Without touring, Dunn pens songs from the family ranch
Clare Dunn returned to her family ranch in southeastern Colorado on her way to Greeley to receive an award from the Rocky Mountain Country Music Association. When the awards ceremony was canceled due to restrictions, and concert appearances began canceling en masse, she was faced with the decision to return to her home in Nashville or stay. The ranch-raised singer and songwriter returned to Nashville to gather studio equipment and returned home.
Dunn’s family runs a small commercial cattle operation, and they raise dryland wheat. Her parents, she said, have been able to persevere in the industry despite widespread drought and low prices in the past years. Dunn and her sister grew up riding horses and helping on the ranch.
“Music was something I always wanted to do since I was little bitty but I had no clue how to do it,” she said. “My parents encouraged my sister and me that we could come home and farm but encouraged them to take a swing at their dreams off the farm.”
Dunn took dance classes about an hour from their home and spent time driving tractors, listening to the radio and being exposed to many types of music, much of it out of sheer boredom, she said.
She attended Belmont University in Nashville, paying her way by driving a harvest truck, and she learned how to, as she said, make music with no money. It was her work ethic learned on the farm that she said has served her well and continues to do so.
She landed a small recording deal, working evenings at the Grand Old Opry and playing small gigs around Nashville. She slowly built a fan base and was eventually signed to a label, even touring with Bob Segar.
Dunn wrote No Wrong Way, a single on Real Thing, as a tribute to growing up in rural America.
“I never felt unequal, I was always taught to be smart, work your rear end off, be competent and what matters is your work ethic, your character, who you are, and what you’ll contribute to the world,” she said. “When I moved to Nashville, it was less about my abilities as a singer or songwriter and me being told I was too fat or my hair is wrong, or my makeup is wrong. That’s not what my mom taught me.”
In No Wrong Way she sings, “Too tall, too short; Too big, too small; Too weak, too strong; To worry for too long; About what they think or what they say; Why do you care, anyway? If you’re true to yourself when you stand in the light; Then, baby, you’re doing it right.”
HOME ON THE RANCH
Though she said she’s ready to return to touring immediately, she has settled in, helped on the family cattle operation, and has been churning out new music from her makeshift studio. For Dunn, reconnecting with the ranch that has inspired so much of her music, has resulted in more music released in 2020 than ever before.
“So many artists don’t have the capabilities to make their own records, and there are so many artists that are literally shut down because they needed studios and lots of people and that just wasn’t possible,” she said. “I feel very fortunate. The touring aspect is sad and frustrating but in terms of releasing music, I’m in the ideal situation. I’m in the place that inspires all of my music and I get to be out in it every day and then go write songs about it.”
Dunn plays guitar, bass, and keyboard and is able to program a drum track, record each instrument piece, and add background and lead vocals. Layered together, the song recording comes together and can be released. She is, if you will, a one-woman band. Even with the technology to play tracks herself, she still likes to hire musicians when she can- especially drummers and keyboard players. The tracks can be recorded in different places and mixed.
Although she enjoys writing by herself, she co-writes with songwriters in Nashville over Zoom, which allows her to collaborate, as she said, from the middle of nowhere. She laughs and said huddling around a Zoom meeting with an acoustic guitar isn’t ideal, it still allows her to be a part of the process thousands of miles away from Music City.
In 2020, Dunn released songs including the EP Honestly: A Personal Collection and Real Thing, released in February of 2021.
Being insulated from the goings on of other artists, she said, allowed her to maintain her own unique spin without distraction or pressure. In Nashville, Dunn said it’s all about getting a song on the radio, which is a good goal but being away from Nashville has allowed her to not be influenced by the prescriptive sound that seems to land artists on air play. Streaming, which she said is gaining popularity in country music, despite resistance, also helps artists really release the type of music their fans want to hear.
“It can be honest and heartfelt, and I think that’s the best kind of music anyway,” she said. “Not being in Nashville, though I love it, has been very freeing for me creatively.”
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