One of my favourite songwriters as some of you will know is Brandy Clark. She has a way with words, her lyrics to each and every song are littered with witty lines and the stories she tells have either not been told before or certainly not been told in the way that she tells them. I have often said as have many other journalists on both sides of the pond that Brandy Clark is the greatest storyteller in Country music and since Country music is known for it’s storytelling, I think thats a pretty big yet well deserved compliment. Extra dates have been added to her upcoming UK tour because it is that popular. But the 41 year old has worked hard to get where she is today and doesn’t always get the recognition she deserves on Country Radio. I was delighted (though slightly nervous) when I was given a phone interview with her last week. We had the chance to talk about her most recent record Live From Los Angeles and her upcoming UK tour as well as discussing a few other interesting projects she has on the go right now. And Brandy also has some words of wisdom for anyone who like me is an aspiring songwriter eager to know Clark’s secret to success.
So your new album Live From Los Angeles has just come out, can you tell me how that came about, what made you decide to do a live album?
Well I had played the hotel cafe just myself and my guitar player Miles Aubrey and it was just a magical night and they always record the shows there, you can pay a small fee and get the tapes. It was just a magical night so we decided to get the tapes and as everyone in my camp was listening they said “this is great, lets talk to warner brothers about putting out a live album”. I feel like a lot of people like my music and then when they see me live they love it and I think a lot of that is some of the banter in between songs and there’s nothing that will replace the live experience and so it was a way to give fans that experience and fans who haven’t seen me because maybe they live over in your neck of the woods and haven’t been able to get to a show, they get a taste of what I do live. And you know it was the easiest record I ever made because I didn’t have to go to the studio or any of that.
I love the song When I get To Drinkin and before you sing it you talk about how you’d like to record an album full of drinking songs, are you close to doing that?
I don’t know how close I am to doing that but I want to do it at some point, before it’s all said and done. I’m working on what my next record is going to be right now, formulating it in my head and what songs I’ll put on and it might be a drinking record or something completely different but I do know, come hell or high-water I will do a drinking song record.
Great! Now a while ago I heard about you and Shane McAnally writing a musical and I read some good reviews about it. How did that come about and will we get to see it in the UK?
I sure hope. They decided, Gaylord Entertainment, that they wanted to musicalise Hee Haw which was a TV show over here which ran I think in the 70s or 80s and I remembered it from being a kid, watching it with my grandparents and wanting to be involved. So Shane and I were approached, actually based on the song Pray To Jesus, they wanted the sensibility of it to feel like that song and it was just a magical experience and I learned a lot. I learned a lot about myself, I never thought of myself as someone who could write for a project like a musical because you know you’ll have to write something that needs to get you from here to there, or they’ll say we need a dance number that’s got to be uptempo, that kind of stuff. So it opened, we’d spent a couple of years on it at that point maybe three years and it opened in Dallas and it did well so the next step - we’re in a re-writing process now - I don’t know exactly where we go from here but the end goal is still Broadway, but I’d love to open it in London myself, I’ll go on record saying that!
Good we’d love to hear it and see it over here! You’ve talked a little bit about the writing process for that but how different is it writing for the musical to writing for your own project?
It’s different in that you’re writing for all different kinds of voices. You’re writing for voices that have say a larger range than a typical country singer. So that definitely plays in you’re writing for guys and girls you know most of the time I’m trying to write a song that a male or a female could sing, my favourite songs are pretty unisex but 9 times out of 10 I end up writing a female song just coz I’m a girl and my voice sits in that place. Writing for different characters, everybody has a different storyline that you’re telling. So it was a challenge but a good challenge, it was fun.
So on a normal writing day can you tell me about the songwriting process, do you like to start with lyrics or chords and before you get into the room do you know who you’re writing for?
Well unless I’m writing with another artist I’m typically just trying to write the best song I can write that day. For me a great song starts with a great idea so I try to bring a few ideas that I feel are good and then the other writer or writers in the room they do the same. Sometimes the song starts from one of those ideas but a lot of times it starts from a conversation you know, you’re sitting there talking and everybody’s got their coffee and somebody says something that everyone else hears and says that could be a song. So it starts off in all kind of ways but more than lyrics and melody I like to start off with a great idea and go from there.
