When a delegation from Tamworth visited Nashville in June 2013 to sign the sister-city agreement at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Clare Bowen spoke at the ceremony. But you may be surprised to learn she has never visited Australia’s country music capital. That will change on July 11 when the Australian actress and singer, who has made her name playing a fledgling country music artist in the hit TV series Nashville, plays live at West Tamworth Leagues Club’s Blazes auditorium.
It is the second time Clare has returned to Australia to play a string of concert dates since coming to prominence on the small screen. With her debut album just about ready to drop, and filming almost wrapped up for Nashville’s fifth season, the diminutive star spoke to Fairfax Media over the phone from her home in Nashville. Clare describes the city, known as Music City USA, as the place where she feels she belongs and recalled a memory from her childhood.
“The very first time I heard the Grand Ole Opry, I was sitting in my grandad’s kitchen in Revesby. The Grand Ole Opry, WSM, was on the wireless, and it was Dolly Parton singing Coat of Many Colours live, and I think I must have been about eight. I was really young. It was a weird memory that came back recently. It’s just funny how things come around.”
Since her childhood, her career has taken her from the stage in Sydney, then to Los Angeles, and eventually Nashville.
After completing a Bachelor of Creative Arts degree, Clare was working for the Sydney Theatre Company, where she was encouraged by Cate Blanchett to move to Los Angeles. “I spent a week working with her as the artistic director, and she took me aside backstage, after the first show we did I think, and said have you ever thought about moving to Los Angeles. I said that sounds terrifying, but she said do it anyway.”
After arriving in the states in 2011, Clare spent time couch surfing between homes, as she teed up management and scored her first movie role in the same year. The following year she auditioned for Nashville, a new TV series created by screenwriter Callie Khouri – best known for writing and directing Thelma & Louise.
“It probably sounds like it happened really, really fast, but it didn’t feel like it,” Clare said. “It feels like it was yesterday I was working four service jobs in Australia. (I worked at) three different bars, and a tea shop during the day, as well as auditioning and trying to pay my phone bill.”
It was raining the day the auditions were held for Nashville, as Clare waited for the bus, which didn’t arrive at the usual time. I turned up looking like a drowned rat, really late, but they waited for me, and I read a script and I just loved it. I loved Scarlett.” But immediately, there were doubts.
“I said to myself, this is going to be something that happens to someone much more experienced than me, who is much more well known and incredibly deserving of this wonderful role. But I said to myself, I’ll go in and have fun, meet the cast and directors, and learn something.”
She walked in, speaking with a southern accent, learnt from watching movies her father had brought home when she was a child, such as Steel Magnolias and The Wizard of Oz. “I’d never met a southern person in my life, but I knew my lines and I knew a song, so that was about as prepared as I got.”
Having never had any training on accents, Clare said she had learnt by listening. And having never met a southern American, she said she just hoped she wasn’t offending anybody, as she acted with the southern accent she had learnt as a child. Following the successful audition in 2012, Clare was soon moving to Nashville – the city – to begin filming the series which changed her life. And Nashville has been home ever since.
“I bought a house out here, rescued a bunch of animals and found the love of my life.” She was referring to her long-term boyfriend, singer-songwriter Brandon Robert Young. The pair, who will have two wedding ceremonies this year, one in Australia and one in the US, got engaged in 2015 after Young popped the question during one of Clare’s performances at the Grand Ole Opry. “We go out on the road together and have a whole lot of fun, not a lot of rest, but a whole lot of fun,” she laughed.
Her dream run on Nashville looked like it might have been all over last year when it was dropped by the ABC network after four seasons. It sparked outrage from fans on social media, and Nashville was soon picked up by the country music channel CMT for a fifth season, then in April this year CMT announced the show had been renewed for a sixth season. Over the five years the show has run, there have been guest appearances from a lot of country artists in Nashville, including Zac Brown, who Clare sang with in one episode.
“Reba was so sweet, Vince Gill is like the nicest person on the planet, Steve Buchanan, the executive director of the Opry, he was on the show playing himself. Brad Paisley has been the show, gosh, Kip Moore. We’re just so grateful for their acceptance. The fact that we have all these people wanting to be on the show makes us feel very much accepted.”
Now Clare has recorded her own music, with her debut album full of stories from her own life, and from the lives of people she cares about. That is evident on Love Steps In, her first solo single released earlier this year, which is a tribute to her younger brother, Timothy, who spent all of 2016 fighting end-stage cancer. When writing the songs for the debut album, Clare wrote with other artists, including Timothy and her fiance Brandon. The new release is different from what we see Scarlet O’Connor perform on Nashville, with Clare saying the album is truly her, when asked about the difference between her character’s music and her own.
