Dame Exclusive Interview – Sons Of Sylvia
“Crazy how you can have everything but time,” Sons of Sylvia frontman Ashley Clark sings in “Revelation,” the band’s autobiographical tale of finding destiny through music and the unbreakable bond of brotherly love. “And I don’t know where I’m going, but I know it’s going fast,” he continues, delivering the passion of truth with every line of the country-rock anthem, beginning with, “I was born the day John Lennon died.”
It’s a fitting introduction to the genre-defying trio whose previous incarnation, The Clark Brothers, won Fox’s American Idol-inspired Next Great American Band in record time and with seemingly little effort. Granted, the three brothers — Ashley, Austin and Adam — individually were well practiced when auditions came around. Ashley had been playing fiddle and singing background vocals in Carrie Underwood’s band, while Austin and Adam had toured with SheDaisy. At the time, all three were living in Nashville (not together), but they didn’t have an actual band to speak of. “We just went down in the basement, filmed ourselves playing a few songs and sent it in,” Ashley explains of the submission process. “And next thing you know, we got a call back.”
“We all kept thinking, ‘How are we going to win a band show without a band,’” adds Adam of their lack of a rhythm section. “So when we got there, it was all a little overwhelming and I just wanted to make it to the top 5. I didn’t think we were gonna get very far in it.”
But thanks to fan votes, not only did they make it past the top 5, The Clark Brothers went on to win the 2007 competition, beating out 10,000 contenders for the title and scoring a recording contract with 19 Recordings/Interscope Records in the process. Says Austin: “It was amazing and at the same time, humbling. We just felt very honored that from all the bands, people picked us.”
Call it a fluke, but the way the brothers see their television discovery, it was all a matter of fate and faith. In fact, there are two things Ashley, Austin and Adam have never doubted: that music runs in their blood and wherever it may lead them, that’s the path they were meant to take. Such has been their mantra from a very young age where the siblings, three of 11 born to preacher parents, began playing and touring North America.
Over time, the brothers had ostensibly gone their separate ways, at least professionally, until Ashley orchestrated the basement reunion that would lead to the formation of Sons of Sylvia, the name change (inspired by their mother) signifying “a clean, fresh start,” according to Ashley.
What followed their Next Great American Band win were months of nonstop writing as the guys continued on their musical journey. Destination: unknown. “We took everything we love about country music and put it into this record,” Ashley explains. “And after writing, like, 300 songs, we weren’t ready to stop there, so we thought we’d take a leap of faith and do something totally new and different.”
The result? The hard-driving “John Wayne,” in which Austin does to the dobro what autotune did to the pop chorus. Indeed, distortions abound on this track, Ashley proves his vocal range has no limits and Adam takes the mandolin to another dimension. Upping the ante on “50 Ways,” the brothers deliver undeniable hooks while upping the BPMs on their stringed instruments. But it’s on the anthemic “Love Left to Lose,” which Ashley co-wrote with their cousin, hit maker and OneRepublic frontman, Ryan Tedder, that these Sons wear their hearts on their sleeves, while making the audience’s melt. Or at least that’s been the case as nightly sing-alongs have sprung up on Carrie Underwood’s tour, which S.O.S. is opening.
From Ashley’s purview, nothing was weirder than sitting in a room with his cousin-turned-Grammy nominee, and putting pen to paper. “It was surreal,” Ashley says. “We were just laughing, like, ‘Can you believe this?’ It’s been a crazy road.”
Recorded in Nashville, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, Canada, featuring production by Jack Joseph Puig, Ryan Tedder, Jeff Trott, Brian Howes, Gerald O’Brien, Catt Gravitt, and Mike Shimshack along with co-writes by them and Lindy Robbins, Revelation is the beginning of a newly-charted course for this immensely talented group. And Ashley, who has been on a steady diet of the Beatles, U2, Elvis and The Doors and considers himself a “late bloomer,” is gladly leading the charge — with gusto and swagger. “I think in my heart, I’m more of a rocker,” he says. “For a long time, it was like I couldn’t always express myself or how I really feel. Now, I want to go wild and dance around the stage.”
I had the chance to speak with Ashley about their album, their goals, and what drives them the most to do what they love. You can read about that below.
When did you realize you had an interest in music and what sparked that interest?
I would say probably when I was 5 years old, my dad. There were 11 of us kids and he made us play an instrument. He got me a violin at age 5 for Christmas one year and was like “Alright, you’re gonna play tomorrow at church,” and I was like “What?” and so I went and I played. I thought it sounded pretty awesome but the whole church as like in dead silence so it must have sounded awful. We’ve gone to blue grass festivals and churches all our lives. Music is the most natural thing I know, so I would have to say I’ve had an interest from the very beginning. And it was definitely my dad who sparked that interest.
How did you break into the music industry?
Oh wow, that’s a good question. We had a band called ‘The Clark Family Experience’ in the late 90’s with 6 of us brothers and we went to Nashville and did the whole country thing. We were all very young and went straight from the farm to a record deal our first day in Nashville. It didn’t go anywhere but it was a big learning experience for us, mostly to not be so trusting of everyone. But it was the first window that opened up for us, I mean people in town knew who we were because we were a bunch of brothers. But then we split up and went our separate ways. Austin went and joined a country group, and I followed my dad around to different churches. Then in 2005, I played for Carrie Underwood after ‘American Idol’ and it ended up to where we were on David Letterman and Jay Leno and Oprah. It was amazing! Then after leaving Carrie there was an ad on American Idol for the ‘Next Great American Band’ and so I got my two brothers and we sent in for it and got a call back – long story short, we won the show which lead to a duet with Carrie, playing on American Idol, and then touring with her. It’s been a whirlwind, an incredible journey!
How would you describe the sound of your music and what makes you feel your album is different from other artists in your genre?
I would describe it very simple – Its a little bit country and a little bit Rock & Roll. It’s different because of the instrumental part of it; there is a lot of mandolin playing and fiddle. We try to blend two worlds together. It comes from honesty, and we’re not trying to sound like anybody.
What are some of your short term and long term goals that you live lined out for yourself?
Short term, I just want to keep touring, playing music. Keep it going. Long term – just one day be able to help people somehow. I don’t know how exactly but little ways using music and proceeds to help unfortunate people.
What is your favorite song off your album and why?
I would say ‘50 Ways’ because of the high energy. It makes me want to kick something and dance at the same time.
What do you miss the most besides family and friends when you are traveling and touring?
Getting into my own car and bed. Driving to the grocery store, doing nothing but buying groceries. Just being normal for a while. But then after doing that for a while, its like “Man, I can’t wait to get back on the road.”
What do you like the most about being on tour?
It’s more than one thing, but I would have to say playing music because it’s what we love to do.
What drives you the most to do what you love? What inspires you?
What dives me more and more is home. Giving people hope. Driving me to be a better artist and a person. Always learning new things and looking at life with wide opened eyes. Being excited about what’s next. What inspires me is passion, belief, faith. Doing the impossible. Conquering the world type thing. People inspire me. Some of the people who come through the autograph lines have such sad stores and they inspire me because of the way they feel.
What is one accomplishment you hope to make above all others in your life and career?
Oh man, I don’t know. I think it comes back to those two questions. Just somehow change peoples lives.
What sort of feelings do you hope your fans will have from listening to your album?
Every song on the album
has a different feeling. Each song is its own deal. Overall, I hope
they feel hope.