Posted January 12, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes

Clare Dunn: Getting her sound out

Clare Dunn photo by Gregg Roth
Clare Dunn photo by Gregg Roth

With the success of her single “Get Out,” a rowdy tune about letting off steam, country singer Clare Dunn recently became the Highest Charting Independent Female Artist on the Music Row Country Breakout chart in the last ten years. Earlier this year, she was featured on the cover of USA Today and she’s recently opened for Keith Urban, Florida Georgia Line, Dierks Bentley and Luke Bryan. She’s currently working on her debut album and called us from her Nashville home to talk about her recent success.

What was the Florida Georgia Line cruise like?
It was fantastic on so many levels. I’m from a farm. When I say that, it’s rural, rural America. I’ve never been on a cruise. Being in Miami was mind-blowing, number one. Being on that boat was mind-blowing, number two. It was so overwhelming in the best way possible. I’ve never been to the Bahamas. It’s an once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. To get to play music on top that, well, it was hard for me to comprehend. It was all great except for the last night.  We had to hurry back to the port in Miami and the boat was literally rocking. I play lead guitar and anytime I would hit a pedal, I would practically fall over. We would look out at the crowd and they were swaying back and forth, trying to keep their balance.

You’re regularly referred to as a newcomer but that makes it sound like you just started performing. You started playing guitar when you were in college. Talk about what made you first pick up the instrument.
That started for me when I moved to Nashville. It was out of a desire to get a sound that was in my head out and into a set of speakers. I couldn’t explain the way I heard sounds. I heard guitar parts a certain way, but I could never explain it to other guitar players. When they played what I asked them to play it was never what I heard. I just picked it up and decided that if I wanted to get the sound out, I needed to play an instrument. I was in college. I had no social life. I sat in my room and listened to records all day long. That was where it started for me. When I got to college, I started songwriting. I would make my own demos. Now, when I make my records it’s the same process. I co-produce everything. It’s all unified. I’ve been performing since I was little bitty. I’m from a rural area and there was a dance studio about an hour away from where I lived. My mom saw that I had a love for dance from an early age. She was just trying to figure something for me to do. I spent my childhood growing up dancing and did everything. Hip-hop was my love. I came into the music from the dance angle. It was a huge passion. It’s been a long process I guess, but I wouldn’t trade any of it.

Do you incorporate dance into your shows?
I don’t get to right now but that’s an economic reason. I’ve been on the come-up, as it were, independently. The fact that I’m a guitar player means that there’s one less band member. I don’t get to just yet but it’s something I will incorporate into my show eventually.

You’ve written with many of the top songwriters in the business. Were you ever intimidated?
I used to be. When I was getting those first opportunities with big huge hit writers I would be nervous about it. At the same time, I go in prepared with what I wanted to say. If the artist doesn’t know what he wants to say, your hands are tied as a writer. I was lucky that I recognized that. I would throw myself into knowing what I wanted to say. That helped release some of my jitters. I still get nervous when I go into write. You have this vision for your ideas and I hope that I’m always on my game and always contributing. It was nerve-racking to begin with. The songwriters here are so down-to-earth and supportive. When I realized that they wanted to help me facilitate my vision it relieved a lot of the nerves. I was very fortunate.

Having grown up on a farm probably gives you some street cred with the country crowd.
I guess. My parents are still out there and my sister works in the farming industry. My parents come from farms and their parents come from farms. That’s all we’ve ever done since we’ve come to America. They started out with nothing and didn’t have two cents to rub together. They worked and worked and worked. That’s what they taught my sister when I was out there. I’m still blown away by their work ethic. I hope to be more and more like them in that regard. Their belief in me has been unreal. A lot of farm kids don’t get that same support to go chase their dreams. They are pressured to come back and work on the farm. I was so lucky that my parents believed in me. They wanted to help me however they could. It’s been a team effort. But yes, some street cred. It’s not ten acres and a lawn mower.

How’d you end up meeting Ben West?
That was through my publisher. I was in another publishing deal which I ended after we wrote “Get Out.” I was friends with Ben’s publisher. A guy named Daniel Lee set it up. Daniel has been one of my biggest champions — I interned for him back in the day. He wanted me to write with Ben West and there was supposed to be another writer on the session but it just ended up being Ben and me. I didn’t know Ben. I showed up and I had this thing that I sang into my phone. I had things I was thinking about and things in my heart that I wanted to say. It’s a very simple song. It was truly about so many things, going back to my raising and wanting to get out and get down. There was this element of wanting to leave the farm. I just wanted to find people that like my music the way I did. We hit it off. We live on the same creative wavelength. When I find that in somebody, it’s a rarity. I really just grab onto it. We’ve had a great collaboration ever since.

It sounds like the kind of song that goes over well live.
Oh, definitely. People know it now and it’s so gratifying. It chokes me up when you see the different lines that people grab onto and which lines mean something to certain people. It’s such an awesome feeling. Everybody gets into it. That’s what it’s about. I’m just a music fan. I want to get into songs that I like. When I see people doing that to my song, it’s such an honor.

Was “Cowboy Side of You” inspired by something specific?
For me, it’s about an ideal dude . . . my dream guy. It’s about trying to give a voice to that. I wanted to give that a voice in case there were other girls who felt like me and in case there were other guys out there that felt that way. Guys write love songs about girls all the time but I don’t think girls write songs about guys enough. I watched every John Wayne movie growing up. He represents that cowboy attitude. The song isn’t about a cowboy per se. It’s just about some guy who personifies that “do what you have to do” attitude. That’s what it’s about and what inspired it. And I just love muscle cars. I had to throw in that reference to the Chevelle.

You recently became the Highest Charting Independent Female Artist on the Music Row Country Breakout chart in ten years. Do you think that country music has become male-dominated in the past decade?
I don’t know. I think I was super blessed and super lucky just to have the people at country radio that believed in me and took a chance on my song to get it out there to the people. I think there’s a marketplace and I respect what it wants to do. I’m grateful I have a wedge.

I’m been one little lucky girl, that’s for sure.

When do you anticipate your full-length will be out?
It’s about halfway done. I’m on the road every weekend this year, pretty much. I’m gone about four days a week, but the three days I’m in Nashville I’m either writing or recording. It’s halfway done and I think I have some time in January when I will be able to throw myself in there and get it finished. The way I work is an “everything all the time” process. It just has to be that way. That’s the good old economic way.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.