Why We Make Music: Brandy Clark

On March 6, 2020, days into a growing concern and mere weeks away from a full-blown pandemic, Brandy Clark released Your Life Is A Record. The third album from the Washington state native featured the kind of savvy phrasing and emotionally observational narratives that have earned her recognition from the biggest bodies in music, but it also marked a unique turning point. Long adept at bringing the larger world and its myriad of problems into focus through her warm and strikingly pure lyrics, Your Life Is A Record firmly places Clark in the role of the beholder and showcases an artist exercising her full powers. Clark’s plans to tour on the album’s success (including GRAMMY noms for Best Country Album and Best Country Solo Performance) were derailed by COVID-19, but she’s remained productive and anxious throughout the last year, and on March 5th, a day shy of its year anniversary, Clark released Your Life Is A Record Deluxe. The upgrade improves on the original formula with live cuts recorded during the pandemic, special guests, and new songs, including two new tracks produced by Brandi Carlile. With more new music in the works and a tour scheduled to begin in the fall, Brandy Clark is primed to drop the stylus and get back to spinning.

AI- We’re just a little over two months past the release of the deluxe edition of Your Life Is A Record. You got some new tracks on there as well as some live tracks, and before we jump right into that, I want to talk about what you’ve been up to the last year as far as being a writer. I know that you often pull ideas from conversations that you have, personal interactions– and that’s been a little tough to do in a pandemic. So what has been fueling your days?

BC- Well, thank God for ZOOM! Which I’d never heard of before March 11th of last year, and then got told, “Hey, you need to get on ZOOM because…” I had a work session planned and thank God for that because I was able to communicate with other people that way, see other faces. It still is not the same, you know. I find that getting back into some normalcy, actually sitting down in person with people, my ideas are flowing right now better than they were a year ago because of that. I always try to read a lot. I need to listen to more music. I don’t listen to a lot of music all the time. I think mostly ’cause I don’t want to get on top of anything when I’m writing.

During the pandemic, I tried to read a lot, but my mind was really preoccupied with what was goin’ on in the world. Every year, I do a book count and my book count last year was way lower than the year before. And I’ve already surpassed it this year! I know I was really bothered by what was goin’ on– both with the pandemic and then with all the civil unrest. It was just a lot. I still wrote songs that I love, one of them bein’ on this album, “Remember Me Beautiful”, but it felt harder to me– and I think probably to everybody because of what was happenin’.

“Remember Me Beautiful” falls in line with a lot of those feelings [of loss] that everyone has felt, obviously. But what about the rest of it? The civil unrest, the political upheaval– is that creeping into your writing?

Yeah, and I wrote about that a lot actually. I don’t know that any of it ended up being very extra special, but I just needed to get it out of me. I wrote a song by myself called “Turn On The Music”. It was really about how you turn on the news and it’s just crazy everywhere, and sometimes, you just gotta “turn on the music and turn off the news” was the hook of it. I remember writin’ that song, which didn’t end up makin’ it on this deluxe album, but it was all about what was goin’ on. And then in different co-writes, I’d write songs that were really about what we were goin’ through.

Sometimes for me, when I’m writin’ about what’s goin’ on right now, it doesn’t end up being the cream of what I’m writing. I think it’s ’cause I’m too close to it. A lot of times, for me, the songs that rise, I’m maybe writing about something that happened a year or two ago, if that makes any sense. I had a book club– an online book club going on during the pandemic and I’ve kept it going– and Brandi Carlile was our guest this week. She was sayin’ how when she writes songs, it’s about what she’s processing. She’s not gotten to any resolve in it yet. She asked me about myself and I said, “You know, I’m kind of the opposite! I tend to write about things best once they’ve been resolved.”

Well, since you brought up Brandi Carlile, let’s dive into that! The duo collectively known as BC Squared, as I understand it…

(Laughs) I love that!

