Caleb McLaughlin has always been into music, always wanted to pursue it, but until four years ago the stars didn’t align for him to create it.
The actor, known for his roles in Netflix’s Stranger Things, Concrete Cowboy, and BET’s The New Edition Story, decided that being on the big screen and television wasn’t enough and wanted to pursue a career in the music business. It’s something the 20-year-old says stems from a young age, when he would hear some of the greats like Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye and Musiq Soulchild being played by his parents.
“I always grew up around music, my parents and their love of music,” McLaughlin told BET.com. “My dad always played Stevie Wonder and he has always been my influence. [Music] has always been a part of me and something I’ve wanted to do.”
For two years (from 2012 to 2014), McLaughlin studied ballet, tap and performed on Broadway as part of the cast of The Lion King. It was his first foray into performing music in some capacity, but it wasn’t his own creation. In part, it became an inspiration into creating his own story through music, but it took a little while to get that process going.
“I just hadn’t had the time or it wasn’t the right time mentally or spiritually to do music and I feel like four years ago is when I made that agreement with myself like, ‘You know what, I want to actually pursue a music career,’” he explained.
A self-described musical “old head,” McLaughlin says it took him a few years to get comfortable even recording music because he was used to playing roles and portraying either fictional characters or other people’s stories.
“I only really started getting comfortable in the studio like two years ago,” he says. “So that first two years, it was a little challenging because I’m used to being on stage performing with other characters and personalities… Now I’m telling my story, my thoughts, my music, what I like. So when someone’s like ‘Be yourself,’ it’s like who am I? Who is Caleb?”
Caleb’s official musical journey began when he linked with producer Rashad, an industry veteran who has worked with the likes of Rick Ross, The LOX, De La Soul and others. He says that when they first met up in the studio it was meant to be.
“We clicked right away,” McLaughlin stated. “We’re very attuned with what we like and we like the same type of music so it’s very easy to come up with some great stuff.”
“A lot of times I ask him for words and titles. I’ll ask him what’s in his life. I try to pick his brain if I’m writing things for him,” said Rashad about their creation process. “[There’s] a lot of vocal production and just hanging out, lighting incense and playing music – getting a vibe.”
Rashad adds that he sees himself in McLaughlin, which makes it easy for them to create a vision the both of them see.
“He’s a good kid, I know exactly what kind of music he needs and he makes it easy ‘cause I’m a little spoiled in that way because when we go to the studio he’s going to put on Earth, Wind & Fire too,” he explained. “He’s got some new artists he likes, both of us do, but he’s an old soul. It allows him to be open to different sounds and eras and advice.”
Last Friday (Nov. 19), McLaughlin released the music video for his highly-adorned first-ever single “Neighborhood.” It’s something that has his fans elated as he’s providing another element of himself to them.
Shot in Queens, the Ted Cadillac-directed video/song tells the tale of a young man contemplating a relationship with a woman from close to home and whether he wants to introduce her to the people close to him.
“The whole song is meeting this girl – the girl that you like – and your first thought is can I bring her back home to my family, my granny, can I bring her around my friends, is she for everyone else or is she for me?” McLaughlin says. “I couldn’t think of any other place to do it, so I had to go back to New York and shoot a smooth video with [director] Ted Cadilac. He really brought the full essence of New York and the vibes.”
With more music and videos to come, McLaughlin affirms that recording music has increased his already burning passion for it. He also details how working with Rashad has taught him a lot about the recording process and how thrilled he is to release more material with him.
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“It’s been a fun experience. I love music more now just being in the studio with him and just watching him work and the stuff we have in our catalog that people don’t know about,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a true genius that hasn’t been able to show his talent and I’m excited that I’m able to share with the world what we’re coming up with.”
“Neighborhood” is the start for Caleb McLaughlin who insists more music is on the way. After all, four years has been plenty of time for him to tell his story through sound.
“I do have a vision of where I want my music career to go, but now seeing it moving, it’s great because I’ve been waiting for this moment for four years,” he added. “I’ve been patient and now we’ve dropped it and it’s a great feeling.”