Terri Clark Finds Her Musical ‘Roots and Wings’ With New Album
Last month, Terri Clark released her eighth studio album, 'Roots and Wings,' which marked the second full-length collection of songs which she produced and compiled under her own independent label. Of the album's 10 tracks, Clark co-wrote all but one, including the heart-tugging tune 'Smile,' which she penned in honor of her late mother who lost a battle with cancer last year. Taste of Country was able to catch up with Clark last week to talk bout her personal struggles, the effect it had on her songwriting and her new album, which some have called the record of her career.
Talk about your personal struggles over the past few years, including losing your mother. What kind of effect has that had on your songwriting and the new music on ‘Roots and Wings’?
I think that any personal struggles that an artist goes through, especially if you write your own music, is going to come through in what you do. It’s a way a lot of us will express ourselves. A lot of the past five years has been a real eye-opening kind of growth experience. I don’t think you really grow through all the easy things in life ... it's through the hard part.
My mom and I were extremely close, so watching her suffer like that shows you how short life is. We’re only here for a minute. There were a lot of things I started to do differently, watching my mother go through that. I realized that certain things were non-negotiable anymore. When she passed away, I lost my best friend. My singing and my songwriting and my career was always so important to her. She was always such a big part of it, that I knew I couldn’t just curl up in a ball and die and quit making music. That would have been not true to her or me. It would kind of have been spitting in the face of the dream she believed in. I’m not selling millions of records anymore, but I feel like I’m making the best music of my life because it’s the most honest music I’ve ever made. A lot of this stuff I’m writing is very personal now. I’m drawing from a lot of my own experiences and things I’ve gone through.
You wrote one of the songs on the album, ‘Smile,’ about your mother. Was it pretty difficult to write and then eventually record in the studio?
That’s something she said to me in the last week of her life. I was sitting by her bedside, and she caught me crying. I was trying to be really strong through the whole thing because I knew she was worried about her kids. I filed that away when she said that, and I started to write that song. I wrote the chorus and had a lot of it kind of ready. I hit a road block with it when I got to the melody, so I called Karyn Rochelle and said, "I need your help." We both sat there and finished the song. It was hard. We were just sitting there blinking at each other.
Then when I had to start contemplating singing it live, I sat in the kitchen and sang it by myself I don’t know how many times, and I couldn’t get through it. I thought, “I’m never going to be able to sing this in front of anybody.” Finally, once I got through the first time, it got easier. I find that I can’t make eye contact with anybody in the audience. I’ve had people who had to get up and leave in the middle of the song because they couldn’t make it through it. A lot of people can relate to that song. It’s probably the biggest impact song that I’ve ever felt on a personal audience connection level. I’ve never felt a song do that to anybody, and I’ve been doing this for a long time.
Talk about the new album and the time that went into writing and picking which songs to record.
I wrote everything on the album. A couple of the songs I’ve had around for a while. ‘Lonesome’s Last Call’ I wrote 21 years ago with Jim Rushing. It’s really traditional, and it’s one of those songs when you write it, you don’t forget you wrote. It’s always been at the forefront of my mind every time I made a new record, and I just never recorded it until now. Another song called ‘The One,’ I wrote about four or five years ago. There are a couple that have been around or a while that are on this album that I finally thought, “OK, now that I’m producing it, I’m going to cut what I want to cut!” There were a couple of songs that kind of got by me before that I was able to throw into this one. Then a bunch of songs that I wrote with [former Sugarland member] Kristen Hall, who is kind of one of my newest writing partners. We’re going to write some for the next one, too. We just have so much fun writing together.
What kind of fan feedback have you been getting about the project?
The fans love it. With the last album, there were some fans who thought some of the songs were too serious or whatever, but I have not seen one negative comment about this album anywhere. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me feel. It makes me feel good knowing I know what I’m doing [laughs]!
What are the pros and cons of running your own label?
The perks are I can decide what I want to record. I can write everything, and then pick through it. I feel that the music I’m making is better quality wise. The rough part is that nobody’s really hearing it because it’s not on a major label. It’s really hard to promote. I don’t have 50 million dollars to go do that with. I do the best I can.
Have you considered working with any new artists on the rise, as far as producing them or signing them to your label?
You know, I would if something came along. I’m not out actively looking. It’s hard enough just keeping my own career going [laughs]! Like I said, it’s a lot of work. I’m still really active in the mainstream in Canada. I’m about to go out for five weeks and tour there, and then I’m going out for another two months in the States in February and March. Then I’m going to the U.K. in June for a month and play a bunch of Canadian festivals over the summer. I’ve got to write songs and make another record in the next 18 months, so the cycle I’m in is very, very busy. I don’t know if I would have time to produce another act right now, besides just trying to keep myself with new music out there. I could see in my mid-50s or late-50s, when I’m getting on up there a little bit more and I’m not touring as much. I would totally entertain the thought of producing another artist. I don’t know about signing one to my label, but if something came along where somebody had the resources or there was a label behind them, I would definitely look at producing somebody. I think it would be fun.
Earlier this month you took home your fifth Female Vocalist of the Year trophy at the CCMAs. How does it feel to be recognized by your peers?
I hadn’t won an award at that show since I think 2007. It felt really, really good to get back up there and be able to feel the love from my peers in the industry in Canada and be recognized for the time I’m spending up there and the records I’m putting out. It was a really, really great night. It was bittersweet because it was the first award I won that my mom hasn’t been in the audience for, but I think she was there in spirit.
You’ve had successful albums, No. 1 singles and many other notable moments throughout your career. What is that one dream you still have yet to accomplish?
Well, the dream I didn’t accomplish was winning a CMA Award, and I’m not really setting out for that anymore. I think once you go independent, it sort of knocks you out of those kinds of shows. I don’t know, honest to God, that there’s anything that didn’t come to do that I haven’t done -- being an Opry member and things like that. Personal happiness, inner peace, having a life of content … that’s the kind of stuff that are my goals these days … just enjoying life. It’s really, really short. As far as career goals go, I feel that I have been really fortunate in that area, and there’s not a whole lot that I feel like I’m lacking. It’s OK to have goals and expectations. I feel so lucky to have had what I had. We don’t all have to be Reba or Tim McGraw or George Strait to feel content and happy and really blessed. I’m really fortunate, and I’m really fortunate that I have a career in Canada where my profile is a lot higher. I can go up there and get that kind of feeling, and then come back down here and go to Kroger and buy my groceries, and nobody even gives me a second look. It’s awesome [laughs]!
Watch Terri Clark Perform 'Smile'