Meet Clare Dunn

“Small town girl makes good” could very well describe Clare Dunn’s career. The singer/songwriter who grew up in southeastern Colorado talks with Pollstar about her ambitions and dreams.

Dunn’s pre-Nashville life sounds like material for a country music song. Along with her older sister, Dunn worked on the family farm and ranch where she drove trucks and tractors while listening to local country radio stations.

Now she’s touring, often opening for the stars she heard on those radio stations. Her first single, “Get Out,” made her the highest charting independent female artist on the Music Row Country Breakout chart in 10 years.  Co-written with Ben West whose credits include Pink’s “Try” and Cassadee Pope’s “Champagne,” “Get Out” is currently at No. 15 on the chart.

This week Dunn was selected as one of SiriusXM’s “Fresh Female Voices On The Highway (Channel 56),” and she announced the release of her new single, “Cowboy Side Of You,” which will air on the satellite radio service.

Opening for Keith Urban, Florida Georgia Line, Hank Williams Jr. and others – does it all seem like a dream?

You bet. 100 percent. … I looked up to Keith Urban when I was driving tractors and trucks.  To be on the same bill with him, it’s all very much like a dream.  A dream coming true for me. … My family has been so supportive of me.  I pinch myself every day.

Where exactly in Colorado is your family’s home?

You go way southeast, barely still in the state. … It’s a town called “Two Buttes.” We lived seven miles outside of town.  There’s like 30 people in that town, a post office and a grain elevator.

Is anyone else in your family musically inclined?

My mom can sing.  My mom has a great ear for singing.  She never got to pursue it.  My dad’s mom, she passed away when my dad was a small boy, but she played organ in her small town.  Nobody [in my family] played an instrument.  We all loved music. … I’d go through what my sister was listening to, go through her records, my parents’ records and found stuff on my own.

How did you get from Two Buttes to Nashville?

Being farmers and ranchers we had no idea how one goes about chasing a dream of music.  I found out about a school – Belmont University. The dream was kind of dead in the water at first because Belmont is so expensive, or at least way out of our pay grade.  But we got a plan together.  We had a silage truck and I would go out and haul silage back home during harvest, every spring break, summer break … if you could grow silage in December I would have been home during Christmas doing that.  That was how I got my foot in the door – going to school, working to help get tuition money on top of grants and loans.  That was the jumping off point for me.


What was your major?

Halfway through the first semester I learned they had a songwriting degree.  I thought, “Shoot.  That’s what I want to do anyway.”  I was just a music business major at the time so when I found out about the songwriting degree, I switched over to it.  I was so lucky in that because a guy named Thom Schuyler, who used to run RCA Records [Nashville] for a period of time. … He took me under his wing and was a mentor for me.  He taught me the craft of writing songs and what it really means to be a songwriter.  He tried to teach me as much as he possibly could in those couple of years. That was a turning point for me.  He taught me how to write songs.  Not that I’m not still learning.  I’ll always be.  But he’s the guy who showed me what it meant to understand the craft of writing.

Did going from a farm to an environment made up of others also trying to make it in music seem overwhelming at times?

Yes.  In a lot of ways it was comforting to see that there were other people out there who loved music like I loved it.  The flip side of that was being from a town of 30 people and going to a city of a million.  That was a huge shock to my system.  It was a little overwhelming but I think, for me, the thing that was bigger was my love of making music, my desire to create music … to learn all the tools of the trade I needed to get that sound out of my head and into a set of speakers. It was definitely a huge overwhelming thing but my desire and passion for music is what helped me overcome that.

What were some of the tools of the trade that you learned in Nashville?

Learning the craft of writing songs was the utmost important and biggest [tool].  The one after that is playing guitar.  I didn’t know how to play.  I spent a brief stint in a college in Texas before I found out about  Belmont.  I had sort of learned, like [chords] G, C and D when I was in Texas.  But when I came to Nashville … that’s when I started playing guitar.  I holed up in my bedroom, listened to records and played whenever I could.  That was a huge [tool] for me.  I was looking for a way to get this sound out of my head.  I was working in a studio before I could play and always had a tough time explaining to guitar players as to how I heard guitar sounds … and how I heard certain lines being played, things of that nature.  I thought if I couldn’t explain this, I better learn how to just do it.  That [guitar] was freedom for me, creative freedom.

Do you play any other instruments?

No.  I can plunk around on a piano but I wouldn’t say I can actually play. … I write on piano a fair amount of time.  But I couldn’t go on the road and play piano for somebody.

CMA Fest 2014.  

What was your degree in?

It was a Bachelor of Science in songwriting.  They said, with your credits, you can have a B.A. in songwriting or a B.S.  And I said, “Are you telling me I can have a B.S. in songwriting and they’re going to put that on paper?  Let’s go with that one.”

Meeting all the musicians and songwriters in Nashville and discovering that they’re from all over the globe and not necessarily from the South or a Western locale – was that an eye opener? 

I can totally understand where they’re coming from.  For me, it’s [country music] is a natural thing to write because that is what I know.  Being out there on a farm, working the land, that’s what I grew up in.  I can see people … being in a more urban area yet loving [the genre].  We’re in the same world, we all experience the same things in life.  For me, the stories in country music are what’s important. I think that’s part of what makes it identifiable as a genre.  It makes sense that people would be drawn to that even though they didn’t grow up in a [country music] environment.  It’s one of the unique things about our genre.

