Caleb Nichols put himself on the map with Ramon, a critically acclaimed queer Beatles rock opera. Now, he’s tackling something of a more radical proposition — just 11 great songs, full stop. Caleb Nichols has a new single/video out today which is called “Absolute Boy” and the video is filmed live in-studio. It’s off his upcoming album Let’s Look Back (Kill Rock Stars) out October 13, 2023. To give you some context on this single, Absolute Boy, an emotional song that concerns childhood abuse.

I wrote “The Absolute Boy” during a time of intense emotion and, ultimately, healing. I was in therapy, working on overcoming my fear of flying, generalized anxiety, and panic attacks. It was these therapy sessions, together with my practice of writing music and lyrics, that unlocked and began the healing process for the root of my problems: an unaddressed case of post-traumatic-stress disorder, stemming from physical and emotional abuse and neglect in my early childhood.

It was during this time that I began to really understand and recognize the power that past events have over our present experience. I sort of knew that, intellectually, but it wasn’t until I fully faced what had happened to me, through talk therapy and also EMDR sessions, that I actually knew it. And during these sessions, this song sort of came out, born out of the powerful and deeply sad thought that, before I’d been hurt so badly, I’d been a whole person, instead of the broken person I grew into. That idea drove the song and I have a vivid memory of discovering the chorus and moving through very intense emotions and pain as I sang it for the first time, alone in the apartment I shared with my partner, John. “Before you hit me/ before you clipped my wings/ I was the absolute boy/ I was him absolutely.” The tears running down my face contained a strange mixture of released pain, and something else, too, which resembled a hard-won, sorrowful joy. It was like the key to a door that had been locked for a long time.

Years later I recorded the song with the band, which was its own cathartic experience. My producer, Zach, had insisted that this song should be on the record, but I wasn’t so sure: I think I wasn’t certain that I wanted to deal with all that pain, knowing that putting it on the record would mean singing it night after night, at least for a while. But I trusted Zach, and I’m glad I did. Recording the song transformed it further into sort of an anthem for survival and recovery. Each time I sang it in the studio, I felt myself getting stronger and more sure of myself: I felt myself becoming more me. I felt myself touching something like the absolute: tapping into my own pain and power, but also thinking about all the people I’ve known who’ve gone through similar struggles.

I truly do not believe in, or endorse, the motto “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Child abuse is horrific. Overcoming adversity is bullshit. Children deserve to have beautiful lives, uninterrupted by violence. I think “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” enables a culture that quietly condones violence towards children, which is certainly what we have in the USA and, I’m quite sure, in many other places.

But I am grateful for therapy, for music, and for the relationships that have seen me through to something like the other side of that pain. I still mourn for the little person I used to be, who was a victim of violence, and of neglect, and learned that there were no safe places. But in my grief for who I was, I’m living now, doing my best to make music, write poems, and be in love with the people I’m with and the life I’m living now. That’s really what my album “Let’s Look Back” is ultimately about: it’s about the necessity to look back, to deal with pain, and to transform it into something resembling joy.

– Caleb Nichols

Tour dates:

20 August – Birkenhead, Birkenhead Arts Palace
25 August – Belfast, The American Bar
26 August – Glasgow, Ushi’s (Weekender)
27 August – Glasgow, Ushi’s (Weekender)
28 August – Edinburgh, Typewronger