Interview: Terri Clark

Terri Clark

Hailing from Medicine Hat, Alberta, Terri Clark got her start performing stages and talent shows in her early years. After highschool she packed up and took off for Nashville will stars in her eyes and pennies in her pockets.  Her first gig was playing for tips at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a honky-tonk bar from Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium. Here she would begin networking and impressing Nashville’s music industry. She would sign a record deal, record a bunch of hits and hit the road. Than was then. This is now; 8x CCMA Entertainer of the Year, 5x CCMA Female Vocalist of the Year award winner. She has made her mark on radio with more than twenty singles, including 6 Number Ones in Canada and the USA. Terri has sold over five million albums and achieved Gold, Platinum, Double Platinum, and Triple Platinum status as certified by the CRIA and RIAA. She also has the honor of being the only Canadian female artist to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Terri’s latest album “Some Songs” is filled with more of the sounds that have positioned her as one of Canada’s top musical exports…

Mb: Hey Terri, how are you?
Terri: Michael, nice to meet you.
Mb: How’s your day so far?
Terri: It’s good, it’s just hot as hell! I’m in Missouri today and it’s just… achhh. A lot of humidity. Thank god we’re playing inside tonight. That’s the one saving grace. I have a cottage up in Ontario and I had to leave, to fly back to Nashville to get the bus on Sunday, and realized the minute I stepped off the plane why I have a cottage in Ontario! [laughs]
Mb: Well, if you can deal with the humidity here, than it must be crazy humid there.
Terri: It’s like Africa hot. It’s a whole different kind of heat in Tennessee than Ontario where I ride down the road listening to local radio stations and hear them talk about heat index warnings. I just giggle. [laughs]
Mb: Speaking of driving down the road, looking at your website, you’ve got quite a tour ahead of you….
Terri: Ya, I know! I’m trying to build my resistence up and do this training and make sure I’m healthy going into it, especially this fall. It’s going to be really busy. But, it’s all good! There’s no place I’d rather be than playing for people. That’s what I’m here to do.
Mb: You like the stage over the studio?
Terri: I’m a road person. The aspect of live performance for me is where the big connection happens. Writing songs and recording new music is also awesome, and I always like doing that, the creative aspect of it… but actually getting to go out and see how that impacts people or has impacted their lives over the years, is the real icing on the cake for me. I feel like, I’m put on this earth to connect with people and bring joy to people and energy, you know? That’s what it is. It’s all a big exchange of energy; performing. That’s what makes the world go around.
Mb: So when you write a song you’re more anxious to perform it than record it?
Terri: Ya, I’m always thinking “How would this go live?” I try to imagine what playing that song for and audience would feel like. But, I like writing too. Some times I like to just sit down and write songs for the sake of writing. I’ve been writing a lot this year and I have no idea when I’m cutting new music. There’s no big agenda and this is like the first time in my recording career that I’ve had a “limbo” since I don’t really know what direction I’m going to go in next. Part of that is just the freedom of being… coming into a phase of my career where I’m really not looking to compete or fight for radio air-play. So, I’m sort of… I just want to make music that really matters to me, that speaks to my heart and that’s also fun and that I enjoy playing and not putting a ton of pressure on myself.
Mb: What is the process? Driving down the road and you see something and think “I’ve got to write a song about that?”
Terri: I’ve got notes on my phone a mile long with song ideas. Could be something I heard, someone says or something I said by accident. I’ve got song ideas for days. It’s just a matter of finding people to write with, that you love to co-write with or you can write it yourself. It takes a lot of discipline and time and certainly going to the gym is a work out for your brain. You’re going to be working out for an hour but when you come out you’ve got something great. It’s a really great feeling.
Mb: You writing for others as well?
Terri: I’m just writing right now and there’s a couple of things my co-writers are pitching to different artists. I would love to get some cuts from other artists. It would be icing on the cake and great if that were to happen. I’m not writing every single day like a lot of people in Nashville because I’m on the road so much but when I have time, I’m all about it. And if something happens to get cut by another artist, I’m certainly the first one to be happy about that.
Mb: Residual income!
Terri: Ya ya, mailbox money!
Mb: You have a great back-story, saving your money throughout high school and once you graduate you move to Nashville to be a singer. It’s a made for TV movie… a young Canadian woman, alone in Nashville, aspiring to be a musician…
Terri: First of all, Nashville was different in those days. I got really serious about country music and wanting to be as good as I could be, and entered a lot of local talent shows around Medicine Hat and provincially and I made it to this national talent show that the CCMA’s sponsored and got all the way there. Along the way I’ve always had a lot of encouragement from other musicians and local people that would tell my mom “You know, you really need to take her to Nashville.” That’s exactly what we did. I didn’t have a green card, I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have any money really to speak of. So I had to start from scratch playing for tips at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. The rest is history. But it took 8 years to get noticed enough for something to really start happening. It took a lot of patience. That whole “not giving up” thing came in to play. [laughs]
Mb: I think when it takes longer for an artist’s career to break, they’ll probably have a longer shelf life than the “over night success… yesterday’s news” outcome...
Terri: I think you’re right about that. It definitely instills a sense of perseverance and resilience. For me every time one door would close another would open and I would follow that opportunity. I tried out for several record labels and got turned down by every label in Nashville the first time, but I didn’t give up and I kept at it. Eventually a producer who’d heard me and believed in what I was doing wound up at a record label and that’s how I got my deal. You’ve just got to network and find people who believe in you and eventually you never know where that person is going to wind up. Maybe, in a position where they can give you a shot. That’s how it happened for me and taking as long as it did prepared me for… my career has been full of ups and downs. I had hits in the 90’s and then made a record that didn’t do well commercially and then I came back and had more hits in 2000 and then I was out of the scene for 2 or 3 years, as far as releasing new music because I was tied up on another major label in Nashville and they were putting off putting an album out so I lost that record label. Then I released a new album in Canada and “boom” I was on the radio again in Canada so…. it’s been a series of ups and downs. You never know, I may wind up on the radio again. You just don’t know. It’s something that you can’t predict. I’ve been very fortunate that i’ve ridden it out and kept going.
Mb: So you’re coming back to the Havelock Jamboree.
Terri: I am and it’s always an awesome time. I’m really excited about it. Ontario is my part time residence now so I feel like I get to go play in my backyard!