Brandi Carlile on about her latest Grammy win and her new memoir
In some ways, the last three years have felt like 30, and during that stretch, it seems Brandi Carlile's had half a lifetime's worth of productivity.
On the strength of 2018's superb "By the Way, I Forgive You," Carlile and the guitar-wielding Hanseroth twins who flank her became the talk of the Grammys, earning a wave of new fans and taking the trio to even bigger stages like the Gorge Amphitheatre and Madison Square Garden. They produced and co-wrote a career-rejuvenating Tanya Tucker album, not to mention another Secret Sisters record, both of which also caught the Recording Academy's eye. They made headlines with a tribute concert to Joni Mitchell's iconic "Blue" album and Carlile formed an all-star country band aimed at shaking up the dude-dominated country music world.
Somewhere in there, she also wrote a book.
Hitting shelves earlier this month, the singer-songwriter's memoir, "Broken Horses," follows Carlile's journey from a "zero-stoplight town called Ravensdale" to White House invites, offering an unvarnished look at the highlights and hardships along the way.
The acclaimed singer-songwriter, who hauls her own hay and once had her drink swiped by Chaka Khan while jamming with Elton John at Mitchell's place (you'll have to read the book for that one), ties the music she's made and the songs that made her into her life story. It's told with the candor of a campfire conversation, a family photo album by her side, and with the wit, humility and earnestness Carlile exudes onstage and in interviews.
We recently caught up with the artist, activist and, now, author to discuss her latest Grammy win, her forthcoming album and "Broken Horses." This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Congrats on the Grammy (for best country song). What did it mean for you to have The Highwomen, this project that made a big statement, recognized on that level?
A: Oh man, it was cool. It was like when you sing something into a cave and the echo comes back, it was like, "Oh, they heard us." They knew what we were saying. "Crowded Table," it felt really nice for The Highwomen to get recognized for that song, which is really just about love and reconciliation and the importance of waking up every day and doing the work, but coming back at the end and coming back to love every time.
Q: When I heard about "Broken Horses," my first reaction was, "When the hell did she have time to write a book?!" So, when the hell did you have time to write a book?
A: (Laughs.) Well, it was something I always thought would take a really, really long time, but the stories just kinda exploded out of me. The editing process was quite time-consuming, but I had this whole pandemic year to do that.
Q: Why did it feel like the right time to do the book?
A: I think that, like a song, it just comes to you when it comes to you. I had read a couple of books, and I started thinking about how I wished I had a certain kind of book growing up. And I was writing fewer and fewer songs and more stories, and little dissertations and little literary pieces that I felt like I was being called and led towards a writing project.
Q: Were there any parts of this book that were particularly difficult for you to put out there in such detail?
A: Yeah, I think there's a part on every page like that. And then there's a part, every time I turn a page, that I had to take a pause after I had written it and said, "Do I really want ..." and then I made the decision every time to just keep going, and keep turning the page and leaving it.
Q: As you were reexamining aspects of your life, was there anything you discovered about yourself?
A: Yeah. I mean, I discovered how vivid my memory is and that there's real cohesion around that. I discovered that I have a voice when I write, like I have an identifiable way of communicating that, maybe it's because I didn't finish school, maybe it's because of writers that I've been drawn to for (different) reasons, it's conversational. And I think I discovered that at the root of all of it is my need to be with people, and be understood by and to understand people. It draws people closer to me and it draws me closer to other people, and that's kind of at the heart and soul of the whole endeavor.
Q: It sounded like you (initially) intended it to be more explicitly the behind-the-scenes of some of the music and songs. It still does that, but when did you realize this was going to be a much more personal book?
A: First page. I knew in my mind that I wanted it to be this events-based book — that I was writing about either what led me to write a song or how a song influenced an event. But when I put pen to paper, like all of my writing, what I intended to do just didn't get done. Something else got done. It was a lot more authentic.
Q: After you finished or even as you were going through, was there anyone you were thinking to yourself, "Oh man, I wonder what so-and-so is gonna think when this is finally out there?"
A: Oh God man, absolutely. Just the whole time. I'm not gonna lie, that is the really daunting and unsettling part of doing this. I've had so many phone conversations and so many cathartic and uncomfortable things have been said as I have stumbled clumsily through this process. It has not been easy, but it's felt right and it's actually healed relationships. That kind of catharsis, that's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and right now it's kind of a once-a-week thing.
A: You talk about two sides of your personality — the entertainer who enjoys the spotlight, but also back home making trails around your property with a machete and ripping around on four-wheelers. Especially the last few years (amid) these crazy experiences, what is it like to be able to come back from that and have that quieter life in Maple Valley in the house you bought when you were 21?
Q: Well, it used to feel really whiplash-y, you know. But as I've gotten older and started approaching my mid-30s to now, I've found ways — mostly my wife's help — I found ways to integrate both of those people, both of those personalities in me and make them one. So, I kind of am the scalawag at Joni's and the girl that plays Madison Square Garden in the trails, too.
Stories that may interest you
After he finished his latest album, "When We Wander," in late fall of 2019, Stonington singer-songwriter Jesse Terry had a few months before the official release date. He could reflect a bit on what he'd accomplished and spend time with his wife — also named Jess — and...
The novel tells the story of Samuel Sooleymon, a South Sudanese teen who comes to the Un.S. to play college ball and hopes to make it to the NBA so he can help the family he left behind
COVID-19 derailed touring and recording plans for countless musicians around the world in 2020 and this year like nothing else in modern history. But Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Nancy Wilson cites the pandemic as the reason she was able to make "You and Me," the first official solo album...
Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am By Julia Cooke Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 266 pp. $28 - - - Even before a global pandemic crippled the airline industry last year, whatever sheen of romance international air travel once held had long worn off.