Member Profile

Calum Graham

Recently signed to CandyRat Records & at only 22 yrs old, Calum is garnering rave reviews Canada-wide & beyond

Hi Calum,
Hope all goes well.
Here's a first draft of the full-length artist bio.
It is long, but there was a lot to cover!
As we discussed, I'm happy to come up with a short form too. Thought I'd send this one for your perusal first.
Look forward to the feedback.
And have a great trip to Germany!
Cheers- Kerry

CALUM GRAHAM

At the tender age of 22, Calum Graham has already enjoyed a career that would be the envy of most artists double his age. The Toronto-based guitarist and singer/songwriter has released four acclaimed albums, won major national music competitions, performed at Olympic Games in both Vancouver and London, earned the respect of his peers, and racked up some phenomenal YouTube views numbers.

No resting on his laurels for this young cat, though. Calum is completely dedicated to his craft, constantly challenging himself to improve in every facet. "I go a little crazy if I can't play guitar every day," he explains with a chuckle. "I try to write every day too, to keep that skill up."

Graham first made a musical mark as a solo fingerstyle guitarist of rare fluency, and that remains the skill that has placed him in demand on the folk music circuit and amongst lovers of that genre. Unlike many of his guitarist peers, however, Calum has always written the majority of tunes in his repertoire. In recent years, he has also been developing as a vocalist and lyricist, and is now poised to have a major impact as a singer and songwriter in the pop and rock realm.

Born in British Columbia and raised in High River, Alberta, Graham's musical journey first took flight when he began playing the guitar at age 13. "My dad would come home from work every day, pick up his acoustic guitar and play these same four or five songs over and over, every single night. I remember they included an Aerosmith song, 'Angie' by The Rolling Stones, and 'Roundabout' by Yes. I would watch in awe and eventually I asked him to show me the chords and I learnt how to play them. Eventually my parents took me to a teacher in town so I could learn to read music and get a good background of the instrument," Calum recalls.

Music was briefly spurned in favour of mountain biking and outdoor sports, but Calum returned to it once he began high school. "At 14, I started playing electric guitar, and I was really into punk rock and metal. I had a metal-loving teacher for that who had long hair and wore chains, but he was also into acoustic music."

This teacher deserves credit for helping provide Calum with a genuinely life-changing moment.
"I came in one day and he was playing a tape. I said 'that sounds cool. What is it?' He gave me a cassette of the first Don Ross album and I was blown away."

Don Ross is a Canadian guitarist and recording artist internationally recognised as a true virtuoso on acoustic fingerstyle guitar. Hearing his work on that tape was a revelation for Calum. "I was blown away by it. I asked my teacher who else played on the album, and when I heard it was all just one guitar, something clicked. I knew at that moment this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It just intrigued me so much. I was hooked and I couldn't put the guitar down." In a wonderful twist of fate (or perhaps musical karma), Ross would become Calum's musical mentor, friend, and recording and touring partner.

Newly energized by this new musical style, Graham began smuggling his guitar into his regular high school classes. "I'd be practising my fingering while I was studying and writing. Fortunately we also had a guitar class, and that is basically what allowed me to finish high school. Getting 100 in guitar every time helped bring my averages up!"

Impressed by her son's dedication, Calum's mother learned about the annual Canadian Guitar Festival in Kingston, one in which Don Ross has long had a key role. In 2007, she took the 15 year old Calum to the fest to meet his musical hero. "I had learned some of Don's songs by then and I told him I was a huge fan. I got a two hour lesson from him, and he gave me lots of feedback and inspiration," Calum recalls.

Clearly impressed by the youngster's talent and enthusiasm, Ross even dedicated a song to Calum during his Festival performance! He suggested a Stonebridge guitar as a good fit for Graham and encouraged him to begin writing his own material. "Don told me that the Festival also hosts the Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Competition. In that, you compete by playing four original compositions and he suggested this as a good idea for me."

