When up-and-coming country singer-guitarist Clare Dunn says she grew up on a farm, she ain’t talking about a house with a big back yard. She’s talking about a bonafide farm.
“My parents come from farms and their parents come from farms,” she says via phone from her Nashville home. She performs this week as part of Kip Moore’s Up in Smoke Tour that touches down at Connor Palace. “That’s all we’ve ever done since we’ve come to America. They started out with nothing and didn’t have two cents to rub together. They worked and worked and worked. It’s not ten acres and a lawn mower.”
Dunn says the farm mentality helped inspire her single “Get Out,” a rowdy tune about letting off steam.
“It’s a very simple song,” she says of the track. “It was truly about so many things, going back to my raising and wanting to get out and get down. There was this element of wanting to leave the farm.”
The song has been such a success that it’s now made Dunn into the “highest charting independent female artist on the Music Row Country Breakout chart in a decade," as it's put in a press release. That’s not small feat, given that artists named Kenny and Luke dominate today’s country music charts. Earlier this year, she was featured on the cover of USA Today and she’s recently opened for Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley and Luke Bryan. She just returned from performing with Florida Georgia Line on a cruise.
“It was fantastic on so many levels,” she says of the cruise. “I’ve never been on a cruise and never had any experience in my life. Being in Miami was mind-blowing number one. Being on that boat was mind-blowing, number two. It was so overwhelming in the best way possible. I’ve never been to the Bahamas. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. To get to play music on top that, it was hard for me to comprehend. It was all great, except for the last night. We had to hurry back to the port in Miami and the boat was literally rocking. I play lead guitar and anytime I would hit a pedal, I would practically fall over. We would look out at the crowd and they were swaying back and forth, trying to keep their balance.”
Regularly referred to as a newcomer, Dunn started playing guitar when she was in college. So what made her first pick up the instrument?
“It was out of a desire to get a sound that was in my head out and into a set of speakers,” she says. “I couldn’t explain the way I heard sounds. I heard guitar parts a certain way, but I could never explain it to other guitar players. When they played what I asked them to play, it was never what I heard. I just picked it up and decided that if I wanted to get the sound out, I needed to play an instrument. I had no social life. I sat in my room, and I listened to records all day long.”
She eventually turned to songwriting and has had sessions with some of the top songwriters in the business.
“When I was getting those first opportunities with big huge hit writers, I would be nervous about it,” she says. “At the same time, I go in prepared with what I wanted to say. If the artist doesn’t know what he wants to say, your hands are tied as a writer. I was lucky that I recognized that. I would throw myself into knowing what I wanted to say. That helped release some of my jitters. I still get nervous when I go into write. You have this vision for your ideas and I hope that I’m always on my game and always contributing. It was nerve wracking to begin with. The songwriters here are so down to earth and supportive and when I realized that they wanted to help me facilitate my vision, that relieved a lot of the nerves. I was very fortunate.”
With its references to muscle cars and macho actor John Wayne, her new song, “Cowboy Side of You,” sounds more like something by classic rocker Bob Seger than something by a female country singer. Dunn says she wrote it about her “ideal dude.”
“I wanted to give that voice in case there were other girls who felt like me and in case there were other guys out there that felt that way,” she says. “Guys write love songs about girls all the time but I don’t think girls write songs about guys enough. I wanted to give a voice to that. I watched every John Wayne movie growing up. He represents that cowboy attitude. The song isn’t about a cowboy per se. It’s just about some guy who personifies that do what you have to do attitude. That’s what it’s about and what inspired. And I just love muscle cars. I had to throw in that reference to the Chevelle.”
Taylor Swift notwithstanding, the country music scene has been dominated by party hearty men. So does Dunn think her success suggests a shift is in the works?
“I think I was super blessed and super lucky just to have the people at country radio that believed in me and took a chance on my song to get it out there to the people,” she says. “I think there’s a marketplace and I respect what it wants to do. I’m grateful I have a wedge. I’ve been one little lucky girl, that’s for sure.”
Kip Moore Up in Smoke with Charlie Worsham and Clare Dunn, 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29, Connor Palace, 1615 Euclid Ave., 216-241-7000. Tickets: $29.50-$49.50, playhousesquare.org.