"Ain't we all the stars playing the leading part in our own soap opera?" Brandy Clark belts out that question to kick off Big Day in a Small Town, positing the premise of not just the opening track ("Soap Opera"), but all 10 songs that follow it. The towns that anchor Clark's new album may be small enough to warrant only a single blinking light, but the lives lived in them are anything but... and neither are the hopes and dreams that rise from their backroads and bedrooms.
When you grow up in a small town, oftentimes, your dreams are all you have. Whether it's to become a football star or a father, a homecoming queen or a hairdresser, your dreams might be the only thing that keeps you going. For Clark, the dream she harbored in her small hometown of Morton, Washington, was to be a country singer. Sure, once she moved to Nashville, she had successful cuts as a songwriter [The Band Perry's "Better Dig Two," Miranda Lambert's "Mama's Broken Heart," and Kacey Musgraves' "Follow Your Arrow" which won the CMA Song of the Year Award in 2014], but being an artist in her own right was a dream she had stopped dreaming until three years ago when her first album, the stunning 12 Stories, debuted.
At the time, it was a passion project, more than anything... a passion project that went on to become a GRAMMY- and CMA-nominated release that topped a myriad of "Best Albums of 2013" lists; earn her opening slots on tours with Eric Church, Jennifer Nettles, and Alan Jackson; land her performances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show , Good Morning America, The Late Show with David Letterman, and a much-talked about collaboration with Dwight Yoakam on the 2015 GRAMMY Awards in recognition of her nomination in the all-genre Best New Artist category; and win her a Warner Bros. Records deal. Now, as she gears up for her sophomore set, the alternately feisty and poignant Big Day in a Small Town, Clark has much higher hopes.
While the lyrical themes echo those of 12 Stories, Clark pushed her vocal and musical boundaries on Big Day in a Small Town. Instead of building the songs from a simple guitar/vocal performance, Joyce brought the players in for five days of rehearsals before tracking live with the band. "A lot of those rehearsals became what the record was," Clark says, explaining that the recorded version of "You Can Come Over" includes her one-take, scratch vocal. "I wanted to fix a few things, but Jay wouldn't let me because he felt like it would lose emotion. He's about the heart of music. He's not about making it perfect."
"He is out to serve the artist and the song," she adds. Throughout the process, Joyce insisted that this be a "Brandy Clark record" not a "Jay Joyce record" because she was the one who would be performing it night-after-night even as he moved on to his next project. "If I didn't like something, he'd be the first person to change it. I think this project means nearly as much to him as it does to me."
Clark is part of a new vanguard in country music — one that tips a hat to tradition, while not eschewing its evolution. "I see what's happening right now and I feel this groundswell of people who love... I would say 'country' music, but I'll take it a step further and say 'real' music. I feel like there are people who are starved for that," she says. "The only music I've ever made is country music. The only music I've ever really listened to consistently is country music. And I want to keep that alive, so there's a responsibility in that, for me."
But, for Brandy Clark, that responsibility is a dream come true.