Terri Clark Celebrates Personal Strength in Pain to Kill

If Pain to Kill sounds at times like a call for women to rise up with fists aloft, it wasn’t exactly what Terri Clark had in mind when she started. “This album sort of took on this empowering theme as it went along,” she tells CMT.com. “It wasn’t a plan of any kind. I just pick songs like that. Those are the songs I’m attracted to — ones that have a lot of energy. I’ve had a couple of people say, ‘This is a really pro-woman album.’ I just tried to find the best songs that I could.”

With its lyrical vignettes of women taking control of their lives (or, at least, fantasizing about it), Pain to Kill is demonstrably “pro-woman.” But it’s a good deal more than that. Clark is no warrior princess, aiming to put men’s heads on pikes. The women she sings of outgrow, outdream, outthink and outlast the forces that tie them down. Still, some of the songs have nothing to do with empowerment. In fact, one of the best, “The One You Love,” laments our inability to save the people we cherish. Clark co-wrote the song with Gary Burr and had a hand in writing four other of the album’s 12 offerings.

“I’m attracted to songs I can relate to as a woman,” Clark continues. “I write a lot about personal experiences or experiences my friends have had. I have a very colorful group of friends. They lead interesting lives, and they’re always saying something funny or telling about something that happened to them that will inspire an idea for a song. Usually the songs that are the most real and believable come from real experience.”

In “Better Than You,” Clark and co-writer Rory Lee illustrate how a real woman of the world handles a “sensitive” but predatory date. “Almost Gone,” which the singer composed with Stephony Smith and Lisa Scott, proposes flight — both literal and figurative — as an antidote to heartache. “The First to Fall,” a co-write with Georgia Middleman and Pat Bunch, is a tender and eloquent concession to the fact that love doesn’t happen unless there’s emotional vulnerability.

Among the songs she’d like to see emerge as singles, Clark lists “The One You Love,” “I Just Called to Say Goodbye” and “Three Mississippi.”

Pain to Kill marks the first time Clark has worked with superproducer Byron Gallimore, the studio mentor to Tim McGraw , Faith Hill , Jo Dee Messina and others. Gallimore recorded the first half of the album. Then, when other duties called, Clark’s longtime producer, Keith Stegall, came in to complete the project.

“Keith recommended Byron,” Clark says. “When I met with him, one thing we talked about was how I wanted to make a big fat country record. I said, ‘I want a big, full sound with a lot of energy. But I want fiddles and steel [guitars] and a lot of traditional country instrumentation. That’s exactly what we got. He produced a record that I had a vision for musically in my head. When you can convey your ideas to a producer and they understand what you’re saying, then that’s really incredible.”

Although Clark took a turn at co-producing with her last album, Fearless, she decided to surrender that chore for this one. “[Producing is] a lot of work,” she says, “and I think I got myself way too personally involved in that record. When you pour yourself so much into every facet of a record, it’s hard for you to step back from it and really be objective. This time around, it was so nice just to go in for tracking and pick the songs and write some songs — do the stuff I’d always done — and then, at the end of the day, walk away.”

Clark says she’s evolved considerably since her debut in 1995 with the single “Better Things to Do.” “I’m more confident because I’ve grown up a lot,” she muses. “I think I know who I am a little better now that I did back then. I’ve matured somewhat, although some people might disagree. I believe the more comfortable you are as a person, the more that comes through in your music. I feel that I’m the best vocally I’ve been so far. I have the best band and crew I’ve ever had. Everything is really in place now.”

This year, Clark expects to do about 100 shows in the U. S. and her native Canada, most of which she will headline. “You know,” she says, “we never really slow down, even when I don’t have an album out. I’m not somebody who puts a record out and then tours to support it. I’ve just stayed on the road since ’95. So I’m pretty good at it by now. I’ve learned that to be on the road and not have it drive you nuts, you just have to let everything roll off your back. You’ve got to be very flexible. It’s like going camping all the time.”

Clark’s MWL Star episode will re-air Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 11 p.m.; Friday, Jan. 31 at 5:30 and 11:30 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 1 at 12:30 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 2 at 1 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. (all times ET/PT).

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.