Raised in a Washington logging town, country singer-songwriter Brandy Clark originally got her start performing in school musicals. She eventually gravitated to songwriting and would pen “Mama’s Broken Heart” with frequent collaborators Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves. The song found its way to country superstar Miranda Lambert, who turned it into a monster hit.
Not content to just write songs that other people could turn into hits, Clark released her debut, 12 Stories
, in 2013. Earlier this year, she released Big Day in a Small Town
, another album of articulate songs about this American life. She recently phoned from her Nashville home to take us through each track on the album.
My mom has said to me when I think people are paying too much attention to what I’m doing that we’re all stars in our own soap opera. She says we’re just a bit player in everyone else’s stories. That’s where it started. It ended up on the record because it fits. It’s a great opening track. [The album’s producer] Jay Joyce had come out to a show, and he loved it, and we thought it would be a great way to open the record. It fits the whole small town vibe.
“Girl Next Door”
I wrote that with Jessie Jo Dillon and Shane MacAnally. It came from something that Shane said. When I get into that one, I get a little angsty. I think we can all relate to it on some level.
I think we all know that girl — someone who’s larger than life in high school. You keep thinking she’ll get larger than life but it didn’t turn out that way. I was on the court with the homecoming queen at my high school, but I was not the queen. One of my best friends was a homecoming queen. I joke with her when things are tough and say we can’t all be homecoming queen. It started there, but I wrote that title down, and I thought it would be a great song. We all know that girl or that guy, whoever it is. Things were going along so great and didn’t turn out the way you thought they should have.
I think every one of us can relate to it. Who doesn’t feel that way? We all had those times and continue to have those times where we scrape things together just to make the ends meet.
“You Can Come Over”
I think of it as not so much a love song but as a love-is-just-never-going-to-work-out-song. Maybe it’s love song, but the other person isn’t in love, and you’re trying to end a vicious cycle.
“Love Can Go To Hell”
When we decided to put those this song together with “You Can Come Over,” it made “Love Can Go To Hell” come alive. When I wrote the song, it was more of a ballad, and [producer] Jay [Joyce] had the idea to interject that energy with the banjo and changing the time signature between the verse and chorus. That made a big difference.
“Big Day in A Small Town”
In my mind, it’s about my hometown. I got that idea from a friend of mine who posted that on Facebook. She said she washed her hair and went to town twice, and that’s a big day in a small town. It made me think of where I grew up in Washington State. I took it into the studio and my co-writers both had small town experiences and had grown up in small towns. They got into it as well. I was thinking of different people in my hometown. To me, it’s very vivid and very real. It wasn't the first song I wrote for the album, but when it was written, I knew it would be a great title track for a record. I wrote it right after I had made 12 Stories
. I got back into the writing thing, and I wrote that song, and I thought it would be a great album. Other songs started to fill in. When I wrote “Soap Opera” and “Homecoming Queen,” I was thinking about the record.
“Three Kids No Husband”
It’s someone I know and someone that Lori McKenna who I wrote it with, knows. We each had someone in our head. The great thing about that song is that it’s somebody that everybody knows. It’s everybody’s daughter or mother or neighbor.
That came from a real life discussion. I was with the co-writers, and Jessie Jo Dillon was talking about a guy she knew downtown who wasn’t treating the girls very nice. I just said, “I hope he has a daughter.” We wrote it, and I didn’t think much of it. When we were going through songs, my manager wanted us to do “Daughter.” I love what Jay did to it. We had Kacey Musgraves come in and sing background vocals on it. It all sounded great. Not until I played it live did I realize how hard that one hits. When I say, “Karma is a bitch,” the crowd goes crazy every night.
“Drinkin’ Smokin’ Cheatin’”
That one is just a daydream to me. We all have that. Anyone who is in a relationship more than a couple of months has that daydream. It’s a daydream. If I were a drinker, I’d do this. If I were smoking weed, I’d get high and if I had the nerve to cheat, I would. There’s a couple of songs on there that don’t need to be so on the small town nose. You don’t have to live within the four streets of this little town that we’re thinking about here.
“Since You’ve Gone to Heaven”
My dad was killed in a logging accident right before 9/11. It was the July before. I remember watching TV and thinking that my since my dad had died that the world had gone to hell. I liked the song but it was still too raw at that point. I shared the idea with Shane McAnally and he asked why I never finished it. I thought there wasn’t any hope in it and he said he didn’t think that mattered. He and I wrote it and once again I love that we wrote it and got it out there and had experiences we could put into that song. It’s not all autobiographical, but parts of it are. I thought it might be too sad. Jay Joyce was asking me about why I wanted to make a record about a small town. I told him that I love small towns where everybody knows everybody else’s business. He said that wasn’t really a reason. When I think about it, I went home for my dad’s memorial service, and they had it in a gym because that many people came. That’s not a rarity. It’s not the first service I attended in a gym. It’s just how small towns are. Jay told me that was the reason for making the record, and that the song needed to be on there.
Brandy Clark, Rachel Brown, 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main Ave., 216-242-1250. Tickets: $15 ADV, $20 DOS, musicboxcle.com.