Photo Credit: Meeno
Sons of Sylvia, Left to Right: Austin, Ashley and Adam Clark
By Paul Freeman [September 2010 Interview]

Ashley Clark arrived in Nashville with no prospects for establishing a music career. But he had faith.

Soon after, he landed in emerging star Carrie Underwood’s group. With his brothers, he won a network TV band contest. Now, as Sons of Sylvia, they’re touring with Underwood. Soon these charismatic siblings should be headlining arenas themselves.

Opening for Underwood, playing appealing songs from their hit “Revelation” album, Sons of Sylvia are earning enthusiastic crowd responses and long lines at the autograph table. “Crazy things happen in the line sometimes,” lead vocalist/fiddler Ashley said, laughing. “Girls grabbing you, trying to kiss you, showing you their boobs and stuff.”

That’s a far cry from growing up with a preacher daddy. “We grew up going with him to his tent revivals and we’d play bluegrass festivals and churches. Looking back, it was a wild experience, like how did I survive?” Ashley said, chuckling. “All the traveling. All the possible wrecks that could have been. We rode in two buses. There were 11 kids in the family. It was a family circus.”

But that background was valuable to Ashley and his siblings. “It gave me something solid to hold onto, that’s for sure. Growing up, going to churches, being in a conservative environment your whole life, then being thrown out into the rock ‘n’ roll environment, I have my crazy days, but I’m glad I was raised with a good foundation. I know God, family and friends are the most important things. I consider myself a late bloomer. I still feel like I’m 19. I feel like I’m just starting to grow up and be a respectable man.”

Actually 29, Ashley co-wrote the album’s first single, “Love Left To Lose” with his cousin, Ryan Tedder, front man for the now red hot OneRepublic. “I actually played a few shows with him and OneRepublic before they were signed. I was their fiddle player. I left to go be with Dad. But Ryan inspired me. He never gave up. He kept going for it and going for it. His dreams are coming true. That made me feel like we could do it, too.”

Ashley left OneRepublic to join his father’s travels again. “I was just trying to find my way. Dad always pressured me. He wanted me to be a preacher, really bad. But my heart was in the music. Finally, I took a leap of faith and moved to Nashville. I bought a truck. I’d never owned a truck in my life. And I just went. I went there and everything just started happening. So I figured, ‘Okay, I guess this is where I’m supposed to be.’

“There’s always little moments of doubt, like ‘Man, did I make the wrong decision?’ But then you realize you’ve got to keep going and embrace the unknown. That’s what faith is, believing in something, when you can’t touch it or see it. Believe it and you can just walk on water.”

His father was slow to accept Ashley’s path. “For one thing, he only likes bluegrass music. But I feel like he’s changing. He’s not so hard-line anymore. He’s opening up, starting to see things in the bigger picture. He’s mellowing out. When you have 11 kids, I’m sure you’re stressed out so much, because you’re so afraid that you’re going to raise them wrong. He always seemed like he was afraid he was going to lose us.”

Ashley found a gig shortly after committing to music. “I had just moved to Nashville and I got a phone call. I still don’t know how they got my number. They asked me if I wanted to play fiddle and sing background for Carrie Underwood. At the time, I didn’t know who Carrie Underwood was. I didn’t know much about ‘American Idol.’ This was right when Carrie won in 2005. I was like sleeping on couches. So I said, ‘Sure!’

“I started playing with her and we did like Jay Leno, David Letterman, all these big shows and I was like, ‘Whoa!’ “

Ashley played in her band for two-and-a-half years. Watching Underwood handle breaking stardom provided Ashley with a lesson. “Nothing has gotten to her. She’s still the same natural, caring person. And I found that totally awesome.”

While he was in the Underwood band, brothers Austin and Adam were playing with SheDaisy.

Then another opportunity presented itself. “I was watching ‘American Idol’ one night and I saw an advertisement for ‘The Next Great American Band.’ I just called up my brothers and said, ‘Hey, guys, we can be a band. Let’s do it. We’ve played together our whole lives. Why not?’ So we went down in the basement, filmed an audition tape and sent it in.”

They were asked to perform on the show. Billing themselves as The Clark Brothers, they wound up winning the competition. That led to a recording contract. They created a unique sound, beyond categorization. The brothers’ influences range from Bill Monroe to Elvis to The Doors and U2.

“We started out writing just pure, straight-up country stuff. But we got to a point where we just said, ‘Who cares what anyone else says? Let’s just do what we feel, make music we believe in and let the chips fall.’ There’s a fine line between the pop world and country world and we’re just trying to bring the two worlds together. We’ve written over 300 songs. It was a revelation, discovering who we were, musically and as people, too.”

The brothers decided to call themselves Sons of Sylvia. “Our music, the sound was changing so much, it just felt natural to switch it up, to have a fresh start. So we wanted a fresh new name. Our mom’s never been in the spotlight. She had 11 kids. We thought it would be cool, like a monument to her name.”

An appearance on “American Idol” helped bring the Sons of Sylvia widespread recognition. “I remember watching myself on TV and thinking, ‘I look really pissed off,’ Ashley said with a laugh. “But really I was just concentrating on the song.

“After we were on, our album went number one in pop on iTunes and we were the most Googled for that day. It was a really good launching pad.”

They’re releasing a new single, “I’ll Know You.” Soon the brothers will know how it feels to be full-fledged superstars.

“I feel so blessed,” Ashley said. “Not a lot of people can just hang out with their family all the time and not want to kill each other, let alone play music together. These are the times of our lives. I’m thankful for every opportunity with my brothers. How did I get this lucky? I’m just enjoying life.”

The son of a preacher man plans to get involved in helping charities and believes he can accomplish good through his music. “I don’t think God has any walls. We put up all these walls for him. He’s just like, ‘Hey, I don’t live in your little box, man.’ If we just have faith and let him do his thing with us and our lives, then nothing is impossible.”