Brandi Carlile has made critically acclaimed records with her widescreen voice and wide-open heart since 2005, earning a devoted audience that includes famous fans like Barack Obama, Dolly Parton, and Adele, all of whom contributed to an album of Carlile cover songs in 2017. But even the Washington-based singer-songwriter agrees that 2018 was a watershed year.
“It definitely feels that way to me,” she says.
And that was before Carlile scored six Grammy nominations including Album of the Year, Best Americana Album for By the Way, I Forgive You and Best American Roots Song, Best American Roots Performance, Song of the Year and Record of the Year for the soaring single “The Joke.”
She won three of those — Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song and Best American Roots Performance — during the pre-telecast.
When she wasn’t duetting with Sam Smith on an exquisite version of her song “Party of One,” celebrating Joni Mitchell at a recent all-star salute, being nominated for three Americana Association awards, or popping up on screen briefly in A Star Is Born, she was promoting her highest-charting album to date, By the Way, I Forgive You, co-produced by Shooter Jennings and Dave Cobb.
“It’s that people instantly recognized and understood that it was a self-revealing album,” says Carlile of the surge in mainstream exposure. “It’s not observational. When you’re listening to it, you know that you’re becoming privy to something that’s really happened.”
“You can get really, really specific with self-revealing music,” she says. “I can use the name of my daughter in a song about being a mother, but for some reason, it’s relatable to not only mothers but even fathers, even though it’s called ‘The Mother.’ Specificity doesn’t really shake people if it’s true. If it’s true, then it can become an anthem for anyone.”
The at-times piercingly painful collection led to many of her other 2018 milestones. Playing for Mitchell, she says, “was probably the most intimidating thing I’ve ever done in my life. Getting to meet her is something I’ll never, ever forget. I left that place feeling like a child that had just been to Disneyland for the first time.”
Her duet with Smith emerged from the friendship the two struck up as ambassadors for War Child/Children in Conflict. (The charity to which the covers album proceeds were directed). “Sam was going through a breakup, talking about that song, and really relating to it,” says Carlile, who suggested a collab to benefit the organization. “We have a really easy rapport. I think we’re going to do a lot together.”
Earlier this year, she also launched her all-female music festival dubbed Girls Just Wanna Weekend featuring friends like Maren Morris, Indigo Girls, and Shawn Colvin.
Carlile had very limited experience with awards shows previous to the Grammys. After being nominated for three Americana Association awards, including Artist and Album of the Year, Carlile told EW, “That was incredibly exciting, and it taught me a lot, too. I went into that night feeling really stressed out. Fish out of water. I’ve been doing this for such a long time and never really been nominated for awards before. Once or twice just really recently in my mid-to-late 30s. I’m not used to getting dressed up and walking on a red carpet. That’s never been part of my career.”
And how did she like it? “I loved it.”