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BRANDY CLARK: A BLACK BELT IN THE REAL

Unlikely is a good word for Brandy Clark, the Washington state-born songwriter, who found herself nominated for Best New Artist and Best Country Album at the 2015 Grammys with a little album that was basically self-released. But 12 Stories, which landed on scads of critics' best-of lists, led the brunette with the billion-dollar smile a deal at Warner Burbank—and her second Best Country Album nomination for Big Day In A Small Town. She’s written seminal hits from Miranda Lambert (“Not Your Mama’s Broken Heart”), The Band Perry (“Better Dig Two”) and Kacey Musgraves (“Follow Your Arrow”), but the small-town margin dwellers in her songs come most to life when Clark sings them back home herself. Whether it’s the sick of it woman wishing karma on a love ’em and leave ’em Lothario (“Daughter”), the former golden girl (“Homecoming Queen”) or the single mom making due with no help from a deadbeat dad (“Three Kids, No Husband”), the power songwriter, whose first concert was Ronnie Milsap at the Puyallup Fair and who got her start playing fairs with a group called “no kidding, Sagebrush & Satin,”  offers a real life girl power that would make Loretta proud. So much so, that outlier to the main fray of country radio, has received an ACM Top New Female Vocalist nod for this year’s awards at The 52nd Academy of Country Music Awards from Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.

At a time when country is more pop, and more crossover than it’s ever been, you seem determined to ground in country music. How country are you?
Well, we didn’t have TV the first five years I was alive. We were so far out in the country, the cable didn’t reach that far out. All we had was records, and playing music—and I remember an avocado refrigerator with a sticker for (Ronnie Milsap’s) Lost in the Fifties, back when stickers were fabric and it was frayed along the edges.

And your family?
Well, my Dad loved Alabama, those years of “Love in the First Degree” and “Fire in the Night.” My Mom moved Dolly and Linda and Emmylou, before there was a Trio, and kd lang, Alison Krauss—just really good stuff. And I remember riding around in my grandmother’s car listening to Boxcar Willie 8-tracks.

Now that’s country.
Oh, yeah. I always say that’s who I am. The more mainstream elements come from my co-writers and what they bring in. Things like “Drinking Smoking Cheating”? That’s the stuff.

You talk about influences like Loretta Lynn instead of Carrie Underwood, or Shania Twain. It’s a different place to start from.
I love her, and yes. I really relate to her. My Daddy was a logger, which is like working in the mines where we’re from. Both of our Dads died in work-related accidents. And her songs are about people who are real. 

You seem to have a black belt in the flawed real of people.
There really aren’t a lot of head cheerleaders or football stars. I’m a good girl, which may be why I’m drawn to bad girls. But I think they’re misunderstood, because most people are a lot of both. Give me the misfits. They’re the best people and the most interesting. They’ve been the other, so they know about not fitting in. Their exterior is a little rougher, but the interior is smoother, ‘cause they’ve been rubbed hard and understand things.

Your heroines can be bitchy, a little sad or spunky. And they don’t always get the Hallmark ending. 
Some stories don’t have happy endings; they just end. 

Like “Three Kids No Husband”?
I had no idea when I wrote that, I was just trying to do the best I could. I didn’t realize what it was until we recorded it. Then I played it live and got a standing ovation, and it hit me. You can’t say "I’m gonna write something and make people feel that way." You can only be true to what the song needs.

I think about those Dolly and Milsap and Loretta records, and what they meant to me. You can’t decide to do that; you can only hope your songs might mean that to someone else.

What do people say?
[Laughs] The most surprising is “How did you read my diary?” Or somebody cries over it, you look out and see it. Or the ones who say, “You don’t know what your music means to me.” And the oddest are the older men, who’ve seen me on Imus. I wouldn’t have thought that, but they’ll say, “Since I’ve saw you, I’ve bought everything you’ve done.”

And you almost didn’t do this.
I’d met some of my favorite co-writers, Shane (McAnally) and Jessi Jo (Dillon), who both loved my voice. It was back when Gretchen Wilson was all the deal, and people’d say, “Don’t have Brandy sing the demos, she sounds too Trisha (Yearwood).’ My friends were getting record deals, and I noticed they had to focus on stuff I didn’t care about, aesthetic stuff, getting their hair done. So, there was a time I didn’t want it any more.

Then what happened?
Jessi Jo and Shane were like, “Well, who else is gonna sing’em?” And [first manager] Emily Marchand asked if I wanted to make a record. And with a snap of a finger, I was dreaming that dream again.

THEY'RE NO
JUAN SOTO
KD and Kyrie got nothin' on these two ballers. (8/16a)
GRAMMY CHEW: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT BRUNO
Giving Encanto its due. (8/16a)
HITS LIST, YUP
They're the cat's meow. (8/16a)
ON THE COVER:
MO OSTIN
The greatest (8/16a)
WE'RE SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, BUT WE JUST HAD TO TELL YOU
Oh, no, not again. (8/12a)
GRAMMY SEASON
New categories! New rules! New WTF!
THE BIG DEAL
It's the one you didn't see coming.
RAID AT MAR-A-LAGO
"Who took my passports?"
HITS' 36TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL
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