When your grandmother enlists you to model her "I Skied Down Mount St. Helens May 18, 1980" t-shirts—complete with "authentic" burn holes—at the local flea market, you can be sure you’re going to grow up with a unique outlook on life. For acclaimed No. 1 songwriter Brandy Clark, it’s an outlook that has served her well.
Born and raised in the small Washington mill town of Morton—yes, in the shadow of Mount St. Helens, which erupted when she was just a little girl—Brandy developed an affection for working-class people and the dangerous jobs many of them undertake to make ends meet. Her father, a logger, died in a work-related accident, her mother toiled in human resources at the mill, and Brandy herself worked amid the lumber, at a fencing mill. As such, she related to the hardship depicted in the film Coal Miner’s Daughter and became obsessed with the music of Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard.
But above all, Brandy adored eccentric personalities.
"I love characters," says Brandy. "When Mount St. Helens erupted, I remember my grandmother just standing on the porch, smoking a cigarette, and watching the hot mud fall from the sky. My grandmother was my favorite character in life."
12 Stories, the songwriter’s debut album as an artist, is full of diverse characters. There’s the woman in her first single, "Stripes," who fantasizes about killing her cheating husband, but doesn’t want to be caught dead in an orange jumpsuit. There’s another who asks Jesus for help, but plays the lottery just in case in "Pray to Jesus." And there’s the bored housewife in "Get High" who escapes daily drudgery by rolling joints at the kitchen table.
"I get my inspiration from real people who are just surviving their life and getting through their day. That’s who I write songs for," explains Brandy. "I want to write songs for somebody who is working at a bank. If that person could write a song, what they would write? That’s my goal."
Brandy achieved that goal by penning songs for other artists. Reba McEntire and Kenny Rogers have both recorded her songs. Darius Rucker, Sheryl Crow and Kacey Musgraves have Brandy compositions on their albums. And The Band Perry gave Brandy her first No. 1 single with "Better Dig Two," followed shortly after by another No. 1 in "Mama’s Broken Heart," cut by Miranda Lambert. Marty Stuart is also a vocal fan of Brandy's, and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles asked Brandy to be the opening act on her solo tour. All of them are attracted to her unfiltered take on the human experience, its joys and especially its frailties.
“I get my inspiration from real people who are just surviving their life and getting through their day. That’s who I write songs for.”