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Since 2005, folk and Americana singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile has quietly put out albums that are well-received by critics and her fairly modest fan base -- Barack Obama included -- and that was enough for her.

She landed the occasional song on a big soundtrack, and in 2015 she was nominated for her first Grammy, best Americana album. The Firewatcher's Daughter didn't win, but it was a big deal nonetheless.

This year, Carlile was nominated for six Grammys, including album of the year. She's the most nominated female artist, and behind just Kendrick Lamar and Drake overall. Her current album, By the Way, I Forgive You, will compete against those rap stars -- along with Post Malone, Janelle Monae, Cardi B, Kacey Musgraves and H.E.R. -- for the biggest prize of the night. Her empowerment ballad "The Joke" is up for record of the year, song of the year, best American roots performance and best American roots song.

Q: How did you find out?

A: [My publicist] called me at 5:30 in the morning and I just stumbled over to my home alarm and started trying to disarm it so I could walk out of the room, because I didn't want to wake up my baby. Honestly, I didn't know if I was awake -- I was in absolute disbelief. Within 15 minutes, I had about 130 texts.

Q: How would you describe Brandi Carlile, the artist, for those people who are finding out about you for the first time?

A: Well, I'm 37, I have a wife and two kids, and I've been doing this since I was a child. I've put in my fair share of miles and time in a van and this is for all intents and purposes, in my opinion, my seventh album and something that I poured my heart and soul into. To see it recognized this way is stunning.

Q: You've said that "By the Way, I Forgive You" is about "radical forgiveness" toward all of the people who may have wronged you throughout your life. When you heard about your nominations, was there anyone you thought of, in a flash of pettiness, like, "Oh, man, I showed you!"

A: Totally -- three or four. [But] gratefulness is the lesson I'm learning most from this day. I realized all along that I really essentially am a privileged white person in America who's never had anything other than my dreams come true. Even though I did work really hard, I have perspective on this. And I wouldn't by any means say I deserve it.

Q: Did you have a sense in crafting this record with producers Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings that it might be a breakout for you?

A: I thought it might emotionally be a breakout for me. I was reading a Joni Mitchell interview about the emotional state that she was in when she came to believe that it was time for her to write a record like Blue, where it wasn't observational, but personal revelations. I knew it was that for me, and it was the first time I wasn't hiding behind phrasing and punch lines and jokes.

But in terms of something like this, no, it never even crossed my mind. I've never won anything, not even a karaoke contest and I've been in a lot of them.

At the end of the day, especially right now in this country, people want truth and forgiveness and healing. Those things aren't coming from me, but anything that alludes to them, I think, draws people in at the moment. That's what we're seeing.

Q: The Grammys have not really been a stage for resonant protest in recent years, despite the upheaval in the country. Can you imagine bringing politics to the show in your time onstage?

A: In the music I can. I've been twice and seen Kendrick Lamar just completely -- literally -- set the place on fire. I find those the most inspiring performances by far. Because it reflects a time for me in music when musicians were activists and activists were musicians during the Vietnam War. I don't know if it's because of the devastation we're seeing in the landscape of American politics and the Supreme Court, but I think for the first time, the music matters again like it did then. And the people that are leading the charge, in my opinion, are African-Americans, women and artists pushing the envelope outside of the boundaries of genre.

Style on 12/16/2018

Print Headline: Grammy nominee Carlile 'never won anything'

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