The attic of Clare Dunn’s 1970s house in Nashville is cozy. You can almost smell the cedar wood on the gabled ceiling. Her ceiling fan is on high; the window unit is cooling down the homey space. It’s an attic that makes you want to curl up and take a nap. A safe space. Sadly, it became a space to which Dunn was scared to return, after being attacked by a Lyft driver in the city in June.
It was one of her first trips back to Nashville, having spent the majority of quarantine in Colorado on her family ranch. Dunn had been working on new music; she was happy to get back to Tennessee where she had more co-writes and dinner with friends scheduled.
“I just remember being excited. I’d had a really great co-write that day; I'd written for the first time with Shane Stevens, he and I just hit it off. I had a great call that afternoon and was going to head out with my girlfriends, then this all happened. It's still hard to think about, it's hard to believe that it happened”.
In the late hours of June 25th, Dunn and a friend ordered a ride from Lyft. The driver picked them up and proceeded to her friend’s house first. She admits to ignoring the nagging feeling that something wasn’t right after her friend had gotten out, as she and the driver started toward her house.
She asked the driver to take a different route to avoid the interstate, but the driver ignored her. After Dunn started yelling and protesting, the driver pulled over, grabbed her by the collar and slammed her, face first, into a ditch. Her nose and eye were bleeding and bruised. She scrambled to call for help on her cell phone. The driver sped away, leaving her on the side of the road, one mile from her house.
“I filed a police report, all this stuff. It took a detective to figure out who he was. I went home to the farm in Colorado. I didn’t know who this person was, where he was, if he saved my address or anything. I mean, the assault happened about a mile from my house. So, I went back to Colorado. I've just been sort of dealing with it that way, trying to get to my safe place as well. “
The driver was found and arrested a month after the attack happened. She says the terrifying assault is something she is still processing, but her music is helping.
“I haven't begun to write or even think about it [the attack] when I’m trying to be creative, because I think writing is my break from all that. I don't know if I'm the type of person that will ever engage creatively with this sort of thing. It's so heavy, so dark and just so wrong”.
Her new project, In This Kind of Light, was already completed before the incident. Dunn had been working on the music and producing it all during quarantine from Colorado. Getting back to her roots gave her the inspiration for songs like ‘Holding out For a Cowboy’ and ‘Fool Moon’. She says spending the year on the ranch shifted her perspective.
“This past year in general I’ve been soaking up my family. Me and my mom, we go and check cattle almost every evening. We had a real, crazy blizzard this February, and I was home to help with that. As tiring and as terrible as it is taking care of cattle, it was kind of fun”.
“I’m going to go sleep in my pickup tonight with the herd,” she confesses. “I'm gonna be on herd duty tonight and I got to do all those things that I haven't been able to in a long time. The music was inspired by all of that. There are much tougher jobs out there and I’ve been very clearly reminded, not that that's ever far away from me. The worst day in music is better than some of the best days in agriculture, unfortunately”.
Feeling the connection to her family farm influenced more than just her music. In the spring, Dunn decided to shoot a video to go along with her single ‘Unread’, which premiered here on Holler. At this point, the world was still in lockdown, so Dunn did what any resourceful cowgirl would do: she figured out how to make it work with a camera and a new photographer, her mom.
“We went down to Oklahoma and filmed right there. That is the land where I come from originally. That’s the land that I grew up hauling water to cattle on all day long, moving them when there was a blizzard coming in and taking care of them. That was the first time I've ever gotten to show people home, where I'm truly from. This is my vision. This is who I am. This is why my music sounds like this”
For those who have been following Dunn for years, she says the new EP is an extension of her songwriting, but doesn’t stray from her familiar sound. The five songs are more stripped-down than her previous records.
“I'm always going to have the big rockers, that's what I love as well, but this is a side that I haven't gotten to show as much. I was at the farm and just wanted it to be a representation of all the soulful stuff I grew up listening to. All of the Motown, Stax records, all the blues, all the soul”.
Dunn is back in Nashville, back in her safe place and feeling creative. She told me her cozy little attic has church windows on the far wall that face toward some pretty awesome sunsets.
“I bought this house because it looks to the west - home is to the west so I can see the Western sky. I love it, it's been really good to create here”.
Dunn’s new EP, In This Kind of Light, is out now via Big Yellow Dog Music. Watch the video for ‘Holding out For A Cowboy’ below.
Clare is the featured artist of Holler's New Country Artists Playlist, you can subscribe and listen below.