With her distinct vibrato and phrasing choices, Caldwell’s sound is very unique. Though compared to that of Alanis Morrisette, Kina Grannis, Gigi Love, or “a cross between Tracy Chapman and Nanci Griffith,” her voice and style are all her own. But it’s the lyric, the storytelling that drives her…
“One of the things I love most about writing a song is that I get to try to settle into someone else’s soul for awhile—to see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel—and tell their story honestly.”
Perhaps due to her unconventional upbringing—the daughter of two fine artists (her father also a conga drummer, and her mother also a dedicated social activist); having once been a French clown, started grade-school from a tent, lived for awhile in an octagon-shaped house on stilts down the road from a commune; having grown up in N. California and small-town Oregon, with summers in Idaho; and time spent living solo in Finland, Tokyo, Vancouver B.C., and NYC—Kelli has always danced to her own beat. Most of her song writing starts a cappella, melody driven, the lyric and melody flowing simultaneously.
And it’s while in motion that she most often finds inspiration. Whether in her car, on a plane, on a subway, bus, bike or on foot… whether wandering on a road trip, dashing about town, or dodging through the streets on her inline skates, there’s usually a song at work in her head. She finds inspiration in the movement, the rhythm of road, observing the color of people and things in daily life.
“It’s a journey in itself, finding out where and when the ideas might land… waiting at a red light, you spot a tired and beat down looking guy waiting at a bus stop and suddenly there’s something… 'He’s a sailor, Stuck in a factory, Never been to the ocean, But he lives in the Sea'… And then you get to find out the rest of the story.”
Caldwell has studied speech-level singing with Mary Beth Felker of The Voice Project and spent about 8 years as a key member of the Portland Songwriters Association board of directors. Amongst her contributions to the organization were help in coordinating songwriter showcases, design of the current PSA logo, complete redesign of the website and layout of the newsletter over several years.