In 1995, Terri Clark hit the country music scene with her self-titled debut album, and started churning out hits like “Better Things to Do,” her debut single, which hit the Top 10 on the U.S. and Canadian charts. From there, songs like “I Just Wanna Be Mad,” her cover of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” and “Girls Lie Too,” amongst many others, solidified the Canadian native’s place as a top country artist. Over the last two decades Clark has remained a constant and consistent (not to mention distinctive) voice in country music, releasing new albums every two or three years, touring extensively, and hosting her weekend radio show, Country Gold with Terri Clark, which recently landed her a CMA nomination for Broadcast Personality of the Year. More than anything, she’s remained refreshingly authentic, true to herself, and true to her music.
This fall, the 8-time CCMA Entertainer of the Year recruited fellow Opry member, Pam Tillis, and definitive ‘90s country chart topper, Suzy Bogguss, for a collaborative tour effort Clark aptly named “Chicks with Hits.” Chicks with hits they are, and with over 400 songs to pull from their collective discography, it couldn’t have been easy to narrow down the setlist. While there are only two dates left on their 2017 schedule, fret not. Terri made sure to tell me she hopes this is something the newly formed trio can continue doing for some time. Along with the tour, we discussed her radio show, being a role model for girls who grew up feeling a little on the outside, and new music she’s expecting to release in the spring.
Your fans, first of all, are amazing. They reached out to us and were like “Make this happen,” and we were like “We’re already on it. We’re so on it.”
They’re consistent and very loyal. I’m very, very lucky.
On Vegas: When a tragedy like that happens, especially in the music community, it’s hard to wrap my mind around because music has always been where I go to feel safe. As artists, you guys have an understanding of that, so when something like that happens, what goes through your mind?
Because I’m an artist, and also because I’m managed by the same person who manages Jason [Aldean] I woke up to — I slept in, which I never do, until, like, 11 that Monday morning because I’d just come off the road — and I woke up and looked at my email through blurry eyes, still waking up, and I saw this email chain that went from Reba to Darius Rucker, to Ronnie Dunn and the Rascal Flatts guys, and I was on the chain, and the subject line was “Jason Aldean,” so of course, I thought something had happened to Jason. Then I turned the news on and was just in disbelief. I couldn’t believe it. I played several festivals this past summer that were big like that, and it’s just a tragic loss of life, and it’s another attempt at stripping the innocence from humanity and trying to take what’s supposed to be a joyful, loving, free environment and turn it into something like that — a massacre. There are no words. It made us all rethink everything. The fact that we lost so many, and so many people are going to be living with injuries from this for the rest of their lives.
I have a show tonight, and it’s the first show since this happened, and I’m not in a huge venue, but of course I’ve thought about it. These people are walking into schools and churches, and it makes you thoughtful. You don’t want to be in fear when you’re reaching out to people and wanting to connect through music and make a positive difference in their lives. That’s just not what you want on your mind. But we have to prevail. If we let fear take us over and stop what we’re doing, then they win, and we don’t want that to happen.
You were featured in Holly Gleason’s book Woman Walk the Line: How Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives. Amy McCarthy wrote the essay about her admiration for you. When you read or hear something like that — that you inspired someone on a such a level that really helped them to become themselves, how does that make you feel?
Oh my gosh. First of all, it’s very flattering. When you look at the women who are represented in that book, they’re all pretty powerful women in different ways, and the fact that I was even included in that company — I was kind of surprised, and very honored. It just made me feel, after reading it, that all those years of questioning, you know — I wear a cowboy hat and boots and jeans, and I have a more boisterous image and persona — very against the grain of what women were and are doing in country music, even today. The chances I took by forging my own path, and there were always questions along the way like, “Would this have happened if I had conformed more?” When I read something like that, I realize this is exactly as it was supposed to be because I’ve represented something to a lot of girls who feel like they may be cut from a different cloth and not afraid to express who they are in their individuality and who they are is their unique self because there’s only one of each of us. What I get from that is that I did something right in that arena.
It’s interesting, too, because I never looked at you growing up and assumed you might be someone who felt like an outsider in your genre, but you did make those decisions to sort of stand out. Looking back, were those decisions met with any sort of resistance, or were you able to do your own thing without much debate?
