When Brandy Clark writes a song, she’s often drawn to dysfunction.
That becomes obvious over the course the Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter’s second solo album, “Big Day in a Small Town,” which features a cast of colorful characters that includes a single mother trying to keep the household together, a father who drunkenly drives into a ditch on the way to his son’s football game, and a former homecoming queen wondering just where the years went.
“Anything that’s perfect is not really interesting to me,” the Nashville-based songwriter said. “We’re all flawed in some ways, some deeper than others. Some of the most interesting people I know are the most deeply flawed.”
The Morton, Washington, native, who plays the California Mid-State Fair on Monday, began her career crafting songs for a number of famous artists in Nashville. Her songwriting credits include several massive country hits, including “Better Dig Two” by The Band Perry and “Follow Your Arrow” by Kacey Musgraves; the latter won Song of the Year at the 2014 Country Music Association Awards.
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In 2013, Clark released her debut album, “12 Stories,” on independent label Slate Creek Records. That album won rave reviews and earned her Grammy nominations for best country album and best new artist.
All that critical acclaim didn’t prevent Clark from learning a thing or two while promoting “12 Stories” on tour.
“I’m such a ballad person — I could listen to a record full of ballads,” she said. “But what I learned from playing live is the audience wants some tempo. And they want something they can move to and groove to, so to speak. So … it just pushed me to take ideas that I otherwise might think of as a ballad idea and put some movement in them musically.”
For “Big Day in a Small Town,” Clark teamed up with Jay Joyce, a producer who recently has worked with Eric Church and the Zac Brown Band — two country-rock powerhouses with a knack for blending different genres into their heavy and guitar-driven songs. Joyce’s influence is immediately apparent on the album’s lead single, “Girl Next Door,” a foot-stomping number with a snarling and savvy chorus in which Clark growls, “So baby, if you want the girl next door, then go next door.”
Recording “Big Day for a Small Town” was a completely new process for Clark.
When she recorded her debut album, Clark and producer Dave Brainard would take whatever time they had left over at the end of a writing day to slowly piece the songs together around Clark’s voice and her guitar, often working late into the night. For her sophomore effort, which was released June 10 on Warner Bros. Records, Joyce and Clark used a larger budget to bring in a full band to record and track the record, expanding the reach of nearly every song.
So far, “Big Day in a Small Town” has earned rave reviews nearly across the board from publications including Rolling Stone and Spin magazines. Clark recently performed as part of National Public Radio’s indie-centric Tiny Desk concert series, and the album’s closing track, “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven,” was featured as one of NPR Music’s “100 Favorite Songs of 2016 (So Far).”
Her ability to write about a wide range of unexpectedly sympathetic characters with wit and honesty has attracted many fans not typically drawn to country music.
“I love that demographic, because I think they’re really smart, and it makes me feel like I write songs that are smart, which I think is what we all want to do,” Clark said.
Clark said transitioning to being in the spotlight has been somewhat of an adjustment, but she’s mostly taking it in stride. She’s still able to be creative, but acknowledged that being a singer means “You have to be ‘on’ a little more.”
Clark’s new career has allowed her to cross off “bucket list” items such as performing at the Grand Ole Opry in August and touring with some of the biggest names in country, including Chris Stapleton and Toby Keith. But the unending schedule of tour dates, radio interviews and television appearances still feels new to her.
“When you’re an artist on the road and promoting a single, there’s really not a free moment in the day,” she said. “And when you’re a songwriter, you have a lot more time to think and be still. And sometimes you can get a little depressed in that — which makes for good songs, by the way.”
The success that Clark has had both as a songwriter and a solo recording artist has led to added pressure to produce that next chart-topper. She recently collaborated with Musgraves on a Christmas record due out later this year and helped write Jennifer Nettles’ latest album, “Playing With Fire.” And while Clark’s main goal is to achieve her big commercial breakthrough as a singer, she’s mostly trying focus on what she knows.
“I just feel pressure to write great songs,” she said. “Because I do believe that if you write great songs, the cream rises. And they’ll find their home, whether it’s with me or someone else, and become hits.”
Christopher Dobstaff: 805-781-7913
6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Monday
Paso Robles Event Center, 2198 Riverside Ave., Paso Robles
Free with paid admission to the fair
1-800-909-FAIR (3247) or www.midstatefair.com