Career Woman and Hannah Telle Take Charge

The collaborators talk shyness, their musical upbrings, and their new track.

Melody Caudill is an LA-native singer-songwriter who performs as Career Woman; Hannah Telle is an actress and singer-songwriter, best known as the voice of the main character, Max, in the video game Life Is Strange. LIS is actually what brought the two artists together — as a huge fan of the game, Melody reached out to Hannah, and was resulted was a collaboration on Career Woman’s new song “Nemo.” Over Zoom, the two caught up about it, and much more.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Melody Caudill: So, I wanted to talk about what the song was about, and what led me to reaching out to you.

Hannah Telle: Perfect. 

Melody: Basically, the song “Nemo” is about childhood loneliness — being an only child — and that sense of loneliness continuing into young adulthood, being a sensitive, introverted person in college and high school. But it’s also about being comfortable with yourself and having a sense of inner confidence and being alone and being your own person. And that idea really connects to the character Max from Life Is Strange, who Hannah plays. That concept is what drew me to the character in the first place, because Max is so herself, but she struggles with confidence. But by the end of the game, she finds some of that confidence. And as a 13 to 15 year old, whenever I played it, experiencing that deep sense of self-consciousness and feeling alone in my interests and who I was — I just really connected to Max. And then being a fangirl that I am, I did some digging and discovered that you also felt that kinship with the character. 

Hannah: Yeah!

Melody: You’ve been on my radar since then. Obviously your music is beautiful and talks about similar things — and just the fact that we are both musicians was also really special to me. So when I wrote this song, I just knew I had to reach out. It was a dream to work with you, especially on this song that is so meaningful.

Hannah: I remember getting a DM from you, and it was such a sweet and kind message. I really related with the character, too — I had been struggling in my acting career because of my lack of confidence, and it had been really detrimental to a lot of my hopes and dreams. When I got to play Max, all of a sudden, everything that I thought was wrong about me was being celebrated in this character, and I was given a chance to work through a lot of my insecurities while playing the role, and achieve some of that same confidence that she does by the end of the game. That’s really been carried through the rest of my life with me. I have an instant affiliation for anybody that is also on a similar journey with coming out of their shell, so I felt instantly connected to you, Melody, when I got your message. And then I found out that you were a musician and your music was so amazing and you’re so young — I’m so impressed by the breadth of work that you put out. It’s been really awesome to get to work with you. 

Melody: Oh, man. Well, that’s so nice to hear. Thank you. 

Hannah: You’re so welcome. 

Melody: Coming out of your shell — that process — I definitely have struggled with that for my whole life. I am pretty young, and I feel really lucky to have found people like you early on that I can relate to. It comes in waves still, but through this creative process and collaborating and everything, it’s definitely helpful. So thanks for being a part of that. I think that it’s really cool how we both are figuring out how to be confident in ourselves through these creative processes. I think it’s really special. 

Hannah: Yeah, it is. I was wondering just a little bit about your songwriting process. How did this song “Nemo” come to be? Do you start with lyrics or do you start with music? 

Melody: I feel like when I try to do one or the other [first] — when I try to put vocals onto music that I already have, or vice versa — it never really works and I get too in my head. When it feels forced, it just doesn’t work for me. Sometimes I’ll work at something, but a lot of the time my songs will be [made] in an emotional moment where I am subconsciously picking up the guitar and just letting some emotion out. This one was written last year in a moment like that, where I was just in my dorm feeling homesick and lonely. I had the bottom bunk and I put the blanket over it, and I just sat in my bed and let it out. But I wanted to ask you the same thing, because I also love your songwriting. What does that process look like for you? 

Hannah: I love that image of you in the bottom bunk with the blanket. [Laughs.] For me, it started out being similar to what you were saying — you know, having an overwhelming emotion that needs to escape and sitting down with the guitar and just pouring it out into a voice memo or something. But then it’s hard for me sometimes to actually go back to those voice memos and resurrect stuff and actually finish it. So my process lately has mostly been taking songwriting classes where I have a deadline, and I have homework to write a song based on parameters that are given to me in the class. The last two things that I’ve recorded, a record and then an EP, have all been from songwriting classes. 

Melody: That’s awesome.

Hannah: It’s really helpful for me. I really like being in a classroom setting where I have a teacher to please. [Laughs.] 

Melody: [Laughs.] Yeah, for sure. That’s another thing I think that we see eye-to-eye on — and a lot of musicians that I talk to aren’t the same — but I have always been a student-oriented person. I mean, my first EP was Teacher’s Pet — that’s just my personality. 

Hannah: I love that.

Melody: I think that sometimes people think music and creativity and that type of mind don’t mix, but for me it really does. And for you, obviously, it does too. 

Hannah: Yeah, for me creatively, it’s the same. Everything in my life is kind of oriented around a grading system. [Laughs.] What grade am I getting right now? I spent a lot of time in college, and I just thrive in that environment of discipline that’s enforced on me from outside. When it’s up to me to lead the way, it’s not as easy. It’s harder for me to stay balanced and not become too over-analytical and take my time to make things perfect when I just need to be content with the fact that they’re good. It gets very convoluted when I’m doing things all by myself, but when I have a structure set up for me, I thrive.

