Callista Clark, a country singer/songwriter who is only 17 years old, is a talented young artist who is demonstrating that she has an impressive singing voice, and the songwriting skills of a more mature, developed artist. She was discovered by a top manager at age 13, signed to Big Machine Records at age 15, and her debut single, “It’s ‘Cause I Am,” is moving up the Billboard country chart.
Clark’s single “It’s ‘Cause I Am “ is an excellent debut, which shows that she is a talented artist to watch. Clark has a soulful singing voice that makes her sound like a confident 25-year-old, rather than a teenager. She has recently released her first EP called Real To Me, that contains five distinctive songs that she wrote with some of the top songwriters in Nashville. These hit songwriters recognized Clark’s potential as an artist & songwriter, and wanted to write new songs with her.
Clark grew up in the small town of Zebulon, Georgia, where she began to sing publicly in church, and by age 12 she learned to play guitar, piano and other instruments. She wrote poetry at a young age, and she was encouraged by her mother to put music to her poems.
When she was 11, Clark became adept at singing her unique versions of classic hit songs, and she posted her videos on YouTube and Facebook. To her surprise, a video which featured her singing a cover version of the Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” got over 100,000 views.
Then when she was 13, she posted a video of her performing “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” (the Creedence Clearwater Revival hit), and this video attracted a million views and caught the attention of prominent manager Scooter Braun (who manages Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato and other artists). Braun contacted Clark, which led to her signing a management deal with him. Then later on, she was introduced to CEO Scott Borchetta of the Big Machine Label Group, and she signed a label deal with them.
Soon after, Clark began co-writing with several of the most successful and respected songwriters in Nashville. She has written with Laura Veltz (co-writer of hits for Maren Morris and Dan + Shay), Liz Rose (Taylor Swift, Little Big Town), Jonathan Singleton (Luke Combs, Carly Pearce) and Chris DeStefano (Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert).
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Callista Clark. She tells how she got started as a musician & songwriter, and she discusses her hit single “It’s ‘Cause I Am” and the songs on her EP, Real To Me.
DK: I read that you grew up in the small town of Zebulon, in Georgia. How did you start singing and playing instruments?
Here’s the video of Callista Clark’s hit, “It’s ‘Cause I Am.”
Callista Clark: Yes, I’m from Zebulon—it’s a very small hometown. My parents are from there, and their parents are from there. The first place I sang was at my granddad’s church, and I’ve been singing there since I was small. I could literally hide my entire face behind the microphone (laughs). Music’s always been a part of my life, and it’s always something I loved to do.
DK: I read that you play guitar and piano, plus other instruments. How did you learn to play so many instruments?
Clark: Well I’m from a very musical family. When I was 10, my mom tried to get me to learn guitar, but my hands were so small that I could not form any chords. Then my little sister got a toy ukulele, and she learned four songs on that ukulele in two minutes (laughs). So I thought…Okay, maybe I’ll play ukulele too. That’s what I did, and six months later when I was 11, I started playing guitar, and my dad taught me some basic chords. Then I moved to piano, and to other instruments.
DK: When did you start writing songs?
Clark: I wrote my first song when I was 11; it started out as a poem for a school poetry contest. Then my mom read it, and she had written songs for church, and she immediately knew that we should make it a song. So I starting putting chords to it, and that was the first song I ever wrote. Songwriting has always been a special thing to me—I love songwriting and it’s my way of saying what I’m feeling, and it’s kind of a therapy for me.
DK: Early on, you filmed videos of you singing classic songs like “Have You Ever Seen The Rain,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “Billie Jean.” How old were you when you started posting your videos online?
Clark: I believe I was 11 when I started posting covers. It was around the time when I started playing ukulele and guitar. At first, I didn’t realize how big of a platform social media could be and is. At first, I was just posting stuff to stay in touch with my friends, and to see what instruments they were learning and what songs they listened to. I started to post videos of the songs that were stuck in my head, like “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” and “Billie Jean,” and songs by some of my favorites: the Judds, Eva Cassidy and Aretha Franklin.
Here’s a video of Callista Clark performing her song, “Real To Me.”
