Ashley Clark on Making Debut EP With Mutt Lange: 'He Pushes You Until He Gets What He Wants'

I.R.S. Nashville
Ashley Clark

It was seven words Ashley Clark will never forget: "Mutt Lange wants to talk to you."

They came from Clark's manager, Simon Fuller. In a recent interview with Billboard, the singer -- once part of the group the Clark Family Experience -- said when you get a call like that, there's only one course of action.

"You just go," he said, admitting that he was in the process of recording tracks with his brothers when he got the call. "All of this solo thing was pretty much from him. He's given me such a chance, and I don't want to let him down. I flew out to Los Angeles, and we met."

Clark and the legendary producer struck up a conversation that stretched almost to the next day. "We started talking, and it was like we knew each other for years. We talked for about eight hours about God, belief systems, AC/DC and bluegrass -- you name it. We just lost track of time. Next thing I know, I was going down to the Bahamas to record with him."

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The resulting EP, Greyhound, is the first record Lange has cut with a new artist in more than two decades. (Of course, that last project was ex-wife Shania Twain's sophomore album, The Woman in Me.)

Clark says working with Lange, who has also been behind projects from Def Leppard and Bryan Adams (among many others) is something he's always dreamed of. "You can't believe it. It's an overwhelming feeling. Just to go meet with him is so amazing because he's so private. He doesn't like pictures or being in the spotlight. It's weird now because we're friends," he admits. "Sometimes, I forget he's Mutt Lange."

When Lange gave direction in the studio, Clark wasted no time in heeding his advice. "I did whatever he wanted. He would want me to sing higher, and over and over. He would point to his heart and say, 'I want to feel it right here.' He pushes you until he gets what he wants."

When the two cut the EP, Clark didn't going to miss the opportunity to learn some musical history from the man who was part of it. "One of the first questions I asked him was who came up with guitar riff on [AC/DC's] 'Back in Black,' and he'd say, 'That was Angus [Young]. He brought in a tape, we listened to it, and said, "Yeah, that will do. That's good."' Everything was so laid-back in the Bahamas. There's no concept of time, and we would just tell stories all the time. I'd ask all these questions. He's a walking encyclopedia of rock history."

Of the five songs on the EP, the lead single and title cut is the only one Clark didn't pen with Lange. In fact, it's been around for a while. "'Greyhound' is a song I wrote about seven years ago with my brother. I never thought it would see the light of day. On the demo, my brother was beatboxing, and I was singing into the phone. But I always thought if a producer heard it, we might be able to do something with it. I played it for [Mutt], and he listened and turned it off and exclaimed, 'We absolutely must record this one.' We cut it, and he turned it into a masterpiece."

Making his initial radio tour as a solo artist, Clark says he's grateful for the programmers who are familiar with his past musical life. "Just about all of them will say, 'Oh, the Clark Family Experience! You came here about 15 years ago!' It's a good thing that they remember. Those were crazy times." The six-brother band was signed to Curb and charted four songs from 2000-02, including their debut single, "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch," which peaked at No. 18.

Clark -- who has also played in the bands of Carrie Underwood, James Otto and SHeDAISY -- admits that it's taken some time to get used to being a solo artist. "Now, the focus is just on me," he says. "I can't look to anyone else onstage. We were doing a radio stop, and I look over at the guitar player and ask, 'What do you want to do next?' He would say, 'I don't know. You're the guy.' I'm still learning the ropes, but I've been onstage long enough to have a good idea of what to do."