“There have been a lot of times in my life I wasn’t taken seriously,” 17-year-old Callista Clark tells American Songwriter over the phone.
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The artist has been playing gigs and shows since she was 11 when she started to play guitar. One of Clark’s earliest performances was joining Nettles onstage as part of a 4-H event. At those shows, she recalls incidents where she felt the sound guys and other staff wouldn’t give her the proper attention for set up. It wasn’t until she started her set, playing guitar and singing that she would prove them wrong.
“So [it’s] my way of showing who I am and what I’m capable of in my songwriting,” she explains. Clark points specifically to her first single “It’s ‘Cause I Am,” from her debut EP Real To Me—released February 12 via Big Machine Label Group
“The main thing you can hope for is to write songs that are personal to you, something you believe in, that you love and just hope that people feel the same way and that they relate to it,” she says. “And that’s what’s happening here. This song lets me introduce myself, and show you what I can do.”
She co-wrote the single with Cameron Jaymes and Laura Veltz (“The Bones”).
I can’t help that I’m one of a kind/I’m more than meets the eye/If I ain’t what you like Well that’s alright/You want a one-dimensional woman/It’s okay, I understand/If I seem too complicated for ya Mmm it’s ‘cause I am, the artist sings, boasting wisdom beyond her teenaged years.
The music video for “It’s ‘Cause I Am,” directed by Audrey Ellis Fox, sees Clark through the decades as she performs the song with flashbacks to the front seat of an emotionally infantile boyfriend.
As a co-writer on each of the five debut tracks on her Nathan Chapman produced EP, Clark commands her career from its breakthrough beginnings. “Change My Mind,” penned with Dan Isbell and Jonathan Singleton, builds upon the sass-filled confidence—her Music City survival tool—she exudes on “It’s ‘Cause I Am.”
The first song Clark wrote began as a poem for a school contest. Her mother, who wrote songs for their church, read it and thought it should be a song. “My response was ‘absolutely not,'” she laughs. “I was already so shy, it would be way too hard to get up and sing in front of people, not to mention something that I wrote because I was young. And when you’re young people say, ‘What could you possibly know?'”
She continues, “People just belittle your feelings when you’re growing up and as a teenager because for some reason they’re not real until you hit a certain age I guess? I don’t know.”
When she began writing for Big Machine at age 14 with some of the biggest names in town, she learned quickly she had to assert herself, make herself and feelings heard.
Too old to cry / To young to drive, Clark sings, easing into her soulful title-track, “Real To Me.”
Penned during one of her first big writes with Casey Brown and Veltz, the song emphasizes the validity of her emotions whether or not her older peers understand. Her brazen vocals add weight to the lyrical reasoning, Blue still feels blue / When you’re green on the vine / Real tears in your eyes.
“I think it was nice that I was so naive to the whole process,” she offers about her early entrance to the writer’s room. “I wanted to learn from them and write the best song that I could that day, something real to whatever I was feeling. So I went in and I told them everything—that I feel really misunderstood. Like I didn’t have anything valid to say because I’m just a kid. But I don’t feel like one, and these emotions might not be real to you, but they are to me.”
Listen to Callista Clark’s new EP, Real To Me, here.