Terri Clark: Raw Nerve

Web-exclusive outtakes from our recent conversation with Terri.

In the Sept. 7 issue of Country Weekly you’ll find our in-depth article about Terri Clark, who discusses the ways in which the challenges of her personal life over the last several years are reflected on her new The Long Way Home album. Presented exclusively, here's more of our discussion.

CW
What reaction have you heard about the first single from The Long Way Home, “Gypsy Boots”?
TC
There’s something people are really buying into about the vibe of that song. It’s not just about being a musician, it’s about a lifestyle. I’ve been playing the song live acoustic for two years, and people go up to the [merchandise] stand and ask where they can buy it. If people are willing to plunk down hard-earned cash for a song, you know you’ve got something people are connecting with. It seemed like an obvious choice for a first single because it had already been a tried-and-true success on the road. You can really read your audience if you test-drive things like that on them.
CW
It’s a very personal album. Were you nervous about sharing it with fans?
TC
There is a certain amount of trepidation that goes along with that, but I know my truth and what I’m willing to put out there. That said, I don’t want my truth necessarily to be someone else’s reality when they hear a song. That’s one beauty in music, is that people can take that song and hear whatever pertains to their life at the time and take what they need and find their own story in it. Telling too much of my own personal story may not leave it as open for everybody else’s interpretation.
CW
How did you make the decision to leave BNA Records, part of the Sony conglomerate, and go independent?
TC
I had been writing songs all along, looking for the magic song. I’m told, “We need to find the song,” but none of my songs seemed to be the song we were needing. So I’m stockpiling all these songs as a writer. But I wanted to give it the best chance I could, because [Sony Nashville chairman] Joe Galante was so gracious with me from the beginning. We released “Dirty Girl” and “In My Next Life,” and they did well in Canada, but they didn’t do so well in the States. We were all standing around scratching our heads. That head-scratching went on and on and on and on. With every week that went by, that we were trying to figure out what we needed to have a successful single to drive sales enough to get this album out, the music business was changing. It changes on a daily basis. The model for what worked at radio was changing. I found myself like a hamster on a wheel.
After we had recorded probably 18 songs for an album that clearly wasn’t coming out, I went to my manager and said, “I’m really frustrated.” He said, “They’re not giving up on you if you want to go in and cut a couple more.” I said, “I really don’t. I want to ask off the label. This is getting ridiculous.” He said, “Do you want me to line up a meeting with Joe [Galante] through his secretary?” I said, “No, I’ve got a meeting with Joe in 20 minutes. I’ve already lined it up.” [laughs] I sat down with Joe—no managers, no secretaries, no other people, just human being to human being. Joe has always been such an artist’s advocate. He got it, totally. He said, “You’re a writer, you’re an artist. I know it’s frustrating to you, it’s frustrating to us. Things didn’t happen the way we were all hoping we would. Go, fly, be free, do your record. Do your own thing and you’ll be a lot happier.” So we parted ways very amicably. He even allowed me the rights to re-record some of the songs that I had written that were on an album that never came out, and I did. I don’t regret the experience. [While on BNA] I got to work with Garth Fundis, who’s a legendary producer. I got to learn a lot from him, as I have with every producer I’ve worked with.
CW
What was it like recording the new album without a label’s input?
TC
I’m in charge of what I’m cutting. It’s coming out of my pocket, I paid for the whole thing myself, so I was my own boss. I got to do what I wanted to do. I knew who to hire—I knew my favorite musicians, and who to get in there that could really make it work and play in a way that the song called for. The first thing I said to them was, “Don’t try to do anything, just play what you feel.” These are guys I’ve worked with in the studio for 14 years, so they can almost read my mind when I say, “I want this to sound like this kind of vibe.” I feel like I’ve learned to communicate the sound I’m hearing in my head, and the players are able to bring it to life. I didn’t put any constraints on it. There were no rules, and it felt great. I wanted it to sound authentic and real, because that’s where the songs were coming from. A lot of the session players came to me afterward and said, “I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun playing on a session.” There was no tension. They were allowed to create. They’re all artists in their own right, and they created something wonderful. We all squeezed into Studio B at Sound Emporium, which is a fairly small studio to track in. Garth Fundis owns the studio and gave me a great rate knowing I was spearheading this financially myself. He and I had been through the whole rollercoaster ride together with the record that never came out. We bonded in that way. Eight musicians crammed in there and sweated it out. We cut everything in two days. I think there’s something to be said for not overthinking.
CW
Even so, there’s still plenty of stuff that’s very accessible and radio-friendly.
TC
There are still some commercial aspects to it, because that’s what I’ve done for the last 14 years. There probably always will be, because I grew up in that world and learned in that world and developed as an artist in that world. I didn’t want a polished-sounding record, but I also didn’t want it to sound like we just threw it at the wall to see what would stick.
CW
Are you more hands-on with other business and technical matters now?
TC
