First Published April 2017
“WE’RE BRINGING THE GRAND OLE OPRY TO BELFAST AND DUBLIN!”
When the call came through to ask if I’d be interested in an interview with Clare Bowen, who stars as Scarlett in the tv show Nashville, my response was an immediate, definite, and loud: YES!
I’ve been a fan of the show right from the start, and as corny as it may sound to anyone who’s not a fan, the day I first heard that the music from the show was being released in soundtrack form was one of sheer, unfiltered, and glorious joy! As for the show itself, I watched it religiously for the first two seasons, but then there was a change in the time it was broadcast, then a change in the channel, and unfortunately both these changes clashed with other commitments. Although I recorded each episode I was missing (I say I did, but what I really mean is that my lovely girlfriend Jennifer was always kind enough to do it for me), finding the time to catch up with them all was impossible. So Nashville and I, sadly, kind of lost touch there for a time.
But lately I’ve been finding my way, slowly but surely, back into the loop of what’s been happening. So the chance to spend some time in conversation with lady behind one of the show’s most endearing characters couldn’t have been better timed.
The main reason for our chat was the Nashville tour, which returns to Ireland in June with shows in Dublin and Belfast on June 19th and 20th. Given that the show came to Ireland last year as well, and has already toured the United States for a number of years, I began by asking Clare if she ever could have imagined this happening when she first went for her audition for the role of Scarlett….
“Oh gosh, if I was able to predict the future we’d all be in a lot of trouble! [laughs]. No, I didn’t, but I couldn’t have asked for more. It’s so wonderful, and especially to be able to come back to Ireland, which is where so many of my family has come from. When I went for the audition for Scarlett, I turned up looking like a drowned rat! Cos’ it was raining in California and everyone forgets how to drive when it rains, so my bus was late! But they waited for me [at the audition], it was a really serendipitous sort of day that changed my life in about twenty-five hours or something. So no, I could never have imagined all this. But I’m so excited to come back to Ireland, we had so much fun last year in Dublin. And I’m so glad we get to come to Belfast this time as well.”
For fans who might be coming to the Nashville concert for the first time this year, what can they expect? Will it be a selection of all the songs they’ll know from the show? Will Clare, Charles, Chris and Sam be able to showcase some of their own original material? Will they perform some of their own favourite country covers, maybe? Clare revealed all…
“It’s going to be a bit of all of those, actually. We’re really lucky that we have the Grand Ole Opry behind us, the Grand Ole Opry and Lionsgate (the company behind Nashville), they’re huge supporters. We’ve had the Opry all the way. Basically we’re bringing a cross between a Bluebird [Cafe ] show – a very, very big, loud Bluebird show [laughs] – , and what happens in the Grand Ole Opry. So, it’s kinda like the format of the Grand Ole Opry. We cycle through performers and we all really end together, and that’s what happens on the Grand Ole Opry on a really special night when everybody’s there and we all sing together. And we’re lucky enough that we’re allowed to sing the songs that we write as well, because we’re all songwriters. That was a serendipitous part of what the cast of Nashville became. We just all happen to have roots in songwriting. I don’t know, it was just one of those things that that was what central casting was looking for. So there’ll be a lot of our own music that everybody will surely be able to sing-a-long with because it’s from the show. We worked with the band as much as we could on everything, so that they can participate as much as they possibly can, singing along and all that stuff. It’s a big party! We’re basically bringing the Grand Ole Opry to Belfast and Dublin! [laughs]”
Of course being on tour means being on the road, and being on the road means being away from home. I wondered if Clare enjoyed that side of a life as a professional musician?
“Well I’m really, really lucky because I spent a lot of time alone as a child and my parents pretty much brought me up to be independent from the get-go. But my fiancee, Brandon Young, he tours with me everywhere. When we’re shooting the show, Charles Esten, myself, a band called Sixwire, and my fiancee tour together every second weekend or so. So we go around America all the time. And when we come to Europe I’m so lucky that Brandon is a part of the band for the Nashville show, so we’re always together. Anyone who came last year would have seen him. I guess for me, home has never been a place there’s always been people. I’m just so lucky that I get to bring my person with me. And cos’ he’s so talented he’s been adopted by the ‘Nashville.’ He’s great. He sings with Chris Carmack, he was playing back-up for him last year. And he’s jumped in with me and Jonathon Jackson. And he’s my favourite to sing with in the world, is Brandon, so we get to sing all of the duets that we’ve written together. I’m very spoiled because I get to bring my hun with me.”
Turning to the Nashville tv show itself for a moment, much to the delight of fans around the world, it’s just been renewed. And with Scarlett apparently expecting, then exciting times would certainly appear to lie ahead for she and Gunnar…
“Apparently, yeah! I don’t know how much I can talk about that! [laughs]. But I think it would be very interesting for the characters if it happened. But I don’t think that having children fixes a broken relationship. I think that’s probably the worst idea possible if your relationship is suffering. I saw a lot of fans were like, ‘Yaay!’, and I know Scarlett is excited, but I don’t know. There’s been so much that’s happened between them, those two characters. I hope that we get to find out why Gunnar treats Scarlett so badly. Honestly, I do. The fact that she had to say goodbye to him, in the kindest way…, I don’t know. It’s been an interesting season. But I really don’t know how much I can say cos’ I’m not sure where you guys have caught up to.”
When speaking about acting once, Clare remarked that, “You play all these different characters as an actor and then you dig under all of that and somewhere down the bottom is you.” Given that Clare has played a character such as Scarlett is, for as long as she already has, and considering that no-one else has ever played this role before, I wondered if it feels like Scarlett is actually a part of Clare herself at times?
