“Holy shit, right?” Brandi Carlile asks, speaking with Rolling Stone a few short hours after learning about her six nominations for the 61st annual Grammy Awards, including Song, Album and Record of the Year.
Carlile’s six nominations tie the singer with producer Boi-1DA for the third-most nominations of any artist in any genre, trailing only Drake and Kendrick Lamar.
“It’s the biggest level of craziness in almost 20 years for me, the closest to anything mainstream that’s ever happened to me” says the singer-songwriter, 38. “And it’s happened for the most personal and exposing record I’ve ever made.”
Carlile’s unsuspecting Grammy takeover comes on the heels of her seventh album By the Way, I Forgive You, produced by Shooter Jennings and Dave Cobb. The LP has established Carlile not only as one of the foremost stars of Americana music, but as one of the most thrilling touring acts in the country.
Nevertheless, Carlile is still a widely unknown name compared to her fellow nominees like Kendrick Lamar and Drake, the only other two artists to earn nominations in each of the three major categories for Song, Album and Record of the Year.
“I’m already seeing a lot of pictures of [Go-Gos singer] Belinda Carlisle and plenty of misspellings,” the singer says with a laugh. “Me and my wife keep sending them to each other: a picture of Drake, a picture of Kendrick, and then, boom, a picture of Belinda Carlisle.”
Carlile sees her fellow Grammy frontrunners as representative of a sea change. To her, nominees like Janelle Monáe, Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino represent a new diversity of voices at the very center of mainstream music.
“I’ve thought a lot about the evolution of protest music, and how asleep it was for such a long time, and how the people leading the charge now, where they’re minorities, where they’re queer, where they have different concepts of gender persuasion and ethnic backgrounds, those are our Bob Dylans and Jonis and Buffy Saint-Maries. They’re leading the charge,” she says. “The word gets thrown around a lot, but to be nominated alongside them because of exposing myself emotionally is truly an honor.”
In addition to her three major category nominations, Carlile also earned nods in each of the three Americana categories, several of them alongside her old friend and singing partner John Prine. With the visibility that comes from earning all-category honors, Carlile is eager to represent the singer-songwriter community from which she hails.
“I love the thought of that,” she says. “Especially as a 38-year-old gay mom, that’s a big deal. It’s like, why not? Why couldn’t it be someone like me?”