Brandy Clark’s latest album, the self-titled Brandy Clark, is a lyrical and cinematic musical delight offering relatable storytelling reminiscent of decades of iconic women in music. Produced by Brandi Carlile, you can hear the deft touches of Grammy award winners at work across the whole project. What a year it’s been for Clark, who not only did all the hard work on this new album but collaborated with Ashley McBryde on her ‘Lindeville’ project and also saw a ten year journey of getting the musical she wrote with Shane McAnally, ‘Shucked’, into a theatre on Broadway. We were thrilled to grab some time with her to talk all about it.
It’s lovely to speak to you again Brandy, thank you for giving up your time today. You must be excited about the album coming out. What does your release day schedule look like?
This whole week, I’m doing a lot! I’m also doing a bunch of TV next week too. Friday, itself, myself and Brandi Carlile are doing an Instagram live event to talk a little bit about the making of the record. We did something similar out in L.A. recently for streaming platforms and media outlets and it went so well that we wanted to give the fans a similar kind of experience.
You hinted to me, when we spoke last July, that you’d love to work with Brandi Carlile and here we are! How did the collaboration happen?
We got nominated for the work we did together on my song, ‘Same Devil’ and she said to me when we lost the Grammy, she leaned over to me, and said that she wanted to make a whole record together and that she wanted to produce it. I was really intrigued by that. She’d really thought it through too. She told me that she saw it as my return to the north west, which is where I’m from. I’ve lived in Nashville now for longer than I lived up there and I think people forget that.
Brandi and I met later on and we really drilled down into working together and she was very adamant to me that it was time I made a bold choice in my career and that she was it! (laughing) I love that kind of confidence. Brandi said I live in this space on the line between Americana and Country and that she wanted to help me explore my Americana side. That also intrigued me! She said all the right things because it was the truth and it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to hear either! (laughing)
Is that level of honesty the crux of why the two of you work so well together?
Yes. It is. I’ve never really thought of it in that way but it is. Brandi is so honest and I don’t know anything other than how to tell the truth with my music. Brandi is so honest about my songs that she’ll say, ‘nobody wants to hear that from you right now,’ right? (laughing) You need somebody like that on your team.
There was a real turning point for us early on in the process. Brandi and I got together in California and she was really adamant about what she wanted me to sound like. I think she thought that I wanted to make a commercial Country record which I didn’t. I’ve never intentionally made a commercial Country record! (laughing) She was wanting me to make some lyric changes in some of the songs and I was really uncomfortable with that. It’s not like I’d just lobbed the songs together, some of them had been poured over by me and the other songwriters and it felt a little disrespectful to them. I said I’ve always been in service to the songs and Brandi said that she appreciated that but it was time to be in service to the artist and it was that that hit me and I trusted her from that point on.
I’ve seen some press in which you said that this album is the rawest you’ve been since ’12 Stories’. What is it about this album that you feel is so raw?
A couple of things. I’ve never sang a song like ‘Dear Insecurity’ before. That feels very raw to me, to talk about my own body image in a song and in not always a positive way and to be honest and say that I’ve screwed up relationships because of my own insecurities too? That feels incredibly raw to me.
To write a song like ‘She Smoked in the House’ about my grandma? To put that on a record? Even ‘Northwest’ feels like a raw song which is very specific to me. Both of those songs……..who’s gonna resonate with them? That was my concerns and that’s why I think this is a raw and personal record. I thought I was the only person who had Ruth-Nanny as a grandma but the way ‘She Smoked…’ is resonating I clearly didn’t! (laughing)
Those things might seem small but they are huge for me.
I hope you’ve got the date of next year’s Grammy awards in your diary because I think you, Brandi and ‘Dear Insecurity’ will be in attendance!
(laughing) Oh, from your lips to God’s ears! Brandi, myself and ‘Dear Insecurity’ on the Grammys? That would be a massive bucket list achievement for me. I see us on a big stage doing that song somewhere. That song came from such a real place – someone had really hurt my feelings that morning and i had to remind myself of what a really good friend of mine always says, which is ‘insecurity is the ugliest human emotion.’ It causes people to hurt other people.
I started thinking about my own insecurities and the idea of writing a letter to insecurity just blossomed from there. We made some changes to the song in the studio to make it more about just me and Brandi so that we would be believable when we sang it. It’s important for people to hear it that way.
‘Northwest’ is such a great song. Did the imagery and reference points in that song come easy to you in the writing process?
Yes and no. That song came from Brandi saying to me at the Grammys that this album should be about my return to the north west. I was touring in Europe with my friend and co-writer Jessie Jo Dillon and she was asking me what I wanted to do with my next record and it wasn’t certain that Brandi and I were going to work together at that point yet and I mentioned about the north west and Jessie Jo said ‘lets go and write some songs up there!’
So we went home and spent our time writing that song. Jessie Jo is from Nashville and it took her seeing the north west with new eyes to get some of those references because she saw things up there, like the line that says, ‘the trees grow mountain tall,’ things and visual images that I had become immune to through familiarity. We wanted it to be poetic but we spent a lot of time figuring out what to say and the images that went with the region.
It’s a brave decision to open up the album with a murder ballad! What does Derek Trucks bring to ‘Ain’t Enough Rocks’?
I love what Derek did on that song. It feels like he’s another voice in that song with his guitar. That was such a great surprise to get him because he said no at first because he was in the middle of tearing up his studio so we sent him the song and that reeled him in! (laughing) He was so intrigued by the song. I love that you say it’s a great album opener because that was one of the few battles I had with the label. Sequencing really matters to me, I think I care more about that than anyone else! (laughing) I’m willing to take a lot of input on so many things and listen to a lot of other voices but on the sequencing of an album? I listen to the producer and the engineer and my own voice only.
There was no other place on the record that it would work. It either opens the record or it’s not on there at all. I’m so glad I dug my heels in on that point.
‘Come Back to Me’ was originally on Keith Urban’s album ‘Fuse’ in 2013 so why did you feel that song was a fit for this project ten years later?
I was driving from Salt Lake City to L.A. to work on the record with Brandi. That’s a good 12 hour drive and the whole way I listened to my back catalogue because sometimes there’s a song you forgot you wrote or one that just slips through the cracks, right? That work tape came up. It was very different to Keith’s eventual version, which I l love, but I was blown away and started to ask myself if I could do another version of it.
As soon as I got to where i was going I sat down and made a worktape myself of it again. I sent it to my manager and the label and they flipped out! I have Jedd Hughes playing that rolling banjo on there and it is mesmerising. Had I not taken that long drive it probably wouldn’t even be on the album!
We can’t let you go without talking about ‘Shucked’. Congratulations! What an achievement you and Shane McAnally have done there. Is it surpassing your expectations or did you secretly always think it would be a hit musical!
Oh my, it’s completely surpassing our expectations! I always thought that it would be polarising and I would say to people who came to see us workshop it in places like Connecticut, Salt Lake City and New York that it was going to be a massive hit or massive flop, there was never going to be somewhere in-between. I prayed for the hit but there’s nothing that can prepare you for what happens when that comes to pass. I’m in New York right now – I went to the show last night – and just seeing the way it is being received and the way it is growing is unbelievable. I’ve never experienced anything like this.
I prepared myself inside for the fact that people might not love it. I remember our director saying ‘You know, we might have some tough previews but we can make some changes if we need to.’ But people were up on their feet from the first preview! Tickets started to sell and it’s gone from there and I didn’t see that coming.
Is there a chance you could bring ‘Shucked to London’s West End at all?
……And we’re gonna come there. Come hell or high water, we’ll be there.
Buy / stream Brandy Clark’s new, self-titled album now