When she came through town back in 2014, country singer Brandy Clark had the unenviable task of opening for hugely popular country singer Jennifer Nettles. Armed with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, Clark, who looked like a cross between troubadour and rocker with her snap-cap and tight black pants, didn’t appear the least bit nervous. She quickly won the audience over with narrative-based tunes such as “Crazy Women” and “Pray to Jesus.”
The bare bones approach worked well as her often humorous lyrics about everything from smoking weed to doing hard time really resonated. As a result, fans mobbed her as she signed copies of her then-new CD in the lobby after her performance.
“That was the second show I did with her,” says Clark when reached via phone in Nashville. “From what I remember, that was the first weekend. We played in Washington D.C. the night before. We played in Cleveland, and I sold out of merch. The next night I didn’t have any merch in West Virginia, but it made me feel like I was doing something right on the first weekend of the tour.”
Clark returns to town with Nettles, who’s bringing her CMT Presents Jennifer Nettles with 2016 Next Women of Country Tour to Hard Rock Live on Jan. 16. Clark, who says she’ll have a band in tow this time around, will provide support along with singers Lindsay Ell and Tara Thompson. A true storyteller, Clark just wrapped up a remarkable year. “Hold My Hand,” a song from her debut, 12 Stories
, was just nominated for a Grammy. And she launched a long-in-the-works musical.
been a great year,” she says when she reflects on 2015. “I’ve been working on a musical — Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical
. I worked with Shane McAnally and we wrote some music for it. It opened in Dallas this summer. We’ve been working on that for a couple of years and for that to open has been great. Being out on road with Jennifer is really amazing. I was out with Alan Jackson before that. The thing I’m most excited about is that I made another record. I spent the month of June working with Jay Joyce on this record and I’m pretty proud of it. Being out with Jennifer, I’m getting to play this record live right now.”
Raised a Washington logging town, Clark initially performed in school musicals.
“When I was a really young kid, I was in a community theater production of The Music Man
,” she says. “I was in a high school play. I don’t remember what the play was anymore. I was in art class. And I was an athlete. I loved it. I can’t imagine a different way to grow up. Everyone knows everyone. You won’t get into huge trouble without someone’s parents telling yours. Most people would say you have more opportunity in a big town and you really do. We didn’t even have a theater department. We had a school play just once a year. I don’t think I could go and live in small town America at this stage in my life but I think small-town America is where it’s at. For growing up, I can’t imagine anything better.”
She would leave Washington state to study commercial music at Belmont University in Nashville.
“I was trying to learn the business for myself,” she says. “Honestly, I was a music business major because I was denied into the School of Music twice. It was my fallback. I thought I would do the music business degrees and if it didn’t work at least I would have that degree.”
But she gravitated to songwriting and would pen “Mama’s Broken Heart” with frequent collaborators Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves.
“That was an idea that Shane had had for a long time,” she says when asked about the song. “It was ‘ain’t your mama something.’ I loved that idea. I remember when he said it, I didn’t want him to write it with anyone else. I got what he was talking about. Then, Kacey came in one day and Shane started talking about his sister. His sister was going through this breakup and his mom she should handle it one way but he thought she should handle it another way. I said, ‘Maybe that’s the “ain’t your mama something.”’ We talked about ‘your mama’s broken heart.’ I remember the first response was that ‘broken heart’ was too plain. But that’s what we came to. We wrote that song in a day, and it felt like it was good. Kacey went home and did a Garage Band take with some handclaps that made it something really special.”
The song would find its way to Miranda Lambert, who had to talk Kacey Musgraves into letting her have it. She then turned it into a monster hit.
Clark’s 2013 debut, 12 Stories
, features a wide range of material. Some songs are funny and others are rather sad. Some are about getting high and some are about illegitimate children and divorce.
“The first time producer Dave [Brainard] and I sat down, I said I had two loose concepts: either the day in the life of one woman or the length of a relationship,” she explains. “If it were the length of a relationship, we’d start the record with ‘Illegitimate Children’ and end it with ‘The Day She Got Divorced.’ That was my thinking. We didn’t do either of those things but that helped shape the song selection.”
One of the album's highlights, “Crazy Women,” centers on a woman who claims her significant other is the source of her erratic behavior.
"I was watching a Lifetime movie about that Texas cheerleader scandal/murder," says Clark when asked about what inspired the tune. "In the movie, Beau Bridges gets in Swoosie Kurtz’s face. He’s like, 'You are crazy, woman.' She says, 'Crazy women are made by crazy men.' It struck me right then. She said it just like it is in the song. That just hit me. Things that are said in movies or I read in books often spark songs.”
With the follow-up album that’s due out this year, Clark also started with a concept.
“My producer Jay [Joyce] was quick to say he didn’t want it to be too ‘on the nose,’” she says. “It helps make the songs feel like they should be on the same record. It was a much more intense process. The first time, we were working on a shoestring. We were using studio time when the producer didn’t have a project in there that was paying money. We worked every day from three or four in the afternoon to midnight. I was working on it on for four to six months. With Jay, we did have the luxury of a budget so we did it in a month. That was all I did. I enjoyed both processes. There were pros and cons to both things. With Jay, he’s a mad scientist. There was a point in the process where he asked me to give him about nine days by himself. That was a little bit scary for me. On my first record, I was there for every note. To hand it over to someone and let him tinker with it was scary. When I came back in and heard what he had done, it was mind-blowing.”
Clark says she doesn’t deliberately try to write from a feminist point of view, though she admits that she embraces the female perspective.
“I love the female point of view and a story told from a woman’s point of view,” she says. “I love all that. Women are interesting to me. I think it’s a lucky time for us in music. Women can tackle issues that men couldn’t. ‘Stripes’ is a great example. A man could never sing about even thinking about shooting his wife. A woman can get away with that and tell a story that way. I feel pretty lucky to be a woman from that angle.”
Given the popularity of Bro Country, most of the biggest tours feature male singers in the headlining roles. Clark says she thinks that might change in the coming years.
“I feel like there’s a shift happening,” she says. “Maybe it will take some time, but I feel like we’re hearing more female voices than we’ve heard in the last couple of years on terrestrial radio. There are always women making records. At some point, there was just Carrie and Miranda but I feel that shifting. There’s Kelsea Nicole Ballerini and there’s Cam . . . her song is top ten, I think. I think that’s a signal of more female voices to come.”
CMT Presents Jennifer Nettles With 2016 Next Women Of Country Tour with Jennifer Nettles, Brandy Clark, Lindsay Ell, Tara Thompson, 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 16, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $48-$65.50, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.