In 2014, Cale Tyson performed at a Ones to Watch showcase presented by Rolling Stone Country at Nashville’s Exit/In opposite future star Margo Price and RaeLyn Nelson, Willie’s granddaughter. Tyson, a Texas native, sang country music songs that night, emphasizing a hillbilly hiccup in his voice and even flirting with a yodel. He sold it well and looked the part too — hat, boots, Pendleton jacket.
But over time, Tyson became tired of country music’s hang-up with a mythologized authenticity.
“It got to a point where I was playing shows and people were like, ‘You drive a truck at home, right?’ I’d be like, ‘No, I drive, like, a 4Runner,’” Tyson says. “‘But you grew up on a ranch, right?’ And I’d say, ‘No, in a suburb.’”
After nearly a decade in Nashville, he pulled up stakes in March 2019, moved to L.A., and began writing introspective indie-pop songs more in line with Bright Eyes and Elliott Smith.
The sea change suits him. On the dreamy, resigned new “Baby You’re Wrong,” he delivers the theme song for a hot vaxxed summer that’s not living up to its billing. “Why worry when we’re all going under?” Tyson sings, reveling in ennui while bongos and synth form a hypnotic rhythm beneath. To his credit, he makes the idea of checking out and giving up sound kind of irresistible.
“I was exhausted by the rat race of trying so hard in everything, whether work, the music industry, friendships, social status… Why am I putting in so much effort when it’s not making me happy much of the time?” he tells Rolling Stone. “Even when I was doing music in Nashville, waking up every day and going to the coffee shop and emailing as many people as possible and trying to get on shows — it was exhausting. So this was written from a place of, ‘What’s going to happen if I don’t worry about all this shit and just go with the flow and do stuff that makes me happy?’”
“To be honest,” Tyson laughs, “it was the same results that I was getting before, if not a little bit better.”
“Baby You’re Wrong” premieres with a video shot guerrilla-style in New York by director Jordan Taylor Fuller that follows a couple with two very different reactions to their trip: one is overjoyed at the city’s sights, the other is miserable. (Guess which one Tyson plays.)
“It’s this idea of sad tourism,” says Tyson, the straight man to his costar, the exuberant Destiny Strudwick. While Strudwick leaps the subway turnstile, taunts the cops, and flashes passers-by, Tyson sits unmoved, bored to near tears. On the Tilt-a-Whirl at Coney Island, she’s elated; he has his head in his hands.
“Baby You’re Wrong” is the follow-up to the equally woozy “Alone,” released in April. Tyson says an album is on the way that builds on the tranquil vibes of those two tracks.
“These are all the songs I wrote when I moved to L.A. I kind of like my life now,” he admits, “but there’s some depressing shit on there, because that’s what I fall back on.”