By Jim Morrison

Brandy Clark’s first Grammy win this year began with a Grammy loss two years ago.

She was nominated — for the 9th and 10th times — for Song of the Year for “A Beautiful Noise” sung by Brandi Carlile and Alicia Keys and for Best American Roots Performance for “Same Devil,” the duet by Carlile and Clark.

Clark and Carlile got together during the pandemic to work on a couple of songs for the deluxe edition of Clark’s “Your Life is a Record.” That led to “Same Devil.”

When the 2022 winner — Jon Batiste for “Cry” — was announced, Carlile leaned over to Clark. “She looked at me and said, buddy, I’d love to make a whole record with you, which was so exciting,” Clark recalls in a phone interview.

They met to discuss the idea in Washington, where Clark grew up in a town of 900 people and Carlile lives. “She said, Look, I think I can pull you further into Americana. Not only do I think you need Americana, but I think Americana needs you and your songs. And that was such an amazing thing to say. And then to back it up with not only making the record but promoting the record and getting behind me and the record.”

That record is “Brandy Clark,” her fourth since she debuted at the age of 37 in 2013. She had spent the previous decade in Nashville writing or co-writing hits like “Follow Your Arrow” for Kacey Musgraves, “Mama’s Broken Heart” for Miranda Lambert, “Homecoming Queen” for Sheryl Crow, and “Voodoo Doll” for Ashley McBryde.

Clark plays The Perry Pavilion in downtown Norfolk on May 7 as part of the collaboration between the Virginia Arts Festival and North Shore Point Downtown. She said she brought Carlile between 18 and 24 offerings for the album. There were a few must-haves in Clark’s mind. Carlile chose those. But some of her choices surprised Clark. “I chose the songs I thought sounded like you wrote them in your bedroom and not in a writing room,” Carlile told her. 

“If I would have gotten nothing else from working with her, that was such a gift,” Clark says. Living in Nashville part-time, Clark has done co-write after co-write. She’s in demand to work with other top writers, something she loves. It’s an artists’ community where everyone is trying to impress each other, something she says makes them better.

But there’s another side to that life. “I had forgotten, oh yeah, you start writing songs because you have something to say. Not because it’s your job. Not because you want to impress another songwriter, but just because you have this thing you have to say,” she says. “I think in moving forward that really changed the way I want to create. And so that’s pretty big for me.”

She credits Carlile for opening her to that idea. “She wanted me to make some changes to some songs that would make them more personal to me. And I didn’t really want to do that at first, because I felt it would be disrespectful to co-writers,” Clark says. “I said, you know, I try to be in service to the song and she’s like, I appreciate that, but I think this time you need to be in service to the artist.”

“From the moment I started making records, which was “12 Stories,” until now, I think, I’ve stepped further and further into the artist side of myself. And with this record, I stepped fully in,” she adds.

One song where Carlile asked for a lyric change was “Buried,” a heartbreaker capturing the grief, despair, and eternal longing of losing a love. “Brandi said the song is almost perfect and I remember being a little bit offended by that,” Clark says. “The changes she had me make were things to make it more me and less universal. And I think ultimately that made it more universal.”

In a line bargaining for her lover to stay, the song originally said, “I’ll read “Lonesome Dove.” I’ll start doing yoga.” Carlile didn’t like the yoga line, telling Clark she didn’t think she did yoga. “I said, I don’t,” Clark recalls. “She said, Well, then why would you put it in a song?”

The line became “I’ll read Lonesome Dove. Fall asleep to Hallelujah.”

The songs throughout “Brandy Clark” are personal. In more than one way, it was a return to the Northwest and her roots working with Carlile. There’s “She Smoked in the House” about her grandmother, “Northwest,” a fond tribute to the area’s distinctive landscape and life, and “Dear Insecurity,” a deeply vulnerable letter to Insecurity. 

“Those kinds of songs they’ve been on other records, but not as many of them,” Clark says.

She imagined “Dear Insecurity” as a duet with a guy showing both men and women face the issue. Carlile wanted to get Lucinda Williams. But that hadn’t happened so Carlile sang on a scratch vocal. 

As it was happening, Clark felt the magic of their voices. Carlile had been adamant about not appearing on the album, but when Clark approached her, she immediately agreed. It was perfect. They have similar insecurities. They’re about the same age and both are gay. 

The experience of creating the album changed a long-held belief. “I’ve had some preconceived notions in my head about working with different kinds of producers and working with another artist was one of those preconceived notions. I thought how do you work with another artist and not make their record, but Brandi really helped me make my record. I’m proud of every record I’ve made. This record is the most me. And I think it took another artist to get to that. So, my preconceived notions about working with other artists were incorrect,” she explains.

Music was an early passion, particularly musical theater, for Clark growing up in the tiny timber town of Morton, Washington. Her mother took her to a production of “Oklahoma” in the grade school gym as a child. She soon played the role of Amaryllis in “The Music Man.” At nine years old, Clark started taking guitar lessons.

But music became secondary to basketball as she grew. She set a record for most three-pointers in the state tournament and earned a basketball scholarship to Central Washington University. That didn’t last. She returned home and at 21 moved to Nashville to follow her passion.

“Whatever it is, I’m into I’m in all the way okay,” she says. 

“Luckily, they encouraged me to move to Nashville. And it was really the best thing I ever did. Because I was somebody that didn’t really want to leave home. And, you know, I love that for me the world has become this place that I’m not afraid to go anywhere. But I wasn’t that way growing up. It was the scariest thing I ever did. And the best thing. Most times the scary things are the best things.”

In Nashville, she found her way as a writer for others first. “12 Stories” was released in 2013 and made several best-of lists. NPR music critic Ann Powers called it the year’s best. “The top honor on many critics’ lists is going to Clark, a storyteller of the highest caliber,” she wrote.

Though she’d written hits for others, Clark says it took a Grammy nomination for a song on the album to feel her career as an artist would stick. “This is gonna sound crazy, but it wasn’t until “Hold My Hand” was nominated for a Grammy that I felt that way,” she says.

For a long time, she felt pursuing her career as an artist instead of a songwriter was a mistake. Her peers were millionaires with number-one songs. 

“When “Hold My Hand” got nominated for a Grammy, I realized I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to do because that song would have never gotten out in the world had it not been through my voice,” she adds.

For the past decade, Clark with her writing partner Shane McAnally, has been working on a version of what would become “Shucked,” the musical comedy that opened on Broadway last year and earned eight Tony nominations and one win. 

The show opened in Dallas, fell apart, and then came back together with the songwriting duo and Robert Horn, who wrote the book and won a Tony for “Tootsie.” 

“If you would have told me at the beginning of it that it was going to take 10 years, I might not have done it. So, I’m glad I didn’t know that,” she says. “I can’t wait to do another one. Part of what I loved about it was the length, which took getting to spend that kind of time creating with people you really loved. It was pretty amazing.”

“Shucked” makes Clark one of two Broadway composers to play the North Shore Point Downtown series with the Virginia Arts Festival this year. The other is Bonny Light Horseman’s Anais Mitchell, who wrote “Hadestown,” a multiple Tony winner that recently played Chrysler Hall. Her band is in The Perry Pavilion on June 11.

“Shucked” was nominated for a Grammy this year, one of six nods for Clark including Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance for “Buried,” Best Americana Album for “Brandy Clark,” Best Americana Performance and Best Roots Song for “Dear Insecurity.”

“You dream your dream,” she says. “I never dreamed of having six nominations in one year,” she says.

She only won for “Dear Insecurity,” the collaboration that began with her Grammy loss two years ago.