Return to Sons of Sylvia

Sons of Sylvia are shining bright
Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2010, 5:49 pm

By Jonathan Turner,
Growing up south of Roanoke, Va., as one of 11 children, Austin Clark learned to love bluegrass music from his preacher father, who played just about every stringed instrument.

"All we did was just play. We didn't have TV," recalled Mr. Clark, 26, a member ofSons of Sylvia, which will open for country superstar Carrie Underwood at Moline's the i wireless Center on Friday. "It was like a circus -- nine boys, two girls and a whole lot of chaos."

Six of the brothers (all with first names starting with A), including Austin Clark, started afamily band in the late 1990s called the Clark Family Experience. Three of them eventually "smartened up, got real jobs," he said recently. "Us three hoodlums kept the dream alive and pursued it."

Austin, Ashley, and Adam had moved to Nashville separately by 2004 and got gigs playing for other people.Ashley (nicknamed Ash) had been playing fiddle and singing background vocals in Carrie Underwood's band, while Austin and Adam toured with the country band SheDaisy.

They would get together to play occasionally. When they saw a commercial forFox's "American Idol"-inspired "Next Great American Band" in 2007, "Ash goes, 'We could be a band, just try it,'" Austin Clark said. "I wasn't even expecting to get on the show, let alone the top 10, let alone winning it. It was surreal for sure. I thought I was dreaming,"

The Clark Brothers beat out 10,000 contenders for the title and scored a record contract with 19 Recordings / Interscope Records, which resulted in the group's debut disc,"Revelation," the band's autobiographical tale of finding destiny through music and the unbreakable bond of brotherly love.

After winning the 2007 contest, judge and Goo Goo Dolls' frontman John Rzeznik said: "Nobody deserved it more ... Your heart and your soul and your ability and your passion for what you do is so obvious and so real ... That kind of sincerity can't be faked ... You guys are the real deal."

The iTunes review of the CD says, "They fill their debut long-player with bravura energy and hook-studded songwriting."

After the Clark boys' win, Ms. Underwood (the fourth-season "American Idol" winner) contacted them to sing on"What Can I Say" on her third album, "Play On," released last November.

"She could work with literally anyone in the world, and she called us," Mr. Clark said."It was mind-blowing. She then asked us to be her opening act. It's crazy, man. How did we get here?"

The brothers honored their mother -- and got a fresh start -- by renaming the band Sons of Sylvia. Austin sings and plays dobro and lap steel guitar. They've been on tour with Ms. Underwood -- who has sold 11 million albums and was 2009 Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year -- since February and plan to go through the end of the the year.

"It's been awesome. It's been sold out pretty much every night," Mr. Clark said. "She's amazing, she's such a real down-to-earth person. It's a blast to be with her. It's exposed us to all of her fans.

"It's just an honor even be considered to be the opening act on her whole tour all year. It would be an honor to just be the janitor, just cleaning up after.

"It's, like, literally everything you dream about playing music, from the first day you pick up a guitar, imagine a sold-out arena," he said. "You feel like a kid every night."

The anthemic "Love Left to Lose," which Ash co-wrote with their cousin, hitmaker and OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, has become a nightly sing-along on the tour. On Sons of Sylvia's website, brother Ash Clark said nothing waswas weirder than sitting in a room with his cousin-turned-Grammy nominee and putting pen to paper. "It was surreal," he said. "We were just laughing, like, 'Can you believe this?'"

The brothers had a fun time choosing from about 300 songs they have co-written for "Revelation," Austin Clark said.

"Every time you pick up an instrument, you never know what's going to come out," he said. "It took a long time to trim it down to our favorites -- you fall in love with so many."

Mr. Clark, who enjoys meeting fans at each venue, said the three brothers have become even more close-knit with their newfound success. "For sure, I don't think normal bands borrow each other's clothes," he joked.