The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — Washington-raised Americana stars Brandy Clark and Brandi Carlile have well-documented histories with the Grammys. The two artists with the same first name and home state have more than 40 nominations between them over the past decade.
With similar country-adjacent proclivities and shared Northwest roots, the Brandies’ roads to Music’s Biggest Night first converged two years ago when they were nominated for two songs together: their sizzling duet “Same Devil” and “A Beautiful Noise,” a Carlile- and Alicia Keys-sung tune that Clark co-wrote.
Neither won. But it laid the path to much deeper collaboration when during the ceremony Carlile pitched Clark, who grew up in Morton, on letting her produce Clark’s next album. Now, Clark and Carlile will have another chance to take home golden gramophones together for their latest duet, “Dear Insecurity,” nominated for best Americana performance and best American roots song.
The chilling piano ballad is a highlight from Clark’s self-titled album — an unvarnished collection that features some of her rawest and most uninhibited work, leading to five of her six total Grammy nominations, which were announced Friday. The Carlile-produced album is up for best Americana album, a first for Clark after her first three albums were nominated in the country category.
The idea for the song, written as a letter to self-doubt, came to Clark while grinding through Los Angeles traffic. Clark, who splits her time between Malibu and Nashville, where she cut her teeth in the songwriting world, was en route to a writing session with Michael Pollack — a hit-penning songwriter who also co-wrote Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers,” up for song and record of the year.
“Someone had really hurt my feelings that morning and I was trying to get over it in my head before I got to the write,” Clark said in an interview this spring. “I thought about something a really good friend of mine always says — that insecurity is the ugliest human emotion and that when somebody is mean to us, it typically goes back to their insecurity.”
The wheels start turning in Clark’s head, if not on the gridlocked L.A. freeway, about her own insecurities and relationships they’ve ruined. When she got to the session, Pollack was on board for the “letter to insecurity” premise. They came up with the vocal and piano parts that day, and Clark instantly knew they had something.
“I left there feeling like we got a great song,” she said. “Sometimes it takes a while to know, but I felt it that day. I knew I wanted to record it.”
More than just a good tune, Clark also left feeling like it was something important she wanted to say — a feeling reaffirmed during a conversation with longtime record executive Lenny Waronker.
“He said to me, ‘Boy, these new songs, they are your most vulnerable,’” Clark recalled. “That really hit me strange because I had made ‘Your Life is a Record,’ which was a breakup record. I didn’t know you could get more vulnerable than that. He goes, ‘Those songs are about the breakup of a relationship. … ‘Dear Insecurity,’ that is about you. That is as vulnerable as you could be about you.’”
Once Clark and Carlile got into Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La Studio in Malibu, Carlile suggested recording it as it duet, but not with her. They kicked around a few names, eventually landing on one unnamed artist who they would approach after Carlile recorded some scratch vocals. Great plan, just one problem: Carlile’s take was too damn good.
“I was so moved, by not only what (Carlile) sang, but by what we did together,” Clark said. “So, I went home and I thought, ‘Boy, I’ve got a problem now because she’s got her heart set on this other artist and I’ve got my heart set on her.”
Clark spent the night tossing and turning, wondering how she was going to broach the subject with Carlile.
“The next day I was like, ‘Hey, Brandi, I know you really want artist X on this and that’s such a great idea. But I’ve gotta be honest. I really want you,’” Clark said. “She’s like ‘Oh buddy, that’s all you needed to say. It’s done.’”
Later on when Carlile and her band were in New York getting ready to play “Saturday Night Live,” Carlile’s go-to string quartet of Sista Strings, Portland’s Kyleen King and Seattle cellist Josh Neumann, laid down their parts, adding wind beneath the song’s wings. Even though Carlile’s vocals were initially intended as a placeholder, they left them as is.
“That was another place that Brandi challenged me,” Clark said. “I love a perfect vocal, and she loves a perfectly honest vocal. There were things that I wanted to re-sing [on the album] and she’d be like, ‘No, we’re leaving it. I feel something.’ And that was one of those times. Once again, she was right to keep things raw and imperfect.”
Whether or not Clark and Carlile take home a trophy together during the 66th Annual Grammy Awards in February, it’s already clear Washington’s favorite Brandies are a winning combination.
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