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Clare Dunn



A tractor cab might not seem likethe ideal placefor an aspiring artistto nurture her musical dreams, but itsuredid the trickfor Clare Dunn. Growing upin tiny Two Buttes, Colorado (population: 43), she spent daysat a time helping plow and plant thefamily farm,sharpening her ears with uninterrupted music-listening in the driver’s seat,even as shestrengthened her work ethic.“That’s where a lot of my creativity came from and where a lot of my vision was forged, was just having nothing else to do other than listen to music and dream all day long in the vast wide open of those plains,” she reflects.By the timethe genial, grounded Great Plains nativegot the chance to record for MCA Nashville, she had fine-tuned her creative vision and was ready to do what it wouldtake to make it areality, which landedher in a truly unique position: she is the only female country artist in recent memory to have a hand in all of the writing, arranging and producing for her debut release,the Clare DunnEP.“I remember feeling like,‘I know that I’m asking my labelto take this tremendous leap of faith on me.I will be in the studioday and night. I will go until it’s right,’” says the guitar-slinging singer and songwriter.“I feelso grateful that I’ve hada team around me that’s allowed me to do that and supported me every step of the way.”True to her word,Dunn spent virtually every waking moment holed up inThe Cave at Nashville’s House of Bluesstudios, craftingherstandout soundbeneath the watchful eye of a Chuck Berry portraitwith such A-list collaborators as Terry McBride, Jesse Frasure and Ben West. And it definitely paid off. The hooks haveirresistible pop-rock punch,thesentiments are shot through with heartland rock grit, the vocals show R&B-schooled rhythmic daringand the arrangementsare both towering and dynamic. Every lick of guitar on there, from agile melodic figures toaggressive shredding, is hers. “I think there’s,like, one songwhere I didn’t play a
mandolin part or something like that,” she says. “But other than that, every lead part is my playing—acoustic, electric, everything.” That goes for all of the vocal parts,too—except for a solitaryEric Paslay guest harmony. Dunn doesn’t sound quitelike any other singer in any genre, but her sumptuous lower range and the attitude and lustiness she summons whenever it suits the song recallssuch world-class pop performersas Pink or Annie Lennox. Inher teens, Dunn geeked out over a VH1 “Behind the Music” documentary that showed Fleetwood Macworking out their meticulous vocal arrangements, and inthe studioshemight devote as many as a dozen tracks to doubling the melody in a different octave or layeringprecisionharmonies, which adds to the sheer size of her sound.Dunnbegan paying her duesback in southeast Colorado, where she grew up the second of two daughters born into a long line of farmers and ranchers. “We didn’t have anybrothers,” she says.“We did basically everythingthat boys would normally do, driving 18-wheelers,combines, tractors. I was very grateful that my parents raised us with thementality that we didn’t even think about it;it was just normal for us to do all that stuff. We were a small family operation, and it’s all hands on deck, all the time.”In her early years, Dunn soaked up her parents’favorite classic rock and country records—lotsof Bob Seger titles among them—and stocked up on Top 40 singles when the family made the trek to a store in a neighboring townthat actually had a record bin. She alsoabsorbed all manner of rhythmic pop and R&B during marathon dance classes, so devoted to her hip-hop dance team that she won a scholarship tostudy with Janet Jackson’s backup dancersin California. Says Dunn,“Mymom wore out an engine in a Suburban hauling me back and forth to dance. I couldn’t go every daylike the other kids, because Ilived an hour away. So I would do makeup days, and spend all day from 10 in the morning to 10 o’clock at night just learning dances so that I could be in the recitals andcompetitions. Dance,for me,is such a form of expression. When I’m making music, I’m thinking about it from a dance perspective—beats and musicality and phrasing.”
For all of her sonic smarts, the aspiring musician lived in a town with zero places to play live shows,andshehad no clue how to pursue her dream after high schooluntil she heard about the music business program at Nashville’s BelmontUniversity. The private school was out of her family’s price range, but she didn’t let that stop her, raisinga big chunk of her tuitionbydriving a silage truck.“Anytime that there wasn’t school going on,” she recalls, “I was on that truck. Spring break, summer break, fall break. If you could’ve grown silage in December, I would’ve been on it over Christmas break.Whenever I couldn’tbe home to drive the truck, my family keptthe wheels rolling. My mom, dad andsister all drove it for me when I couldn’t be there due to classes or internships.”It wasn’t until Dunn got to college that she learned how to play guitar. Unlike a lot of dorm room dabblers, she wasn’t content to just reach the point where she could accompany herself by strummingbasic chords. “Whenever I’d try totalk to a guitar player and explain how I heard things, I could never explain it,” she says. “So I thought,‘If I can’t explain it to them, I’d better see if I can learn how to do it myself, so I can get it the way that I hear it in my head.’Lead guitar,for me, was where it was at. I had no interest in learning G, C and D and stopping.I wanted to be able to sing on guitar.”After college, Dunn signed a deal that went sour and turned her attention to building a grassroots following through decidedly unglamorous touring. “I loaded up me and three guys in a four-door F-150 pickup and a trailer and we took off,” she laughs. “We put 100,000 miles on it in just a little over a year. We played bars—teeny,tiny bars—and honky-tonks and festivals. It was very bleak to start out with, pinching pennies, trying to magically make a dollar turn into three dollars, trying to keep morale up. Like,‘I know we played for two people tonight, guys, but it’s fine. We’re gonna get beyond it!’My family helped me then too. Theybelieved in me so much that they were willing to sacrifice in order to help me build that following to get a record deal.”The audience quickly multipliedwhen SiriusXM’s The Highway channel put Dunn’s flirtatious number “Cowboy Side of You” in rotation, and the fanswho came out to the showsfound a vital, confident band leader stomping around,
swapping fearsome solos and singing like she meant it. UniversalMusic GroupNashville soonsnatched her up, and sheattracted in-demand co-writers likePaslay, West, Frasure, McBride, Tom Douglas, Liz Rose, Hillary Lindsey, Troy Verges, Chris Lindsey, Brett James and Ryan Beaver,andhit the road with many of her musical heroes including Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert,Luke Bryanand Seger, who hand-picked Dunnas direct support on his Ride Out Tour.Now, thather with-it, down-home visioniscaptured on record and her sensuous single “Tuxedo” is impactingthe country radio, Dunn is in theposition to bring her music back to the people and places that taught her what determination was in the first place. “I can confidently say I would not be in this chair had it not been for that work ethicmy parents and community instilled in me,”says the forward-thinking, farm-bred artist. “It’s been a tough road getting here and it’s takenlonger than I would’ve liked, but I’ve always felt confident in setting and pursuing my goals. That work ethic is what drove me to learn how to play, andto go back out and play another show for ten people. Where I’m from, that’s just what you do—you work.”