You’ve got two fantastic tracks on the deluxe edition, “Like Mine” and “Same Devil”. “Same Devil” is just about as hardcore as they come. I have to wonder what kind of reservations you had about including that song– or was there any reservation at all? Was it like, “No, this track has got to come out now.”

I had a little tiny bit of reservation. I thought, “Oh, you know, I’m sayin’ a word in that song that I don’t say other than in that song.” I worried about that, but I didn’t really get any backlash from it. I played it for my mom, who’s really a great bar for me, and she was like, “Man, that’s powerful.”

It’s hard to take it out of context. It really is. The way it’s delivered, the way it comes across. Your mom’s right.

The few reservations I had kinda got squashed when I played it for my mom, but I loved [how] Brandi produced that track. I wrote that song with Marla Cannon and Hailey Whitters, who are fantastic writers and artists in their own right. Brandi produced that track and what she did with that was so, so, so great that I couldn’t not put it on there after that! I was so impressed because [when] we cut it, she was in her place in Washington over ZOOM, and I was in Nashville with the studio guys. We played the track, and really, the track felt amazing that day. I sang it and then she said, “Well, let me mess with it,” and she put that spooky piano on it and sang on it. And it just was. It was powerful! I was really, really proud. That was one stroke of luck with the pandemic. I don’t think Brandi and I would have gotten to do that had the pandemic not happened. I’d really at some point love to make a whole album with her. She’s a fantastic producer!

Something that you said about working with her as a producer was that it was the first time that you’d worked with someone in that role whose voice was their primary instrument. And that struck me. I couldn’t come up with another producer like that. Tell me about that experience.

There are all kinds of producers. I personally love a producer who is a musician first. Both the producers I’ve made records with, Dave Brainard and Jay Joyce, you can have some missteps and they can get you out of it. Like for example, both those guys, on records I made, there were times where they ended up not loving the bass line that was played during the tracking. And they went back and replayed it themselves! You gotta be a great musician to do that. I feel like with a great musician, you’re never stuck on a choice that’s made that maybe is the wrong choice the day of the tracking. As the song grows and changes through the process of singing it and overdubbing it– if it’s not all live, which most aren’t– if it changes with that producer, who’s a great musician, they can help that so that it all feels right.

With Brandi, she’s another great musician, and her instrument is her voice. So in the same way that Jay Joyce can go in and replay a guitar part or a piano part– I mean, he can play everything– Brandi can say, “Hey, have you thought about singin’ it this way?” I’ve never worked with someone that can say that and they actually sing it to you! And she sings it better than I’m gonna sing it! I think Brandi’s one of the greatest singers, really, to ever live, so to work with someone of that caliber, vocally, is really special. And also she pulled things out of me… I never think of myself as a great big singer, but she pulled things out of me that I didn’t think I had. I think she’s got that gift of knowing, “Oh, you know, Brandy just needs to be pushed right here and not pushed here.” I think she has such command over her instrument, she understands what someone else can do with theirs.

Will you be able to utilize that going forward as a vocalist

One hundred percent! I think that’s the real gift in working with people who are so talented in the studios. You always take something from them. This last time on Your Life Is A Record with Jay, what I really took away for myself as a singer was, “Okay, I don’t have to work so hard. There’s a microphone there for a reason!” I would just sing out my voice! We were recording the song “Love is a Fire” and he said, “That song’s sexy. I should feel like you’re whispering in my ear. Not like you’re pushing as hard as you can push as a vocalist.” I really took that to heart and started to treat it differently the few times I’ve gotten to sing live since then. He said, “That microphone is there for a reason. Let it do its job.”

Talkin’ about changing up things stylistically to get a different feeling, this is a good time to bring up “The Past is the Past” and the version that you do featuring Lindsey Buckingham on the deluxe edition. This version, it drives more, it’s more anthematic, and it really changes the flavor of the song. Had you considered releasing it like that originally? How did this particular version come about?

