Country singer Brandy Clark breaks through on her new album, 12 Stories
For years, Brandy Clark was satisfied working behind the scenes in the world of Nashville’s popular country music.
The Washington-born musician had penned songs for some of the biggest names in the genre, including Reba McEntire Keith Urban and LeAnn Rimes. She co-wrote several of the songs on up-and-coming country star Kacey Musgraves’ Grammy Award-winning album, Same Park, Different Trailer, and she received her own Grammy nomination – along with Musgraves and songwriter Shane McAnally – for Miranda Lambert’s No. 1 hit, “Mama’s Broken Heart.”
After more than a decade living and working in Nashville, Clark came to believe her chance to sing her own songs on stage had passed. But her persistence led to the creation of her debut album, 12 Stories, and a host of accolades, including appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and The Ellen DeGeneres Show and her song, “Stripes,” featured in a Super Bowl commercial for Beats Music. It’s not too bad for a singer who grew up in the small town of Morton, WA, in the shadow of Mount St. Helens, far away from Music City U.S.A.
“When you hit a certain age, you think that performing thing isn’t going to happen, so you kind of quit dreaming that dream,” Clark says while traveling through western New York on her way to a show in Chautauqua. “But for me, the opportunity came along. I just jumped in with both feet, and I do love it.”
Clark’s 12 Stories tells in gritty detail the story of a diverse range of characters living their lives in ordinary fashion. “Stripes,” which could easily be the theme song for the popular prison comedy-drama Orange Is the New Black, describes a woman contemplating killing her philandering husband – but she won’t go through with it because “I don’t look good in orange, and I hate stripes.” (Clark insists “Stripes” was written long before the show debuted last year.)
There are also songs like “Get High,” which tells of a woman hiding her addiction to prescription pills, and “Hungover,” telling the story of a wife doing everything around the house while her husband sleeps off a long night of drinking.
12 Stories started to take shape more than three years ago when Clark’s manager approached her about taking some of her more personal songs to make an album. When it was finished, Clark spent two years shopping it around to labels that didn’t seem to be interested in taking a chance on the provocative songs.
Texas-based independent label Slate Creek Records released 12 Stories last August, and almost immediately the album garnered critical praise from publications like Rolling Stone and the Boston Globe. NPR Music host Ann Powers named it her favorite album of 2013.
“When the reviews started coming in, it was like, ‘OK, we weren’t wrong,’” Clark says. “The validation I felt in that – I don’t know if there are enough words for it.”
Clark takes the praise for her work in stride. She already has two No. 1 country hits under her belt, including The Band Perry song “Better Dig Two.” She was also recently asked to pen the songs for a musical adaptation of the popular sketch comedy show Hee Haw, which is scheduled to debut sometime in early 2016.
But it’s the collaborative songwriting process that Clark takes true pleasure in. She says she’ll typically work on a song by herself for a while and later bring it to another Nashville songwriter to look at. She says songwriters like McAnally and Musgraves are great people to bounce ideas off of. On her current tour, Clark even brought along musician Jessie Jo Dillon to work on songs while they travel on the tour bus.
“It’s easy to meet other writers in Nashville,” Clark says. “What’s hard is to find those magical connections that you collaborate well with. It gets lonely by yourself, so when you find those collaborations that really work and that you really trust, that’s amazing.”
However, there is one story Clark carries with her that has yet to make it into lyrics and would be difficult for anyone to write about if they hadn’t seen it themselves – the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980. She was four years old when the top of the volcano blew off, spewing ash all over the region.
Clark says she vividly remembers her mother throwing all the children in the car and driving to find her father, who had gone for a run. Hot ash and mud covered the windshield as they found her father running up the street.
“I haven’t written about that, but that would be a great song,” Clark laughs. “There’s a new idea. I bet nobody else is writing that one.”
Brandy Clark opens for Jennifer Nettles at the American Music Theatre (2425 Lincoln Hwy East, Lancaster) on Friday, August 14. 8pm. $75-$105. Click here for tickets.