Sons of Sylvia Get the Chance to ‘Play On’ as Sibling Trio
Ten years ago, a band of six brothers called the Clark Family Experience made a splash debut on the country music scene with their Top 20 hit, 'Meanwhile Back at the Ranch.' They would chart a total of four singles from their self-titled album before disbanding a couple of years later to explore individual musical paths.
Today, three of those brothers -- Austin, Ashley and Adam -- have resurfaced as Sons of Sylvia with their first album as a trio. Released in April 2010, 'Revelation' is an electrifying whirlwind of rock-edged tunes seared by Ashley's fiery fiddle, laced through with Adam's evocative mandolin, driven by Austin's flaming dobro and anchored by the raw, gritty passion of Ashley's vocals.
The brothers wrote or co-wrote all ten songs on the album. From the blazing, romantic urgency of the first single, 'Love Left to Lose' to the haunting 'John Wayne' to the raw passion of the title track, each song was painstakingly chosen from hundreds they'd written over the years.
"We took a risk, we didn't want to play it safe," Ashley tells The Boot. "We wanted to do something different out of the box, so after writing about 300 songs, we finally narrowed it down to these ten, because we feel each song has its own identity."
Finding their own identity as three of six brothers has been a long but formative road the past several years, after parting ways with Curb Records in 2003.
"We wanted off, but they actually wouldn't let us get off," Ashley recalls. "They were trying to keep us on there. We were kids, and we didn't have any money ... so we had to file for bankruptcy."
The six of them spent the next few years playing together, but after a while, began to feel burnt out. "We decided to take a break and everybody try what they want individually. Because we felt like we were together our whole lives and didn't feel like individuals but were part of a system. It was just a lot of people, a lot of opinions and it was hard to express yourself. So we went our own ways."
Austin, who was 21 at the time, went to Nashville, and ended up playing in SHeDAISY's band. Ashley, then 24 and Adam, 27 began traveling around the country with their preacher father. But the desire to make music was burning an aching hole in Ashley's heart. Somehow, he knew he needed to get to Nashville.
"I'd saved up all my money and bought my first car -- a 1986 Ford Bronco -- a piece of crap!" he recalls with a laugh. "So I got my fiddle and just drove to Nashville ... didn't know what I was going to do, just drove there. I asked Austin if I could sleep on the floor."
Austin not only said yes, he split his last $100 with his brother and made a connection for him that would ultimately pave the way to where Sons of Sylvia are today -- on the road with Carrie Underwood.
James hired Ashley to play with him around town. Not long after, he flew Ashley out to a gig in Montana that paid $400.
"I thought I hit the jackpot!" Ashley says.
But the jackpot Ashley would hit while playing that gig was even sweeter. "Out of the middle of nowhere ... I still don't know to this day how they got my number ... but Carrie Underwood's band leader called me and said he heard I sang background vocals and played fiddle. I [said], 'Yes I do!' And he said, 'Great. I've got a job offer for you. You want to play for Carrie Underwood?'"
Ironically, Ashley didn't know much about Carrie ... except that she'd just won 'American Idol.' "I honestly didn't know who she was. It was all so new to me. The only episode I ever saw was when Carrie won. And I thought, good for that girl!"
But when Ashley learned he would be doing the Jay Leno and David Letterman shows with Carrie, he immediately sat up and took notice. "I'm thinking, 'Whoa, who is this girl? This is big time!' And it was like a whirlwind! When I met Carrie, she had all these cameras around her, cameras in her face and my face. It was really a magical time, seeing her career take off. Being a part of that was really special."
Ashley played fiddle and sang backup for Carrie on her first tour in 2006. And it was during this time that he and Austin happened to catch an announcement on TV, calling for band auditions for a new, upcoming TV show. "We were watching 'American Idol' one night and Ryan Seacrest announced, 'If you're in a band, send in a tape or DVD and we'll put you on 'Next Great American Band.' It was funny, because I'd just called Adam and said, come to Nashville! I can't explain it, just come here! Things happen when you come here! He was out with Dad, traveling around the country to little churches, thinking he had to be a preacher."
Saying he'd give it a year, Adam arrived in Nashville. Now calling themselves the Clark Brothers, the trio made a tape of themselves singing and playing in the basement of Austin's house and sent it into Next Great American Band.