“We’re different because we’re two different people. It’s funny, because it’s like sharing a body with someone, sometimes it’s Scarlet’s turn to walk around in this thing all day,” she laughed. “I thankfully have far less dramatic life than her. She’s been through a lot.”
That includes breakdowns on stage, breakups with boyfriends, putting up with an abusive mother, who later dies after an operation, donating a kidney to save her uncle’s life. While it might be less dramatic, that’s not to say Clare Bowen has had it all easy in her own life. Years before her brother’s battle with cancer, Clare herself was diagnosed with late stage Nephroblastoma at the age of four.
“I was a kid they brought in who was given two weeks to live, and I’ve outlived four life expectancies,” Clare said. “So even just letting people know that, it’s giving other parents whose children have been given a really dire diagnosis, hopefully a little bit of hope, which is the idea behind Love Steps In. Standing by and watching someone go through this horrible illness, you can feel helpless, but really you have the most important job in the world, as parents and loved ones.”
Clare has been an Australian Cancer Council Youth Ambassador since 2008, then last year she was asked by St Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which is one of the world’s leading childhood cancer research centres, to be a guest keynote speaker, where she told spoke in detail about her battle against cancer, for the first time.
“I feel very lucky to still be alive, and to be living the life I’m living. I’m very grateful. I try to spread the message that anything is possible, because I’m still here and my brother is still here. I feel that there are people out there who maybe need to hear that.”
Her brother Timothy is now in remission, and will be the support act for Bowen’s Australian tour dates.
Getting back to the new album, Bowen said she felt her main mission in music was to tell stories that reassured people they were not alone, which has clearly been influenced by her brother’s battle, and her own battle, with cancer. Will we ever hear Bowen’s original songs on Nashville?
Ultimately that is up to the network, and there is a long list of people involved with the series who have to sign off on the songs that make it to air. But Bowen did say she has had songs that have sparked some interest, despite not having one make it onto screen yet.
“Ultimately they have be super right for the characters,” she said. “But I’ve been focused so much on my own album, (and that is) taking musical precedence at the moment. But they’ve shown interest which is incredibly flattering. “I know Chip’s (Charles Esten) got a song on there, and Jonathan Jackson, and it’s so lovely to see that integration, from the actors. But I’ve been so focused on my own album, that I forgot about trying to write for the show. They’re doing just fine without me,” she laughed.
For 10 months of the year Bowen is busy filming for Nashville, and most of the remaining two months and spent touring with the live Nashville show, which takes the actors across the northern hemisphere during their summer months to perform the songs from the TV series live. Which means she has not had break for about five years now.
“It’s so funny when people say ‘you need to do more shows’, I’m like, I really need to go and lay down.”
In June the tour went to the UK, then after Bowen returns to the USA, they play 10 dates through late July and early August before returning to Nashville to start filming season 6.
WHEN Clare Bowen performs at the Civic Theatre next Monday she’ll be perched at the side of the stage soaking up every moment of her support act.
Not because the Australian-born Nashville actress is famously friendly or that her warm-up act is her brother, Timothy James Bowen. It’s the fact that Timothy is even alive to share a stage with his older sister.
In 2015 Timothy was diagnosed with advanced blood cancer. Clare herself battled kidney cancer aged four.
Timothy was initially given only weeks to live, but joined Clare on her first Australian tour last year. He is now in readmission.
“It’s been wonderful seeing him well,” Clare said. “He was so brave and came out and performed with us on the last tour and did so well.
“I know how chemotherapy feels, and it makes you feel dreadful. He truly did the best job. He walked off stage, got on a plane and went back to Wollongong Hospital and had his very last round of chemo the day after the tour. He was such a trooper.”
Not only are Clare and her brother extremely close, Timothy also played a crucial role seven years ago in encouraging Clare to return to her first love of country music, after the 33-year-old became disillusioned.
“It’s hard to maintain your individualism as an artist when everybody is telling you to be this, to fix your teeth, to wear this, don’t say that and how to walk,” she said.
“It’s rough as an artist because your job is to bare your soul and be vulnerable at all times so you can tell stories with the greatest feeling, so you also get put up in front of everybody and not everyone says nice things.”
Timothy urged his sister to write down everything she wanted to achieve, which included recording and touring her own music. One by one that list has been ticked off.
“We found the little piece of paper and a little while ago with all those things Timothy wrote down for me and we had it framed in my house in Nashville,” Clare said. “I’ve ticked everything off except writing a children’s book.”
Clare’s big break came when she landed the role of Scarlett O’Connor in series one of Nashville in 2012. The TV show launched her US career, brought her back to music and allowed her to fulfill a childhood dream of performing at the iconic Grand Ole Opry and Bluebird Cafe.
