Brandy Clark has built up a reputation as one of Nashville’s most prolific songwriters, composing hits for the likes of Miranda Lambert, LeAnn Rimes and the Band Perry.
She also won the CMA Song of the Year Award for her hand in Kacey Musgraves’ Follow Your Arrow, and has released two critically acclaimed albums – 12 Stories and Big Day In A Small Town – as well as touring prolifically throughout 2017.
I caught up with Brandy as she began her latest UK tour following the release of her first live album, Live In Los Angeles. Find out what she’s learned from touring, her plans for album number three and the song she wishes she’d written…
What can your UK fans expect from this tour?
Well, last time I came over here I did it straight – just myself and a guitar player. This time the configuration is myself, a guitar player and a bass player, so a fuller sound but still an acoustic evening. And you know, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions. Last night I was joking that I like to start out a bit slow and sad so that we can build from there. But people are gonna laugh and cry and hopefully laugh and hopefully cry again. So just a range of emotions and I hope a really good musical evening.
This is your second UK tour in two years…
It is – I came over here the previous year, not last year but the year before, for C2C, and just with the way that the fans were… I’d never seen anything quite like the UK fans and I decided then and there that I was gonna try to make a point to come over here every year. And for the last two years I have and I don’t think next year will be any different. I love the fans over here and it’s just a great area for me in that respect.
Do you find that the crowd reaction is a lot different in the UK compared to other places you’ve visited?
Well it’s the most respectful crowd I’ve ever been around, and I’m not alone in thinking that – anyone who comes over here feels that way. People really listen and you guys just take it all in in a way that’s really special.
You’ve been touring non-stop this year [Brandy did a 20-date US tour with Charlie Worsham and opened for Miranda Lambert and Tim McGraw & Faith Hill over the summer] – what have you learnt from that experience?
What I’ve learned is that every night is an opportunity to get better. And I love to tour – some artists don’t. And the thing that it’s not as hard for me in the way that it is for some others, although there’s still reasons for me to be in Nashville and so there is that sacrifice. But I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from touring is every time you get in front of an audience you have an opportunity to make a new fan and that’s worth its weight in gold, y’know?
My goal is always for somebody to leave wanting to come back again. Like last night we had a really great show in Brighton and I hope the next time I go there I’ll see people that were there again and bringing two or three people with them. I think that’s the way you build a career. And you gain people through exposure, via radio or TV or publicity – those sorts of things – but none of it really matters if they come and see you and are let down. And I’m also getting to the point where I’m starting to think about my next record, and just as recently as when I went out with Miranda I start to use it as a way to test out songs. Because it doesn’t matter if I like it; it matters if people who are actually gonna buy tickets and records like it, and so it gives me a gauge of what’s connecting.
How has the audience reaction been to those new songs?
There are two that we’ve been doing and the response to both of them feels really good. One of them is called Favourite Lie and the other one is called Apologies. My manager had to talk me into doing them because I’m always nervous to play new songs – that’s just a real hard thing for me. So I started playing those two at my manager’s request and have been really been blown away by the response that they’ve been getting.
You’ve just released your Live In Los Angeles album – can you tell us how that came about?
Well that was recorded at the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles, and it really came about very organically. That’s a venue that will record the show for you for a small amount of money, and whenever there’s that opportunity I try to take that opportunity because it gives me a chance to listen once again and see what’s working, what’s not working and what could be better. So if I can have the show recorded I will. And that show that night was just magical. A lot of it was the audience – they had a lot to do with that. And that’s the other thing I’ve learned about touring; it is a real relationship between the artist and the fans.
If I don’t show up there’s no show, but if they don’t show up there’s no show either. And that night in particular they really showed up. It was just a great night and listening to it back, as much as you can capture that on recording we have. And so we just decided, ‘oh we’ll put this out’. It was just gonna be a Record Store Day exclusive on vinyl and that got such a good response that we decided to then put it out digitally. Who knows, one day you might be able to get a physical CD of it, but at this point you can only get it digitally. But it was just a great night and that’s where it started.
Do you prefer those smaller more intimate venues where it might be easier to connect with the audience or are you happy to play anywhere?
I’m pretty happy to play wherever, but those churches are amazing to play in [Brandy played at London’s Union Chapel and St George’s in Brighton on her current tour]. And you always like to feel like it’s a packed house, whether it’s four hundred or four thousand. There’s something about the energy of a packed house, so those smaller venues are like that. And it is easier for people to listen to lyrics and just take it all in in that sort of a venue.
Are lyrics the thing you focus on most when you’re writing, or is it the music?
It’s both, but for me the lyric always drives it. That’s the part of songwriting that I’ve obviously focused on the most in my development. I do focus on melody, but lyric is really where I can just sit for hours, if that makes any sense.
