© 2024 WHRO Public Media
5200 Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk VA 23508
757.889.9400 | info@whro.org
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Grammy-award winner Brandy Clark coming to Norfolk

Photo by Victoria Stevens
Grammy-award winner Brandy Clark is performing in Norfolk as part of the Virginia Arts Festival.

Brandy Clark spoke with WHRO’s Barry Graham ahead of her Norfolk performance.

Brandy Clark is a Grammy-award winner, sought-after songwriter for the likes of Kacey Musgraves and Alicia Keys and after a decade, a Broadway composer.

She’s performing this week in Norfolk as part of the Virginia Arts Festival and spoke with WHRO’s Barry Graham about her career and songwriting.

This interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.

Listen to WHRO’s Acoustic Highway hosted by Barry Graham for more about singer-songwriters like Brandy Clark.

Barry Graham: Brandy, you're such an incredible songwriter. A real simple question for you: What's the secret to a great song?

Brandy Clark: It's funny you would say that because I was thinking this morning actually about some advice that a great songwriter gave me which was songs fall into two categories. They either move you or they don't. And if they move you, they're great. And if they don't, they're not.

I think that's really the secret … does it move anyone? And the first person it has to move is the writer. If it doesn't move you it's not going to move anyone else. And I believe that if it does move you, it'll move a lot of other people. So I think that it's that heart, it's an intangible, and I think really, what it comes down to is the truth. If there's some truth in art, whether it's a song or a movie, or a painting, we're moved by it.

B.G: You’re from a very small town out in the rural Pacific Northwest. How has that influenced your songwriting or perhaps even your musical journey? Do you draw much from it?

B.C: There's a couple of ways that influenced me. One of the big ways is something I barely remember, which was we lived so far out in the country that the first five years of my life we didn't have TV … because the cable didn't stretch out that far. So we only had music and I'm sure my mom was reading books to us. But I have a lot of memories of my mom and dad playing vinyl records, and eight tracks.

I think that shaped me to have those years where there was no TV because I'm a TV freak. I mean, if I'm in a house, and there's a TV, I want the TV on, it keeps me company, but it can also just be a kind of an idiot box where you’re not really getting much out of it and you're just watching something you've seen a million times. So I think having that beginning of life where I didn't have that was pretty big.

And then I loved the small town that I'm from – Morton, Washington. To me, it's a real slice of Americana. I think about small town football games and those kinds of things feel good to me. I think I've drawn a lot on that through the years, when I've written about anything rural. I was lucky enough to know a lot of people being in a small town. You know, in a city sometimes you don't know so many people, but in a small town … I did for the most part. I mean, I probably didn't know every single person, but I knew a lot of people and so there's a lot of stories to draw from a lot of different personalities and experiences. And because it was a small town, I got to experience a lot of things that I wouldn't have had I been in a larger city.

A great example is I got to play all the sports and had I gone to a bigger school, I probably would have played one sport. So all of those things shaped me.

Brandy Clark: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

B.G: You've also written for Broadway. Is that much of a different approach to songwriting for say for an album like “Brandy Clark,” your self-titled release? Is there a different approach?

B.C: Yes and no. Writing for Broadway really made me more confident that I could write, that I could sit down and write a record for myself, because with Broadway, I think the biggest difference is we're taught as songwriters in the commercial songwriting world to tell a story in three to four minutes. And with Broadway, you know, you're telling a little bit of the story, maybe in seven minutes, our opening number was seven minutes long. That's a challenge to not give away too much.

I think one of the major differences is you're working with so many elements. You're working with a book writer who is constantly changing the story. So there were times where there would be a plot change. I remember this kind of early on in the process, and it required myself and Shane McAnally, who were the composers, to go back and either rewrite or completely scrap nine songs.

Our show “SHUCKED,” by the time it got to Broadway, wasn't really a traditional dance show, but there were iterations of it that were. When that would happen, we would be working with a choreographer who would want a dance break, and the music director would figure out how to put a dance break in. Even though our show wasn't a heavy dance show, there were still times where the choreographer would say, ‘Well, you know, I need eight more bars here.’ And so we would have to go back and rethink the song and rewrite it to work that way. So that's probably the biggest difference is that you are working with so many departments and you're telling a story that’s several hours versus a couple of minutes. Essentially, at the heart of it … you're still writing songs, and sometimes, you're writing songs that maybe have to work for four voices to fit together now. Thank God we had a great music director who helped us a lot when it came to that.

I think a lot more songwriters could do it than know they can. It's definitely a massive commitment and I think that's probably what keeps more commercial songwriters from taking that dive because, you know, for us, it was 10 years. And luckily at the end of the race, we crossed the finish line, and could throw our hands up in the air. A lot of people don't ever cross the finish line. And so it's a big time investment.

B.G: I heard you had a pretty good three-point shot on the court. Are you aware that Norfolk is home to ODU, a school that put women's basketball on the map? You know, players like Nancy Lieberman and Ann Donovan played here. You want to meet up, I'll show you the statue of Nancy Lieberman?

B.C: That's incredible. I mean, you know, for some reason, a lot has been made of my basketball career as of late and it's been years since I've even dribbled a ball. I mean, there was a time where I was where I would have said put me on the court with almost anybody. I mean, that time is decades ago. But yeah, I was really, really into it. And I still love to watch. I watched a lot of both the women and the men this year in March Madness.

B.G: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. We really do appreciate it.

Brandy Clark performs Tuesday May 7 at the Perry Pavilion in Norfolk. For more information and tickets, visit vafest.org.

WHRO's Vice President of News Maurice Jones is chair of the Virginia Arts Festival board and WHRO CEO and President Bert Schmidt is on the Virginia Arts Festival board. Jones and Schmidt are not involved in editorial decisions.

WHRO Public Media is a co-sponsor of Clark’s local performance.

Barry Graham used to arrive at WHRO with a briefcase full of papers and lesson plans. For 32 years he taught US and Virginia Government in the Virginia Beach Public Schools. While teaching was always his first love, radio was a close second. While attending Old Dominion, Barry was program director at WODU, the college radio station. After graduating, he came to WHRO as an overnight announcer. Originally intending to stay on only while completing graduate school, he was soon hooked on Public Radio and today is the senior announcer on WHRV. In 2001, Barry earned his Ph.D in Urban Studies by writing a history of WHRO and analyzing its impact upon local education, policy and cultural arts organizations.

The world changes fast.

Keep up with daily local news from WHRO. Get local news every weekday in your inbox.

Sign-up here.