Canadian country music icon Terri Clark talks longevity, humility and a return to The Rock in a candid one-on-one interview
Did you own a cd player in the 90s? A pair of daisy dukes or a cowboy hat? Odds are you’re familiar with the country stylings of Terri Clark, but the Medicine Hat native who now calls Nashville, Tennessee home is far from defined by her decades worth of solid gold and platinum hits.
You know them well – Poor Poor Pitiful Me, Girls Lie Too, Better Things to Do – there were few more successful Canadian country music artists of the past 20-plus years than Clark.
But this versatile and driven artist has opened up new avenues – namely that of a radio host – to broaden a career that has not been stripped down to chart positions and tour dollars. It is that evolution that has allowed Clark to thrive long after many of her contemporaries had fizzled out of the spotlight.
“I’m very fortunate,” Clark shared with The Herald from her summer cottage in Ontario. “I think I’m the kind of person who couldn’t retire. I love to keep going, I love to have projects, try different things and branch out. I’ve been afforded a very long run at a great career and it evolved over time. You go from focusing on making hits for radio to now I have a radio show and I’m focusing on 90s artists and interviewing them and touring and playing all of my songs people are familiar with from over the years. It’s been busy but in a good way. It keeps me moving forward.”
While many of today’s artists rely on YouTube and the luck of social media to land a record deal, Clark did things the old fashioned way. She honed her craft playing for tips at the iconic Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville, working from the ground up before earning her big break in the form of a deal with Mercury Records. It is that work ethic, and continued attention to detail, that can largely be attributed to Clark’s success.
“I feel like if you work really, really hard and take advantage of opportunities as they come your way you can’t really go wrong,” she says. “Having a strong work ethic and not being afraid to put the time in and do something right is also key. I was taught that as a kid, if you’re going to do something do it right. I try to go at everything I do 110 per cent … I’ve been very lucky in being able to maximize my time and being able to do what I love. Luckily and gratefully I can tour for the rest of my life and play live, because that really was my first love, beyond everything else, that connection that happens with the live audience.”
Of course, country music is a very different beast from the day Clark broke into the business.
“I think it has evolved beyond just what you would call country,” Clark shares. “You go to a country show and it’s all boys chasing girls and girls chasing boys and that’s what happened and that’s what the songs were about, it’s youth driven. When I was growing up it was my parents’ music and my grandparents’ music and that isn’t the case anymore. Now the grandparents are going ‘what is that you’re listening to!’
And getting noticed? That’s changed too. Sure there are still those who walk the path less travelled, much like Clark, but there are cons to our social media driven age of all-access entrainment.
“I think the amount of talent we didn’t know existed because it didn’t have the same exposure is staggering,” she says. “I think sometimes it’s harder because there’s so much competition and so many different avenues of hearing it. Shows like The Voice and American Idol where the audience essentially become the artisan repertoire person at a record label who decide who is going to become the next star instead of the executive sitting on music row somewhere in New York. It’s almost like the public gets to vote first and that’s an interesting concept. There’s so many factors that go into it and with people who become big stars there’s more to it than just charisma. You can’t put your finger on it, there’s something about them that people resonate with and it was all about talent their would be way more people on top of the charts and superstars because there are so many talented people out there.”
Clark makes her long-awaited return to Newfoundland at the 2017 Eastbound Hoedown in Avondale on Aug. 26th. It’s been roughly five years since we’ve had the pleasure of her company, but it hasn’t been from a lack of desire.
“It’s been awhile,” Clark says with a twinge of remorse. “ I caught a little flack from Newfoundland when I did my solo tour that I called a ‘cross Canada’ tour and I didn’t come to Newfoundland so it wasn’t a technical cross-Canada tour. I started in the Maritimes and did 41 shows in 55 days all the way to Vancouver island, so I’m really glad to finally get back to Newfoundland. As everyone knows it’s not the easiest market to play so I’m glad this worked out. It’s one of my favourite places to be, especially in the month of August. I’ve been Screeched In so I’m kind of a local now. I can’t wait to get back.”
‘Privilege to Entertain’
Fans at the Hoedown can expect the high energy Clark has brought to each and every show for nearly two decades. They expect the old standards that made Clark a Canadian mega star, something she would see unchanged for the sake of her long-lasting fanbase. She is grateful, after all.
“Part of playing live for me is just to say thanks,” she says thoughtfully. “I say at every show that I can’t believe I get to still do this and have the privilege to entertain people and see them smile. That’s the ultimate thing for me and that’s what I was put on this planet to do. I know I found my purpose and I know a lot of people never get to find that.
‘My Creative Itch’
“My focus now is to say what I want to say. I’m not chasing anything anymore,” she adds. “It’s just about scratching my creative itch and giving my fan base something new to listen to because they’ve been so supportive. I know I’m going to be playing Better Things To Do until I’m 80 and that’s fine with me, but I also have to create something new almost just for myself. My show will never be packed full of new material because the audience wants to hear the songs they know and that’s the show I’m going to play in Newfoundland. I’m going to keep things up-tempo and energetic and all the songs people will be playing for years and years.”
Tickets for the Eastbound Hoedown are available at eastboundfestival.com and at select Orange Store locations.