On Saturday (Oct. 23), Brandi Carlile will make her debut on Saturday Night Live, in support of her album In These Silent Days, which bowed at No. 1 on Billboard’s Americana/Folk Albums chart, as well as the Top Rock Albums chart, and Tastemaker Albums chart.
Also on the bill? Ted Lasso star and former SNL cast member Jason Sudeikis, who serves as host for the evening.
“I just feel like he is my people. I couldn’t be more happy to be on there with him,” Carlile tells Billboard, adding that she’s seen every Ted Lasso episode “at least once.” “It’s a spectacular character and a really special show. I think it really happened at the right time when people needed it—they needed to feel good about something. And my wife is British, so she’s been really homesick with all the travel restrictions and everything she got to do to this tour de London, through Ted Lasso.”
When Carlile makes her long-anticipated debut on SNL, it’s likely she will perform one of the tracks from her new 10-song album, which released Oct. 1 via Low Country Sound/Elektra Records was produced by Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings. The album marks the followup to her Grammy-winning By The Way, I Forgive You, and continues building on her breakthrough work like 2007’s The Story.
Carlile lives on a farm in Washington and counts her longtime bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth (a.k.a. The Twins) as neighbors. Last year, as the pandemic began raging around the world, Carlile and her team quarantined together and spent months working on the new album.
The resulting project collects a range of emotions, from righteous anger to regret to self-doubt to hope, while Carlile’s endlessly versatile voice gives each emotion weight and validation.
“There were so many people that told me, ‘Don’t make a pandemic album. By the time it comes out it’s going to be over, people aren’t going to want to think about it,’” Carlile says. “But I don’t know if I would’ve been able to transport myself beyond where I was. I had lost big things in that time, but I had really gained big things, too. I knew that was everyone’s story, it was definitely a restructuring a lot of our spiritual thoughts and the way that we understand marginalized people and the way that we interact with our health and with our families — everything just came into question. So I was like, ‘How can you make an album during one of the most uncertain resets in human history, and then not document that?’”
The album also serves as a continuation of sorts to the April release of Carlile’s memoir, Broken Horses. “The book was nearly written by the time the world shut down,” Carlile says. “I remember hitting send on that last chapter, closing the computer and walking straight to the piano — I didn’t even leave the room — and writing [closing track] ‘Throwing Good After Bad.’ And I knew I was writing an album.”
The memoir’s title also shows up on In These Silent Days as one of the album’s most triumphant, righteously rocking songs. “When I finished the book, I realized I had some residual anger,” she explains. “I sort of made jokes—this kind of humble banter, this aw-shucks kind of way at coping with rejection and the stress that that caused me as a young person. And I was like, ‘ I’ve felt for most of my life if I let anybody know I’m angry about this, I’ll be that militant lesbian that doesn’t get listened to.’ And I wanted to sort of kill that cliche and break free from that self-imposed shackle that I had put on myself.
“I wrote the song ‘Broken Horses’ with the intention of kind of screaming it out,” she continues. “I realized that in some ways it was maybe even one of the great purposes of me writing the memoir. I gave [the song] the same name because I really felt like I was breaking free from something.”
Meanwhile, “Sinners, Saints, and Fools” holds up a mirror to hypocrisy, offering a storyline of a man determined to live “by the rules” to keep displaced persons from finding refuge — only to find when he dies and goes to heaven that there is a wall keeping him out.
“I’m sure I can’t see my own flaws as intensely as other people can see them in me,” says Carlile, “but it is maddening to me the way that particularly Christians seem to not be able to see the spiritual importance of the plight of displaced people. That they cannot see or understand how important the plight of immigrants, economic migrants, the asylum seekers, and refugees — it’s foundational to that faith. If they can’t see how strange it is that they wax philosophical about people needing to come into this country legally or ‘by the book,’ when the book that they’ve based their whole lives and belief system on implores them to welcome those people into whatever situation that they’re trying to come into.”
After releasing both the book and album this year, Carlile is already hard at work on another book project. “I’m in the middle of writing one right now, but I can’t say much about it,” she says. “I love writing books. It turns out I like long-form writing, and it’s taken me to a new place in my life that I had shut myself down to after not finishing high school, and it makes me feel capable in a way I didn’t know I was before.”
Over the course of her career, Carlile has earned six Grammy awards for her work as an artist, songwriter and producer, in categories spanning multiple genres. Among those accolades is a best country song Grammy for “Crowded Table,” which Carlile wrote and recorded as part of the musical collective The Highwomen, which includes Amanda Shires, Natalie Hemby, and Maren Morris, and has grown to incorporate performances from Yola, Brittney Spencer and others.
When asked about the possibility of another The Highwomen album, Carlile says, “I hope so. There is something that happens when the four of us girls sing together. And when you bring Yola to sing, and Brittney Spencer, there are some special, really powerful women. I hope it continues because we all love each other and keep ourselves pretty damn busy, but that’s one of the albums I’ve been a part of that I listen to all the time in my home.”
Carlile is an artist who can straddle genre lines, earning Grammy wins in multiple categories. At the moment, however, she is content with being one of Americana music’s brightest lights — an artist who fights for equality and inclusivity both outside and within the genre.
“I’ve always really just wanted to be an artist for the misfits,” says Carlile. “Right now that makes me want to call myself Americana. I don’t know that it’ll always be that way, but that’s the way that I feel at the moment. My friends are there, and we’re getting to use that genre as an institution and a platform to keep ourselves from becoming disenfranchised. And so I’m not really even capable of focusing on anything else outside of that.”