Your first single – “Get Out.” Do you hear that as more rock than country?

(laughs) To be very honest I don’t know if I thought of it in those terms.  When I hear it back I’m thinking, “That’s the sound. There it is.”  For me, being a kid on a farm growing up, my influences were vast, deep and wide and crossed a lot of genres.  I think back to the days of The Carters or the very beginnings of country music, it was the folks who were living in the country.  They were making music that moved them, that they felt was representative of their lives.  When I hear “Get Out” I think that’s representative of my life.  I’m a girl who has grown up in the middle of nowhere, [driving] a John Deere.  Here’s my story.  I love rock ’n’ roll.  I definitely take any sort of comparison as a compliment. I love energetic shows.

What’s the longest single set you’ve ever played?

When I was starting out I had a little power trio, and we’d go do bar band cover gigs in Nashville.  Those sets would be three or four hours.

Recently, I was stranded in North Dakota. I had flown in to do an acoustic gig.  I was with a couple of other musicians. … we took this pickup gig at a local bar. Our flight had been canceled and we were all bored.  We got there, there were four of us, and we thought we’d play two [sets] each, 45 minutes.

After we got there, we plugged in, soundcheck, and none of us left that stage for 3 and a half hours straight, no break, no nothing.  I cracked my guitar because I started playing kind of a drum beat, box thing on it.  I beat it all to hell because I was wearing a ring … and we just sat up there and had a ball.  We played every song any of us halfway knew.  That was 3 and a half hours, with an encore. … The club filled up, people came in off of the streets. It was a 200 person maximum, a small club and they were dancing in front of the stage like we were a full band.  It was so much fun.

So three or four hours  would probably be my maximum.  I haven’t done that in a long time. I’m fortunate enough now to do headliner show, which is about 90 minutes, or open for folks, averaging 30 or 40 minutes, sometimes 50.

When you were growing up in Colorado, driving tractors and trucks, was there a country music radio station that you would listen to all day?

We were so fortunate to have great local stations while growing up.  The one for me was KVAY in Lamar.  There was another one called KLMR. We’d listen to those two.  Once you drove out of range of those two guys you were … alone with your thoughts.

With your schedule of recording and touring, do you manage to go home much?

It’s becoming less and less, which is a bummer for me.  I need to go home and see my folks around Christmastime.  We played CMA Fest this year and they came out and visited me.  I’ve seen them on different shows on the road.  But I haven’t been home since December.  Hopefully I’ll be able to get home soon. I definitely miss it.

What do you miss most about home?

I miss the way it sounds.  The silence out there has a particular sound to it. Hearing the cows behind the house, hearing the irrigation motor running out in the field … I miss hearing that.

And when you are home, what do you miss about Nashville?

Just being around studios and being around the music.  I love to create and work. That’s probably the main thing I miss, the quick access to the studio and being able to create.

If you had a chance to talk to the Clare Dunn of 2020, what would you ask her?

I would ask her, “Did you have fun?  Did you  make sure you had fun along the way?”  That’s something that’s important for me.  It’s a lot of work and it’s a very intense road but the important thing is to make sure you don’t miss the fun that happens along the way.

Photo: Gregg Roth
“For me, the stories in country music are what’s important.”

Clare Dunn’s upcoming shows:

Aug. 13 – Sedalia, Mo., Missouri State Fairgrounds (Missouri State Fair – Budweiser Stage)
Aug. 14 – Sedalia, Mo., Missouri State Fairgrounds (Missouri State Fair – Budweiser Stage) 
Aug. 16 – Shawnee, Okla., The Black Hawk Casino (with Diamond Rio)
Aug. 23 – Stuart, Fla., Stuart Memorial Park (with Haley & Michaels)
Aug. 29 – Morgantown, W.Va., Schmitt’s Saloon
Aug. 30 – Meshoppen, Pa., County Fairgrounds (Kiwanis Wyoming County Fair with Parmalee)
Sept. 13 – Sturtevant, Wis., Route 20 Outhouse
Sept. 14 – Danville, Ill., Kennekuk County Park (Phases Of The Moon Music & Art Festival)
Sept. 19 – Chicago, Ill., Joe’s Bar (with Will Hoge)
Sept. 20 – Des Moines, Iowa, Royal Rock Americana (with Will Hoge)
Oct. 3 – South Boston, Va., Halifax County Fairgrounds (with Colt Ford)
Oct. 4 – Morehead City, N.C., Morehead City Waterfront (North Carolina Seafood Festival with Colt Ford)
Oct. 5 – Darlington, Md., Ramblewood Camp (Cabin Fever: An Outdoor Adventure Fest w. Parmalee, Dustin Lynch) 
Oct. 23 – Effingham, Ill., Effingham Performance Center (with Chris Young)
Oct. 24 – Madisonville, Ky., Glema Mahr Ctr. For The Arts (with Chris Young)
Oct. 25 – Troy, Ohio, Hobart Arena (with Chris Young)
Nov. 8-12 – Miami, Fla., (Florida Georgia Line’s “This Is How We Cruise”)
Dec. 6 – Crystal River, Fla., Rock Crusher Canyon 

Please visit Clare Dunn’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed and Instagram page for more information.