“I feel lucky I’m not Scarlett because her life is so dramatic,” she said. “There are things that run parallel. Before I was in Nashville I’d never sang properly into a microphone before.”
Finally Clare has released her second single Little By Little – co-written by her fiance Brandon Robert Young and Grammy award-winner Amy Wadge – and a debut album will follow later this year.
Clare Bowen performs at the Civic Theatre on Monday.
‘We were both given two weeks to live’: Nashville star Clare Bowen speaks about her battle with cancer and how her brother Timothy has overcome stage 4 lymphoma
She was given two weeks to live after cancer attacked her body when she was just four years old. But now Australian-born Nashville star Clare Bowen is healthier than ever, and is set to tour Australia with her theatre show in July. Speaking with New Idea, the 33-year-old revealed her brother Timothy, who recently went into remission from his battle with stage 4 lymphoma, would be joining her on the road.
Clare urged her brother to go to the doctor after a horrifying dream, and later it was discovered he would also be given two weeks to live.
‘I was given two weeks to live when I was diagnosed and so was my brother- can you believe that?’ told the magazine. Clare made a full recovery from her cancer of the kidneys by age seven. Clare described her bout of treatment as ‘all experimental’ as opposed to Tim’s which was ‘like laser beams.’
The Scarlett O’Connor actress spoke of her connection with her brother, likening it to the bond between twins. She said she plans to perform some songs written by him throughout her tour, along with some Nashville classics and some tunes her and her fiance, Brandon Robert Young, have written together. ‘We just want to see perfect strangers in the audience with their arms around each other as we share stories from our lives,’ she explained.
Clare and Brandon placed their nuptials on hold after Tim’s diagnosis, but are set to be married on October 21. They also previously revealed they would be holding two weddings, one in Australian and one in the US. ‘We put everything on hold as we couldn’t imagine having a wedding without him (Tim) being able to be there,’ Clare told The Daily Telegraph.
Opry Entertainment, the producer of Nashville in Concert, has donated £10,000 to the British Red Cross’ UK Solidarity Fund on behalf of the touring cast, Clare Bowen, Chris Carmack, Charles Esten, Sam Palladio and Jonathan Jackson.
The donation reflects $12,672.74, and it was made following Saturday’s (June 17) two sold-out shows at the O2 Apollo in Manchester, England.
The Manchester Arena was originally scheduled to host the tour, but the production was relocated to the O2 Apollo since the arena remains closed following the terror attack at Ariana Grande’s concert on May 22.
The UK Solidarity Fund was set up to support victims of terror attacks throughout the UK.
On Friday (June 16), Nashville in Concert played to a record crowd of over 11,000 fans at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow.
“Besides getting an extra day to wander around Glasgow, I was able to record a brand-new single in a local studio,” Esten said in a press release. “Add to that a gorgeous meal with the cast and crew of the tour. And all of this before getting to the best part of all: playing our music for 11,000 mad Glaswegians! The atmosphere, the response, the love in that arena? Flat out amazing. It was a night and a trip that I won’t soon forget!”
The U.S. leg picks up July 23 in Orlando, Florida, with Bowen, Carmack, Esten and Jackson.
Here’s a full list of dates for the U.S. leg of the Nashville summer tour:
July 23: Orlando, Florida
July 25: Clearwater, Florida
July 26: Atlanta
July 28: Grand Prairie, Texas
July 29: Robinsonville, Mississippi
July 30: Huber Heights, Ohio
Aug. 1: Vienna, Virginia
Aug. 2: Raleigh, North Carolina
Aug. 4: Richmond, Virginia
Aug. 5: Brooklyn, New York
Aug. 6: Atlantic City, New Jersey
CLARE Bowen was backstage at the Sydney Theatre Company when her life changed. It was 2010, and things were already going swimmingly enough for the Australian actor and singer.
Fresh from the requisite “five minutes” on Home And Away, she had won the lead role in a production of Spring Awakening. Then-STC artistic director Cate Blanchett sought Bowen out — she wanted to pass on some advice.
“Cate said to me, ‘Have you ever thought of moving to LA?’” Bowen, 33, tells Stellar.
“That thought was terrifying. She said, ‘I think you’d do really well there.’ She kicked me into gear to be brave enough to make the jump. I sold everything I owned to buy a plane ticket. Everything happened from there.”
“Everything” was the whirlwind that Bowen’s life became after she scored a plum role on TV’s country music drama Nashville in 2012. A few years into that gig, she attended a G’Day USA tourism showcase in Los Angeles, where she no longer lived. (She had relocated to the titular US city to film the show.) Blanchett was there, too.