Melody: Oh, yeah, I completely agree. I went to high school during COVID, so I think that experience helped me be a little bit more self-motivated, because it was all online and I was forced to kind of manage my time. But having that structure helps me a lot too. We’ve talked about this a little bit before, but I want to know about your experience going back to school at USC for neuroscience. That’s just so cool to me.

Hannah: Thank you. Yeah, when I first went to college, I was 18, and I was studying acting and filmmaking. I was really into that and I didn’t want to take any general education courses. All I was taking were electives, and it was it was really ridiculous. My student advisor was like, “Listen, you have to actually take some general education courses.” But USC was so rigorous and my high school did not prepare me for anything like the general education courses that USC has, so I just couldn’t keep up. I eventually dropped out after a couple years and never thought that I had what it what it takes to get through a college degree. 

I went back many years later because I wanted to study something outside of the arts. I was at a point in my life where I felt like I had failed at my arts career and it was going nowhere, and I needed something substantial and a refuge away from acting. So I went back to school, and I started in cognitive science because I wanted to learn more about the mind. I’ve been always had issues with mental health and keeping my anxiety and depression under control — and then also keeping the other side of that under control, which is that sometimes I’ll get very productive and happy, and almost too happy and just working too hard and not taking breaks and overscheduling myself. So I was really interested in learning about the brain. I ended up switching to neuroscience, and it taught me so much about myself and how it’s OK to take medication, because your brain is just another organ — it’s no different than having insulin for diabetes. So it was really gratifying for me to learn about the brain as an organ and how it affected my life. I still do a little bit of neuroscience here and there through an internship I have, but I’m mostly just doing music and acting now. 

Melody: That’s really awesome. It’s so inspiring for me, because I definitely have a lot of interests and a lot of ideas of where life could go, so it’s cool to know that you actually can do multiple things. 

Hannah: Yeah, you so can! What are some of your other interests? I know you’re studying graphic design, right? 

Melody: Film and digital media. I mean, all of my interests are somewhat creative. I’m interested in film, and also video games. As soon as I played Life is Strange, I knew that it was this whole new medium that I was fascinated by for storytelling. That was sort of what gave me the video game bug. I was just obsessed with the universe and with what went behind it and all the production. The goal right now is being an art director for video games, because I feel like it puts together all of these pieces. 

Hannah: Wow!

Melody: It’s a way to tell stories, and [a medium] for music. I’m obsessed with video game music. I make music for short films at school and I think it would also be really cool to make music for games, and just be in that universe without having to code and stuff — which I’m not good at. [Laughs.] Or I’m just not interested, I guess. But [I’ve also found that] directing things is this weird escape from my shyness — being in a band [and delegating tasks] is one of the spaces where I can put aside my shyness. 

Hannah: I love that you are able to come into your power when you’re given a position of authority. I think that’s amazing, and that you should embrace that. 

Melody: Thank you. 

Hannah: Not everybody feels that way. I can kind of relate to that, too — when I’m given the OK to be in control and be in charge and just lead the show, I love it. I come alive, and I’m able to project my voice and tell people what to do and basically direct the vision I have in my head. That happens in a production studio sometimes. Like you said, when you’re playing a show with people, you can kind of experience what it feels like to get to lead. And it feels good to lead. I think people who have spent some of their time in the past maybe being on the quieter side have a lot to offer as leaders. 

Melody: Totally. I think a lot of insight of how to lead comes from being an observer. Like you were saying, when you get permission to lead, you really love it and you thrive in it — I think that’s the same for me. Such a big part of my issues with confidence is I feel like I need permission to do anything. Even when I was a toddler, my parents always make fun of me with this, but they would ask me a question and even when I knew the answer, I’d just be too embarrassed to say it.

Hannah: Aw!

Melody: I just felt like I needed permission to be smart and be who I am. I don’t know. So that’s been a running theme in my life, too. 

Hannah: That’s really sweet. That reminds me — this is a bit of an embarrassing story, but when I was younger, I had so much trouble speaking up to ask to go to the bathroom. I just thought I was supposed to hold it and suffer, I can’t raise my hand and ask to go, I can’t interrupt this music lesson. And so, as you can imagine, it ended in some pretty embarrassing situations. I had to learn to use my voice and take care of myself and advocate for myself, and it took me a really long time to be able to do that. I don’t know if that’s something about being a girl or what, but I guess I want to beat that out of myself to a degree. 

Melody: That’s been a huge thing for me this year. I totally relate to that story, and I think it is definitely a part of being a girl, but it’s a specific type of person, too. It’s something that I’ve been trying to get out of my system too, but it’s hard. But the music lessons — I was actually going to ask you about your upbringing. What was your relationship with that when you were a kid? 

