Terri Clark’s Long Road Home: The 9513’s Exclusive Interview
In the business of country music, few active artists boast as deep of a resume as Terri Clark. She’s had 19 charted singles, two #1s, multiple platinum records, a Grand Ole Opry membership and numerous Top 10s–feats rivaled only by her even greater level of success in her native Canada (measured in part by eight Canadian Country Music Association Fan’s Choice Entertainer of the Year awards). Clark’s songs like “Easy On The Eyes,” “Girls Lie Too,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” and “I Wanna Do It All” have left an indelible mark on the country landscape.
But three years ago, a major event in Clark’s life shifted priorities 180 degrees. At the time, Clark was recently signed to Sony/BMG and preparing what would have been the next evolution of a big country radio star’s career. When her mother was diagnosed with cancer, however, that road to fame took a U-Turn and led back home. The person closest to Terri, the one who had taken her to Nashville and changed her life so that her daughter could live out her dreams on stage, was in a fight for life.
“When the most important person in your whole life…when the doctors tell you they’re going to be taken away, it pulls you up short,” said Clark. “You don’t think about expiration dates with the people you love, but that’s the reality. And that kind of thing makes you get very real very very fast.”
And in a stunning turn of events, Clark asked for and was granted a release from one of the most powerful studio labels in the business. She went home, tended to her mother until she was healthy again, and, in the process, changed her musical priorities. Clark was filled with a new conviction–every song and every album from that point on would be on her terms and filled with music that held meaning and deep emotion for her…even if that meant giving up some (or all) of the radio smashes along the way.
What resulted was an album that is appropriately titled The Long Way Home, released late in 2009. The 9513 had a chance to speak with the lovely Ms. Clark and talk about the new album, the Canadian country music scene and even a little snow in Nashville.
KEN MORTON, JR.: This exceptionally cold Nashville winter has to be downright balmy compared to your childhood Quebec winters, doesn’t it?
TERRI CLARK: (Laughing) Absolutely. What is a way of life for us for half a year literally sends everybody into a complete state of emergency down here. Schools are shutting down. Kids are tobogganing down the middle of the street. It’s interesting to see the reaction to the cold and weather. Pipes will freeze down here because things just aren’t insulated the same way. People don’t have snow tires so it’s more of a hazard driving. They’re just not prepared for it. But, yeah, I’m pretty used to it. It reminds me of home, actually.
KMJ: You have a brand new album, titled The Long Way Home and I thought that the title was appropriate considering your journey the last two or three years. Tell me about the journey.
TC: I chose The Long Way Home as the album title because it has a metaphorical meaning as well as the fact that I’m concentrating a little more on Canada with my airplay and touring. It doesn’t by any means that I’m abandoning the U.S., because I’m doing a lot of touring there as well. But I’ve been all the way around the world since I came to Nashville when I was eighteen. And I feel like I’ve sort of come full circle–coming back to my community and that side. So, figuratively, The Long Way Home represents that to me. But it also represents that journey within me–a lot of the self-realizations and things that have become non-negotiable within myself within the last couple of years. It’s still a long journey and I’m still learning every single day working on myself. It’s been an eye-opening last couple year. Home is really inside your self. You just have to find your own way there. That’s the best thing. And it’s all reflective in my music as well.
KMJ: Speaking of the music, how would you describe the album from the artist’s perspective?
TC: I would say the album, musically, is more organic in sound. But it’s still a big band. It’s lush sounding with a full sound. I used more organic instruments. I don’t have a lot of screaming guitars. There’s a lot of mandolin. Instead of lush strings, we have more chamber strings. There’s some quartet sounds, a lot of acoustic guitar. I didn’t want it to sound like a big ole commercial record. I wanted it to sound sonically pleasant to listen to but different from what I’ve done in the past. I didn’t want to stray too far from what I’ve done in the past, but wanted it different enough to sound different.
KMJ: Was your goal of being more organic than all your previous albums attained?
TC: I think compared to everything but Fearless, yes. And on my next record, I’m going to strip it down even more. I’m going to focus even more on the acoustic elements of the instruments. I just love that sound. The stuff I listen to at home is Triple A and folk rock and more acoustic music. Less is more as I get older. I find less is more in every fashion both in music and in life. I feel the album musically is organic but not so organic as to feel not full. It’s still got horsepower where it needs to have it.
KMJ: I saw on your website that you’re already back in the studio doing some additional recording.
