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Brandi Carlile Talks Writing for Miranda Lambert, Her Grand Ole Opry Debut and Meeting Little Jimmy Dickens

Brandi Carlile
Simone Joyner, Getty Images

Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile admits that her appearance on the Grand Ole Opry stage last month was a result of some begging. OK, it was the result of a lot of begging. While she isn’t a household name on country radio, Carlile — like many singer-songwriters — is heavily influenced by the sounds of Nashville. Her childhood home in Washington was a country music household, and the Grand Ole Opry was more than just a radio show.

“It’s kind of like always returning back to your center, you know,” Carlile says about returning to her roots for the Opry performance, which included a few songs from her upcoming new album and ‘Same Old You,’ a song she wrote for Miranda Lambert. The two became fast friends after touring together at Lilith Fair, and when she was finished with ‘Same Old You,’ the 30-year-old knew she had written a song she’d never record. A phone call later and Lambert was excited to be the mouthpiece for the lyrics, eventually including it on her critically acclaimed new album, ‘Four the Record.’

What inspired ‘Same Old You,’ the song that wound up on Miranda’s album?
I just got to thinking one day about my country music influences and my roots. And I made a mental note of the fact that I let it kind of come out of my guitar playing and my voice and my melodies, but I’ve never really written a lyric along the lines of a Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn song. I got to thinking about some of the men in my family. The men in my family are really cute. They’re funny. They have this propensity to be soft-spoken and quiet, and it can appear to be aloof or just kind of complacent, and all the women are outspoken and strong and they’re constantly annoyed at the fact that the men just kind of look down at the ground and walk around and don’t really say how they feel.

So I wrote this song about a woman who’s getting ready to marry a guy and he just won’t look her in the eye and say anything. And she’s saying “Yeah, this is the same old you, and you’re not going to change, but until I decide that I’m done it’s just the same old me, too.”

Where you nervous playing the Grand Ole Opry?
Yeah. Totally nervous.

Do you usually get nervous before shows?
It’s random, but the Grand Ole Opry was just kind of a profound experience having been talked about in my family growing up. It’s a big part of my childhood.

Did the actual experience of performing there live up your expectations of what it would be like?
You would have thought that it couldn’t have lived up, but it really did. I felt like those three songs, my heart was pounding all the way through it. It felt like a big deal. My whole family was there and it was at the Ryman which is a big deal because that’s the original. I had just met Little Jimmy Dickens backstage … and the people there were so Opry-savvy, the way they were flying through the changeovers and the way they were, you know, just playing their instruments and plugging them in and going seamlessly through the commercials. It was really an amazing thing to watch it come together.

What did you say to Little Jimmy Dickens?
I said, “It’s nice to meet you, sir. It’s such and honor.” And he said, “Thank you, dear.” And that was it.

I was astounded, because he comes across the stage to say hello and I was like “Aw, he’s so awesome. Like look at his outfit.” He had the most amazing little outfit on, and I was like, “That is a proper Grand Ole Opry outfit.” And I was just so excited about it. And then the show started and he was wearing a completely different thing. So it wasn’t actually his costume — it was just his clothes for the day [laughs].

Talk about what the Grand Ole Opry meant to you growing up.
My grandfather and his brothers and sisters and his mother, they all listen to it religiously. They had family gatherings around the Grand Ole Opry and they would mimic it, do jam sessions where they were playing all the songs that they heard that week. And that kind of got passed down to my mother, and I would go to the family jam nights, even long after they were sitting around the radio listening to the Grand Ole Opry. And it was just impressive. I knew it was kind of the mother ship.

Your Wikipedia page says you have tattoos from the movie ‘The Neverending Story’ on your arms. Is that true or just the best Wikipedia lie ever?
I do, I have the AURYN . One on each shoulder. It’s pretty big actually.

Have you read the book, or is it the original movie that inspired you?
Both. I watched the movie as a child habitually. I was obsessed with it. And then my girlfriend got me the book for my 30th birthday, and I read that too.

When you’re a child it’s really mystical and intense. But you have to look at it with fondness, like that’s all they had to work with back then. It’s cute … And the symbolism of the Nothing, societal imposition slowly eclipsing the imagination and children trying to save that. It’s like really, I think, a pertinent lesson today for kids to learn.

Listen to Miranda Lambert Sing the Brandi Carlile Penned Song ‘Same Old You’

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