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Twin Cities-based music producer talks songwriting, grief

Caleb Wright’s work on Samia’s “Honey” is taking him to new heights. The work came amid the sudden loss of Wright’s mom.
Image by Jacq Justice
Caleb Wright photographed in the studio by Jacq Justice.

Caleb Wright has made a name for himself in the Twin Cities by producing music for a variety of local artists, such as Hippo Campus, Papa Mbye and Raffaella. In January, Wright executive-produced and co-wrote the album “Honey” by Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Samia by mining deeply personal terrain: his mother’s sudden death.

With an innovative approach, Wright produces music using personal voicemails, smartphone recordings and atmospheric motifs. The results often captivate audiences and since the release of Samia’s newest album, “Honey,” Wright’s production has begun earning widespread critical acclaim.

By staying authentic to his collaborative process of engaging in the psyche and life experience of artists during songwriting, Wright unlocked emotional depth in his work with Samia.

“In the middle of this process of writing the Samia record, my mom died suddenly in an accident,” Wright said. “I remember Samia had sent me a voice memo with a different chorus for ‘Honey,’ and I was sitting in my backyard with my guitar in my hand. All of the sudden, I started playing this new chorus melody and I sent it to her. She texted back saying, ‘That’s it.’”

Wright and Samia also found inspiration for her new album through a collection of conversations that strengthened their friendship, Wright said.

“We had talked through all these relational and emotional landscapes and started writing the song ‘Pink Balloon.’ That process uncovered this confidence, drive and vulnerability in Samia that shaped how she wanted the record to sound,” Wright said.

The trust that their relationship carries translates into the work they do together on songs like the title track on Samia’s new record, “Honey.” Wright centers the singer’s intricate lyricism and mesmerizing vocals in the song to display a melancholic mood.

“There were so many moments where I felt my mom’s energy in the process of creating the record and how easy that melody came to fruition was definitely one of them. Moments like that made for a really deep songwriting experience with Samia,” Wright said.

Wright grew up in the Twin Cities music scene, attending high school at the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts with the members of Hippo Campus. In 2015, he started a band called The Happy Children and played basement shows, occasionally opened for Hippo Campus and became a Twin Cities scene favorite.

Jerard Fagerberg, a contributor to Racket who wrote a feature on The Happy Children for City Pages in 2018, said Wright brings an energetic attitude to music.

“I really just liked his energy when I first met him. That was something that really captivated me about him. He channeled that energy and it got audiences invigorated right away,” Fagerberg said. “He was collaborative, engaged and conscious of everything they were doing at that time. He seems like the kind of guy who understands how to foster creative ties because that’s what makes good music, and I think he inherently knows that.”

Wright is also in the band Baby Boys with Hippo Campus members Jake Lupin and Nathan Stocker. Through production on albums like “Threesome” by Baby Boys, Wright built a reputation, eventually becoming a trusted producer for other Twin Cities alternative artists like Papa Mbye.

Wright first met Papa Mbye in 2021 at a local recording session with Hippo Campus. Papa Mbye said the process of working with Wright started with text messages of encouragement and then grew into a formal musical partnership.

Most recently, Wright and Mbye collaborated on the song “Mad at me” from Samia’s “Honey.”

“What I appreciate about him is that before we even formally worked together in the studio, we had been doing the creative work of digging into the meaning of the songs and the philosophy of me as an artist,” Mbye said.

Currently, Wright is mixing Mbye’s next EP. Listeners can expect the still-untitled work to be released later this year, according to Mbye.

The sheer amount of projects Wright has contributed to throughout the years in the Twin Cities music scene exemplifies his restless drive. However, now a father of two kids, Wright said he is comfortable sticking to production and behind-the-scenes work in the future.

“I was getting a little burnt out by doing all the things, you know, managing the business and the events. I just wanted to be a part of the creative process,” Wright said. “I just want to make the music now.”

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