"I love having come to it later in life and having a different understanding of what an award or a reward really means," the singer tells EW's The Awardist.

Brandi Carlile has been a singer-songwriter since the early aughts, but it was only in 2016 that she finally started getting major recognition from the Grammys. In 2019, Carlile broke out of her Americana bubble, nabbing nominations for Song and Record of the Year for "The Joke," a stirring ballad off her sixth LP, By the Way, I Forgive You, which also earned a nod for Album of the Year.

This year she's racked up five nominations, including three for "Right on Time," a standout from her latest full-length, In These Silent Days. That single is up for both Song and Record of the Year as well as for Best Solo Pop Performance; meanwhile, "A Beautiful Noise," the voting-rights anthem she performed with Alicia Keys, is also up for Song of the Year, and "Same Devil," her duet with Brandy Clark, is up for Best American Roots Performance.

It might have taken the Academy a long time to cotton on to Carlile's talents, but she wouldn't have it any other way. "I love having come to it later in life and having a different understanding of what an award or a reward really means," she says on EW's The Awardist podcast. "It would've been really hard for these things to have happened to me when I was younger and then maybe not subsequently happened to me when I get older."

She continues, "It's been significant to me emotionally to be acknowledged by these institutions and to get these awards… from my peers, or from the pillars of our community, and the music makers that I've been worshiping since I was 7 years old. It has changed my life, but it's impacted me… in a way that I understand I'm not built to base my music or my career on it, but to understand the significance of it — and the underlying and overarching feeling is just gratitude."

Awardist Brandi Carlile
2022 Grammy nominee Brandi Carlile
| Credit: Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images

Carlile describes "Right on Time" — which EW named one of the 10 best songs of 2021 — as her peak track for demonstrating her talents as a "singer's singer," one who seeks to emulate the heroes of her youth, like Whitney Houston and Roy Orbison.

In our interview, she also reflects on what she thinks defines a Grammy artist, noting that it can't be someone who's chasing the award. "It has to be innovative, exciting, new," she says, "the kind of thing that makes people want to grab a pen and paper or a guitar, or makes people jealous in a good way. That's the kind of thing that makes a Grammy artist, because you have your major enormous pop stars and rock stars and people that you would think would gain those acknowledgements who are certainly worthy, but then you also have these strange aggregate innovators."

Speaking of aggregate innovators, one from outside the music world served as the muse for "A Beautiful Noise," which several artists co-wrote. "We all had Stacey Abrams in mind as an inspiration… and we came together from all different backgrounds, belief systems, sexual orientations, and wrote that song," Carlile explains. "It was a testament to the fact that groups of very different women can — and do — work together all the time to make macro and minor improvements in the world."

Carlile also takes time to celebrate another woman she's recently started calling a friend: actress Courteney Cox, who ended up directing the music video for "Right on Time." The two have popped up in each other's social media feeds a lot over the past year, including in a hilarious video in which Cox and her fellow Friends star Lisa Kudrow lovingly poke fun at Carlile's soaring climactic note in the song.

Carlile quips that her next career move might just be parodying songs that were on Friends — see her spoof last year of her other pal Elton John's "Tiny Dancer," (a.k.a. "Tony Danza"), which she sang with Cox, Ed Sheeran, and Sir Elton himself. In one of the interview's finest moments, she even offers her own take on the Phoebe Buffay classic "Smelly Cat."

In These Silent Days is out now. Listen to Carlile's full interview on EW's The Awardist podcast below or wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe now so you don't miss an episode. The Grammys air April 3 on CBS.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

Related content: