Terri Clark Finds Her Smile Again With ‘Roots & Wings’
There's little question that Terri Clark is feeling good these days. In addition to continuing her sold-out acoustic shows in her native Canada, she is nominated once again for the Canadian Country Music Association's Fans' Choice Award, an honor she has won seven times. But not all of the Alberta-born brunette's recent activity is happening north of the U.S. border. Here in the States, where the singer-songwriter has racked up nine Top 10 singles, including the No. 1's 'You're Easy on the Eyes' and 'Girls Lie Too,' she's celebrating the digital release of her latest album, 'Roots and Wings,' (the physical CD will be in stores September 13), which marks the second disc issued on her own label, BareTrack Records.
The recent flurry of good fortune is in stark contrast to much of the 42-year-old's past half-dozen years. In 2005, she married her longtime tour manager, Greg Kaczor, only to divorce two years later. In 2006, she left Mercury Records, where she scored the majority of her hits and signed with BNA, recording one album, 'My Next Life,' which remained unreleased before she ultimately asked to be let out of her contract.
Then, in April 2010, Terri's closest friend, her mother Linda Clark, died after a lengthy battle with cancer. Although Terri had resumed her recording career, releasing the 2009 album 'The Long Way Home,' she divided her time between doing live shows and spending as many days as she could with her mother. Terri's resilience and persistence, not to mention her fervent fan base and her mother's ever-present spirit, have spurred her on even in the darkest, most troubling times. And few things illustrate that more than the buoyant, confident 'Roots and Wings.'
Terri sat down with The Boot during a recent trip to Nashville to talk about the new album, the mistaken perception U.S. fans have had of her in recent years, and how her mom granted her permission to get on with her life when she knew her own was ending.
Obviously, you've faced a lot of difficult things in the past few years, none more heartbreaking than losing your mom last year.
Anybody who's read anything about my life and knows anything about me, knows how close I was to my mom. She was like a sister, a confidant, a friend, more than just a mom. She was a pretty young mother, she was 60 when I lost her. She went through a very difficult three-year battle with cancer and was given an expiration date. We all kind of dove in there and thought we were going to fix this, she was going to be OK. We're going to find a cure, we're going to find something or somebody or somehow. She did all the holistic stuff and she ate right. She would not touch sugar. She turned her life upside down. She did not want to die. Watching her fight, watching her courage, I tried to be really strong and not let how scared I was show. We all were sort of trying to stand strong for her and help her. Miracles happen and I kept clinging to that belief that something could happen. We believed so much that she was doing OK that when she really took that last nosedive and didn't come back up from it, it all kind of happened sort of fast. So that three years of kind of sitting on the edge of a cliff waiting to fall off was very, very stressful and very difficult.
While that would have been enough to deal with, it wasn't the only challenging thing happening for you. How did you deal with everything?
I was in a relationship at the time that was not the easiest relationship that I had ever been. I had a double-edged sword going on in my life between my mom and some other things that were going on in my personal life. When my mom passed away, I took time to grieve. I went to Canada and spent time with my family and friends I've known my whole life. I wanted to be tethered to my roots again. Then all of a sudden -- it started happening right around when I started to write for this record -- I wanted to be that lighthearted, jovial Terri again. I lost her somewhere along the way and everything started to be so serious. Everything was just a struggle. Everything felt like I was pushing a big boulder up a hill for years. As I was starting to make this record, I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel again. The songs sort of dictated the lifting of the dark clouds and the sun peeking through the clouds again. There are songs on the record that visit the sound and spirit that I had in some ways in the late '90s when I was younger, starting out and grabbing life by the horns. I'm feeling more of that spirit in a calmer and more content way because I'm older and wiser and I've been through a pile of sh--! But I'm coming out the other end of it and I've got a new lease on life. There's a lot of embracing who I am and being happy, having fun and enjoying life. The last album was a little darker in tone and this one definitely lightens up a little bit.
One song on the album, 'Smile,' was written about your mom. Other than her wanting you to smile, what was the best lesson you learned from her after everything you'd experienced?
That we are stronger than we realize. I think that human beings have a certain resilience that they don't really know about until they're faced with something that they don't think they can get through. The thought of losing my mother at one time just took me to my knees. Here I am making music, I'm walking and standing and singing, and I really love life. I didn't know how I could live my life without my mom in it and in the world. I feel like she's sort of still around me. I still feel her spirit, so I don't think she's gone. She's just on a different plane.
Did you get the sense from her that it was OK to get on with your life?
Yes. I think she wanted us to be OK and to be happy. Part of her fight was for us. Her sister told me that she said, "I'm fighting for my kids because they're not ready yet." I know she was worried and concerned about me because we were so close. Within 10 days of her passing away, she woke up and heard me crying by her bed. She looked at me and said,"I want you to smile." That's where that song came from. She was my co-writer. When she said I want you to smile, that's exactly what she meant. To roll over and not make music anymore, roll up in a ball in the corner and just be depressed, that's not who she taught me to be. I am who I am because she taught me to be that person. I'm just going to keep being that person. I always have been one to just dust myself off and this was the ultimate test of that. I've had hits and misses and I've come and gone in people's perceptions but I always get back up and keep going. You can't get me down for very long and I'm proud of that. I think that strength comes from my mom.