When Ross played a concert in Calgary shortly after, Calum showed up and played him his first original composition, "Sunny Side Up." "Don told me, 'that's really good. Write three more like that and you'll do great at the Festival.'"

Once he began writing, the previously self-taught Graham started taking formal classical guitar lessons. "I knew I was going to play guitar for a long time so I wanted to get correct technique," he explains. "I took lessons at Mt. Royal University in Calgary for two and a half years, and that was very important for my musicality."

The Canadian Guitar Festival went on hiatus in 2008, but a year later Calum showed up for its competition, armed with strong new original tunes and a guitar prowess honed by intensive work. Placing second in the highly prestigious and competitive event was a great confidence boost for Graham. "I was blown away by that," he says. "It just inspired me to write more and better songs and I worked really hard."

2009 was a good year for Calum in competitions. As the Grand Prize Winner of the Calgary Stampede Talent Search, he was entered into the Canadian Youth Talent Competition in P.E.I., and he won that one as well. In 2011, Graham returned to the Maritimes, participating in a prestigious National Artists program .

When he returned to the Canadian Fingerstyle Guitar Competition in 2010, Calum emerged the victor. "I was the first teenager to ever win, and I also got a cool baritone guitar from Stonebridge as a prize," he says. The clip of his winning performance has now generated an incredible 760,000 hits!

Making this success even sweeter was the involvement of Don Ross. Unbeknownst to Calum, Don was one of the judges of the competition, and, in turn, Ross didn't know it was Graham he was scoring. In the well-guarded judging process, the identity of the players is kept from the judges, who score solely based on what they can hear (they cannot even see the participants). The other two judges that year were Antoine Dufour and Tony McManus, also recognized as amongst the very best fingerstyle guitarists around. Receiving their nods of approval was also highly encouraging for Calum.

Graham confesses that a clever creative strategy helped him triumph. "Because I competed in 2009, I was aware of how it was judged. When I wrote the songs for year two, I did it with a blindfold on, so it was as if I was writing and listening to the music the same way the judges were. In that style of music, you can get flashy, doing things that are visually appealing without being very satisfying musically. It can be a trick contest. Instead, I really focused on the melody, and I think that carried me over."

This was indeed a lesson well learned. In genres ranging from folk to jazz to hard rock, many guitarists choose style over substance, succumbing to a need for speed. That has never been Calum Graham's focus, as he explains. " I don’t aim to be the fastest guitarist around. I aim to be expressive on the guitar, to use it as a compositional tool. I want to have emotional content in the music rather than the wow moment. I just aim to write timeless melodies."

He has done exactly that over four albums now. The first, 2009's Sunny Side Up, came out when Graham was just 17. It comprised five of his first-ever original compositions, alongside tunes by Don Ross, Jerry Reed, M.D. Pujols, and Mason Williams ( a cool version of "Classical Gas," one of the few guitar instrumentals to become a pop hit).

In 2012, Graham released an eight-song mini album entitled Indivisibility. As his liner notes explained, it was "the result of two years of venturing into the deep and mystical waters of singing and songwriting." Thanks to a $10,000 grant from Rawlco Radio and the Alberta Foundation For The Arts, Calum was able to record this in Los Angeles with noted producer and film composer CJ Vanston, whose credits include Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand and Joe Cocker.

This marked both the first time Calum had sung in the studio or worked with a producer. He terms the results "very developmental," but they certainly showcase his potential as a lyricist and as a singer with a mellow and soulful delivery that sweetly complements his guitar work.

Next up was 2013 album 12:34, a collaboration with Don Ross that saw Calum return to the folk guitar genre. The acclaimed recording showcases two guitarists at the top of their game, with sublime results. Calum contributed six compositions and Don Ross three, while a version of OutKast hit "Hey Ya" (complete with Calum's TalkBox part) is a fine example of Calum's refreshingly eclectic musical tastes.

The genesis of this duo project dated back to 2010, Calum recalls. "I was flying back to Alberta after winning the guitar competition. Don called to congratulate me, saying 'I'm proud of you. It would be great to do an album with you down the road.' After that, I would send over the occasional song, and by the end of 2012, he said 'we're ready. Let's go into the studio.'"

