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Thursday, May 30, 2024

The ‘rawest version of me’: Brandy Clark on Brandi Carlile-produced album ahead of BAC show

Brandy Clark will perform from her new album at Brooklyn Arts Center on April 23. (Photo by Veronica Stevens)         

Brandy Clark has long been a lauded pen among Nashville’s ink well.

READ MORE: In photos: Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors

She has landed hits with chart-toppers co-written with Kacey Musgraves and performed by Miranda Lambert (among others), while also handily stepping out front with her own records woven from classic-country music clarity and contemporary heart-on-the-sleeve fearlessness.             

On her self-titled fourth album, Clark is as powerful as ever, showcasing stunning personal narratives alongside blood-and-bone ballads that rise above to survey fresh angles bound by neither convention nor cliche.  She will perform from it at Brooklyn Arts Center on April 23.         

“I think that’s always the challenge of a songwriter and a singer,” said Clark, who on her latest release maneuvers deliberately through tales of heartbreak, homicide, and home. “There are songs that aren’t hard for me to find a way into.”

She references “Take Mine,” written for her godson, and “Dear Insecurity” — a reflection of her own self-doubt. The album’s intimacy and vulnerability are its greatest strengths, especially on songs like “She Smoked In The House.” She wrote it solo, about her grandmother.

“It’s a great lesson to me — to get personal,” Clark said. “Sometimes the things you write by yourself are a little harder to fight for because you feel like, ‘Wait, am I just fighting for this because I believe in it or because I wrote it?’ Whereas, when you have a co-writer in there saying, ‘This is a great song, let’s fight for it,’ it’s like you’ve got a team. So that was part of it, and I really thought it was a song that was so specific to me that it wouldn’t resonate.”

“Tell Her You Don’t Love Her” also is born from a real-life experience. Clark implores a friend’s ex for mercy, an act the album’s producer Brandi Carlile approached with skepticism. Carlile originally didn’t want it on the record.

“I was set on having it,” Clark said, adding Carlile implored: “‘I just don’t believe that from you.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s the truth!’” 

The songwriter detailed she wrote “Tell Her You Don’t Love Her” about a friend whose ex was stringing her along with false-hope. She said she explained that to Carlile: “‘Tell her you don’t love her. Come on, stop this. Stop the long goodbye.’ So that really shifted it for her.” 

Clark considers the producer the final stamp — the “last writer” of the tracks. Carlile took issue with the song’s big vocals and big guitar, stating the emotion behind it isn’t necessarily aggressive.

“‘I think my problem with it, is this is a small emotion,” Clark remembered her saying. “You are pleading with this guy to let your friend off the hook.’ … so we broke it down really small, and by the end of the recording she said, ‘You know, that’s top three for me now.’” 

After connecting during the pandemic lockdown, Clark and Carlile (dubbed BC Squared) collaborated on two tracks that would ultimately appear on the deluxe edition of Brandy’s 2020 album “Your Life is a Record.”  

Clark praises Carlile’s propensity to reflect the artist’s intention back in the mirror — literally.

“One of the big things was holding a mirror up in front of my face and saying, ‘Okay, is this really you? And if it’s not really you, what’s your way into it?’’’ Clark recalled. 

Clark always goes into recording an album with the 18 or 24 songs from her catalog to begin the whittling-down process. “Ain’t Enough Rocks” made it onto the new album and tells a graphic story about a father who is sexually abusing his daughters and meeting an end at the bottom of a river.

In the song’s final moments, Clark delivers the chill-inducing line: “Sometimes the only cure for a certain kind of problem is the right amount of limestone to keep it at the bottom.”

She admits being timid to tackle the song.

“That was one that everybody fought for but me,” she said, further explaining: “I’m not a survivor of abuse. I didn’t wanna come off as pretending I was for a song.”

Carlile, she said, pointed out its merit and told Clark she believed her voice in every note.

“It’s a story song,” Clark detailed of their conversation, adding Carlile said: “’There’s something in this story that you resonate with.’”

It’s the last verse that hit Clark: “‘I think there’s some crimes that don’t deserve a jury.’”

“I know that sounds so black and white and awful, but I just feel like there are some things that are so terrible, people should at least never breathe free air again,” she said.

Co-written with Jesse Jo Dillon and Jimmy Robbins, the track also contains a ferocious appearance by guitarist Derek Trucks. Carlile reached out to him and sent him the track. 

“‘You should know this song,’” she told him “So she sent it to him, and he was so inspired by the song that he figured out a way to do it. So that makes me feel amazing as a writer.” 

Clark calls her latest collection “the rawest version of me at this point in my life,” and though a few critics and fans may have been surprised by some of her bare-knuckled moments, this isn’t a reinvention but a live-edge cut of the songwriter. She’s been familiar with commercial songwriting, she said, though she didn’t think she excelled at it. 

“A lot of people think I am because I’ve had a few hits, but overall, I’ve had a lot more non-commercial songs,” she said. “But you get into that mindset of a certain, for lack of a better word, ‘formula.’ And Brandi doesn’t know that formula. So for me to bring in some structure and her to bring in some non-structure, I think we landed in a really great place.

Clark said she loved hearing Carlile’s feedback of why she chose the tracks for “Brandy Clark.” The singer-songwriter said she was drawn to a handful because they felt like Clark wrote them in her bedroom “and not in a writing room.”

“That really hit me,” Clark said. “That’s why any of us ever picked up a guitar was to get a feeling out, not to impress another songwriter, not to even write a hit song. To express an emotion, that was what she brought to me.” 

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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