musicians on their own music

Brandy Clark, Country Music’s Secret Weapon, Saved Her Best Songwriting for Herself

Brandy Clark breaks down the Brandy Clark songwriting universe. Photo: Bauzen/Getty Images

Brandy Clark, one of country music’s great songwriters and behind-the-scenes collaborators, has had a hand in writing hits for Kacey Musgraves, Keith Urban, Sheryl Crow, Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Miranda Lambert, and more. But on March 6, she let the world in on an even lesser-known secret: Clark’s been keeping her best work yet to herself, for Your Life Is a Record, her third solo LP. It contains multiple “bests”: her best songwriting (see “Pawn Shop”), her best production — a classic country sound that sounds better than some actual classic country records — and the best recent use of Randy Newman. “I’ve had a lot of people talk about my songwriting, which is my bread and butter,” Clark says over the phone between shows with Tanya Tucker on CMT’s Next Women of Country Tour, “but for [people] to say that the record sounds good, that feels really good.” In honor of Your Life Is A Record, below Brandy Clark breaks down the Brandy Clark songwriting universe, from the highs and lows of her career, bouncing back from country radio, and getting inspired by Feud.

Best Brandy Clark song: “I think it’s probably ‘Hold My Hand.’ It’s my favorite song to do and I don’t ever not do it in a show. It never fails to stop a crowd. It never fails to stop me. That song, to me, is like coming home in my heart.”

Favorite song off Your Life Is A Record: “’Who You Thought I Was.’ It was something John Prine had said at the Americana Awards. He came out and everybody stood up, and they clapped for a long time, and when they finally sat down, he said, ‘Well, I’m John Prine, but I’d like to go back to being who you thought I was,’ and it struck me right away. It struck me in my own heart of wanting to be who a lot of people have thought I’ve been at times, and then it struck me as a song. I also love the production on it.”

Song you’re most proud of writing: “I’m pretty proud of a song on the new record called ‘I’ll Be the Sad Song.’ It’s such a songwriter-y song, but I’m finding that it’s also resonating with people. I’m also really proud to have written ‘Follow Your Arrow,’ which Kacey Musgraves recorded, because of what that song means to people. That song is far bigger than any of us.”

Favorite Brandy Clark lyrics: “On this new record, there’s this song called ‘Pawn Shop,’ and I love the bridge: ‘Dreams don’t die even when they’re broken / Tomorrow when that sign says ‘open’ / That guitar or that wedding band / Will start a new dream secondhand.’”

Most embarrassing Brandy Clark lyrics: “There are lyrics in that I love doing every night, but there are some that if I were to just see them on paper, like, ‘Looking to get you over that heart break humpty hump.’ If I were to just say it, not sing it… People love it and I love it, but … yeah. Looking to get you over that heart break humpty hump….”

Most bizarre review of your work you’ve read: “Probably the more stinging things are things that men have said, you know, when they’re upset that I’ve done something different musically. I remember seeing a review on ‘Girl Next Door.’ They called the song ‘disco-funk country.’ It wasn’t mean, but I was just like, “Disco funk? OK. Here we … go?’”

Weirdest inspiration for a song: “For [Your Life Is A Record’s] ‘Love is a Fire,’ I was watching the FX series about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford [Feud], and I went down this huge rabbit hole about both of them. I was up until two or three in the morning finding all this stuff on them. I found this quote by Joan Crawford saying something like ‘Love is a fire, you just don’t know if it’s going to warm you or burn you.’”

Most exciting achievement so far: “I think being nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys and getting to perform with Dwight Yoakam. I mean, that’s the best ten and a half minutes of my life so far. That, and I remember Prince coming out of the elevator when Dwight and I were getting in. I remember Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett. Their dressing rooms were next to ours. They were just chatting it up. It was really very surreal.”

Moment when you wanted to quit the most: “I didn’t want to quit, but I was pretty low when my single off of my last record [‘Love Can Go to Hell’ off Big Day in a Small Town] got pulled from country radio, and they had told me I had nothing left to work on the album. That was tough for me because, man … you put a lot into an album, and you work really hard. I’m sure that a lot of this hurt went into Your Life Is a Record. I definitely thought, ‘Okay, I played the game and went out and worked really hard on country radio,’ and I had supporters. I still have supporters. But it was definitely one of the biggest heartbreaks of my life — I was a little girl who grew up listening to country radio. I think this record, as much as it is a breakup record, part of it was what I thought my career was going to look like. I think the beautiful part of that is maybe it’s going to look better than I could have dreamed.”

Brandy Clark’s Been Saving Her Best Songwriting for Herself