Who are these women? That's always what I want to know when I listen to Brandy Clark's debut album 12 Stories. Each one of its 12 seriously great songs tells a really compelling story about heartbreak, cheating, drugs, lust and more. And while the storylines themselves are gripping, what I really love about these songs is the characters she cast for each one.
So when Clark was in Chicago on Thursday (March 13), we talked about who these people were.
"I've had women come up to me after the show and say, 'Are these your stories? Because they're mine,'" Clark said. So she knows she's hit a nerve. "I think life is like a dark comedy. And some of these characters have no redemption. They're not always likeable, but these people still exist."
1. In the opening track "Pray to Jesus," there's this woman who's kind of hoping and wishing for something more than what little she has. Emotionally and financially and spiritually. So she prays, but she doesn't leave it all up to Him. She plays the Lotto, too. "Six little numbers that could change it all." I think I know this woman. Some days, I think I am this woman.
2. You'd hope that the woman in "Crazy Women" didn't come from real life, but she did. Clark was inspired to write this song, originally recorded by LeAnn Rimes, when she saw the 1993 HBO movie The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom. "Beau Bridges was yelling at Holly Hunter, saying 'You're a crazy woman,' and she yells back, 'Crazy women are made by crazy men.' I was like, 'That's such a song,'" Clark said.
3. One of the most authentic characters on the album is the reluctant cheater in "What'll Keep Me Out of Heaven." While it is technically a song about infidelity, this woman is rookie enough to be considering her eternal consequences. "I think everyone knows that person. Or is that person," Clark told me. "I played that one night and my aunt said, 'I love that song about the elevator.' There's not many people that haven't felt that way," Clark said.
4. In "Get High," the bored housewife-turned-stoner gets a chance to shine. She doesn't light up until she's done everything on her to-do list, though, so that makes her more likeable than your average pothead. "My co-writer told me early on, 'That's the best song you have. Everyone thinks it's funny, but it's not. You could write a lot of songs like that.' So that gave me permission to write the rest of these kind of dark songs," Clark said.
5. "Hold My Hand" seems like a love song at first, but if you spend a little time getting to know the leading lady, you realize she's an insanely jealous new girlfriend. Telling her man that "if I'm your future, and she's your past," he better hold her hand. "She is vulnerable, and feminine. This is the heart of a woman," Clark said. "But really, it's the heart of a human, too."
6. I can think of a hundred reasons not to kill my husband, even if I caught him cheating. But in "Stripes," the girl has only two reasons: orange uniforms aren't flattering and she hates wearing stripes. This fashion-conscious tough girl could very well pull the trigger. But she's just too classy for jail. Hell, she's too classy for the Glamour Don'ts page.
7. "In Some Corner" stars that girl. You know her. She's the one who will drop everything for a man, no matter how no good that man is. "I love a flawed character," Clark said, "and I'm not judgmental, so people tell me things, more than they would tell everyone else."
8. Clark is not the woman in "Take a Little Pill," but she knows her story well. "Someone I love is going through this. She just medicates her way through life. And no one talks about that," Clark said. "If you have an uncle that comes to the family reunion and gets drunk, everyone's like, 'Uncle So-and-So is an alcoholic.' No one ever says, 'Well, Aunt Maxine is hopped up on pills.'"
9. The star of "Hungover" could very well be the same girl in "In Some Corner" after she gets married to the jerk. When I asked Clark if she'd ever been in a love this bad, she said no. "Thank God, I've not been in one of these relationships," she said. "But I have always been kind of restless and I have a very vivid imagination."
10. "Illegitimate Children" starts out like a lullaby, but it turns out that it's more like a ballad for women who have one drink too many and, well, you know. Clark knows that a song about liquored-up lust and unplanned pregnancy isn't exactly the kind of country music that makes you want to roll your truck windows down on the way to the river bank. "But I've always thought country music should be truth-telling adult music, so that's what this is," she told me.
11. "The Day She Got Divorced" isn't at all a woe-is-me split-up song. I mean, sure, there's the alcoholic ex-husband, the routines of life and the loving on the side. (Hers, not his.) But this woman is more of an apathetic divorcee: "Couldn't love him any less or hate him anymore than the day she got divorced." Clark told me she knows women going through this, even though they may put on a happy face. "I see behind the veil of the PTA president," she said.
12. "I relate to 'Just Like Him' the least," Clark admitted of the song about growing up with an alcoholic father and then marrying the very same kind of man. "My dad was opposite of the dad in that," she said. "But I could picture right where that woman was sitting, waiting up for him."