‘Move On’ Singer Clare Dunn Isn’t Afraid of Dirty Work
Clare Dunn has a different perspective on what it's like to be a woman in country music in 2015. It's not that the "Move On" singer is dismissive of the conversation and what some are calling obstacles to success, she just wasn't raised to accept excuses, no matter how realistic they look.
"My dad is a very man’s man," she tells Taste of Country, "but he always raised my sister and I with never even a thought that we were a girl and we couldn’t do something because of it. We were better truck drivers, better tractor drivers than most of the boys around where we grew up.”
It’s dirty. It’s hot. It sucks. You’re lucky if you have an air conditioner," Dunn says. “CD player is getting highfalutin’. Radio is predominately the thing and it will maybe work in one speaker.
Dunn grew up driving combines, sorting cattle and tagging calves on a farm in small Colorado town called Two Buttes. Actually, that's not quite accurate. She grew up seven miles outside of that metropolis of 43 people near the Oklahoma panhandle. Singing came quickly and easily. She recalls performing George Strait's "Heartland" at age six. She enjoys telling the story about the time she stood up in the front seat of her mom's F-150 to belt out Clint Black's "Nobody's Home."
"Of course I was making up my own words," she recalls, offering a smile.
"Bubbly" isn't a word one would use to describe this 28-year-old. She's more Miranda Lambert than Kelsea Ballerini, but her focus is more urgent. There's this sense that she has bet it all on a career in Nashville, and that's partially true. Her family — especially her parents — sacrificed all they could so Dunn could chase this dream.
“Where I’m from, nobody gets a chance like this," she explains, recalling the emotional day in 2007 when she filled up a U-Haul truck and left for college at Nashville's Belmont University.
“We’re just farmers. We’re not wealthy people and it was so much a sacrifice … helping me be here and survive.”
On Friday (Sept. 18), their sacrifice was rewarded. The Clare Dunn EP came out, featuring the lusting single "Move On" and more tender moments like "Old Hat," a ballad about holding on to a keepsake after the death of a loved one.
“Now I got your old hat / I put on sometimes / When I wish I knew what you were doing, needing some advice / I got your old hat / And every now and then / I wear it backwards even though you hated that and I swear I can almost hear you laugh.”
“We did have a time where I thought I was gonna have to quit,” she says. “It's been a huge sacrifice and we almost lost my dad last year. He had a heart attack and I knew that if I didn’t get something going within a year after that, I just wasn’t gonna keep dragging my family through all of that. I couldn’t."
You'll have to go see Dunn live to appreciate her guitar skills. She shreds like a country Eric Clapton and looks downright mean doing it. Surprisingly, she only picked up guitar upon moving to Music City. It was an excuse to get away from a city of one million people (so it seemed), she says. Culture shock was real.
It was also the only way she knew to express herself. The result, Dunn admits, was she was something of a loner. Many of her influences (Keith Urban, for example) can relate; great talent takes great sacrifice.
“Especially when it came to guitar ... I could never explain it to anybody, how I heard it. So I’d be in the studio working with great musicians but I didn’t know the vocabulary to explain what I was hearing.”
College and a bad publishing deal came and went before Dunn signed to MCA in 2014. The years passed by, but she stayed true to that sound she'd been imagining for a decade or more. It's blues mixed with country mixed with the sweat and dirt only a family farmer who has gone through a devastating drought knows. To pay for tuition at Belmont, Dunn drove a silage truck in Texas the summer before moving away.
“It’s dirty. It’s hot. It sucks," she remembers. "You’re lucky if you have an air conditioner.”
And you're the only girl. But if you do the job right, people stop focusing on that. That seems to suit Dunn just fine.
Look for Clare Dunn on Miranda Lambert's Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars Tour, which begins on Sept. 24 in Missoula, Mont.
See Clare Dunn Shredding Stereotypes