Young rising country music artist Callista Clark from Zebulon, Georgia, recently dropped her debut EP Real To Me via Big Machine Records. The seventeen-year-old is a multi-instrumentalist and has a knack for writing brutally honest songs. She’s worked with many of Nashville’s leading songwriters, including Jonathan Singleton, Laura Veltz, Nicolle Galyon, and Emily Shackleton, among others.
Inspired by the music of Aretha Franklin and Eva Cassidy, Clark added her country influences to create her own unique sound on the five songs on Real To Me. “They are all very real and very personal stories for me,” she says. “There is some heavy emotion behind all of these, and I hope that somebody can relate to them. I really do.”
Clark has been steadily building her fan base over the years and has amassed over 65 million views on Facebook and over 6 million views on YouTube.
It’s clear that you’re a naturally talented musician, but what made you decide to make music as a career and what made you gravitate to the country-rock/blues genre?
I really appreciate that! Music has always been a huge part of my life, and I’ve been singing ever since I could talk. There’s never been a question or a doubt in my mind that music is what I want to do. I grew up singing in church, so I was raised listening to Christian music, but my parents also introduced me to ‘80s and ‘90s country music, Michael Jackson, Eva Cassidy, and classic rock at an early age. I definitely gravitated towards the bluesy side of music. I think you’ll hear some of those influences in my music.
I understand you play eight instruments. That’s crazy! How did that come to be? Did you make a conscious decision to learn each instrument?
The first instrument I learned was ukulele. When I was ten, my little sister got a toy ukulele as a gift, and I played around on it. That led to a real ukulele, and within a few months, my parents handed me a guitar. My dad taught me the basics on guitar, and I never put it down. When I was fourteen, I started learning piano. My mom taught me the basics on it, and I fell in love with it quickly. Bass has always been my favorite instrument to listen to in a song, so I picked it up for fun, and I love it! I enjoy playing around with all kinds of instruments.
You started playing music at a very young age, and you’re still much younger than a lot of up-and-coming musicians. Do you find your youth hinders or helps you?
A little bit of both, honestly. It can be hard for people to take me seriously because of my age, but usually, when I start singing, they pay more attention. I love being challenged and defying all expectations about how somebody thinks I’m gonna sound or act.
How do you handle your work-life balance? Specifically, as someone so young, do you feel like music gets in the way of schooling or your relationships with your peers?
Music is something that I have always taken very seriously. Whether it’s playing guitar, piano, bass, or songwriting, it definitely takes up most of my time. I started gigging when I was nine, so there have been many situations where people invite me to parties or events and I can’t go because I’m busy with music. But this is what I love and what I want to do, so it’s all worth it. It is a balancing act, but I spend time with family and friends as much as I can.
I understand that you started writing poems and eventually turned them into songs. Is this still a method you use in your songwriting process? Or do you sometimes come up with the music first?
My very first song was originally a poem, but when I write now, it usually starts with a hook, and when I have a hook, then I have an idea of a melody. I start with the lyrics first and then make my way to the music side of it.
You’ve done a lot of co-writing with some very established musicians. Can you talk about how that process works? Do you typically come in with ideas or start from scratch in the session?
I usually come in with an idea or a hook and go from there. If everybody loves it, then we just dive in. I try and learn from whoever I’m writing with because everyone has a different writing process and different strengths. I have been blessed to be in the room with some absolutely incredible writers.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in the music industry, and how have you overcome them?
I think it’s harder being a woman in this industry, especially at my age. I’ve had times where I had a show and the sound guy would come up to my guitarist instead of me because he just assumed the guy would be the one running the show. And there have definitely been times when people didn’t take me seriously, but it’s just made me work even harder to prove them wrong.
When it comes to lyrics, what topics inspire you most?
I usually write about whatever is happening to me that day. It could be something I’m feeling or going through in my life or a situation that a friend told me about. It could be a topic that makes me mad or sad or happy, but it always comes from something I’m truly feeling.
Your debut collection Real To Me was released on February 12. Tell us a little about it.
I am beyond excited that my music is finally coming out! If you’ve been following me for a while, then you know I love to cover all kinds of music, and I think you’ll find some of those influences in my songs. Each song on this collection is special to me and is about something I’ve gone through.
Besides the collection, is there anything else you want to tell your fans about what they can expect from Callista Clark in the coming year?
I just want to say thank you so much to all of my fans that have been waiting on me to release music for so long! Thank you for being patient and believing in me. It’s finally here! I just hope there’s at least one song of mine that y’all can relate to. That’s the biggest goal of mine. This is just the beginning of the music I want to share!
Real To Me tracklist:
“It’s Cause I Am”
“Change My Mind”
“Don’t Need It Anymore”
“Real To Me”