Shane Clouse is a country singer who has opened for top acts, toured nationally and put out four albums, with his fifth set to release in April.
But when we caught up with him he was working at the Pink Grizzly Greenhouse on the west side of Missoula a few blocks from the Clark Fork River. The family business, established in 1956, produces plants, vegetables and seasonal trees and wreaths.
He has worked hard to nurture several careers simultaneously.
“I feel that Montana allows us to live and lead a very meaningful life,” Clouse said. “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 picked up music early on. He said he began his performing career as a toddler, singing buoyantly to his parents and siblings “on the fireplace hearth” of the family’s farmhouse. He entered—and won—his first singing competition at age 5.
That farmhouse is now surrounded by housing tracts, remaining a peaceful haven on a busy access road awaiting further expansion.
“I grew up on a diversified farm on small acreage,” Clouse said, on a temperate late-February afternoon in one of the Pink Grizzly’s greenhouses.
His parents fostered a sense of self-sufficiency in their children, but Clouse was fueled by his own desires and ambition as he worked to polish his performance skills. After attending Montana State University and putting in 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.
“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,” he said.
Clouse said he looks forward to opening for Black, who has sold more than 20 million albums and written, recorded and released more than 100 songs.
“It’s a great thing to be around such a prolific singer-songwriter,” Clouse said. “I can’t wait to hear him play.”
Clouse has tentatively set April 1 as the release date of his fifth album, titled “Troublesome.” On the demos, he sounds proud and irrepressible, like someone who could do, or be, anything. There is no braggadocio or swagger, just the croons and yearns of pure country. Indeed, the 13 tracks (11 of them originals) might be his most consistently rewarding album yet, full of discrete tales that blend together with an impressive fluidity.
“I can hear the improvement that I’ve made and the improvement of my skills,” Clouse said. “I feel as if I’m getting better and becoming a better, stronger guitar player.”
He said it can be unnerving, being onstage or recording emotions for public consumption, but for the most part the experience is rewarding, exhilarating, even therapeutic.
“I love the intellectually stimulating challenge of recording music,” he said. “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.”
Clouse was raised by his mom and dad to explore freely, and he did. Working in Los Angeles and Vancouver, Washington, he learned that he’d rather wave an independent flag than a generic one. He said it was liberating when he realized that he had the guts to be able to buck the usual classifications and lean into the wind defiantly. He also tried Nashville out for a few years, but returned to Montana in 2005, in search of the quiet atmosphere of his youth
“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,” he said. “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.”
Meanwhile, at the Pink Grizzly, Clouse is preparing for another spring of working the land, of getting into the rhythms of gardening between periodic musical engagements in the West, the South and across Montana, some of which are benefit, nonprofit gigs.
“It’s all OK,” Clouse said. “I’m just as happy talking about tomatoes as I am about music.”