The label was always pretty good. I have to hand it to them. You know, they were good about letting me dictate a lot of what I was going to wear. It was a comfort level, too. They didn’t push too hard. They wanted shots without the hat; they were always sort of nudging me after the first album to expand that a little bit, which I did, but I posed for an album cover without my hat on and all heard from people was “Where’s your hat?” I think it’s a trademark and it’s a brand. A lot of people don’t have that. They don’t have this distinguishing thing that sets them apart. The hat is just one of those things that does, and I still wear it. I’m comfortable in it. I don’t have to do my hair. I mean, there are a million reasons to wear it.
I don’t think I would recognize you without your hat, to be honest.
I operate very well in society under the radar. Trust me, I go to large events all the time. I went to a Green Bay game a few weeks ago, and I know I was walking amongst my fans in the tailgate area because they all go to Hodag [Country Music Festival in Wisconsin], and they’re singing to all the songs. Those are the people going to country festivals, and I’m just walking past all of them, and they don’t even flinch. If I was wearing the cowboy hat, it would have been a different scenario, I think. It’s kind of a disguise in and of itself when I don’t wear it.
There’s this trend we’ve been discussing lately in country music that has been referred to as “bro country,” and thinking about it, my age group came up in this era where women were really dominate in country music, and that’s not happening as much now.
There are women making music that plugs into that. I don’t think it’s the norm right now. I think it’s the exception more than the rule, but it used to be the rule. We would have our odd novelty ditties, and I was responsible for a number of those myself [laughs], but the songs that really hit home with people and make for long careers are the ones that have those really meaty messages and lyrics, for the most part. There are songs out there that really hit home still with people and have an emotional element to them, so I think there’s — you just have to cherry pick it these days because they’re a little harder to find.
There’s a million ways to find it now, too. You and Holly Gleason spoke in your podcast about this lack of connection we have now due to technology and, of course, technology has played a huge role in how music is consumed. What are your thoughts on how technology has shaped this modern era of music?
It helps artists who are either up and coming, or artists who don’t have major label deals anymore, like myself, really get their music out to people. I’m lucky I already have a solid fanbase, and it helps to keep them engaged and let them know I’m still out here doing what I’m doing. Of course, you’re going to get the odd person here and there who pops up Facebook and is like, “Where have you been? I haven’t heard of you in years!” Well, I’ve been out here making records and touring my ass off this whole time, but if they don’t hear you on the radio, they assume you’ve floated away to some island or something. But, yea, it does help you stay engaged and connected to your fans.
When Some Songs came out in 2014, I was admittedly that person who was like, “Terri Clark! Where has she been?” but it was such a sigh of relief, too, to know you had never gone away, and you still sounded like you, and now I’m all caught up on your discography.
Someone actually did their homework! Amazing. That’s rare. I’m coming out with new stuff next year. There’s more where that came from.
That was my next question.
I’m in the studio right now. I don’t know if this is going to be a full album or an EP. We haven’t quite decided, but yea, it’s coming together. I’m going in this month to continue working on it, and then after the holidays, then get it mixed in February, so I can get it out next spring. No idea — I’m producing this myself, but I’m working with the same guy who did the arrangements on the Fearless record, which is my favorite record I’ve ever made. We have some really fun musical moments on it. I wrote everything on it. Everything is mine. I’ve co-written a bunch with Erin Enderlin who I think is fantastic. She has an album out right now, and she’s getting a lot of attention. She’s a great, young singer-songwriter in town — I mean, maybe not so young anymore, but she’s mid-30s and I consider that young compared to me.
I’ve been writing with some different people this time around. I wrote with Gabe Dixon and Maia Sharp and Garrison Starr — some people who are not country. I’m really happy with it. It’s all me, it’s from my heart. Every song comes from a very authentic place, and it’s some of my favorite stuff that I’ve done in years. I’m very excited to get it finished and out there.
You don’t always get the “I wrote this, and I’m also producing it” from artists. Are those two processes really different for you, or are they more cohesive?
It is cohesive because, honest to God, when I’m writing the songs, I’m getting ideas for production in my head as I’m writing it. When you’re working with a great bandleader and arranger like Stewart Smith, who’s responsible for signature licks on songs like “Seven Year Ache” and “No One Else On Earth” and “Sunny Came Home,” it’s just magic. And we have just a fantastic band. My bandleader on the road, Chris Cottros, my guitarist on the road, he’s playing with me on this stuff, so that’s a first, too — having someone from my live band playing on the studio stuff, and we had such a great time. There’s a couple of songs on this one that really mean a lot to me.