You mentioned people's perceptions. Although your fan base is aware of what you've been up to, there does seem to be something of a disconnect between what's been happening for you in Canada and what's happening here.
It's very frustrating for me because I'm touring, I'm working my ass off, I'm making records, I'm doing these unplugged shows which are really starting to sell out. It's a specialty sort of boutique thing I've got going, just going in there with the guitar and playing the smaller rooms in the States. I'm working hard and it's so frustrating when I'll run into somebody and they'll say, "Whatcha been doin' the past five or 10 years?"
Among the things you've been doing are producing your own albums and heading up your own record label. What are the greatest challenges of doing that? And how does it feel to be in charge of everything?
Well, I'm the head of A&R [artist and repertoire] of this label so you can just blame me for bad song choices. [Laughs] It feels great. The first album was a little scarier because we had to figure out logistics, business-wise, how to put a record together. I needed to find my team as a producer. I basically stole a bunch of people from the other producers that I've worked with and formulated Team Clark.
Was 'Beautiful and Broken' written about a specific person?
Kristen Hall and I wrote that together. She was writing about a particular person and I was writing about a particular person. We pulled from those resources. When you go through a friendship or relationship with someone and it just feels like there's a lot of a struggle going on for whatever reason, we realize we all have damage and we all have demons, they manifest themselves in different ways with different human beings. Grace and forgiveness goes a long way. Whether you're meant to be with that person or not or you decide it's not a healthy situation, you can't hate somebody for their path. That's what they're here to learn. You love them anyway. I started that song on my guitar. I had the melody and the chorus and the idea. Kristen came in and she's coming up with lines like "let the peace knowing nothing's going to change bring you comfort, let it guide you through the fear and pain." And I was like, "OK no more players we have a winner!" She comes up with such beautiful lines and I'm like, "Sh--! I wish I was that smart." She comes up with some zingers.
Another great track on the album is 'The One.' How has your concept of 'the one' changed through the years?
I think some people have to go through more than one "one" to find the one [Laughs]. I've been a bit of a late bloomer in my life. Most people don't want to be alone so they'll hook up and search for that person that's going to fill that empty space. But it may not be the right one. I think that relationships will teach us more than we could ever learn being alone. I'm a serial monogamist. I'm not single for very long. I have these grandiose ideas of being alone and six months later I'm dating again. I think that you learn so much about yourself, every time you get a little bit closer to knowing who it is or what it is that's really the thing for you. I think I'm getting closer than I ever have been before [Laughs].
'Lonesome's Last Call' is a hardcore country song. I understand it was written 20 years ago?
When I came to town I got an appointment to write with Jim Rushing. I went to his townhouse over there off West End to write with him. Back before I got my record deal I was so country. I did demos that were so country that people thought they were too country to sign me to a label. I've had that song in my back pocket for years and I never forgot about it. I always thought it had a classic sound and it would nestle into whatever I was doing at the time. I loved the way it turned out with the triple fiddles and Sonya Isaacs singing harmony on it. I wrestled with it. I didn't know if I was going to put it on this record or not. I didn't know if I was going to wait until I did a "dirt country" record, which I'm going to do at some point. It'll probably fly completely under the radar but I'm gonna do it for me. [Laughs]
I can't stop listening to 'We're Here for a Good Time' but I don't think I had ever heard Trooper's version of it. They're a huge Canadian rock band, so I assume they were a huge part of your growing up?
Oh yeah. They still get played in heavy rotation at classic rock radio up there. I have a place up there so I drive around listening to the radio while I'm up there. I have long commutes because my cottage is in the middle of nowhere. I was driving through Hamilton, Ontario, a week after I heard it in Calgary, so I thought, "I'm going to just do this. Somebody still wants to hear this song so why don't I just do it?"
In 2003, we did an interview together for Country Music Today magazine and I asked you about some of your favorite and not-so-favorite things. I'm wondering if any of them might be different now [Terri looks at article].
I don't use Mr. Bubble anymore. [Laughs] I use lavender. Abercrombie and Fitch? No, if I could shop at only one store, it would probably be The Buckle. It's not that different. One song I don't ever want to hear again? [Her original choice was KC and the Sunshine Band's 'I'm Your Boogie Man']. Oh my God, 'Hotel California!' I love the Eagles but ... overplayed! I've heard it thousands of times.
And if you could be anybody else in the world, who would you be? You remember who you said?
The Dalai Lama?
That's right. Would you still want to be him?
No, I think I'd like to be my dog for a day because he gets treated so well.
And finally I have to ask you about the tattoo on your arm.
I just got it a couple of months ago. It's a memorial for my mom. [Points to it] I called her "Mommy." That's her birthday and that's the year she died.
Thank you. My friends say I look like a pirate, arrrrr. [Laughs]