“They all are [all characters she plays]. We share a lot, but we’re also very different creatures, Scarlett and I. Her childhood was challenging for totally different reasons to what mine was challenging for, but we run parallel in a lot of ways. Everything that she feels, I feel. Because physically, if you’re exhausting yourself crying, or screaming or yelling, or being anxious – a lot of Scarlett’s anxiety comes from trying to please other people – in order to project all of that, you have to feel it yourself. Everything you see on her face is coming from inside of me. You can’t fake it because it doesn’t look real if you fake it. And people know. She’s been a really interesting character and I feel very privileged to be able to play her because she is, in effect, a traumatized person. She’s not an average twenty…., I don’t know, she’s twenty-six now, I think, yeah twenty-six, but she’s not a person who’s had a conventional upbringing. But I mean, nobody has! Normal is a setting on a dryer! [laughs]. But with Scarlett, you’re looking at somebody who was beaten as a child and has this in-built need to make people happy. Because in her mind, people not being happy results in abuse. So I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me about Scarlett and everything she’s been through. She’s become like, like a little light in the dark. All she wants is to put good in the world even though she’s been through a lot. That seems to resonate with a lot of our fans so I’m very grateful to play her.”
When Clare writes, is she able to draw upon her skills as an actor to get ‘into character, as it were? Or is her songwriting something far too personal for that, does it need to reflect her own true feelings, emotions, and thoughts?
“I think it’s a bit of everything. I mean, a lot of times you’re telling somebody else’s story. For me, focusing on the album, it’s my first album and the most important thing for me is that it is me. I try to be true to myself when I’m writing. So you’ll find that there’ll be a lot of stories from my childhood, and dreams that I’ve had. I can’t think of a song that’s not a true story, one way or another, on the album. And I’ll let other people decide what kind of an album it is. It’s definitely rooted in Americana and folk. My grandad was one of the biggest musical people that I knew growing up and he was forever playing ABC radio, beautiful, old celtic music. So that’s a big part of it, too. But yeah, they’re all stories from my life. And I tend to write with my closest people who know me very well, who I can really let into that. It’s quite a process, but I’m excited to see what people take from it.”
I had to congratulate Clare on her gorgeous single, ‘Love Steps In’, which is a simply beautiful song. As it was co-written by Brandon, Clare‘s fiancee, is in honour of her brother Tim and his battle against cancer, and includes some really touching lines about her mum and dad (‘…with the power and the grace of our mother/ With the calm and strength of our father…’), I put it to Clare that it must be a very, very emotional song for her to sing?
“It is. And you know, one of the most emotional times I had performing it was actually in Dublin on that beautiful stage, with so many people. It was a real privilege to get to speak those words to everybody, to sing for them. ‘Love Steps In’ kind of grew wrings of its own, I have to say. And now Tim is better, and the song has already brought so many people together. People say lovely things to me and I’m so grateful. But for me, when people, perfect strangers, start bonding over this song that they’ve heard because it’s giving them the words to say what they couldn’t express about how they were feeling, but yet they’re telling each other their stories. It’s become this big forum of love, and acceptance, and kindness. And common ground. I think that’s one of the biggest things for me about music, it is a universal language. And in a world where so many people are screaming and yelling, and they’re so divided, for me to have the privilege to stand on a stage and give people something that brings them together and allows them to see that we’re all living on the same rock, we all breathe the same air, we are more similar than we ever would have dreamed. That’s the greatest gift in the world, singing ‘Love Steps In.’ We’re giving all the proceeds to St. Judes Children’s Hospital in Memphis. And all this gave me the chance to tell a little part of my story, and of my brother’s story. It was something important to so before the album, for me, because I get to give it to everybody.”
With the clock ticking towards the end of our time together, I wanted to swerve away from the music side of things for a moment, and touch on one other subject before we said our goodbyes. Like myself, Clare happens to be a vegetarian. For me, there was a very definite, clear moment in my life when I made that decision. I wondered if the same had been true for Clare?
“I just can’t eat meat. I remember trying and being told that, because I have a lot of missing pieces from all the surgery I had when I was a child [Clare had cancer from age four to seven], being told that I really should eat meat. Because you need the iron and all that stuff. And I totally respect that, and some people really do [need the iron]. And maybe I really do, too. I don’t know. I grew up around more animals than people. It’s difficult for me to see the difference between a pig leg hanging in a butcher’s window, and a human leg. It’s difficult for me, and it’s become increasingly more difficult for me to differentiate. So I stopped. And I think my health has actually been a lot better since I stopped. But my Grandpa was a butcher and my Grandad was a fisherman. So it was very much well ingrained that everybody ate meat. I don’t know where exactly the definitive point was. It just makes me sad. Eating meat just makes me sad. And it makes me feel sick now. I can still eat eggs and cheese, that’s about it. It’s actually easier for a person who has missing pieces not to eat meat [laughs], to be honest with you. Even when everybody tells you that you should. But I’m happier this way. I don’t think it makes you a terrible person if you eat meat, I just think it’s a personal choice.”
As luck would have it, only a couple of days after chatting with Clare, I was interviewing somebody on the Irish country scene and when Clare‘s name happened to come up in conversation, it turned out that they had met her on a few occasions courtesy of a mutual friend. And, not surprisingly, they had nothing but praise for Clare, finding her to be one of the loveliest, most friendly, and genuinely cool people they’d ever had the pleasure to spend some time with.
Having now had the pleasure of spending some time with Clare myself too, I can second that opinion wholeheartedly. And whenever anyone asks me was Clare cool to interview, my response will always be as immediate, as definite, and as loud as my response to the question of whether or not I wanted to chat with her in the first place….YES!