The first time I posted a video that showed me how big social media could be, was when I posted a cover of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles. That one got around a 100,000 views, and I was so excited about that, I knew that I wanted to keep posting more. Then I posted the “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” cover, and that got me to where I am now.
DK: When you posted your video of “Have You Ever Seen The Rain,” how quickly did people start watching the video? How long was it before manager Scooter Braun saw the video and contacted you?
Clark: The views were overnight. It started going up so fast, that me and my mom were shocked. It was so crazy to watch, that we thought we did something wrong (laughs). Then I got an email from Scooter Braun and Allison Kaye, his partner, and I got to meet them the next week. I was 13 tben, and I met the Big Machine team when I was 14. And I’m 17 now, so it all happened pretty quick. Even though there were three years in-between that, of me writing songs and growing as a human being, it got me to where I am now. It all happened super quick, and I’m still surprised and I’m grateful for the way it all happened.
DK: When I listen to your voice, it’s impressive that even when you were 13, you had such a soulful, natural-sounding voice. And now, you sound like a 25-year-old, not a teenager. So did singing like this come natural to you?
Clark: Thank you so much, I appreciate that. I think for me, singing has always come as natural as talking, if not more so (laughs). One of the first memories I have of that, was being in one of the first performing arts groups I was in. A friend of my mom’s was leading it, and there were just a few kids in the group. She knew that I could sing, but she also knew I was super shy. She said, “She’s got a part in the group…she’ll make it in if she can sing in front of me and audition.” So I sang “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele when I was 8 years old. I think the big voice and choosing the big songs with strong emotions, has been something I’ve understood and something that I’ve felt.
DK: For your new EP, Real To Me, you’ve written with some of the best songwriters in Nashville. How did you connect with them, and what was it like to work with them?
Here’s a video of Callista Clark performing her song,
“Change My Mind.”
Clark: In my first co-write, I was 15 years old. Then in my second co-write, it was with (hit songwriters) Laura Veltz and Casey Brown. I went in, and I realized quickly that no matter what I was feeling that day, I was gonna tell them. I was going to spill all my emotions (laughs). And that day, they asked me how I was feeling. I said, “You know what? I don’t know, because I’m a teenager and it’s super hard, because this is the time in my life where I’m figuring out who I’m gonna be as a human and as an artist.” So we started talking about all my influences, like Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke, and classic Motown artists. Then we started the vibe with that, and you can hear a lot of the Motown feel in that record (“Real To Me”). Then the songwriting started to come because I was telling them how hard it is being a teenager, because you go through this weird phase where people think that you almost don’t feel emotions yet because you’re young. And one day your feelings are validated. So I just wanted to write a song that says no matter how young or old you are, if you feel something then it’s real, and so we wrote “Real To Me.”
DK: Currently, you have your first hit on the charts, “It’s ‘Cause I Am.” Can you tell the story of how you co-wrote that song?
Clark: I wrote “It’s ‘Cause I Am” with Laura Veltz and Cameron Jaymes…they’re so amazing. I went in that day feeling kind of aggravated, as you can tell with the song being super sassy. I wanted to write a fun, energetic, confident song to show that side of me, and that’s exactly what we did. We just wrote a song to make me feel better—something that people can jam to and sing in their car, that makes you feel good. And so I love this song…it makes me feel great.
DK: On your EP, besides “It’s ‘Cause I Am,” what are your favorite songs?
Clark: My next favorite would be “Real To Me.” From the day I wrote that one, I knew that every other song was gonna be around that moment in my life. All the first loves…the first heartbreak, the first car, all of that. I think it’s a very relatable time that I loved writing about.
Here’s a video of Callista Clark, at age 13, singing “Have You
Ever Seen The Rain.” This video led to her being discovered.
DK: Being a young artist who is only 17, have you looked to other successful artists who started young like Taylor Swift and LeAnn Rimes, to see how they did it?
Clark: Yeah, I’m really lucky to have amazing women who have done what I want to do in this industry, and I grew up singing LeAnn Rimes and Taylor Swift songs and admired them in their careers. It’s been fun to have women like that to look up to, and have an amazing (management and label) team by my side that also sees that I’m my own human and I have my own stories, my own sound, and my own artistry. They gave me the time to figure out what that was, and I’m excited and grateful that I’m able to share that with the world.