You’re on tour right now. You’re playing some solo shows, and then you’re out with Pam Tillis and Suzy Bogguss, as well.
I do three types of touring. I do solo shows, which is just me for 90 minutes, and my stories and songs, and then I do band shows, which are electrified and high energy, and then, I put together this thing with Pam and Suzy called “Chicks with Hits.” You have to diversify. Like a business portfolio. I’ve been out here for 22 years doing this, and I’m still drawing fine by myself, but I think if you want to get into some of these bigger places and bigger rooms, you have to get some reinforcements around you, and some people who will bring a fresh audience to you and vice versa. That’s what we’re going to do. There will be a Pam Tillis fan out there who has never come to a Terri Clark show, who will get all three of us. There will be a fan of mine who will hear Suzy’s songs and lose their mind. I think it’s a really nice combination.
And, you know, there are not a lot of women being played on the radio these days. To go to a show for two hours to hear female music and women singing songs about real life and authentic things and heartache and fame and divorce and being strong, and pulling yourself back up and having the right to be angry when you want to. And it’s going to be 90 minutes of hit after hit after hit. That is hard to find right now anywhere, and the variety because we’re all different artists. We all like each other, and we have a good time, so the banter is going to be half the show. All of us joking with each other. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
How did you guys decide that y’all were going to do this tour together?
I started thinking about it about a year and half ago and trying to figure out who would be a good combination for something like this, and we got it all narrowed down to Pam and Suzy, and they wanted to do it. It kind of snowballed from there. There have been a lot of meetings, a lot of preparations, we’ve done a lot of rehearsing. We’re playing and singing on each other’s music. There’s three-part harmonies. There’s accompaniment.
It’s such a cool thing to see, too, when we’re in this time of social media, and just media in general, where women are compared to each other constantly, and y’all are up there, each a successful artist, not competing. Just having a good time.
I think Suzy, Pam, and I competed for so long to stay at the top of the charts, and we’re at a point in our careers now where we’re really just wanting to have a great time and have musical integrity. It’s not about chasing something or competing with each other as it is about being the best that we can be. Being the best we can be as a unit on stage and giving people their money’s worth, and growing this thing. I would like this combination to work for several years.
That reminds me of Trio — with Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt, and that was magic. Those harmonies!
I think we’re all most excited about harmony singing, rather than singing our own songs. We’ve been singing our own songs for so long, and I love singing harmony, and so do Suzy and Pam. We’re super excited about harmony.
Did you come up with the name of the tour?
[Laughs] Yea, that was me. I mean, the concept has been out there. I’m not going to say I came up with these great concepts, but I had the idea of taking the concept and making it an all female power hour kind of thing. Just one hit after the next. Just nostalgia, and people who come — I know our audience is going to be probably 80 percent women who drag their husbands along. It’s gonna be a lot of estrogen in the building.
I want to talk about your radio show as well.
Country Gold with Terri Clark. It’s great. It started as a morning show, and after a year and a half of doing the morning shows, this seems so much easier. We tape it, and it’s a four hour show that runs on weekends on over 130 stations. It’s focused on ‘90s country. Some ‘80s country. I interview a lot of people from backstage at the Opry. They come to the radio station and interview. Sometimes I just grab my mic at shows I’m doing with people and go back to the dressing rooms and interview them. There’s also a podcast that’s linked to my website of unedited interviews. I’m really enjoying doing this. I’m passionate about the music, the era, and the artists.
The show was nominated for a CMA, as well.
Yes! I could not believe it. I thought those days were over for me. Waking up to the news that I was nominated as National Broadcast Personality was really pretty amazing. It felt great to be included in that category with those folks.
What was your first concert?
Glen Campbell…or Johnny Cash. I’m trying to remember which one came first.
What was your first favorite album?
Love is Fair, Barbara Mandrell
What is your favorite album right now?
Iron & Wine’s Epic Beast, believe it or not.
Three music heroes?
Reba McEntire, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline
For more of Terri’s upcoming tour dates, visit: www.terriclark.com