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Interview: Clare Bowen talks about her debut album, her upcoming UK tour and saying goodbye to Nashville

Clare Bowen is best-known for playing the role of Scarlett O’Connor in the long-running Country music drama Nashville, which just came to an end this summer.

Now the show is over, Bowen is turning her attention to releasing her own original music and her debut album arrives on Friday 31st August 2018. Fans have already had previews with songs such as Let It Rain and Little By Little.

I caught up with Clare recently to talk about the uplifting feel of the record, discuss her upcoming September UK tour and to find out what it’s been like to say goodbye to Nashville.

The album is very uplifting and optimistic with a lot of hope in there. Did you have a concept in mind when you started recording?

I think the main concept is it had to be me. It’s one of the reasons it took so long to write and I’m grateful that it did. We had to do everything between filming and it took five and a half years to get done. I’m glad it did because it was so important to make an album that was not a character, it had to be exactly me and the version of me that I have been for the past five and a half years, and there’s been a lot of change in that period of time. I just (wanted to) make something truthful and tell stories from my life and the lives of people that I love. I was just making sure it was me, even to the point that I’m going to let other people decide what kind of record it is. It fits with the Americana genre but there are so many different elements to it. In order to get it right that’s what I had to do.

It’s interesting you say that because I went into this record expecting it to have a similar sound to the songs we’ve heard from Scarlett on Nashville the past six years. I guess that’s a common thought people may have but I felt like I’d been a bit stupid having that preconception as you’re obviously not that character…

It’s not stupid at all. That’s the way you’ve known me and how people have seen her for the past six years on screen. It’s a long time… it’s over half a decade but I’m glad you said that. I don’t think it’s stupid at all but that’s why it was so important to really make a record that was me.

Clare Bowen
Credit: Jens Fricke

I can hear quite a lot of inspiration in the record. There’s some moments that reminded me a little bit of Kate Bush and there’s a little Sarah McLachlan twang in there. Were there any artists that you’ve listened to through the years that you have drawn inspiration from and been inspired by?

Dolly Parton is probably the biggest one. She tells such wonderful stories and she’s so honest and she’s her. She makes fun of herself. She knows how to be silly and she knows how to be serious. She can lift people up after she’s told them a really heavy story. I think she’s just a really marvellous storyteller. She’s always been a big inspiration to me. I loved the way Alison Krauss sings and the stories she tells as well. I’m a massive Johnny Cash and June Carter fan… gosh there’s a lot. My ultimate musical mentor, Buddy Miller, he’s the guy who taught me how to use a microphone when I first I got to Nashville. He and his wife Julie make such beautiful music together. He’s definitely been a massive source of inspiration and learning as well. Tina Arena is an Australian artist who is a big inspiration to me. Then there’s all my theatre background. Stephen Sondheim is the biggest one I would say. There’s a lot from different places. I just wanted to tell good stories that were true.

One of the things I’ve always loved about you, and I love even more after this record, is your voice. You could sing the phone book and I would probably buy and listen to it. You sing with such confidence but there’s also such fragility in your voice. When did you realise that you have this voice?

Oh gosh. It took me a long time to find my voice I think. I’m classically trained, which I’m really grateful for because it teaches you really good technique and how to keep your voice along. There’s less of a chance of losing your voice if you know how to take care of it properly so I’m grateful for those years of training. Having said that it can be quite a rigid way of learning to sing and if you don’t sound like everybody else, sometimes people think that you don’t fit anywhere. I don’t sound like everybody else and I never wanted to. I always really enjoyed singing but I definitely came across some discouragement early on that made me stop.

I think there was a point when my brother took me aside really early one morning after finishing at the Metro, where I played my very first Australian tour and we ended up selling it out. I used to work behind the bar there. It was a great experience but not exactly what I wanted to do but you have to pay bills so you have to do things that you don’t particularly feel like doing (laughs) in order to do that and chase your real dreams. My brother asked me why I didn’t sing anymore, and this was just before Nashville happened. I said, ‘well I guess I’ve been told so many times that I can’t. I don’t know’. He said, ‘well you don’t even sing in the shower anymore. I live down the hall from you and I don’t see you at all. You have to sing, you were meant to sing’. This is my little brother who is just the most wonderful person in the world.

