The story of White’s journey from piano girl to indie folk star is documented in her latest single, "Calico," which is short for California country, the new genre she may have created. The song's title shares a name with her new album, which comes out on Friday, October 4.
“My plan actually was to go to Nashville where ‘all the country gold is made,’” says White. “My daughter was in kindergarten and I had a 1-year-old and I was just like, ‘I can’t just up and go to Nashville. This isn’t happening.’”
While she was disappointed she wouldn’t get to make her dream come true in Nashville, White turned things around and made it work in California instead.
During her childhood, White didn’t see herself becoming a performer. It was her uncle, who pushed her to audition for the lead in her high school musical, who made her take the plunge.
“I was under the impression that I was not a good singer,” she says. “I thought that my voice was too low and too raspy. I always wanted to sound like The Little Mermaid. I wanted the voice of Ariel but instead, I got this low, raspy smoker voice, and I haven’t smoked a day in my life.”
White collaborated with songwriters Eric Straube and Chris Qualls, who she previously worked with as part of duo Jack and White. The duo never made a country record before, so they experimented until they found what she wanted.
“We’re not in a place where there’s certain expectations for what country music in California should sound like,” White says. “It doesn’t matter here and we get to do whatever we want. It gets to be a full-on just fun experiment.”
The album feels like a breath of fresh air for the singer. Even the cover, with White in her baby blue chaps and white hat with her arms stretched out toward the California palm trees, says she's finally arrived.
“It was painful for me, because I just didn’t believe in myself,” she says. “That lack of belief and confidence was something I had to battle through until way after American Idol. I think I’m finally starting to accept myself. I’m starting to accept my voice.”
Editor's note: In a previous version of this story, Chris Qualls' last name was misspelled. We deeply regret the error.