Not just any studio, either, but Toronto's Metalworks, long one of the country's best-equipped and most famous recording facilities. The opportunity to record there was the happy result of yet another prize notched by Calum. Back in 2011, he won Canada’s Walk of Fame’s A Song For Canada competition by writing a poem about Canada, further proof of his literary ability. That poem provided the core of the song "I'm Here (A Song for Canada)", written and recorded by Canadian stars Chantal Kreviazuk, Raine Maida (Our Lady Peace) and Stephan Moccio.

Renowned hit songwriter Mocchio (Celine Dion, Sarah Brightman) praised Calum's poem for
"celebrating the cultural mosaic that is Canada.” Chosen as the best of 631 contest submissions, it won him a $25,000 prize, plus studio recording time at Metalworks. This was money well spent, for the sonic clarity of the 12:34 album plus the instrumental artistry of these two musicians has made it a favourite of lovers of fingerstyle acoustic guitar.

A pleasing by-product of the duo project was that it introduced Graham to Candyrat Records, the independent American record label with a well-deserved international reputation for the quality of its roster of acoustic guitarists. They soon signed Calum to a distribution deal, and he was quickly back in the studio to record his first solo album for the label.

The result was Phoenix Rising, released in November 2013, just four months after 12:34. "That is something of an accidental album," Calum recalls. "I went down to the Candyrat studio in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, just to record single guitar versions of some of the songs I had recorded with Don and to shoot videos for them. While I was there, I thought 'why not just make a full album and sell it online?.' I wanted something that would show what I could do on my own, rather than possibly being in the shadow of Don."

Phoenix Rising comprises eight original solo fingerstyle compositions by Graham. Recorded in a simple studio setting with Antoine Dufour and Candyrat head Rob Poland as co-producers (with Calum), the album confirms the aural pleasures available when fluent fingers meet evocative and melodic material.

The reaction has been phenomenal, generating unanimously positive reviews and the kind of YouTube play numbers usually reserved for pop tarts or cute cat clips. The album's title tune has attracted a phenomenal 566,000 YouTube plays, "Waiting" chimes in with 245,000, and "It Is What It Is," "Three Way Street," and "Indivisible" have all racked up well over 100k views. The guitar tabs for Calum's songs have also proved very popular.

Never one to stand still creatively, Graham is already looking forward to his next two albums. "My next record will still be acoustic, but it will really feature my vocals and songwriting. I want to be taken seriously as a singer, and I've been working with a vocal coach," Calum explains.
"I am also starting to play with a band, for the record after that. I bought myself a Gibson Les Paul electric in January. I can see that record featuring blues and funk, with something of a new Motown sound."

Calum's stylistic eclecticism is both refreshing and organic. His guitar heroes range from folk greats like Don Ross, Tommy Emmanuel, Leo Kottke, and Michael Hedges through blues and rock pioneers like Robert Johnson and Jeff Beck, and classical legends Andre Segovia and Julian Bream. As a singer and songwriter, he is inspired by the Beatles, Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers.

Graham continues to mature as a performer too. He has played shows in such legendary Toronto clubs as The Horseshoe Tavern, The Rivoli, Bovine Sex Club, and the Mod Club (alongside the likes of Sloan, Ron Sexsmith and Serena Ryder as part of the star-studded Andy Kim Christmas Show lineup), as well as in venues from London to Ottawa. He has a standing invitation to play The Canadian Guitar Festival, while shows at two different Olympic Games are other highlights on the resume.

Calum helped represent the Alberta music community with a performance first at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and then at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. He took advantage of the latter trip by then exploring England and a large chunk of Western Europe. Germany has proved a responsive market for Graham's music, and he recently toured there with Don Ross.

You can bet that there will be plenty more international touring in store for this compelling young artist. Following Calum Graham's creative journey promises to be a richly rewarding endeavour.