What inspires your writing?
Y’know, the world inspires my writing. I write a lot about what’s around me, what interests me in books and movies and then in friends and in my own life. There’s always a little bit of me in there. I view myself as a storyteller but there’s definitely a little bit of my story in there in one way or another. I’ll think ‘oh yeah, that’s not really about me’, but then there’ll be pieces of it that are.
Does your writing changes when you’re touring, or do you still have a similar process?
I don’t get to write much on the road, but I think that definitely affects the way I write – just experiencing different things always affects what you’re gonna talk about, so being on the road definitely does that for me.
Do you ever find you get writer’s block?
Oh, for sure. I think that happens to every writer. And my way to deal with it is just push through it – just keep writing. And maybe when I feel that way co-write a little more, y’know? I mean, I co-write quite a bit anyway, but when I’m blocked write with someone who’s not.
Do you have any favourite co-writers? Or anyone you’d like to write with in future?
I write a lot with Jessie Jo Dillon; I always love what I write with her. And then a guy named Scott Stepakoff – he and I write a lot and we actually wrote Love Can Go To Hell on Big Day In A Small Town. He’s for sure one of my favourites – fabulous writer.
Big Day In A Small Town feels very like a concept album – was that something you set out to do or did it just happen that way?
No, I set out to make somewhat of a concept record. It ended up being a loose concept record, but when I wrote the song Big Day In A Small Town I instantly thought ‘that would be an amazing album title’ and to do a record where all the songs took place in the same small town. So that’s where that came from. And both studio records that I’ve done have had some sort of a concept, and for me that helps. Right now I’m in the process of figuring out what that next concept would be. It helps me and it helps put the songs together.
What’s the one song that you wish you’d written?
I wish I would have written Crazy, that Willie Nelson wrote for Patsy Cline. That’s my favourite song of all time, y’know? If I could go back in time and write that I would.
Speaking of Patsy Cline, you’ve mentioned she was one of your big influences. Who were your other influencers and are there any current artists you particularly admire?
Well definitely Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline – both were big heroes for me. And there are always people making music who inspire me to make better music. I think Eric Church makes great records; Kacey Musgraves who I’ve done work with makes great records. Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Sturgill [Simpson] – those guys kind of set the bar in a lot of ways and I’m always trying to just reach that bar and be in the same breath or get on the same record as those people. [I want] to make music that moves people – moves me first of all and then it’ll move somebody else. And then outside of the genre… Elton John’s always been somebody I love, and I have a huge appreciation for Adele. Her music to me is so different than what I do or what any of those people do that I just mention, but what it does is it moves people. So to me that’s the goal here – to move people and let them escape their life for a minute, or to feel less alone in what emotion they’re feeling.
If you were asked for advice by a new artist just starting out, what would you say?
I would tell them to stay true to who they are. To not chase trends… I was gonna say to figure out what’s different about them, but the truth is it’s just being who you are. We’re all like a snowflake – there’s not two of us. So that I think is what I would tell a new artist.
What would be on your career bucket list?
That’s such a big question! I would love to win a Grammy – I’ve been nominated for several but I haven’t won one so that would definitely be there. I would love for every record I make to be able to look back on it and feel like it’s a great piece of art. Because I feel that way about both of my records, and I feel fortunate in that because I have friends that made records that they’re not proud of after the fact. They made them because they were influenced by what they were told to do via labels or a producer.
I’ve been very fortunate in that way, and that’s a real blessing. I sat down with Dwight Yoakam one time and I asked him what his favourite record was, and he said ‘all of them’ because he said he felt like he never compromised on any of them, and he’s still making great records. I’d like to get to a level touring-wise where I could play some really bucket list venues – places like the Royal Albert Hall. Those sorts of places are my kind of places that I dream about. I’d love to play the Hollywood Bowl – that’s always been a big one for me.
You’ve mentioned you’re thinking about album number three – is that next for you after this tour?
Yes. I mean I’m gonna tour next year as well, but I think I’ll probably spend the majority of next year working on it. I’d love to say I won’t tour as much next year, but I think I’ll probably have a few more breaks in there to work on the record. Because I want it to be great. But yeah, I think that’ll be the majority of next year will be spent on that record.
Brandy’s latest album Live In Los Angeles is out now and you can catch her at the following dates:
Thursday 26th October 2017 – The Stables, Gateshead
Friday 27th October 2017 – Birmingham Town Hall
Sunday 29th October 2017 – Oran Mor, Glasgow
Monday 30th October 2017 – Gateshead Sage
Wednesday 1st November 2017 – Mandela Hall, Belfast
Thursday 2nd November 2017 – The Sugar Club, Dublin