Brandi Carlile on the 'self-revealing' album that won 3 Grammys

Sarah Rodman
Carlile took home three Grammys Sunday night for her album By the Way, I Forgive You, and her performance of “The Joke” on the broadcast proved why she deserved that hardware and then some. She displayed an unparalleled clarity in her vocals and held the audience in thrall with only some gentle twinkly lighting and her lyrics displayed onscreen. Showmanship is essential for any artist, but Carlile made a strong case for why one-of-a-kind talent is most intoxicating when left to speak for itself. Carlile is in the middle of a major moment, and it was thrilling to see that magic come to the Grammy stage.

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.

“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.”

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.”

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.”