Ashley Clark’s had a lot of unforgettable moments — as a young fiddle player for his family band, the Clark Family Experience, as a touring musician for Carrie Underwood and, most recently, posing as a near-naked cowboy in the video for his first solo single “Greyhound,” premiering exclusively on Rolling Stone Country. But head banging with legendary producer Mutt Lange in a Caribbean cab is probably near the top of his list.
“One time we were in the Bahamas in the back of a taxi,” he tells Rolling Stone Country, “AC/DC’s ‘Shoot to Thrill’ came on the radio, and I started head banging. And then I look over and I don’t see Mutt’s face anymore — it’s just hair everywhere, because he’s head banging so hard. He’s just gone. I’m like, ‘Shit, I’m in the Bahamas in a taxi with Mutt Lange, listening to AC/DC. No one’s going to believe this.'”
Lange produced Back in Black, the album where that classic rock song appears, in addition to LPs by the likes of Shania Twain, Def Leppard and Maroon 5. He tends to nurture stars, not break fledgling talent. But his next project is Clark, whose upcoming solo album was produced by the reclusive head banger in the breezy comfort of the very non-southern Bahamas. They chose the catchy, mid-tempo “Greyhound” as the first single because “it felt warm and sincere,” Clark says. “It’s a great introduction song.”
A solo country introduction, sure, but Clark’s been around since he started fiddling for his family band, the Clark Family Experience, as a child, known best for their kitschy hit, “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch.” He toured as a musician for Underwood and won Fox’s The Next Great American Band with his brothers and their pop-rock trio Sons of Sylvia. But, for the bluegrass-raised Clark, it wasn’t the music he wanted to be making.
“In my heart I wanted to be a country singer,” he says, “But every time I would sing people would say, ‘You ain’t country. You don’t have a country voice.’ What Mutt did was took my voice and made it work for country.”
“Greyhound” is a country song with a pop drive — and features Clark riding around after lady love not on an “airplane, fast train, Greyhound” as he sings, but as a lonesome cowboy on a sturdy steed. He even agreed to a scene in a laundromat where he strips down to his skivvies. Because even cowboys get their blues dirty.
Clark shrugs. The director said to strip, and he obeyed. “I just said OK and took off my pants.”
The album itself will have sounds influenced by many facets of modern Nashville — he loves and respects Sam Hunt — but also Lange’s heavy metal past. Not one single guitar solo, though.
“If there’s a solo, it’s a crazy fiddle solo,” says Clark. “I always play the fiddle like the electric guitar, crazy and wild. One of my goals is to get on the CMA Awards and do a crazy fiddle solo and then smash my fiddle — just go crazy and smash the shit out of it.”
He wasn’t always so brazen. At one point, Clark, who grew up with eleven siblings and whose father is a preacher, nearly left music to follow his dad’s incessant callings to the church. He left Los Angeles, where he was crashing with his cousin Ryan Tedder, of OneRepublic, and went back home to preach. One day, passing through Nashville, he met a girl. “She was just kind of like, ‘What is wrong with you? You know you’re a man, right? You can do whatever you want.’ I had never even owned a car. I went home and was lying in a bunk and suddenly had an epiphany. Like, ‘I’m a man! And I don’t want to be here.'”
He saved up three grand, bought a used truck and drove all the way back to Nashville where he eventually joined up with Underwood, playing “Jesus Take the Wheel” to crowds thousands-deep instead of preaching behind the altar. And that girl with the solid advice?
“I married her.”