwriter and how important it was to become a musician as well.”

Ken Caillat will be producing tracks for his daughter’s third album. Regarding the new record, she told us, “You know it still has the same vibes that my first one ‘Coco,’ and my last one, ‘Breakthrough,’ had. They were laid back and very optimistic and had kind of the Californian summery vibe. But I guess maybe there’s more, like beats, behind the songs even though it’s still all real instruments, just kind of has a funkier, fresher sound, I guess.

“And they’re all about relationships in all different ways, and going through life, and love, and breakups, and everything that we go through.”

Caillat is thrilled to be participating in the 2010 Lilith Fair tour. She had attended the festival’s first go-round, when she was 12.

“I think that festival was a reminder, letting us young artists know we could do that, too. That was a huge wake-up call for me and that’s where I learned it from.

“I was inspired at that young age,” Caillat continued, “and it made me want to keep singing and learn how to play guitar, learn how to play piano and write songs. So it all just kept going from there, from seeing that show. There are now so many female artists, who write their own songs. From starting it back then in the ‘90s, that’s where we are today.”

Caillat added, “I think it’s going to do very well this summer. For the price, that’s really nothing to see all these amazing acts and you’re there all day long and having a great fun day. I think that it’s worth it and that people are going to want to be out there and see it.

“I'm usually supporting a male band or a male artist. All these female artists that I’ve listened to, now I’m getting to meet them and become friends with them. So I’m really looking forward to that part of it. I’ll be able to watch and learn.

“And so now this will be great, to be sharing the stage with so many amazing artists and have everyone in the audience, who may like one of us or different acts, be there listening to all of us. It’s just really great. Like Sarah[McLachlan] said, it’s a sisterhood, and everyone’s going to be there together, and maybe be opening their mind up to something new.”

Caillat looks forward to eventually touring less and focusing on songwriting. “When I’m blocked, everything builds up inside of me and a month later, songs will just pour out. It’s like my own therapy session. It’s like when you have a good, long cry. It’s like my heart feels that need.”

Her songs touch the hearts of strangers. “I hear from fans, telling me how much my songs mean to them, how they have gotten them through certain situations in life. My one song, ‘Battle,’ got this lady through her divorce. I wrote this song about whatever I was feeling and it somehow related to her dealing with something completely different and helped her. That’s so rewarding.”

Those rewards get Caillat through dues-paying times. “When days are hard, I complain, ‘I want to go home.’ I have to remember I would be so bummed, if I woke up and this was all just a dream. This is an amazing experience that’s happened to me, really unbelievable. It still hasn’t fully hit me yet.”