Clare Dunn Reflects on New EP, Writing in Lockdown, and Pays Homage to Woody Guthrie

Throughout January and February of 2020, Clare Dunn started putting the pieces together of “Safe Haven,” a song that just wasn’t there yet. When COVID-19 hit, she returned back home to her family’s ranch in Southeast Colorado, rewrote the track, and recorded a few days later.

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“I just felt so much gratitude that I was fortunate enough to be in a safe place, with my family and loved ones,” says Dunn. “There was a huge sense of peace for me, and I felt overwhelmingly lucky. I had friends who weren’t as fortunate—some were alone, some didn’t have family to be with, as were millions of Americans—so I just wanted to write something comforting. I think it will always be a time capsule for me of this moment of time.”

“Safe Haven” is one part of a larger narrative of Dunn’s life over the past few years, all documented on her latest EP, HONESTLY a personal collection. Written within the past two years, HONESTLY was a coming home—literally and figuratively—for Dunn. After parting ways with MCA Nashville earlier this year, Dunn soon joined Big Yellow Dog Music and released “Safe Haven” on May 1, her first single under the new label.

“There was a time I wasn’t allowed to release much music so that was really hard for me to go through as a creator of music and an artist,” Dunn tells American Songwriter, “but I’m so excited to be able to release now and I feel like I’m just now getting started.” 

Co-produced by Jeff Trott (who also co-wrote the EP’s “Salt and Lime”)—“El Paso” was co-written with Brett Beavers, “Honestly” with Tom Hambridge, “Get There Tonight” with Mark Holman and Mike Walker, “Sweet Talk” with Tommy Cecil and Matt Alderman—each track is a snapshot into what was happening in Dunn’s life over the past few years.

“I just hope they feel uplifted, whether in a have fun and escape-for-a-minute kind of way, a romantic way, or a ‘they mighta done me wrong but I’ll be alright’ kinda way,” says Dunn of the six-track EP. “Whatever is it, I just want them to have a soundtrack to brighten their day or lift their spirits.”

While playing live is still not an option for Dunn, on July 21, she perform from her family’s ranch to support the The Guthrie Sessions, a free YouTube series started by the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) that will pay tribute to Guthrie, who died from the disease at the age of 55. (Guthrie’s first two daughters also died from the rare, degenerative disease, which has a 50-50 chance of being passed down genetically.) Founded by Guthrie’s wife Marjorie in 1967, the event will also help bring awareness and support to the disease, often described as having Parkinson’s, ALS, and Alzheimer’s all at once.

This performance is also a very personal one for Dunn. A family friend was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease several years ago, and she says it was tragic to watch how the disease took over him and its immense impact on his family. 

“I didn’t know what Huntington’s disease was prior to his diagnosis, and I remember a time when I was around him not long after he’d been diagnosed and I saw firsthand how quickly it had taken a hold of him,” says Dunn. “This man was tall, strong, funny, super intelligent and when I saw him he had already deteriorated quite a bit in several ways and he didn’t know who I was. I’d known him my whole life.”

Dunn hopes that continued awareness and support may lead to a cure and will perform live from her family’s farm.

“I grew up on a farm-ranch in the Dust Bowl area and Woody Guthrie was definitely a champion of bringing light to the plight of those farmers and ranchers who faced that terrible time out there,” says Dunn. “That makes this whole thing even that much more special for me. Normally the sessions are filmed at live venues, and of course we can’t do that right now, so my performance is gonna be from home—just me and my guitar.”

Living in quarantine has been a productive time for Dunn, and she’s allowing this downtime back on the farm to inspire her. “Being able to produce myself and write songs pretty much anywhere now has really been a blessing to me,” says Dunn. “The EP was finished there, and the next project I do will come from the farm as well.”

She’s grateful that with everything happening in the country she can still make music and is already working on new material.

“Music is an outlet for me,” says Dunn. “I feel like it’s important as ever right now to me. It’s my hideout and safe place.”

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