I guess I just become discouraged, which is easy to happen as an artist. We wrote down a list of things that I needed to do and I think I’ve checked all but one of them off the list, and I’m working on that currently. It wasn’t long after we had that conversation that I sold everything I owned and bought a one-way ticket to the US and was cast in Nashville. Maybe that’s why, and I’m glad you said it, the album is uplifting because I really want to help people. There are so many people walking around out there who feel so alone and they don’t know how to talk about it. I’m really looking forward to coming to the UK. My shows are all about letting people know that wherever they’ve come from and whoever they are, if they don’t feel like they belong anywhere they belong right here and giving that feeling a voice. I think that’s one of the key elements of the album and this is what I want to do with my creative life.

You’ve just announced an Australian headline tour and you’ll be in the UK this September. What can people expect from your show?

It’s a bit of a party! There’ll be songs from Nashville, there’ll be songs from the album, songs people have never heard before and some covers too. It’s just an evening of storytelling. Most of the time (people) end up dancing by the end. It’s an evening of feeling free and listening to stories, that sometimes is stuff that can be difficult to talk about. If you do it in a manner that welcomes people and is uplifting, I’ve found that there lots and lots of smiling faces out there.

I had this beautiful experience. I released the album in Germany a couple of months ago and we did a tour over there and sold it out. I was so moved that people started singing the song back to me. I was singing Little By Little and they kind of took over. I pointed the mic out at the crowd and I was looking looking out at everybody’s faces and everybody had their little lights on their telephones on. It was just the most beautiful sea of just love. There were people who you knew hadn’t together but they’d make friends in the crowd. It was standing room only and it was packed. People had made friends within the crowd and they had their arms around one another singing this song all together.

I think that’s one of the one of the biggest things that people enjoy about the show, is that it promotes unity and love. It’s non-discriminate and it’s all stories. When there’s somebody out there feeling lonely, there might be a story in there that they could either forget all their worries or they could find words to voice those worries that they might not have had before. I have the best time. I don’t really get to see the sights when I go out to different countries and different cities. Meeting people is how I have a holiday and I get to know about a place. It’s a lot of fun for me too, I definitely get something out of it (laughs).

You’ve just said goodbye to Nashville and we’ve just had the finale here in the UK. Has it been a painful process for you to say goodbye to the show?

It’s been interesting. You do anything for six years straight and then stop, you’re going to feel pretty weird. It’s been weird and the key cast saw one another at The Bluebird the other day. There’s a wonderful company called Riverside Entertainment, that’s headed up by my friend Brian Loschiavo and they’re doing a documentary of The Bluebird. It was nice to give everybody a hug and just hang out for a minute. Honestly it’s really strange but it’s been the most wonderful experience. I found my voice in Nashville, I found the love of my life in Nashville, I found so many wonderful friends that I will have forever and I found my home here. It’s hard to explain.

I feel very lucky, as though I got to scoop up all of the best parts of the show Nashville and I get to keep them. I don’t really have to say goodbye. Scarlett has always been this little part of my heart that I carry around for ever, as long as I can remember. Her accent was something that I learned when I was a kid and I brought it into the audition room. I walked in in her accent because I thought, ‘somebody else is going to get this, I’m just going to have fun and I’m going to be so happy for the person who gets it because it’s such an amazing role’. It hasn’t changed, from the day I walked into the audition room to the day I walked off the set for the last time, it didn’t change. I get to keep all the things and even my husband being invited to be on the show in the very last episode was like this strange art imitating life thing. I feel like I kind of got to have my cake and eat it too. I got to keep Nashville.

