Long before Brandy Clark scored 2015 Grammy nominations for best new artist and country album, and before critics started lauding her 2013 debut album "12 Stories" as one of the freshest arrivals in recent years, the singer and songwriter knew she was onto something with her writing.
"I wrote this song called 'I Cried,' and I could tell by the response it had when people heard it that I'd figured something out — it hit people in a very emotional way," Clark, 38, said over breakfast in the restaurant of her Los Angeles hotel Thursday, a day before she was scheduled to take the stage at the Nokia Theatre, where she's opening for country veteran Alan Jackson.
But she also soon began to wonder whether any significant number of country fans would ever get the chance to hear her smartly written perspectives on life, love, working and other topics, given the relatively limited scope of what makes it onto country radio these days.
"It can be very discouraging," said Clark, who grew up in Morton, Wash., before relocating to Nashville. "People said they really liked the songs, but no one would record them."
That started to change in a big way when a song she wrote with two other aspiring writers — Kacey Musgraves and Shane McAnally — was recorded by Miranda Lambert on her 2011 album "Four the Record."
"Mama's Broken Heart" reached No. 2 on Billboard's country singles chart and earned Clark songwriting nominations from the Academy of Country Music, the Country Music Assn. and the Grammy-bestowing Recording Academy.
Things began further heating up in 2012 when Musgraves' recording of the Clark-cowritten "Follow Your Arrow" started earning raves from musicians both inside and outside the Nashville establishment. Katy Perry tweeted her fondness for the song to her 200 million Twitter followers, many of whom suddenly started paying attention to Musgraves, and, by extension, Clark.
"Follow Your Arrow," with its rare (for Nashville) message of acceptance for gender and sexual orientation outsiders, subsequently got nominated for country song of the year and took home the honor at the 2014 CMA Awards.
More than a year after "12 Stories" surfaced on the indie label Slate Creek Records, Clark has signed a deal with Warner Bros. Records, garnered a pair of Grammy nominations — including best new artist, alongside the likes of pop-world heavyweights Sam Smith (who won) and Iggy Azalea — and landed one of the hotly coveted performance slots on the show. Those can be a bigger boost to a musician's career than a Grammy win.
"I make these little deals with God," Clark said with a dimple-framed smile. "I said, 'Please let me get a performance slot — I don't care if I win.'" She did perform — in a duet with another roots-country artist she's long admired, Dwight Yoakam.
"The nominations and the performance on the show have just given the album a whole new life," she said.
She's feeling the ripple effects during her performances with Jackson, a tour that also includes enough days off to allow her to take advantage of other opportunities, like her appearance Wednesday on CBS' afternoon show "The Talk."
Following another tour stop in Phoenix on Saturday, Clark will fly home before heading out again, this time to the 2015 edition of the Country 2 Country Festival, which will put her on stages in London and Dublin, Ireland, with Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Lee Ann Womack. She's also been tapped to be part of the CMA's songwriting panel that's an offshoot of the C2C Fest.
In May she plans to start cullling material for her major label debut album, which she expects to be different, but not radically different, from "12 Stories" in themes and tone.
"I hope it will be like a cousin — not a twin brother or sister," she said. "One of the reasons people like Alan have such long careers is they're true to themselves, and they don't stray too far from that. That's what I hope to do."