“She remembered that conversation,” Bowen says, who calls the actor “a beautiful person who offered up this gem of advice … which I’m now relaying while sitting on the back verandah at my home in Nashville, Tennessee”.
There was another famous Aussie from Bowen’s past at that same function: Tina Arena. “My dad is a flight attendant for Qantas,” Bowen says. “He got Tina to sign a menu for me a long time ago, and I treasured that thing so much it almost fell apart.”
Emboldened by her chat with Blanchett, Bowen decided to say hello to her childhood hero: “I was shaking in my boots, but I told her I learnt to sing by singing her songs.”
Arena now admits that she didn’t know who her eager fan was. “I’d never watched Nashville,” she tells Stellar. “But she was beautiful and so engaging, I started watching. I got sucked in.” She remains a fan. “I’m up-to-date now!”
Arena was so taken with Bowen that when it came time to put together the guest list for her new compilation Greatest Hits & Interpretations, she asked Bowen to cover her song ‘Still Running’. “There is such an incredible vulnerability and rawness and an angelic beauty there,” Arena says, “an innocence that you just don’t see very often. It resonates in her voice and in her storytelling — she just grabs you and pulls you in from the very first breath. She’s equally as breathtaking on camera as an actress. She’s stunning.”
Recording the song left Bowen equally overwhelmed. “It’s hard to describe when one of your heroes decides they want to contact you, let alone give you one of their songs to sing,” she says. “I almost passed out.”
Bowen’s tendency to pour emotion into her songs is perhaps at a personal peak in ‘Love Steps In’, her first solo single which she released this year. The track is about her brother Timothy James Bowen, a 27-year-old Sydney musician, and the health battle he began waging in 2015. That year, he was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma; at the time, doctors gave him just two weeks to live.
When Bowen swung through Australia on a brief tour last year, he joined her onstage, playing the guitar. “He was on chemo at the time,” Bowen says. “The poor thing was such a trouper.”
The singer knew exactly what her brother was going through. When she was just four years old, Bowen was herself diagnosed with cancer of the kidneys, and given the same two-week prognosis. She would ultimately spend the next three years in and out of Sydney hospitals.
‘Love Steps In’ is a family affair in more ways than one, since it was co-written by Bowen’s fiancé Brandon Robert Young (along with their friend Justin Halpin), who knew his beloved was struggling to put her brother’s experience into words.
“I knew I had to sing it,” Bowen tells Stellar. “It was so special. We sang it all over the world — from Glasgow to Alabama — and brought it to Australia, where it took on a life of its own. I love that the song is not just for my family anymore. It’s for everybody.”
Timothy’s cancer went into remission in March 2016. “He’s beaten the odds,” Bowen says. “He got through chemo with flying colours and knows exactly how lucky he is.”
That song has now taken on a new meaning. “Now,” she says, “I get to sing it smiling. It was pretty rough last time with what my brother was dealing with. It’s [now] a joy that I have to share.”
Australians sometimes scoff at the idea of music as “healing”, but Bowen is a believer. She says it’s “the reason I’m still here. I was given two weeks to live. My parents pushed and pushed and pushed for things to happen that usually didn’t throughout my treatment. Getting people to talk about difficult things is a big part of my show. Singing that song is like being able to put your arms around everyone in the world at the same time”. A refusal to give up seems to be a recurring theme in Bowen’s life.
When US network ABC cancelled Nashville last year after ratings dropped, the show’s fans — known as “Nashies” — exercised people power. A petition secured close to 200,000 signatures and a bidding war erupted between networks keen to give the show a second chance. It ultimately moved to a new channel, and was recently renewed for a sixth season.
“The Nashies went crazy,” Bowen says. “They did more than I expected. When you hug someone who comes to the Nashville concerts” — the show’s principals regularly head out on tour together — “you’re hugging someone who brought the show back.”
Bowen returns to Australia for another solo tour next month; it will give her a reprieve from filming duties on Nashville and allow her to plan her wedding to Young later this year. As with most of what’s transpired in her life, she sounds excited — if surprised — to be in this place.
“I never wanted to get married before I met Brandon,” Bowen admits. “It was not one of my life goals, but he ruined everything in that department. I get to choose a song to dance with my dad to, design my dress with my mum, all that stuff I never thought about until I met him. I can’t wait.”
I added screencaps of Clare from this week’s Nashville. Enjoy.
I added photos yesterday of Clare from this week’s Nashville. Enjoy.
I added screencaps of Clare from episode 13 of Nashville.
— Nashville on CMT (@NashvilleCMT) June 9, 2017
Clare and Brandon did a tiny photo session at the CMT awards. They looked so cute! Check out the photos in the gallery. Big thanks to my friend Emily for these.