They got the call to fly to Las Vegas and play for the judges. The judges loved them. But when the producer came in, he told them not to get their hopes up. And so, Ashley, Austin and Adam went back to Nashville to pick up where they left off ... and waited to hear something. In August 2007, Ashley was in New York, playing the State Fair with Carrie Underwood.
"I was backstage after soundcheck thinking about the audition, that we hadn't heard anything," Ashley remembers. "I was like, 'Man! Is this ever gonna happen?' I remember praying: God, are we gonna be on this show? Just give me a sign! And I promise ... right when I prayed that, I looked up and saw this big poster for fireworks. It said, 'Brothers Big Stuff Brewing.'
Ashley stared at the poster, riveted. When he saw what else was written on it, it nearly took his breath away.
"On the poster were all of these words, written on these fireworks that shoot straight up in the air like explosions," he remembers. "On one set of fireworks, it said, 'Glory, Honor, Power' ... another set said, 'Prime Time'...another set said 'Showstopper' ... and another set said, 'Knock Out Brigade.' I took a picture of it on my phone. I still have it!" he says, his voice rising with remembered awe. "I was like, Oh my gosh! I told Carrie's guitar player about it, because he knew everything that was going on, and he said, Man! I think that's a sign from God!"
The signs seemed to keep coming. Later that night, Ashley was walking through Times Square and ran into Paula Abdul. Carrie's guitar player pointed out that it had to be another sign from God -- because the same producers from FOX TV's 'American Idol' were doing Next Great American Band.
"Every time I wondered what was gonna happen, I'd get that picture out of that fireworks poster, and go, 'OK, God ... give me a sign!" notes Ashley.
In October 2007, they finally got the call. They'd been chosen to compete as one of the 12 finalists. Two months later, in a dramatic, emotional climax, the Clark Brothers were crowned 'The Next Great American Band' before a national TV audience. The announcement literally brought them to their knees, laughing and crying, so overwhelmed were they with emotion.
"What was really crazy was, when we won, all these fireworks went off!" Ashely remembers. "And I immediately thought about that poster -- 'Brothers Big Stuff Brewing!' When we fell on the floor on our knees, that's what I was thinking about -- that poster!"
Immediately following their thrilling victory, The Clark Brothers began writing literally hundreds of songs, on a passionate quest to get a feel for what they wanted to create musically as a threesome now.
"We discovered who we were musically .because that show was our very first gig as a band. We could play so many different styles of music. We were trying to think of something that was out of the box, new and completely different. When we first started writing, we thought we're not gonna do any drums or bass, just like on 'Next Great American Band.' So we did that for a while, but then realized we need some drums and bass! So we went from that to experimenting with weird sounds and loops, all over the place -- like putting the mandolin through weird processors, just doing stuff that was out there."
As they began to evolve musically, the brothers decided also to freshen their image with a name change.
"Our mom's name is Sylvia and she had 11 kids ... so we thought it'd be cool to memorialize her, and call ourselves Sons of Sylvia," Ashley explains.
Sons of Sylvia signed with 19 Recordings/Interscope Records and in March 2010, Ashley, Austin and Adam hit the road for the first time as Sons of Sylvia, as Carrie Underwood's opening act on her 'Play On' tour. In April 2010, the charismatic threesome debuted their first single, 'Love Left to Lose' in an electrifying performance on American Idol's results show ... introduced on national TV by Carrie Underwood as "her favorite band."
"It's been really, truly amazing," Ashley reflects, looking back over the past few months of being on tour, and having a new record that's crossing both rock and country charts. "After we get done playing, people will line up to get autographs and girls are crying and screaming ... and the lines are so long, they sometimes have to cut them off! I think that's another reason I'm glad we're doing this now and didn't have this a few years back, because I think if it happened before, we would've gone crazy. I think now, we feel like we can handle it."
A decade after they first burst onto the scene as six young brothers, they're older but definitely wiser. "I'm 29, Austin is 26 and Adam is 31," says Ashley. "It's like we're stuck in some time warp! But I would say we're definitely wiser," he hastens to note more solemnly. "And we know now to have more faith in what we believe in and pursue it, than to be scared and fearful not to. And to believe that with God, all things are possible. And that's for real.
"I think we had to go through what we did to understand what we're doing now," he asserts, pausing a moment before continuing, "You could work your whole life and build yourself a shack ... or you can get out of God's way and He can build you a mansion."
Sons of Sylvia continue on Carrie Underwood's Play On tour.