Armed with a voice and soul that's rich beyond her years, Callista Clark is headed for country stardom.
A Zebulon, Georgia native, since the age of 13 Clark has been steadily crafting herself a glowing artistic resume that shows no signs of dwindling. After uploading a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Have You Seen The Rain?’ to her Facebook in 2017, she caught the attention of record executive Scooter Braun, who was quick to take the budding hit-maker under his wing the very next week.
“It was this whirlwind of things happening all at once”, Clark reflects with wide-eyed enthusiasm. “Then I turned 14 and Scooter introduced me to Scott [Borchetta] at Big Machine. I signed a contract and have just been running with them ever since”.
Following its release in February, ‘It’s Cause I Am’ - the lead single from Clark’s debut EP Real To Me – quickly racked up over a million streams on Spotify alone; the assertive lyricism and 90s-inspired songwriting on the record piquing the interest of global audiences and industry folk alike. Now working with many of Nashville’s leading songwriters, including Laura Veltz, Jonathan Singleton and Nicolle Galyon amongst others, Clark’s already set for a wildly impressive career trajectory - and she’s still only 17 years old.
Despite projecting such captivating confidence, Clark is a self-proclaimed introvert. Having spent the early part of her childhood singing in church and around town with her two siblings, it wasn’t until she was signed that she had to learn how to adapt to a life in the limelight.
“It’s been interesting having to figure out who I am both as a person and an artist, and make sure I’m still humble, still down to earth, still me. Because I’m so shy, I had to become comfortable doing things by myself, especially being younger than all of the other people I work around. But the more I did it, the more I knew it was what I was supposed to do. I’ve come a long way.”
As she called from her family home, Clark looked back on all the influential songs and artists that have helped her carve her own path, selecting five of her life-long favourite tracks for Cuts The Deepest.
My first choice would have to be ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain?’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival, because it changed my life. Growing up, I would go around places in my small town singing with my siblings. This was a song that my brother would sing everywhere we went, and I always loved it.
We were on vacation and my grandad said, “You should bring back some CCR for the next cover that you do”. So I just started picking the chords to the song and was like, “Well, I think these are right, I don't know, you can just film it.” My mom said, “Do you want to brush your hair? Do you want to do anything in case people see this? You know, people are gonna see it!” I didn’t really care though, and that goes to show that I truly did not expect anything from this video - I just posted it on my Facebook when I was 13. I was only doing it because it was stuck in my head, but now it has around 28 million views. It still makes me very emotional to sing it now.
My second choice would probably be ‘How Great Thou Art’, just because I grew up singing in church, and I always sing hymns, gospel music, Christian music, contemporary Christian, all of that. This song in particular has been one of my favourites for as long as I can remember, and I think it always will be. The church has had a really big impact on my songwriting, musically and sonically. I think, especially on Real To Me, you'll hear a lot of the same instruments that are used in gospel music. It's all definitely been influential.
Eva Cassidy is one of my favourite singers of all time. She's absolutely incredible. I've always loved her voice and admired her for the way she phrases things, and how she does so much with just her voice and a guitar. She changes songs and makes them her own - I look up to that so much and want to do that with my own music. My mom played a lot of Eva Cassidy in the house, and the older I got, the more I just started to realise how much of an impact her voice and her music had on me as an artist. It took me a while to realise that I was really clicking with the way she did things and the way she matched up songs with her guitar. I love it.
I grew up listening to Sugarland, I’m a big fan. When I got older, I was in a group through Georgia 4-H called Clovers and Company, and it was a group that Jennifer Nettles was actually also a part of growing up. I started to hear about her more and more, being surrounded by all the people that ran the group. She's an incredible singer, and I’ve always idolised her. I got to meet her at a magazine photoshoot for 4-H, and she heard me playing and singing, and she remembered me! She invited me to perform with her for a huge national 4-H event, and we sang ‘Baby Girl’. It’s a very fitting song for me to sing with her because it's about dreams and having a career in music. It was a very special moment.
My last choice would be ‘Chain of Fools’ by Aretha Franklin, because I’ve always loved her music. Aretha is one of the greatest of all time. This was the first song that I ever learnt to play on the guitar, because it’s only one chord, so it's actually pretty easy. But, going back to my Eva Cassidy influences, I wanted to make this song my own. So here I am, 11 years old, my arms wrapped around a guitar that's bigger than me, doing this slowed down, really bluesy, angry version on stage with my eyebrows furrowed. I don't know how! That was a special moment too. People say, “You're young, you don't get it”. I was 11 and fully understood ‘Chain of Fools’, how to play it and make it my own. I was feeling it.
Callista Clark's debut EP Real To Me is out now via Big Machine. You can listen to Episode 12 of the Holler Weekly podcast, with Callista as the special guest, now. Watch the new video for Callista's single, 'It's Cause I Am', below.
Photography by N Sherwood - courtesy of Big Machine Label Group.