That version was actually first, believe it or not! I was in between records and the guys I work with at Warner, one of ’em, Lenny Waronker, had gone to dinner with Lindsey Buckingham. Lindsey asked him what he’s excited about and Lenny said me! I mean, he might have said a few other people, but he said me, and Lindsey said, “I’d love to hear somethin’.” He played him “Past is the Past”, and Lindsey said, “Wow, I’d love to get a chance to record that with her!” So he and I went in the studio– and it was way different than the demo! The way Lindsey imagined it was so different– and I loved it! That’s another great thing about [a producer]. You put a producer in the mix and I always say they’re the last writer on the song!

We recorded it, and at that point, I was just tryin’ out different things to see where I wanted to go. I ended up working with Jay, and when we went in and recorded it, we rerecorded “Past Is The Past” because the version that Lindsey did just wouldn’t have fit thematically with what we were going for on that album. It always made me kinda sad that, “Oh, no, that’s never gonna get heard!” And then this deluxe version came up and Lenny, actually, said, “Hey, what about what she did with Lindsey?” So we remixed it and put it on there just to give people another flavor.

You touched on “Remember Me Beautiful” earlier, a song that you wrote for the Morning Edition Song Project. I think the most striking thing about that one– outside of it being a wonderful song– is the video. That part of the project, people sharing their photos with you of people that they’ve lost– that kind of became a bit of a phenomenon. Tell me about that.

That idea came up after the song was recorded. I think it was my manager said we should have people submit pictures of people they’ve lost. It was very organic. People started tweeting pictures of people they had lost when they heard that song and then my manager said we should collect those pictures and do a video. That’s how it happened and I have to say, I did not realize how powerful that was going to be until I went in to shoot a video that hasn’t come out yet, but should be comin’ out here in the next couple of weeks. The guy who does my social media, Thomas Crabtree, had created this video. He shot the video that I’m in, and I’m gonna tell you right now, I couldn’t make it through one take without sobbing!

I only had one family member in that montage and it was towards the end, but it was so powerful when you see these faces and the lives that were lived and what they meant to people. Oh, it touched me! And then I played the Opry and they put that video wall behind me. It was on the televised portion of the Opry, and the response from that was tremendous! The messages I got from people whose loved ones were in that was just… It’s why we make music! Like, “Wow, my dad, his dream was to be on the opera stage. And he was tonight!”


Then people really started hittin’ me with pictures after the video was done! My hope and plan is when I get back out on the road to do a different montage every night because so many people have submitted pictures. I’d love for everybody to be represented. I think it’ll continue to grow. Every city, we’ll do a different montage. That’s if I can! I don’t know what’s gonna happen with COVID, but hopefully, I’ll be able to do some sort of a video wall at the places I’m playin’.

With the original release of the album, you had mentioned that your producer, Jay Joyce, had said that Your Life Is A Record was a breakup record. And while you agreed with him, you also took it to a different level saying it was you breaking up with a particular idea of what country music radio is. You’ve had a whole year livin’ with this album, creating, doing different projects. The idea of being a country music artist– and I know you’re a fan of country music as well– versus being a country music radio artist. That divide, I often feel, gets wider and wider every year. What do you think?

I agree with you. In fact, I’ve never heard somebody put it as eloquently as you just did– being a country artist versus being a country radio artist. Yeah, I think those are two completely different worlds. I think being a country artist sometimes falls into what some people call Americana or roots. I don’t have anything against country radio artists. There are country radio artists I work with, there are country radio artists I’m a major fan of– but I don’t fit into what that is. I’m gonna keep makin’ music, and I want to always feel good about where I land. And I do feel good to land in country, Americana, roots.

What do you want to do next?

You know, I’m figuring it out right now! I’m really lucky to have a very supportive label. I’m signed to Warner LA, have been for the last two projects. They’re really encouraging me right now to explore some different things. I don’t ever want to make the same record twice– and that gets harder as you go along. I’m really proud of this last record, so I want to do something that I’m equally as proud of and for it to match where I’m at when I make it.

Your Life Is A Record Deluxe is available now! Be sure to Like & Follow Brandy Clark to keep up with the latest project news and tour updates!