Artist - Brandy Clark 3
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Brandy Clark: on Murder, Insecurity & 'Shucked'

June 7, 2023 4:37 pm GMT
Last Edited June 8, 2023 8:10 pm GMT

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Everyone has their insecurities. Even a talent like 11-time Grammy nominee Brandy Clark has her hang-ups. It’s just part of human nature.

“I have a lot of insecurities around my body. I think most women, and honestly, I think probably a lot of men do, too,” she says. “I have so many friends right now on Ozempic, and it takes everything I have to not do that – not that I have any judgment on that. I just have some health reasons for not [doing it]. I'm always struggling to lose weight or to just be a better me.”

Clark reveals such vulnerability with her newly-released self-titled LP. A song like ‘Dear Insecurity,’ a collaboration with album producer and friend Brandi Carlile, speaks directly to those sore spots in her soul, revealing her truth for the very first time. That’s not to say Clark hasn’t always been open in her songwriting, but she’s never been this honest in her work.

“You're always nervous when you put out a record, but I felt exceptionally nervous this time. And I think it's because it is so raw,” she says. “And then also, I'm not that far away from recording it. We started in November and were done with mastering in January. I'm used to making a record and then having to wait a year to put it out. The ink still feels wet.”

Brandy Clark, sitting in the upper echelons of this year’s releases, shines a light on the darkest recesses of an artist’s soul, both in celebration and confrontation of self. Clark explains, “I really confronted the perfectionist part of me. The way that Brandi works is definitely more about feel than it is about precision. And so I had to get okay with some vocal takes that weren’t perfect and guitar takes that weren’t perfect. Ultimately, she was right, because people respond to the raw vulnerability in this record. That was tough for me.”

A song like ‘She Smoked in the House,’ an ode to her late grandmother, is among Clark’s most exposed performances. “She smoked in the house / Burnt holes in the couch / Lipstick-circled butts in the ashtray,” she sings, a wiry vocal texture slathered around the edges. With its plainspoken lyricism, Clark cherishes those little details of a person’s life, each quirk an evocation of their vitality and presence.

Pondering over her grandmother’s life, Clark is reminded about what she instilled within her at a very early age.

“My grandmother definitely thought highly of me, and I think she thought highly of herself – not in an arrogant way, just in a ‘nobody's better than me’ kind of way. And I definitely got that from my grandma,” shares Clark.

“She taught me a really great lesson early in life. She traveled to so many places in the United States and had an atlas where she’d mark off states she had been to. I was so impressed by all the Xs on the states. And I asked, ‘Grandma, where's the prettiest place you've ever been?’ She started talking about different places, and she's like, ‘The truth is, you're going to go a lot of places and see a lot of things, but you're never going to see anything prettier than right here. And not because it's beautiful, but because it's your home.’ So, she gave me a really deep appreciation of home before I even left it.”

While she had certainly processed most of her grief, Clark found herself addressing a very different form of it in writing the song. “I was on fire about writing that song. I was really missing my grandma,” she says of the song, greatly inspired by Merle Haggard’s ‘Are the Good Times Really Over for Good.’

She continues, “Writing this song was me processing some grief that maybe isn't as sad as grief as I've processed in the past, because I've had some distance now between losing my grandma and writing that song. It's a very different song that I would have written right after she passed away versus now. I mean, you never stop grieving when you lose somebody, but it was processing. I never had thought about it until you said it, but it was a grief that I was able to sit in a little longer.”

What is most musically striking about Brandy Clark is the thoughtful use of strings. Where her previous outing, 2020’s Your Life is a Record, utilized strings as its backbone, the latest LP wields a string quartet in a way that heightens the emotional energies of the songs through sparseness, particularly in ‘Take Mine’ and its eloquently sweeping string section.

“Brandi said something so smart. She said, ‘You know, the less you use them, the more effective they'll be.’ They are because people really notice them,” she refelects. “There are a lot less strings on this record than on my last record. But I just find that nothing moves me emotionally as much as a string section or even just a lone cello. Strings really pull at my heartstrings.”

