Singer-songwriter Ashley Clark has spent the better part of his life making music. His story begins as one of 11 children born to a traveling Pentecostal preacher. Throughout Clark’s childhood, the family was constantly on the road, an experience he likens to “a traveling circus.” Everyone was expected to perform as part of the services and they would find themselves at an ever-rotating array of churches, tent revivals, and festivals across the South. While the upbringing was far from what one might call “normal,” and things that other kids take for granted (a stable home, traditional schooling) were lacking, it gave him an amazing crash course in music. He would soon strike out on his own to pursue his passion for entertaining and bring sings to faces of music fans both young and old.
Clark soon found himself in Nashville and word quickly spread about the new lightning-fast fiddle player. Clark soon began playing with a newly christened ‘American Idol’ winner named Carrie Underwood. He played in Underwood’s touring band for two and half years, traveling the world and figuring that he’d found a great life as a working musician, but fate came calling in the form of a reality TV show. One night, Clark saw a promo calling for bands to appear on an upcoming Fox show called ‘The Next Great American Band.’ Ashley called two of his brothers and formed a new band, christening themselves Sons of Sylvia. The powerful group won the competition and Clark and his brothers were signed to the management company of the show’s creator, Simon Fuller. It became clear to Fuller that the true star of his newly signed band was its magnetic lead singer and fiddle player Ashley. And soon enough, when the super producer Mutt Lange said he was interested in finding a new country artist with whom to work, Fuller knew he had the perfect candidate.
His collaboration with Mutt Lange is the latest and most exciting chapter of his story to date. Lange was knocked out by Clark’s talent after hearing his initial batch of songs. To Lange, Clark’s roots loom large in his music — a blend of country and pop informed by the Americana styles Clark absorbed as a kid and the soulfulness of his voice. Over the next two years, they reworked Clark’s songs, co-wrote a host of others, and collaborated closely on an entire album, something Lange hadn’t done with a brand new artist for 20 years. That last artist? Shania Twain. To say Lange is selective is quite the understatement. Having sold in excess of a quarter billion albums, his dance card is made up primarily of superstar bands looking to make a sonic leap (most recently Muse and Maroon 5) and his batting average is incredibly high, so Clark knows that he is beyond lucky. And he aims to take full advantage of his good fortune, setting his sights ever higher.
Ashley Clark’s story is one of closing doors and opening windows, of taking advantage of lucky breaks and following your dreams even if it means making tough choices. Ashley recently took time out of his busy schedule to do a quick Q&A with Icon Vs. Icon. In the chat, we discuss his new EP, “Greyhound,” working alongside legendary producer Mutt Lange, the challenges they encountered along the way, his quest for world domination and more!
Going back to your early years, what are your first memories of music and what drew you to it?
My first memories of music are of my dad buying me a fiddle when I was five. It was for Christmas. When I tried playing it for the first time it sounded so bad that I didn’t want to play it again. I remember hiding in the hay barn and dad chasing me down wanting me to practice. I’d hide myself in the hay and he’d stab the fiddle bow into the hay looking for me. Ha!
Was there a particular moment where you knew a career in music was something you had to pursue?
I think when I wrote my first song when I was 16. I loved it. I had to keep doing it.
Who had the biggest impact on you as an artist?
Bryan Adams and Elvis Presley. They both have their own style and unique voice.
Many people will know you from your past work but now you are stepping into the spotlight as a solo artist. What has that transition been like for you?
It’s been extremely exciting. I’ve played in bands my whole life and to be able to be calling the shots on my own on stage is pretty spectacular.
You have been hard at work on your EP where you have teamed up with legendary producer Mutt Lange. How did the collaboration come about and what are your recollections of meeting him for the first time?
I met him through my manager, Simon Fuller. When I first met him he was taller than I thought he would be and nicer than I thought he would be. We talked for about 8 hours until the sun went down and everyone else left the office. We talked about AC/DC, bluegrass, everything under the sun. We hit it off. I consider him a dear friend now.
Did you have any particular goals or expectations for this album going into the creative process of the EP?
You just do the best you can and hope for the best. I’m really pleased with the outcome and can’t wait for world domination.
You had the chance to work with some very talented people for this release. What can you tell us about what went into putting this collection of tunes together?
I really listened to Mutt and his wisdom on what songs should be released on an EP first. We’re still writing and still finishing the record, but I’m excited for everyone to hear the whole thing.
You recorded the EP in the Bahamas. Did that setting play a role in the process in some sense?
Absolutely. It was very hot and lazy. We kind of lost track of time. Sometimes it was hard to record because we talked mostly. Mutt has so many stories I told him he needs to write a book.
It is no secret that Mutt Lange brings a certain magic to his projects. What do you feel he brought to this album and what did you learn from him along the way?
Mutt brought his magic and I learned how to be better in the studio.
Creating an EP or an album is an intense process. What do you feel you learned about yourself as an artist through this experience?
I feel like I’ve learned to keep digging deeper.
What are your plans in regard to a full album release? Where are you in the process?
Close! Hopefully, it should be out early next year.
You have definitely come a long way since you first started out. How do you feel you have most evolved as an artist along the way?
I feel like I’ve gained a lot of confidence performing live and connecting with people on stage.
You have spent a lot of time on stage over the years. Have you ever had a “Spinal Tap Moment” on stage where something totally unexpected or hilarious happened to you?
I’ve done something hilarious to Carrie Underwood. I came out on stage wearing a Santa suit and was supposed to sing with her. She couldn’t sing because she was laughing so much.
You have seen the music industry change exponentially through the years. What excites you most about music in this day and age?
How it’s anything goes these days. Musical walls and boundaries are almost non-existent.
What is the best lesson to be taken from your journey as an artist so far?
Never give up.
What should we be on the lookout for from you in both the short and long term?
Short term – just doing radio tours and opening up for acts. Long term – total world domination.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.