Clare Bowen
Credit: BMG

I did like that twist of having Brandon turn up at the end to give Scarlett a happy ending…

I know! When Marshall, the showrunner, called me one afternoon he was like, ‘do you think Brandon would do this? I’d just love for Scarlett to have gone back to music, really learned how to love herself and decided that she’s going to do exactly what she wants to do with her life and live happily ever after in that respect. As an added bonus she has fallen deeply in love with a boy in her band whose name is Brandon’. I just squealed and said I’d ask him. He hadn’t done anything like that before but he was great and did such a good job. I didn’t know how else they were going to end her story or let her go off into the sunset in complete happiness, and to know that that’s who was taking care of her… I got to keep him too. I feel like I really won (laughs). It’s a little bit sad but I really feel like I won (laughs).

This year I’ve spoken to Charles Esten, Sam Palladio and Jonathan Jackson at various points, who are all out doing their own music now. Do you see a time in the future where you may collaborate or tour with them again?

I mean it would be lots of fun. It’s so hard when everybody goes off in different directions because everyone has a slightly different dream of what they want to do. It’s somewhat of a logistical… it’s kind of like herding bandicoots, you’ve got to get everybody together at the same time. I love singing with those guys. It was wonderful. I definitely wouldn’t write it off. I think at the moment for the foreseeable future, everyone is chasing what fulfils their heart. Jonathan just came off tour and he’s about to go back out with Echo and the Bunnymen. They’re one of his favourite bands so he’s living his best life right now and just over the moon with what he’s doing. I was having dinner with him the other night. He’s such a good person and he’s so happy. You never know what could happen. We really did something cool for six years. There a chance it could be revived… I don’t know, but we’re going to do our own thing for the moment.

On your album I keep getting drawn back to All the Beds I’ve Made. What’s your favourite song and why?

Oh boy! I don’t have a favourite, I don’t even have a favourite colour. Warrior has kind of taken on a life of its own. It started as a song that I had to write. I called my friend Justin Halpin who wrote Love Steps In for me with Brandon. I said to he and Brandon, ‘there’s a song that I haven’t been able to write yet. I haven’t written a song about all the children that I grew up in hospital with, most of whom didn’t get to grow up. It’s a tough one but you’re my trusted people so help.’ They knuckled down and I said, ‘I don’t know how it goes yet but I know it’s called Warrior because that’s the way I think of those kids’.

As we wrote we cried a lot but I came to realise that Warrior was a lot bigger and it couldn’t be about me. It’s not about me at all. I’m just a narrator there. I came to realise that everybody is struggling with something and a lot of people don’t know how to talk about it. A lot of people feel really alone because of the things that they’re going through and they think they really are alone out there. I desperately want to tell them that they’re not. Whether it’s mental illness, a hidden illness, trauma or just loneliness. They’re not actually alone. It just feels that way and they’re being very brave even attempting to think or talk about what they’re going through.

I think the ultimate thing about Warrior is that not all scars are things that you can see with your eyes. To be able to reach out to people without forcing people to tell their story if they’re not comfortable yet or without exposing anybody. In the kindest way to be able to reach out to anyone out there who is going through something that makes it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and to take to take my hat off to them and tell them how brave I think they are. I think that that’s probably the crux of it. I don’t have a favourite song.

There’s Doors and Corridors, which is about my childhood, and then there’s Little By Little, which really took on a life of its own after we premiered it the year that Manchester Arena was attacked. We dedicated it to everybody out in the UK who’s been affected by that. Warrior was the one that I decided to sing at Manchester Arena when we got to play it and it had been rebuilt. I didn’t want to make anything sad and I didn’t want to talk at all about what had happened because half of the people there were there. I just wanted to give them a little gift and let them know that I thought they were the bravest people in the whole world. We sang Warrior for them for the very first time. It was a very first time that the song was sung. The album is about my life but singing and storytelling, all that kind of stuff, is not about me. It’s about giving gifts to other people. I’m so excited to do it in the UK again.

Clare Bowen’s self-titled debut album is released on Friday 31st August 2018 through BMG. Watch the video for Let It Rain below:

Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip is the Editor of Entertainment Focus and the Managing Director of agency Piñata Media.

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