Elsewhere, a harmonica plays a crucial part in ‘Best Ones,’ an element brought to life by Jay Carlile, Brandi’s brother and musician. “The arrangement of it is so different from the original song. Brandi had a different feel in mind – and it's hard for me to even remember the original feel now because I'm so used to this. She wanted harmonica, and I love harmonica. We were whittling down, getting these tracks done, and the harmonica had not been put on it. Jay just killed it. The track without it would be really empty. Sometimes, empty is good, but it would just be too empty and the harmonica really gives it a different character.”

The thematic outlier of the bunch, opening track ‘Ain’t Enough Rocks’ featuring Derek Trucks on guitar, tells the tale of a young woman getting murderous revenge on her abuser – sitting somewhere between Vickie Lawrence’s ‘The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia’ (Clark’s personal favorite murder song) and ‘Independence Day’ by Martina McBride. “Might’ve broke her heart, couldn’t break her soul,” she sings, “but dead ain’t dead enough sometimes, you know.”

It joins a long lineage of murder songs in country music. But what’s behind the genre’s fascination with the macabre? Clark has a theory. “Death is a part of life. And, for example, ‘The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,’ that's just a great story. I love dark things. ‘Ain’t Enough Rocks’ is not a dark comedy, but my favorite way to write is in a dark comedy. But I think it's real. Like it or not, murders happen, and we're all intrigued by them. Most of us are not murderers but pushed far enough, I think it's in most humans to commit a murder. When I grew up, we had the Green River Killer and Ted Bundy –and all of that stuff has always been really intriguing to me.”

Clark is not only enjoying the release of her latest studio record but her first-ever Tony Awards nomination in the Original Score category for Shucked, the music for which she co-wrote with Shane McAnally.

“I have joked with Robert [Horn, playwright] and Shane that we are going to have to win a Tony before a Grammy. If that happens, it would be hilarious to me – and also pretty amazing. I'm not gonna lie, I would love to win and have the T in the EGOT and then work on the G. And figure out how to get those others.”

Having grown up playing sports, her competitive nature comes out when discussing her many award nominations. “I try to keep award nominations in perspective because if I base everything on those, I can forget the reasons behind making music. Music is not a sport. By doing the whole nominations and awards, we turn it into a bit of a sport. There's a lot of politics involved when you get nominated. The politics just happen to fall your way. And so I try not to put too much on it, but I mean, I love getting nominated. It makes me feel seen by my peers. It makes me feel appreciated. But when I don't, I try to remember [not to] throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

With a Tony-nominated show under her belt, Clark eyes writing music for a film in the vein of Raising Arizona. Truth be told, a Thelma & Louise-style narrative would fit her brand of darkness like a glove.

“I love that you could see that for me. That's another really big bucket list for me – to write the soundtrack for a movie. And I believe I'll get to do that. I'm really putting feelers out there. And I believe I could do it. There was a movie I saw just the other day – I can't remember what it was – but popular music artists wrote the soundtrack. I [need] to find that movie, that project that really fits me and be the part that brings the musical part to life.”

Television might be on the horizon, as well. “I've kicked around with a couple of different screenwriters turning one of my records into episodic television. But it has always fallen apart. I know there's some project like that that's going to come my way that will make sense for me.

Del Shores, who’s written episodes of Queer as Folk and Sordid Lives, once developed a six-episode series around Clark’s 2016 set, Big Day in a Small Town. “He did a great job, and it might be time to bring it back out. I think maybe it just wasn't the right time. He had about six episodes mapped out, and it was really pretty amazing what he had done.”

Clark might even see herself acting one day. “I'm definitely not an actor, but for the right role, I would totally do it. I'm always looking to do different things creatively. I think that's how we stay sharp and how we stay inspired. I read a lot to inspire songs, and I learned a lot by being involved in this ‘Shucked’ by watching actors. There are things that they do that inspire me or that inspired songs for the show or that inspire scenes. I think the two go hand in hand.”

For now, Clark will continue writing songs and releasing them into the world. More than anything, Brandy Clark proves she has more stories to tell–and she won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

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Brandy Clarks self-titled 2023 album is out now. For more on Clark, see below:

Written by Bee Delores
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