While Warped Tour is now just a memory for many who lived in Vans, dyed their hair an array of colors, and played their music way too loud, I never stray away from the chance to talk to anyone who was part of its 20+ year run. This is why I jumped at the opportunity to talk to Shannon Clark & the Sugar. See, Shannon and Brittany once played the summer festival but have since grown into a new sound, and have made their band a family affair. Their daughter, Navie is also part of the sugar that makes this Americana meets indie trio so sweet.
So yes, we talked about Warped Tour but we also explored how the family dynamic plays into band practice, their rural setting, and ‘Marks on the Wall,’ which crops May 14th.
Kendra: As someone who spent a lot of summers going to Warped Tour, I was excited to see you have a little history with the festival. Then you were a pop-punk act playing the Ernie Ball Stage in a scene dominated by guyliner, skinny jeans, and bangs that covered the faces of 90% of the people in attendance. Fast forward to today and those styles, that era of music is so iconic and celebrated. When you think back, is it ever weird to think you were a part of that time in music history?
Brittany: Honestly it makes me feel old, haha. At the time I didn’t think about a moment in history, my music taste has changed so much but I am proud of what we accomplished and always serious about the music we made. Our daughter does refer to it as old-time music now.
Shannon: I thought we were the coolest thing since sliced bread. It was such a supportive group of musicians and we learned a lot from the scene. We toured mostly back then from other bands hosting shows and swapping gigs, it seems like that’s not as big of a thing as it used to be. I was young and infant-like in my musical taste but it did open my eyes to more genres by being a part of that time.
Kendra: Around that same time, life took an unexpected turn and you stepped away from music. What did you do between then and forming Shannon Clark & the Sugar, and was there a singular moment that each of you felt ready to create again? Did one of you feel ready before the other?
Shannon: I didn’t do much, I’d pick up a guitar once and a while but I didn’t write anything for over three years. I wrote one song for my daughter the night before her funeral then nothing for years. Then as the kids got older and would want to sing or create, we started exploring music again. I started writing about my kids at that point.
Brittany: I remember hearing Shannon singing our song “Carry Me” about our daughter. He was just starting to write again and when I heard it, it sparked something in me, and I wanted that love and healing power of creating music to be a part of our lives again and we slowly started to play and write together once more. It’s something hard to step away from but a true musician I think always comes back to it.
Kendra: So I read this is a family band. Then I looked at the pictures and before I found the answer – I was like, are they siblings? Cousins? There was no way I would have ever guessed this was parents and their daughter. Do you get that a lot?
Shannon: Not as much as I’d like, haha. We started our family young. I appreciate that comment though, we have always been fun energetic parents and we are very close as a family and as friends.
Brittany: Those of us who want to feel young, feel young. Those of you who want to feel old, feel old. I love this comment/question!
Kendra: Kendra: With the parental units being so musical, was no one surprised when Navie started to shine musically?
Shannon: She started singing harmonies to Ryan Admas songs at 7 on our kitchen table; she always loved to sing. She sang with Glen Hansard in front of thousands of people when she was four. so one was surprised.
Brittany: We never pushed our kids into it though. We created an environment of music and creativity, but no pressure. We wanted the kids to love it but if they were interested in other creative pursuits, we let them. Our son is into science and loves to build things. He likes to sing, but not like Navie did.
Navie: I have always loved singing and performing. I can’t imagine my world without it.
Kendra: I have talked to siblings and couples but I don’t think any family bands like this. For them, they tend to say that the family dynamic never comes into play when it comes to music. They’re all equals. Is that how you three roll as well?
Shannon: Interesting questions…I’m not going to lie and say we don’t argue as a family when we are practicing music because we do. We try to be equals, we all add to the music and we all try to work together but like any band or any family sometimes being a parent and a child in a band can have ups and downs.
Navie: I always feel like I should have as much input as everyone else and I do, but obviously my parents have more experience but that doesn’t mean I give up easily. I do love to argue.
Kendra: Let’s talk about your May 2021 release, ‘Marks on the Wall.’ It’s far from the pop-punk you used to do, but still has an alternative edge to it, but if you had to compare this album’s overall sound to a place in Darke County, where would be and why?
Shannon: Darke County is a very rural farming community. Born from hard work, long hours, and late nights. The people here mostly are proud and deeply rooted in family and tradition. They have strong opinions on matters close to them. Typically, communities like this I would say are not very artful or creative but Greenville is special, we have a Center for the Arts and a smaller group that brings culture and variety to our town. The record reflects some of that with tales of prohibition moonshining (Red River) to dealing with Alzheimer’s (Blank), it really is rural Midwest Americana music and it reflects in the cornfields and the wide-open spaces.
Kendra: It should be wherever the IT place is because this single, “Let It Ride,” had what the OG ‘American Idol’ judge Simon Cowell would call the IT factor. From start to finish, amazing. Can you tell us a little more about how this song came to be?
Brittany: We wanted to have just a simple, honest song. If you listen to the record enough, you’ll come to know a lot about us. “Let it Ride” is an anthem and very much the prevailing attitude in these parts, we deal with it, and move on.
Shannon: The funny thing is this song was originally just a soundcheck in the studio, we were warming up the first night to get levels and just started jamming it. Before we knew it the producer, Mark Howard, was like “cool we got it.” We were confused at first but he had the tape running and we had created this beautiful take that’s on the record. No pressure, so we did what the song says…we “Let it Ride.”
Kendra: When you break down “Marks on the Wall” which three songs, in particular, would you say best represent each of you and your musical aesthetics and abilities?
Brittany: “Houses” because Mark pushed me out of my comfort zone and I did things I was very proud of.
Shannon: “Thousand Times” for me because I had to let go of the original idea for the song. This song was not supposed to be on the record, but I played it for Mark one day before we started recording and he loved it, so we wrote the rest of it in the studio on the fly. It’s very different from what I normally write and was special to me.
Navie: “Blank,” I am so proud of this song and Mark really pushed me to sing soft and create interesting harmonies and I just love the feel of it, but “Grumpy Sun” is definitely an anthem for me!
Kendra: Lastly, it’s getting a little easier with the vaccine rollouts, but it’s still kind of hard to have a definite answer when it comes to future plans given the current state of everything, but as far as what you can control when it comes to your career and creativity – what do you have planned in the coming months for yourself?
Shannon: Yes, it has been rough. I’m so proud of this record and I wanted to tour with it and share it with music lovers but it’s so hard to book big tours right now. We are trying however, we have some small tours booked throughout the spring and summer, and we are going to aim for a bigger tour in the late fall, early winter. Also just keep promoting online and hopefully, when things get better, we will get the chance to share more with people.