Brandy Clark briefly thought quarantine might just be a short break to recharge from a hard winter touring season. Instead, it came close to swallowing up her ambitious third album.
“I was like, OK, this is going to be a nice 10-day break,” she says. “But then as it became clear that we were in a state of lockdown for a while, I really on a professional level got really scared of my album getting lost in the shuffle because of what was going on.”
Indeed, Clark’s album Your Life Is a Record had a tough road upon release, preceding the global shutdown by a week or so with no option to tour. The collection, produced by Jay Joyce (who oversaw Clark’s Big Day in a Small Town), featured more of the rich character studies, lyrical heft, and graceful singing that have been a hallmark of Clark’s work, rounded out and sweetened with the addition of strings and horns.
Your Life Is a Record didn’t end up being a chart smash, but it also didn’t fade completely out of view. There was plenty of positive press, and she maintained visibility with weekly livestreams. In November, the LP picked up a pair of Grammy nominations for Best Country Album and Best Country Solo Performance for “Who You Thought I Was,” putting her in the same company as Ashley McBryde and Miranda Lambert.
“When the album was Grammy-nominated, it gave it a new life,” Clark says. “A lot of people came back to it that didn’t get it on the first go-around.”
One year on from the album’s release, Clark has issued a deluxe version that includes collaborations with Grammy winner Brandi Carlile, a collaboration with Lindsey Buckingham, a couple of live tracks, and a new stunner of a song called “Remember Me Beautiful.”
Were there any good surprises for you in the last year?
There were some nice things that happened. Because of not being on the road, I was able to take one of my nephews on a trip through several national parks. And my other nephew came and we spent about two weeks together. Also on a career note, I ended up going in and cutting some songs with Brandi Carlile. I definitely wouldn’t have done that had I been out on the road and had things been moving along like we had planned.
I know that collaboration was a dream come true for a lot of people. How did it come about?
It happened because the label wanted me to put out more music, which is always a nice problem to have. I was wanting to do it with Jay Joyce, because he and I made [Your Life Is a Record] together, but there was no way he could do it in [their] timeline. This is not to say Brandi’s the second choice, because that’s not the case, but somebody mentioned Brandi Carlile and I said, “If she wants to do it, then I’m all in.” And she did.
She lives in Washington state and so she produced the session from there. I was [in Nashville] with the musicians and we tracked it and I sang everything that same day, which was so different for me. She took it and sweetened it up and sang on the tracks, but it was a really quick and easy process. I’d love to do more with her. I’ve worked with great producers on every record, I feel really lucky that way. It’s the first time I’ve worked with a producer whose instrument is their voice. So that was different. Every producer pushes you in different ways and stretches you. She really pushed me vocally in a way that no one ever has.
Compared to your previous work, Your Life Is a Record sounds very lush. What did you set out to accomplish with it?
You’re not the first person to say that. For the most part, it’s got the least on it and yet it sounds really lush. I wanted to see if [Joyce] would be into the idea of cutting something completely acoustic. That would be a really amazing thing to try with someone like him, who’s known for a more electric, aggressive sound. I brought that up, he loved the idea. We cut that record with myself, him, Jedd Hughes, and Giles Reaves. Every basic track was the four of us. We started out completely acoustic. Somewhere along the way, Jay said to me, “How do we make this different from every other acoustic singer-songwriter record?” I said, “I love strings,” because I do. He called me that night and said, “How would you feel about using the Memphis string and horn section?” I didn’t really know what that was. He said, “Think Bobbie Gentry and I Am Shelby Lynne and Dusty Springfield.” I listened to those records and I was like “Oh OK!” … He said, “Let’s try three things and see what we think and if it’s not working we’ll do something else.” So we did and we were both really moved, so much to the point that I went back to the label and got more budget to do the whole album with them.
How did you get connected with Randy Newman for “Bigger Boat”?
I’ve always wanted to do a duet on an album, but it’s just never presented itself. Lenny Waronker, who was one of the A&R guys on this record, has known Randy his whole life. If anybody could get to Randy, it’d be Lenny. When Randy listened to the song, he said, “Yeah, I like that, I could get onboard with doing that.” That was huge. … So I flew to LA. It was Memorial Day weekend and that was the only time he could do it. I went to his producer’s house and he did his vocal and piano. He wasn’t even planning on doing the piano, he was noodling around and we recorded it. He was just wonderful.
How did you decide what was going to make the deluxe version of the album?
It was just some of what happened during the pandemic. I definitely wanted to put those songs Brandi and I had recorded on there. Before I recorded Your Life Is a Record, Lindsey Buckingham had heard “The Past Is the Past” and loved it and wanted a shot at he and I doing it. I went out to L.A. and spent a couple days in the studio with him, which was really fun. But I knew it wasn’t the direction I was going to go. Everybody said, “We’ll find a place for it.” I had actually forgotten about it and it was Lenny who said, “Hey, what about that track with Lindsey?” I had also done a livestream for MusiCares and we had recorded it. We had “Pawn Shop” and “Who You Thought I Was,” and I loved the version of “Who You Thought I Was” in particular. And right at the end of the year, I wrote “Remember Me Beautiful” with the Love Junkies [Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose]. This was actually the reason the deluxe album happened — I played it on NPR, just a snippet, and it had a great response.
“Remember Me Beautiful” is a real tearjerker, of which you have quite a few. Was there a particular inspiration for you writing it?
There was. It’s crazy because this guy I know from my hometown, he’s a couple years older than me, I’ve known him pretty much my whole life. He works at the town paper and he sent me some pictures of the Halloween haunted house that my parents were involved in. In that picture, my brother and I are little kids. My dad, who’s passed away, is Dracula. And my grandma, who’s also passed away, is a fortune-teller. Neither of them are very old in the picture, but I saw that picture and I wrote down “Remember me beautiful, remember me young” and I put it in my phone.
In the last year, you were honored with a GLAAD Media Award. What did that mean to you?
That was really big to me and really shocking. There are things — you know, when the Grammy.nominations are coming out, so you’re kind of hopeful. I had no idea when the GLAAD Awards came out, but I have to say it’s been one of my prouder acknowledgements. Because from the beginning of my career, I’ve been out of the closet. I’ve never made a huge deal about my sexuality, but I’ve never hidden it. I don’t shy away from doing LGBTQ+ press. I’ve done more of it this album for no other reason than I was asked to. So I was proud to have them say, “We see what you’re doing and it matters.”
You’ve had a few Grammy nominations over the years and picked up two more this year. How do you react to that?
This year meant more to me than any other time, I can tell you that unequivocally, because of the year we had. Because of when my album came out. And also, the longer you make records, the harder it is to get recognized, because everybody gets excited about what’s new. I understand that. I get excited about what’s new. It just felt and continues to feel like, “We see you and we appreciate what you do and feel like it needs to be honored with a nomination.” I’m not an artist who plays in the mainstream. I’m not on country radio. To be acknowledged in the country categories and not have that, that feels powerful.