Hannah: I was just about to ask you that! I was really entranced by instruments when I was younger and wanted to play, but I had no discipline and my parents weren’t very strict with me about “practice, practice, practice.” So I kind of started several different instruments and never really went anywhere with them, but kept them around my room as, like, beautiful pieces of art. [Laughs.] I had a small child’s violin that I played for a while. I was really into the violin, but I didn’t like standing up straight like that — I felt like it was hurting my back. But I wish I would have powered through, because I would have had better posture and I would have been a violin player. Then I ended up playing the flute in middle school, and I still kind of play the flute here and there for recording. But I just grew up with my dad who would listen to records alone in the living room really loud, and it was like a meditative thing for him. It was very intriguing to me that he would do that, so I started wanting to do that, too. And then he would drive me to school and play me all kinds of cool music from the ‘70s, and I really fell in love with that. Then I started looking for new music and sharing it with him, and that was more modern. So I’d say first and foremost, I’m a music fan. 

Then I started playing a little bit of guitar when I was 16, taking some lessons. And I had some singing lessons when I was a kid, but like I said, I never really stuck with anything. I finally got really into guitar at age 22, because I had to learn to play for a role in a film. That came to me at the right time. I just started messing around and writing my own songs. It’s a therapeutic way to relax and get my feelings out, and it just stuck with me. Now I’m addicted to it. 

Melody: That’s amazing. We have basically the same exact story. 

Hannah: Really? 

Melody: Yes. I’m gonna go through this and you’re gonna be like, “Why are you copying me?” [Laughs.] Pretty much the same thing as a kid, my parents forced me to do piano lessons. My parents are super huge music fans, and my dad would play music in the house all the time — and most of the time it would be in his office, just for his own thing. And he’s also a musician, so he would share his love for it with me. So it was sort of always a given that music was important. But yeah, they were like, “You’re taking piano and singing lessons,” so I started at 4 or 5 years old — and similar to you, I was never disciplined enough for it. I would do it, and I did stick with it because they were like, “You just have to do this.”

Hannah: That’s so cool that they did that.

Melody: Now I’m the most grateful ever for that. They pushed me in a good way. So I did continue the lessons for a while, but I never was serious enough about it to go to the next level. So I sort of just learned the basics of piano. And at this point, I don’t remember how to read music — I wish I practiced more so that I’d know more music theory, but I don’t really. Then similarly, my dad would show me music in the car. He was a ‘90s punk guy and would show me all of his friends bands and stuff. And then similarly, guitar came later. I think when I was 16-ish, I picked up the guitar and my dad showed me the basic chords. And then, yeah, I just fell in love with it.

Hannah: That’s so cool. That reminds me that when I was really young, my parents had me take some piano lessons too, but I didn’t I didn’t stick with it. I wish I had, because it would have given me fluency as a musician that I can’t really get in the same way now. Because when you’re younger, your brain has more plasticity and it’s easier for you to learn new things and adapt and keep them for the rest of your life, and form those new neural pathways. As you get older, it’s a little harder to learn. So I’ve taken some music theory classes, but if I don’t stick with it, I forget everything.

Melody: Yeah, I’m really grateful that they made me stick with it. 

Hannah: So, what are you working on right now? Are you writing or anything? 

Melody: I actually am doing my biggest project yet, which is going to be my debut album. I did finish writing recently — the album has pieces from two years ago up until now. It’s got a rough theme about queerness and self-discovery and stuff, but it’s songs from the summer of senior year up until this point. We’re recording right now, and we just finished drums, bass, and guitar, and I’m going to sing next weekend, I think. 

Hannah: Oh, that’s so cool! I can’t wait to hear that. Do you know what the name of the album is yet? 

Melody: Oh, my gosh, I’m so glad you asked, because I do — it’s going to be called Lighthouse

Hannah: Wow, and that ties in with Life Is Strange

Melody: I know! Everything always does. Obviously the game started my affinity towards lighthouses, because it’s the most iconic symbol, and then just in my life it’s become this reoccurring symbol — I moved to Santa Cruz and there’s a bunch of lighthouses here. I just like the idea of thinking of yourself as a lighthouse. I think it works for the theme of the album, of self-discovery and leading your own path and figuring out who you are. But, yeah, it 1,000% is a reference to Life is Strange

Hannah: Oh, that is awesome. I love that. 

Melody: What are you working on? 

Hannah: I’m working on getting this EP that I already recorded last year out, trying to get it together and get an album cover. I’ll probably self-release it and play some shows around it. It’s a seven song EP — my first EP ever. Other than that, I’ve always done albums. And I’m working with a new producer, and I’m really passionate about the sound that we’ve come up with together. I’m also looking forward to doing a little bit more writing. I took some time off from the guitar when I went through kind of a hard time this past year, and now I’m just trying to get back into it and play shows again and feel more comfortable and not rusty anymore.

Melody: That’s awesome. I wish that I still lived in LA most of the time, because I would be there in an instant. 

Hannah: Aw. Are you gonna be playing any LA shows in the future?

Melody: I think this summer we’re trying to book a tour, so I’ll definitely be there. 

Hannah: Awesome. Well, keep me posted, because I would love to be in the crowd. 

Career Woman is the project of LA-native singer-songwriter Melody Caudill