Brandy Clark: Country Music For Drinking And Thinking

Nov 18, 2013
Originally published on November 18, 2013 6:59 pm

The new record from Nashville singer-songwriter Brandy Clark, 12 Stories, is a collection of rural tales told from a variety of perspectives. From a song based on a friend whose faith in Jesus rivals that of her staunch belief that she'll one day hit the lottery, to a track that opens with a woman's descent into prescription drug addiction, Clark's stories strike a chord that resonates with listeners.

As a songwriter, Clark says her goal is to create songs that everyday people can relate to; put another way, she writes the songs that people might have wished they'd written about themselves.

"I got in my head that my goal as a songwriter was to write songs for people who didn't write songs," Clark says in an interview with NPR's Melissa Block. "You know, somebody working at a bank or checking out groceries. The song that that woman in particular would write if she were to write a song. It took me to a great place, for me, because I never tire of that perspective."

While Clark says venturing from perspective to perspective can be fun, some of her tunes say different. "Take a Little Pill" is a somber illustration of the cyclical nature of prescription drug abuse. Clark says she initially tried to shop the song to major-label artists, but "getting somebody to sing it was another deal." The singer says it worked out for the best in the end.

"I feel lucky that no one did, because then this record came around, and I really feel like it's the centerpiece of this album," she says. "I'm thankful that no one did bite on it, because it seems to be the song that resonates the strongest with people. I think it's just so real, and kind of a realness that's a little bit ugly."

With an album full of tales that are painfully honest, Clark says she's split between being accepted by the mainstream media and rejecting the acceptance outright.

"If country radio is center, this record is definitely far left of center, in a lot of ways," Clark says. "But it's surprising to me how it is being embraced. It doesn't necessarily fit, but I think a lot of people want it to fit."

Clark says the new record faced resistance because higher-ups in the industry didn't believe the album would be heard by country music fans. With her album sales steadily increasing, Clark says a certain kind of audience is keeping her afloat.

"I've heard there's drinkin' music, and there's thinkin' music," Clark says. "And to me, this is a little bit of both. I think that people that like to think, and that also like to drink, are going to buy this record."

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: Some of the freshest, most surprising music coming out of Nashville these days are the songs written by Brandy Clark.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET HIGH")

BLOCK: But if you're expecting a sappy weeper, think again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET HIGH")

BLOCK: Brandy Clark likes cutting against the grain. Her debut album is titled "12 Stories." And the dozen songs are all written from the perspective of everyday women getting by any way they can. Brandy Clark has written hit songs for some of Nashville's biggest names. But this album lets her veer away from the mainstream, and toward the characters close to her heart.

: I got in my head that my goal, as a songwriter, was to write songs for people who didn't write songs - you know, somebody working at a bank or checking out groceries; the song that that woman, in particular, would write if she were to write a song.

BLOCK: And where did that take you, when you started thinking that way?

: It took me to a great place - for me - because I never tire of that perspective.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about the woman who's the character in the song "Pray to Jesus."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAY TO JESUS")

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAY TO JESUS")

BLOCK: I'm talking with Brandy Clark. Her new album is "12 Stories." Let's talk about your song on the album called "Take A Little Pill."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE A LITTLE PILL")

BLOCK: Brandy, this is a song, obviously, about prescription drug abuse. Would you take this song to a major label in Nashville? Do you think you'd get folks saying, yeah, we'll record that, we'll get that on the radio?

: Well, you know, we did take that. It was pitched to major label artists and, you know, it - that's a tough one. A lot of people - everybody loves that song. But getting somebody to sing it was another deal. And I feel lucky that no one did because then this record came around, and I really feel like it's the centerpiece of this album. And I'm thankful that no one did bite on it because it seems to be the song that resonates the strongest with people.

BLOCK: What's the hesitation, do you think? What are folks in Nashville thinking when they hear that song?

: You know, I think it's just - it's so real, and kind of a realness that's a little bit ugly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE A LITTLE PILL")

BLOCK: When you think about what has succeeded in Nashville, a lot of it has been great. But there's been a lot of really commercial stuff that has sold extremely well. Do you think that people underestimate the audience and what people will listen to, what people will grab on to?

: Oh, yeah. I think the audience is grossly underestimated. You know, I think that country music listeners are some of the smartest, open-minded people that I've ever met. I mean, when I go out and play a show, I meet all kinds of people. And I do think that some people, maybe, that are making some of the decisions think that maybe the audience is a little bit dumb.

BLOCK: So if that's the attitude, how do you get around that?

: You just put out a record. You know, I think that there was some resistance to this record because, you know, well, country music listeners, they're not going to want to listen to this. But I think they're wrong, and so that's why I just forged ahead and put this out - because I think that there is an audience for this. I think that there's - I've heard there's drinking music, and there's thinking music; and to me, this is a little bit of both. And I think that people that like to think - and that also like to drink - are going to buy this record. (Laughter)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST LIKE HIM")

BLOCK: That's Brandy Clark. Her new album is "12 Stories." Brandy, thanks so much.

: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST LIKE HIM")

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.