Music Interviews
4:14 pm
Mon November 18, 2013

Brandy Clark: Country Music For Drinking And Thinking

Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 5:59 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."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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")

BRANDY CLARK: (Singing) She hates her job, loves her kids, bored with her husband, tired of the same old list of things to do.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET HIGH")

CLARK: (Singing) So when the to-dos have all been done, she sits down at the kitchen table, rolls herself a fat one.

BLOCK: Brandy Clark likes cutting against the grain. Her debut album, it's 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 let's her veer away from the mainstream and toward the characters close to her heart.

CLARK: 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?

CLARK: 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")

CLARK: (Singing) We live in trailers and apartments, too, from California to Kalamazoo. Grow up, get married, and when that one ends, we hate sleeping alone so we get married again. Don't want to be buried in debt or in sin, so we pray to Jesus and we play the lotto because there ain't but two ways we can change tomorrow. And there ain't no genie...

I have a really good friend, like a family member, basically. Her name is Jackie Bennett. And Jackie, as long as I've known her, she lives for her faith and for the lottery. And she would talk about the lottery like she was going to win it. Like, the way I would talk about, well, the sun is going to come up tomorrow, you know, she would always say, I'm going to hit that lottery.

And so I had Jackie in my head when we wrote that. And I kind of think of that as just kind of an every person song. Anybody that has lived in the middle class or below the middle class, it's just, you know, you're just getting by and nothing's going to really change your situation unless you hit the lottery or you die and go to heaven.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAY TO JESUS")

CLARK: (Singing) Six little numbers that could change it all. So we pray to Jesus and we play the lotto because there ain't but two ways we can change tomorrow. And there ain't no genie and there ain't no bottle, so we pray to Jesus and we play the lotto, like a bumper sticker, like a poor man's motto. Times are tough and our time is borrowed, so let's pray to Jesus and let's play the lotto.

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")

CLARK: (Singing) Mama got depressed when Daddy was dying, so the doctor gave her something to help her with her crying. Then she couldn't sleep, so he gave her something else. Now there's yellow, red and pink on her bathroom shelf. Says if one won't work, then another one will. If you got a little hurt, you 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?

CLARK: 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?

CLARK: 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")

CLARK: (Singing) Ain't a buzz that you can't buy. Ain't a low you can't make high till it wears off like it always will. And when it does, you take a little pill.

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

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?

CLARK: 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?

CLARK: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST LIKE HIM")

CLARK: (Singing) They say love's like coming home and I came from a broken one. So why am I surprised you're always leaving?

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

CLARK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST LIKE HIM")

CLARK: (Singing) I used to say that I'd be damned before I'd ever fall in love with a man like the one mama wasted her youth on. And I wait up all night alone. I feel like I'm six years old again. You're just like him.

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