Through the Fire
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Shane Clouse balances careers as musician, businessman, farmer
February 25, 2015 6:00 pm • BRIAN D'AMBROSIO for the Missoulian
Oftentimes people miss their taste of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn't halt to enjoy it.
Shane Clouse both stops to enjoy his contentment and to share it. The Missoula-based musician-farmer-business owner’s identity isn’t some big mystery. He’s just whoever he has to be to get through and enjoy the day.
With four records to his credit as well as collaborations with Grammy winning songwriters, the crooner within is a living, breathing character who crackles with energy. His down-to-earth decency and rugged sincerity shine the brightest in the dark corners behind the microphone.
But there is another part to Clouse, and that is his operation of the Pink Grizzly Greenhouse and Nursery, a family business of plants, vegetables and seasonal trees and wreaths, established in 1956.
He has worked hard to nurture several careers simultaneously.
“I feel that Montana allows us to live and lead a very meaningful life,” said Clouse. “I wouldn’t want to be a husband, a farmer, a musician, or a businessman anywhere else. In Montana, we’ve learned how to work harder. I’ve worked in England, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and people are enamored with Montana, and they recognize that we work harder here.”
The youngest of eight children, Clouse recognized early that he would probably live and die enmeshed in some type of musical identity. Indeed, he began his performing career, he says, as a toddler. He would sing bouyantly to his parents and siblings “on the fireplace hearth” of the family’s farm house. He entered - and won – his first singing competition at age five.
That farm house is now enveloped by housing tracts, a peaceful, throwback haven on a busy access road awaiting additional expansion.
“I grew up on a diversified farm on small acreage,” said Clouse, on a temperate late-February afternoon in one of the Pink Grizzly’s greenhouses. “My dad believed that his family was more important than money. And we lived and led a sustainable life. We had thirty heads of sheep roaming, milk cows, beef cows, and pigs – all out of necessity. So much has grown all around this place. But here it is, this slice of something you’d expect to see someplace far from the city.”
If his parents groomed him with a healthy dose of self-sufficiency, it was an innate sense of self-empowerment which led Clouse to polish his singing, dancing, acting, and instrument playing. Following college at MSU and several stints in corporate America, Clouse has become a country kingpin in Montana. Usually accompanied by a band known as Stomping Ground, Clouse has opened for, among others, Dierks Bentley, Phil Vassar, Huey Lewis, Joe Nichols, Rodney Atkins, Sawyer Brown, Michael Martin Murphy, Jon Anderson, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Marshall Tucker. (Formed in 2004, Stompin Grounds still retaints its original guitar and bass players.)
“I think that being chosen to perform with some of these great names has a lot to do with being lucky enough to be local talent, having local support, or well as having some talent, having a good band, being a decent person, and being a decent person to work with.”
In March, Clouse opens for Clint Black (March 3 at the Dennison Theatre at the University of Montana and March 4 at the 1,400-seat Alberta Bair Theater in Billings). Black has written, recorded and released more than 100 songs.
“It’s a great thing to be around such a prolific singer-songwriter,” said Clouse. “I can’t wait to hear him play.”
Clouse has tentatively set April 1 as the release date of his fifth album titled “Troublesome.” Listening to the demos, he sounds proud and irrepressible, like someone who could do, or be, anything. There is no braggadocio or swagger, but the croons and yearns of pure country. Indeed, the 13 tracks (11 of them originals) might be his most consistently rewarding full-length yet, discrete tales that blend together with an impressive fluidity.
“I can hear the improvement that I’ve made and the improvement of my skills,” said Clouse. “I feel as if I’m getting better and becoming a better, stronger guitar player.”
Clouse said that nothing in this world builds character more than persistence. Why is he so persistent in the pursuit of his music? Clouse concedes it can be unnerving, the sheer vulnerability of being onstage or recording feelings for public consumption. But, for the most part, it’s all positive, exhilarating, and even therapeutic.
“I love the intellectually stimulating challenge of recording music,” said Clouse. “There is some fear there, too. It’s a lot like jumping off of a bridge. It requires a leap of faith. But, like I said, in Montana, we work harder to be successful, are exceedingly persistent, and refuse to give up.”
A happy life must be to some degree be a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that actual joy subsist (or at least that’s Clouse’s Montana-centric spin). He was raised by his mom and dad to explore freely – and he did. Clouse, who sojourned in Nashville in the summer of 2000, returned to Montana in 2005, in search of the quiet atmosphere of his youth. One thing he learned after working in Vancouver, Washington, and Los Angeles was that he’d rather wave an independent flag than a generic one; he admits that it was a breath of fresh air when he realized that he had the guts to be able to buck the usual classifications and lean into the wind defiantly.
“I led a conventional life for eight years and I left a $50,000-a-year job to make much less, to work the family business for $8 an hour. I thought it was better to make less money to pursue my dreams. At one point, around 2006, 2007, we were probably doing 50 shows a year.”
At the Pink Grizzly, the community favorite teeters on the brink of springtime, when the everyday trials of agricultural are hot topics of talk and the warm and cold character of two seasons schizophrenically battle. In between engagements in the West, the South, and across Montana (some of which are pro-bono, nonprofit gigs), Clouse’s life will take on a less fantastical tone.
“It’s all OK," said Clouse. “I’m just as happy talking about tomatoes as I am about music.”
Brian D'Ambrosio lives and writes in Helena. He is the author of "Warrior in the Ring: The Life of Marvin Camel, Native American World Champion Boxer."