We had the good fortune of connecting with Cally Nielsen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cally, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I strongly believe that there is no “one right path” when it comes to our lives – especially within how we create our art. Taking risks and putting ourselves in uncomfortable/new situations is one of the fastest routes to finding who we really want to be. I write this as an artist who is still finding her own way in the industry and continuously uncovering the full scope of what I wish to share with this world. We are only here for a small blip in time, and that is the only ounce of permission we need to do whatever feels good in our soul.
I used to see risk as something that would bring unfiltered judgement my way if I didn’t maneuver my way through perfectly, and that kept me from jumping into a lot of things early on. My performance anxiety as a soloist when I entered college was so bad that I would shake and tear up after getting backstage. I was really hard on myself. Perfectionism is the greatest thief of joy in my humble opinion, and it creates an imaginary standard in our minds that is hardly ever reached. Where’s the freedom in that? Taking risks DEMANDS surrender from what your ego is whispering (or screaming) in your ears.
When my confidence was building I started seeing risk and discomfort as energy passing through a channel. It was neither good or bad, it was just a passing feeling. Believing that there is always something on the other side of fear has led me down a lot of interesting trails; from performing with a Motown/soft rock cover band to singing solos with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra; from creating songs in my bedroom to writing, producing, and releasing my own music as an independent artist. Moving from my home of Minnesota to New Orleans was a risk, but it has transformed my life and my art in every way imaginable. It has given me a home to really dig into what my truest expression is and, while there is an undercurrent of fear that my music will be different from what others are expecting, I choose to believe that I am meant to share what rings true to me. I feel the fear that is tied to risk, but as each experience passes I become less aware of the weight that it carries.
More often than not, if your heart is in the right place the universe will pave a way for you to move forward. When things don’t turn out the way you envisioned, take that as as an opportunity for reflection and really see it for what it is – a lesson and a step closer to what you’re seeking. Without risk there is no growth out of our comfort zones.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My first encounter with music dates back to my childhood when my dad, Nick Nielsen (a folk singer-songwriter in Minnesota), would play music around the campfire, and sing my sister and I to sleep with original lullabies and songs. We grew up regularly attending his gigs and I always thought it was so cool to hear people clap for music that he had written himself, so naturally I decided that I wanted to be a singer. There’s even a picture that I drew when I was in early elementary and under the question “what do you want to be when you grow up” I drew a girl singing on stage! I’ve been writing music and poetry since I can remember and have always found it was easier to relate to others through an artistic medium than anything else. I’ve also played flute since 3rd grade and even majored in it initially when I started college! At the University of Minnesota Duluth I majored in music, speech-language pathology, and psychology and was heavily influenced by the people around me. I was trained and guided by an amazing teacher, Elias Mokole, who helped me to find my voice and create a strong and expressive foundation built on technique and emotion. Although my training was centered around opera, Elias helped me bridge the gap between classical and modern music, which allowed me to expand my voice in all directions and be prepared for whatever I chose to do in my career after college. I was in an awesome local Duluth band called Laura Velvet for about 3 years and that made such a huge impact on who I am as a musician. It was a place where I grew even more comfortable on stage and it challenged me to push past limiting beliefs I had – it showed me what I was capable of before moving down south. Laura Velvet is still performing and they will always feel like home to me no matter where I go.
Art is informed by our unique experiences and perspectives, and while it breeds love and acceptance, it is also birthed from a place of pain more often than not. All of my experiences have shaped my growth and pushed me to a level of self-love that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Some of the most painful catalysts and losses in my life have forced me to lean on myself and travel far outside of my comfort zone from a young age. I became a better writer, and a more centered human being when I learned how to turn my negative experiences into poetry and and use them as an outlet for healing. Finding meaning and purpose after the trauma is how I cracked myself open to a whole new view on life. It might sound cheesy, but I think music is our direct line to empathy, and most of what I write is a message/affirmation to myself, all of the past versions I’ve been, and my inner child. As I find myself more as an artist I I want the things I’m sharing to impact those who need to hear the same things that I’m telling myself; those with mental health challenges who find it hard to choose positivity in the face of darkness, those who feel overwhelming feelings of unworthiness from past relationships, and those looking to celebrate themselves for how far they’ve come. I wish for everyone to feel more connected to themselves as we feel into the duality of light and dark that exists inside of us together.
Music and art will always be my solace and a place of comfort, whether I’m singing, writing, playing flute, or painting. A lot of my art has come from sifting through difficult emotions and finding it hard to put into words what I was feeling. It was my way of coping and relating to the world, and it still is to this day, only now I get to include others in that experience.
I’m proud of myself for all of the inner work that I’ve done to be where I am now, and for putting an original EP out a few months ago that was co-created with my parter Albert Allenback, friend and guitarist Joshua Starkman, and other contributors. I’m even more excited for my next project because it feels like something that is purely me and deeply honest. I think it’s really going to resonate with a lot of people and that makes my heart really happy and excited.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
There is never a dull moment in New Orleans, and that’s coming from someone who is an ambivert at heart! There are things that will raise your energy if you want to party and places that will hold you like a baby in a warm blanket. If someone visits me I would first bring them to the BEST vegan spot in the city, Breads on Oak. We would get a few savory things and a box of sweets with our mimosas before heading to the huge sculpture garden in City Park. After strolling through the art we would go sit by the water with some sake, snacks, and a picnic blanket (or we’d get beignets for the non-vegans haha). Food is a love language in New Orleans whether you’re vegan or not. More often than not, if someone visits they inevitably want to go to Bourbon Street and the French Quarter – the classic hot spots and tourist attractions – and I’m happy to go along because my favorite pastime is people watching and this is the best place for it! Eventually we’d make our way over to the Spotted Cat and listen to some jazz before going to one of the rooftop pools downtown. One (or all) of the days we would find ourselves at my favorite hot yoga studio, Yes Yoga, and sweat a bit extra before going back into the humid sauna that is NOLA weather. For sunset, we would find ourselves at the Fly right next to Audobon park. We’d watch the ships float by on the Mississippi and talk about our lives and random magical things until it got dark.
I would also cook for them, and we’d probably watch some sort of animated show/movie together because I am a child at heart.
That’s the dream!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My partner in life and co-producer, Albert Allenback, for believing in my music and being a constant source of inspiration, motivation, and laughter. Thank you for keeping me grounded through all of the highs and lows of this wildly beautiful rollercoaster ride. I love that a pillar of our relationship is encouraging each other to reach higher and higher for the things we want!
The friends and family who have always cheered me on and given me time to find what I need without the pressure to be something that I’m not. That support is truly unmatched.
To the ones who hear all of the demos from beginning to end with loving ears – Mar, Andi, and Dom. Thank you for giving me a safe space for reflection and feedback. This is only the beginning so buckle up!
Instagram: @thelia @callyskye
Eyoel Kahssay Jeff Peabody Dominique Richards Jaselin Bonilla (Jazzy’s Photography)