Oh, absolutely. I’m approving every letter of the artwork, every photo. I’m getting 10 times more business e-mails every day than I got before. Every little detail is run by me now, whereas before there was less of that. I’ve had to think about union paperwork, making sure AFTRA [American Federation of Television and Radio Artists] dues are paid. You’ve got to clear publishing with every co-writer on the album. That’s a lot of work that you don’t have to worry about when you’re on a major label. They take care of all that. Every radio interview, every print interview, every time I talk about the record I’m doing it because it’s my baby. It’s such a labor of love that I’m happy to do that stuff now. When you’re on a major label a lot of artists are begrudgingly like, “Oh god, I have to do more radio interviews.” I’m like, “Bring ‘em on! I’ll do ‘em!” There’s more pride of ownership. I’ve tried to be as responsible as I can financially and watched my bottom line for the last 14 years, so it’s not so much about making a bunch of money. Now it’s about, I want to tell the truth. I want to be honest. I want to make music that comes first and matters to me. Recording quality material instead of . . . just what I think is going to get the most bang for my buck. I’m not saying that’s what people do, or whatever, but I had to really think about what I was recording and why I was recording it, and look at every reason I wanted to put a song on this record instead of, “I’m gonna put this song on the record because it’s three minutes and 25 seconds long and it has a hooky chorus.”
CW
One thing that shaped the album is the fact that your mother has been battling cancer for some time. How is she doing?
TC
Right now my mom is doing fantastic. Cancer is a very tricky disease. She has done everything she needs to do. She’s following a holistic program with nutrition and supplements and things that have proven to do very well with cancer patients. God is providing all these tools that she needs to stay with us. She gives it all to God, and takes it one a day at a time.
CW
One song in particular on the new album, “The One You Love,” sounded as if it were inspired by your mother’s illness. But I understand that you wrote it several years ago, before she was ever diagnosed.
TC
It was almost like foreshadowing when I wrote a couple of these songs. It was almost like the universe or God was speaking to me and trying to prepare me for something to come, and I didn’t know it at the time. I remember three or four months before my mom got diagnosed with cancer the first time, I had the most impending-doom feeling. I started crying, and I cried and I cried and I cried. She said, “What on earth is wrong?” I said, “I’m just so afraid of anything ever happening to you.” I think about that quite often, because four months later she was diagnosed with a tumor in her abdomen. I think we are connected psychically or spiritually to something bigger. We don’t always tap into it, but I think there are certain things that we do tap into. “The One You Love” means so much more to me now. It definitely takes on a new tone for me. I can’t tell you the comments I hear about this song. It’s amazing how many people are going through what I’m going through now—with their parents, brothers, sisters, friends, whatever. You’re not ever told that the person you care the most about has an expiration date. Then when you are told, it does something to you. It’ll turn your world upside down. In my life, I’ve always been the make-it-OK person. I’m going to make it OK for everybody. If somebody’s in a bad mood, I want to fix it. If somebody’s not feeling good, I want to fix it. Part of my joy about being a performer is being able to make people happy. I mean, jeez, what better fix for a people pleaser? [laughs]
CW
Vince Gill’s harmony vocal adds quite a lot to “The One You Love.”
TC
Having him on this song makes all the difference in the world. It really jumps out now. Vince is an amazing man. He’s always the first one to raise his hand and help out a peer in the music business. He’ll always come and sing or play or do whatever he can. He’s just a giving person. He’s a really good human being, and enormously talented.
CW
“You Tell Me” is a duet with Johnny Reid, who’s well known in Canada but not so much in the States. What can you tell us about him?
TC
He’s like the Joe Cocker, Ray Charles country guy. A lot of his roots come from soul and R&B, but lyrically he leans more toward country values. I thought it would be neat to do a duet. I’d never done a real duet with anybody. This song I wrote with Gary Burr 10 years ago. I’ve always loved the song, I’ve pitched it to every producer I’ve worked with and every time it’s been like, “What a great song. . . . but I don’t know about it for this album.” So finally I’m like, dammit, now that I’m the producer I’m cutting the song! [laughs] It wasn’t written as a duet, which is ironic, but I could totally hear it that way. I could hear this conversation going back and forth. Our voices are very, very different, and I think that’s what makes it work. I’m excited about it. It’s such an adult song. It’s so grown up. It’s about, how many people get to the point in their long-term relationship where there’s no spark anymore? It’s like, you’re not in love and you don’t hate them either. Things become complacent. “What do we do? What’s the next step?”
CW
Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
TC
I’d love to make a classics record at some point, full of old, more obscure songs from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s that haven’t been covered by anybody. I love to sing old country. That’s where my family tree is.
CW
What are your plans for the fall?
TC
This fall I’m doing a big tour in Canada. It starts Oct. 19 and goes through Nov. 24. Twenty-five shows in 30 days. I’m going to need a lot of sleep and lot of water. It’s going to be very busy and very productive. If I can get through it without getting sick or losing my voice I’ll be happy. So far everything is selling out, so it’s looking pretty good.

For more from Terri, go to the Sept. 7 issue of Country Weekly.

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