TC: I went in to rerecord a couple songs including one I recorded about eleven years ago called “Empty.” We did an acoustic version of that song for copyright reasons so I could pitch them to film and TV. It’s a song that I’ve always gotten a great response to all these years and I always felt like that was one that got away. We thought it could be showcased in television or film like so many different people told me it ought to be. We went in a rerecorded it and another because legally speaking, the record label I was working for owned that master. But after so long, we can go in and redo it and now the new version belongs to me. So now we’ll try to go out and get that song someplace somewhere.
KMJ: There is one full-fledged duet on the new album and a certain recognizable Country Music Hall of Famer backing you on another song. Talk to me about those songs.
TC: Johnny Reid, who is the golden boy in Canada right now–he’s doing really well there right now, did a duet with me on a song called “You Tell Me.” It’s a song that a lot of people face in relationships–when they don’t know whether to stay or go. It’s about the conversation between those people and whether they are at a turning point in their relationship. It’s very adult and very grown up. He did such a great job. He’s got such an R&B sounding voice and the two of us sounding so different really worked. And Vince Gill sang on “The One You Love.” It’s more of a guest vocal than a full-fledged duet, but Vince Gill can blend with anybody. He’s just got such great vocals.
KMJ: You mentioned Johnny Reid. You’ve been one of the few artists that has found full-fledged success on both sides of the border. Why do you think there isn’t more crossover on both sides?
TC: I think the key to that is having an American record deal. If you are on a Canadian label, it’s going to be hard to have radio airplay in the United States. I moved to Nashville when I was 18 or 19 and pursued it the other way. I knew if I could get an American record deal, it would bleed over into Canada. But a lot of Canadian artists work at just getting that Canadian record deal and unfortunately, it doesn’t work both ways over the border. Traditionally, you can cover all of North America with a U.S. record deal–actually you can cover the world that way. But in Canada, it’s more of a domestic type of success that you can have. I think that played a big role in my own success.
KMJ: You’re doing this more on your terms this time around rather than doing it on a big record label. What has that meant on this particular album?
TC: It means I have to wear more hats. (Laughing) No pun intended. I’ve got to oversee a little more. But I’ve got great business management. I’ve got a great operation and people that handle the paperwork on stuff that would normally steal away the creative energy when I’d be focused on that part of it. I had to kind of abandon some of my childhood expectations and dreams by going this route. More than likely, I’m not going to get any American radio airplay in any big way. There won’t be mainstream radio airplay any more. You need that major label budget and push to really get that airplay, unless something really strange happens. Things like being nominated for things like CMA awards are probably over. I’ve had to take some time and wrap my head around the realities of that. Those probably won’t happen any more. But that’s okay with me. When one door closes another one opens. I’ve got all the creative freedom in the world and I can do whatever I want, cut whatever songs I want to in whatever way I want to. And I can still do really well with my fan base and get satellite radio airplay and GAC play for videos and get played in Canada all day long. So I really have the best of both worlds. And I’ve got major label distribution with Capitol Nashville and BMI Canada.
KMJ: You alluded to this whole change of focus coming after your mom’s illness. How is she doing these days?
TC: She’s doing really well right now. It’s an up and down rollercoaster ride, but she’s doing well right now. She shouldn’t even be here any more according to doctors, so that’s all good. When you’re faced with something like that, it makes you regroup and re-prioritize things in your life. I have a real gift of music in being able to deliver whatever message I choose to deliver. And I can help people that way. There’s a difference you can make if you choose to.
KMJ: I’ve got two more questions for you. On your website, I saw a quote that caught my eye. You said, “People aren’t getting anything from country music the way I think people should, the way I did.” I was hoping you could expound on that a little bit.
TC: I shouldn’t say anything. What I should have said people aren’t getting the same type of thing out all the artists that I listened to like The Judds, Reba, George Jones, Haggard, classic country, Loretta, and Patsy. It was a real adult format with real adult issues. It was about tragedy. And it was about facing things like death and suicide and drinking. That is what country music meant to me–more of a lifestyle kind of music. It’s just shifted. And it doesn’t mean that it’s different in a bad way, it’s just different. What I got out of it was the learning of life by listening to it. Real life. I find that the subject matter and the material and the things that are decorating it now are a little different. It’s definitely taken on a more of a pop format feel.
KMJ: You covered it a bit with that last question, but what is country music to Terri Clark?
TC: Country music is about real life. It’s about real loss. It’s about demons. It’s about angels. It’s about life. It is a lifestyle type of music–what we face every day in life. Some of it’s good and some of it’s not. But we have to look at it all to get a true picture of it. And that’s what country music has been to me. And it’s about the people who came before me, the people that started out. It’s about the Opry members that I run into every night. They’re the ones that paved the way so a lot of it is about the history of the music to me too.
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