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CALLISTA CLARK: 17 WITH A BULLET

At 17, Callista Clark has it all. Classic beauty, a voice of power and nuance, the ability to write about youth with the insight of another onetime teenage-ninja songwriter—Taylor Swift. Regularly racking up 30 million+ views on her socials, the Zebulon, Ga., native caught the attention of Scooter Braun at 13, gestated for a few years and emerged as a young woman whose self-definition allows her to recognize shallow boys and her own advanced state of being with a shimmering hook that’ll last for days.

“It’s ’Cause I Am” juxtaposes self-knowledge against a clueless guy, owning her awesomeness and brushing him off with a good groove and a muscular vocal. The video—showing Clark as a punk, a ’60s mod and a mermaid throwing down on bass, acoustic and electric guitar—paints a picture of a no-mess girl with a sense of humor.

When she sold out Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta at 14, Clark’s affinity for connecting with people seemed innate and predestined. Since that auspicious beginning, she’s evolved into a supremely self-assured artist who’s delivered her 2021 debut EP Real to Me (Big Machine) with humor and an unvarnished truth about how things feel at 17.

Your writing is smart.
I feel like it’s good to have an old soul. I know I can learn from anyone, anytime.

You’re writing with some ballers—Laura Veltz, Chris Destafano, Jonathan Singleton. Something tells me you hold your own.
I do write with some baller writers, but I make sure I have a couple ideas when I go in. I want to have a sense of how I want it to sound.

You really rock that bass in the video. How many instruments do you play?
I play seven or eight. I started on ukulele at 10, then acoustic guitar at 11. That’s when I began writing songs. My mom taught me some basic piano chords—and I got a bass guitar a year ago. It’s my favorite instrument.

In the video, you’re throwing down. What else?
During quarantine, I got a keytar, a six-string banjo and a new electric guitar.

Keytar? Wow.
It’s so cool. Lady Gaga plays the keytar. When I saw her playing it in her documentary, I wanted one.

Playing is a big part for you.
I remember playing “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin; I was 11 years old. I was so angry, and my eyebrows were furrowed. But I was very serious and just playing so hard.

Who else influenced you?
Michael Jackson, ’80s and ‘90s country, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Motown, Eva Cassidy.

Eva Cassidy?
My mom listened to her all the time. Eva did a lot of covers, and she was so delicate and careful with how she did them. Just in the right places, the way she phrased things and where she placed the emphasis. She’d pull them back to the root with just one instrument.

You have that laser-beam insight Taylor has. Is she an influence?
Huge. Probably the greatest of all time. Whether they came before or after, I think people agree.

How old were you when you found her?
The very beginning: “Our Song,” “Tim McGraw.” I was a little girl doing karaoke, singing “Our Song.”

Is there anyone you’d love to duet with?
If it’s anyone, Adele. She’s some kind of powerhouse, and the harmonies! If it’s country, either Ingrid Andress or Dan + Shay. With Ingrid, something slower and very lyric-based, because I love how honest she is. For Dan + Shay, something fun and upbeat; he’s an incredible singer. I don’t know how he does it.

Attracting Scooter Braun was massive.
When I was 13, I’d posted a Facebook singing [Creedence Clearwater Revival’s] “Who’ll Stop the Rain.” Allison Kaye reached out, and my mom recognized her name and email. Scooter flew us out to meet him the next week.

That’s amazing.
They wanted to make sure I stayed close to my family. I was so young, but they’re like a family. They stressed that they wanted me to grow up and figure out who I was as a person—they actually considered that. It [eventually] let me write something I’m feeling, to be honest no matter what it is.

I remember hearing songs where I’d go, “Hey, that’s me—I know that feeling.” Whenever that happened, I always felt so heard and understood. That’s what you’re hoping to do. “Real to Me” is my favorite, because no matter your age, it’s something I think people feel. That’s why I called the EP that.

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