You’ve written so many amazing songs and had a few hits, I always think of you as being the greatest storyteller in Country Music
Aww Thank You!
But do you ever get writers block even after all the success you’ve had as a songwriter?
You know it’s hard for me almost every day I’ll be honest. Like the longer I do it the harder it gets because the bar gets set high. I’ve written some songs that I’m really really proud of but I like to think my best songs are still in front of me. But overtime I sit down I’m trying to write something that I think is better than my best song. Also you’re always trying to write something that’s better than the best song that’s ever been written by anyone so sometimes you can get blocked with that but the best way to get out of it is just to think “just write another song” or if I feel like I haven’t got anything as far as ideas which happens often, I’ll spend a day just reading, listening to other music, trying to spark myself creatively. I do spend a good bit of time doing that and since I’ve been on the road I used to spend a lot more time doing that because I was writing songs five days a week so at least one of those days would usually turn out to be an idea day where I would just try and find ideas.
Do you have a favourite song that you’ve written either that’s on one of your records or that someone else has cut?
Probably my favourite song I’ve written is Hold My Hand which is on my first record 12 Stories. That’s one of the ones that you know I’d like to beat that song at some point, I just love it. It’s one of those songs that I never don’t want to perform. No matter how good a song is or how well written they are, you get tired of them and I’ve never had a night where I’ve thought “I can’t wait till this ones over.”
There’s so many people over here and in the States that look up to you and admire you, so do you have any advice for aspiring Songwriters whether they’re performing every night or working other jobs trying to get to Nashville and make it as a songwriter?
Well I had other jobs for years, I’ll say that first, that should make everyone feel really good, it took me a while to get a publishing deal. I was in Nashville for five years before I got a publishing deal and then I still worked other jobs because I couldn’t support myself just writing songs. My biggest piece of advice would be to write what moves you because if it doesn’t move you then it’s not going to move anyone else. I think that comes from writing what you know and I don’t think things have to be completely autobiographical I think some of the best songs aren’t but theres alwaya a grain of truth in there so I think find that grain of truth and elaborate the hell out of it just write what moves you. People don’t want to feel alone in whatever situation they find themselves in and I think as songwriters we have that gift to make people feel less lonely talking about our vulnerabilities in songs and our own hearts and the happy stuff as well you know.
I spoke to you last time about your favourite co-writers but I just wondered if you’d been working with any new writers recently?
Well I work with a lot of the same people that I’ve always worked with, Jesse Jo Dillon and Shane McAnally but I’ve written a lot lately with Scott Stepakoff who I wrote Love Can Go To Hell with, he and I have been writing with a guy called Forest Whitehead who actually produces Kelsea Ballerini. The three of us have been writing and theres been some things we’ve been writing that I really really love.
You’re coming to the UK soon, what can your fans expect this tour and will you have any down time to explore the UK?
Well they can expect me to give them everything I’ve got when I’m on stage and try to make them laugh, make them cry, make them think and just forget whatevers going on outside of where ever we’re playing for that hour and a half to two hours. I don’t think I’ll have much sightseeing time but more than in the past so I’m excited about that and I’m really excited to be there for a little longer because the time change always kills me so I’m looking forward to being able acclimatise more than I usually get to.
Whats next for you?
I’m writing a lot at the moment, playing Americana Fest next week and then going out for a weekend with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill which I’m really excited about. Then I’m out with Miranda Lambert in Canada and on to see you guys. But other than being on the road and getting to perform what I’m excited about is this next creative chapter for me, what my next record is going to be. I’m very proud of the first two records and I want this third one to be just as good and different from the second one because I think the second was different from the first one and just something that continues to draw more fans to me and I want to keep them interested.
Don’t forget Brandy is on tour in the UK in October, you don’t want to miss out on tickets to this! I’m even taking the family to see her in Manchester and I’ll be doing the photography in Gateshead so make sure you come and say hi! All the dates you need are below.
Oct 20 - St Georges, Brighton
Oct 21 - St Georges, Bristol
Oct 22 - RNCM, Manchester
Oct 23 - Union Chapel, London
Oct 24 - Union Chapel, London
Oct 26 - The Stables, Milton Keynes
Oct 27 - Birmingham Town Hall
Oct 29 - Oran Mor, Glasgow
Oct 30 - Sage, Gateshead