They’ve been jamming together their whole lives, though they hadn’t listened to much secular music until they left home. They grew up on the road with their itinerant preacher parents, playing worship tunes before forming a brotherly trio and switching from the sacred to the (slightly more) profane.
Kings of Leon, right?
No, actually, Sons of Sylvia . The Virginia-bred Clark brothers — lead singer/fiddler Ashley, guitarist/mandolin player Adam and resonator guitarist Austin — had their major coming-out party on Wednesday night’s “American Idol” results show, but the trio has been prepping for their turn in the spotlight for more than three years.
Introduced by longtime pal Carrie Underwood, the band performed their country rock anthem “Love Left to Lose,” and after a show that featured such stars as Rascal Flatts, Shakira and Lady Antebellum, on Thursday morning (April 29) it was Sons of Sylvia who were among the most searched topics on the Internet.
“A lot of people don’t know who we are,” said youngest Clark brother Austin, 26, on Wednesday afternoon, just hours before the pre-taped performance aired. He said he hoped that the world would be interested in the band come Thursday morning and that new fans would run out and buy the boys’ just-released debut, Revelation. “I hope so,” he said from a West Virginia tour date opening for Underwood. “I’m just taking it one day at a time. I don’t know what to expect. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m freaked out. I love it.”
After the dissolution of their family band the Clark Family Experience in 2007, the trio — who have eight other siblings — rebranded themselves the Clark Brothers and quickly went on to win the first and only season of the “Idol” spin-off “The Next Great American Band.” The win earned them a recording contract with Universal South Records (they later switched to Interscope and changed their name) and a management deal with 19 Entertainment, but it would be several more years before they got their break.
Longtime pals with Underwood, they performed on the song “What Can I Say” from her third album, Play On, and toured with her soon after her win on the fourth season of “Idol.” They also toured with SHeDaisy and logged time working on tracks for Southern rapper Bubba Sparxxx.
But years after Ashley shared what Austin called a “really crappy” apartment in Nashville with the Clarks’ second cousin, then unknown songwriter leader Ryan Tedder, the new superstar OneRepublic leader returned the favor by co-writing and producing “Love Left to Lose,” helping to boost them into the spotlight.
After pushing aside some of the more bluegrass-leaning aspects of their sound in favor of a more expansive, anthemic rock sound on the album, Austin said the group decided a name change was in order. “From the point of winning the show and making the record, we evolved so much,” he said. “We were just a three-piece acoustic band on the show and when we got to do what we wanted in the studio it evolved so much that we felt it was right to change the name.”
Like KOL — who, it’s worth noting, the Clark boys know after traveling in the same preacher kid circles as youngsters — the Clarks decided to pay homage to a formative figure with their new name.
“Yeah, it’s our mother’s name,” said Austin proudly. “We wanted to do something nice for her. She had 11 kids, so they’re angels!” Both of their parents had a formative influence on their musical upbringing. Dad Fredrick taught them how to play instruments and mom was a church singer, but Austin said the siblings really developed their musical chops by backing up their folks in church and picking up licks from professional pickers while playing bluegrass festivals as kids.
After their parents kept them away from rock and roll when they were kids, Austin described discovering the Beatles and Rolling Stones when he left home as “like coming out of the stone age.” It’s been a long road, but for now he’s just basking in the glow of the “Idol” exposure and looking forward to being on the road with Underwood through December.
“We’re brothers and I’ve been doing this since I was born,” he said. “If not on the stage, then sitting on the couch at home just trading licks. … It feels like a childhood dream as far as: start a band, get a record out and being on tour. All of this is actually happening. I wake up every day baffled.”