Resiliency is rewarded in the hustle of country songwriting — just ask Brandy Clark. The best new artist nominee at the 2015 Grammys was “new” in Nashville back in 1998, when the rural Washington native first moved to town with dreams of building a life in country music. However, it wasn’t until about 2009 that she started landing songs on albums; there was a five-year struggle to secure a publishing deal and no shortage of odd jobs (“I drove for a company called Kid Taxi that picked kids up from school.”)
Behind her whip-smart sophomore album Big Day in a Small Town, Clark is up for two more Grammys at this weekend’s ceremony. But don’t think Clark’s gotten used to this kind of attention each February: “I’ve never expected it and that’s probably part of why it’s happened.”
That’s not false modesty — it’s honest insight. Clark has spent almost two decades learning how sustained success actually happens, how playing the long game is playing the winning game. She leant her creative wisdom to the latest episode of the Pop Shop Podcast’s Headliner Interview, Billboard‘s weekly long-form talk with a compelling, inspirational voice in the world of music, hosted by staff writer Chris Payne.
“A lot of people think I had a lot of songwriting success and then I had the opportunity to make a record,” Clark says. “The truth is, when I got the opportunity to make a record, I hadn’t had a hit yet as a writer.” Her breakthrough was more of the all-at-once variety. Around the time her 2013 debut 12 Stories was in the works, Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” — which Clark co-wrote with Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves — was climbing the country charts, heralding her first songwriting hit. Critics loved the album and the masses knew her co-writes, even if they didn’t know the name behind them. It all coalesced into that Best New Artist nom, though the prize eventually went to Sam Smith.
At the 2017 Grammys, Big Day In a Small Town is nominated for Best Country Album and its teary-eyed single “Love Can Go To Hell” is up for Best Country Solo Performance. Will Clark’s fifth and sixth nods finally earn her a win? She’s not overly concerned, recognizing that by being nominated, the real battle’s already been won.
Check out the ‘cast above for more Brandy Clark wisdom: what it’s like to walk a Grammy red carpet, why she gets along so well with Shane and Kacey, and other songwriters poised to make their names as lead artists.