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Encore: Brandi Carlile On Practicing Forgiveness, Even When It's Hard


At the Grammy Awards last night, Brandi Carlile gave a searing performance of her song "The Joke." It's from her album "By The Way, I Forgive You," a project she took home three awards for.


BRANDI CARLILE: (Singing) I have been to the movies. I've seen how it ends. And the joke's on them.


The liner notes for the 2018 album feature this passage - quote, "whoever's reading this, your parents will die. You may have been hurt or loved by them - probably both. But can you forgive them for leaving in the end?"

Well, I spoke with her about those lines and her album around this time last year. Brandi Carlile told me the theme of forgiveness just kind of appeared while she was writing the album like a sculpture would when you chisel away the pieces of stone that don't belong.


CARLILE: It's really radical and ugly - difficult process that comes - great beauty comes from it.

KELLY: And you write about it specifically in regard to your parents in one of the songs on here. This is the song "Most Of All."


CARLILE: (Singing) I haven't seen my father in some time, but his face is always staring back at me. His heavy hands hang at the ends of my arms. And my colors change like the sea.

I watched both my parents lose their mothers last year. And it was really interesting because throughout the process of growing up - my parents had me when they were real young. And I listened to all of their grievances and gripes about their mamas. And as soon as those women were gone, it was like all memory of any of that was immediately - had just evaporated.

There are people that could criticize the way that we react towards our loved ones when they're gone and say that we make them inhuman or perfect, but then there is, you know, the argument to be made that, suddenly, we see things for real for the first time.

KELLY: Or you let yourself forget, which is a line I loved in this song, where you're writing about, you know, maybe forgetting is the first step to forgiving.

CARLILE: Yeah, maybe.


CARLILE: (Singing) But most of all, he taught me to forgive, how to keep a cool head, how to love the one you're with and, when I'm far into the distance and the pushing comes to shove, to remember what comes back when you give away your love. Give away your love.

KELLY: You write about the process of becoming a mother and how that changed you. It's another song called "The Mother" on here. Let me - I wonder if we can hear a little bit of that.


CARLILE: (Singing) Welcome to the end of being alone inside your mind. You're tethered to another, and you're worried all the time. You always know the melody, but you never heard it rhyme.

KELLY: That very first line there, welcome to the end of being alone inside your mind...

CARLILE: (Laughter) It's so true, man. Curse it.

KELLY: Why, 'cause she's always in there with you - your daughter?

CARLILE: Yeah. It was actually a really interesting woman called Trina Shoemaker - a good friend of mine, really mystical, crazy person. She told me when the baby was born, 'cause I finished that record, like, 72 hours before the birth of Evangeline, and...

KELLY: Oh, my goodness. Yeah.

CARLILE: Yeah. And she said to me - she goes, welcome to the end of being alone inside your mind. You'll never be alone in there again. There'll never be a day where you don't wake up wondering what Evangeline needs - not when she's 50. And boy is that the truth.

KELLY: It is. How old is Evangeline now?

CARLILE: She's going to be 4.

KELLY: What's her reaction to that song when you play it for her?

CARLILE: She knows it's about her. She loves it. But any of the bad stuff, she doesn't associate to her. She asks me things like, Mama, who was the lady in the song that trashed your car?

KELLY: (Laughter).

CARLILE: I'm like, you are the lady in the song that trashed my damn car.


KELLY: Who's thrown Cheerios into every receptacle of my life.

CARLILE: Oh, yes. Just somehow, you're just sticky. I don't know why.


CARLILE: (Singing) They can keep their treasure and their ties to the machine 'cause I am the mother of Evangeline.

KELLY: I want to ask you about a different story. You took to social media recently and asked people to share stories of people they forgive or wish they could forgive. And you told a story of your own about a pastor.

CARLILE: Yeah, that's true.

KELLY: Would you share it with us?

CARLILE: That whole campaign is - by the way, shook me to the core, seeing the people - things that people are forgiving people for. I stopped reading it when I got to one that - woman forgave someone that ran over her 7-year-old little girl.

And the one that you're talking about, you know, is a specific hurt to only me. But I was young, and I was in a Baptist church - a pretty good one. I had committed myself to baptism. And the pastor let me go through the process. You know, there's kind of a process prior to getting baptized where you have to do a lot commitments and...

KELLY: Right. You have to meet with the pastor and...

CARLILE: Yeah. And then you get, you know...

KELLY: ...Do some bible study.

CARLILE: Right. And then your family and your friends come. And they sit in the church, and they wait. And it's, like, after hours. It's not on a church day. And you get, you know, dunked in the water, which I was always nervous about. And I just remember walking into the church with my bathing suit on under my clothes and Pastor Tim (ph) telling me that he couldn't do it.

KELLY: That he couldn't do it why?

CARLILE: He couldn't do it because I was gay and because I wouldn't say that I wasn't going to change that or that I could change that.

KELLY: And how old were you?

CARLILE: Fifteen.

KELLY: And he waited till you had your whole family and your friends and everybody there?

CARLILE: He did, yeah. He called me for days and days afterwards begging for my forgiveness and said that he just struggled with it for so long that he just ran out of time and that he thought he was going to do it right up until the time but that he just couldn't.

And it took me a long time to forgive him. And it threatened my faith and my self-worth. So I was like, well, if I'm asking other people to do it, I'm going to do it. So I did it, and it feels weird, and it feels weird right now.


CARLILE: (Singing) I run a lot of miles of life and crime, of mountain climbs and quitting times, packing that load of lying rhymes and tired jokes and wooden dimes. I've been everybody's friend - everybody's friend.

KELLY: I want to ask about the song "Hold Out Your Hand." You write about all - you have a big, long note when you write about a lot of the songs on this album - paragraph after paragraph.

For the song "Hold Out Your Hand," you have one sentence you write, and I'm going to quote it to you. You write, "sometimes when the weight of the world feels too much, I want to dance with a redneck and shotgun a beer." And I have to say, I read that, and I wrote down in my own handwriting, hell yes.


CARLILE: (Singing) Hold out your hand. Take hold of mine now. Round and round we go.

Oh, yeah. I love people so much, you know? I love people that don't think the same way I think. And I do want to hold out my hand and be joined to other people that are different than me at the end of the day.


CARLILE: (Singing) The hand comes around, and the trumpet sounds, and his number calls, and the moment he falls, and the haunted halls of man he will understand. He will comprehend. He will not pretend. He will not pretend.

KELLY: Thank you so much, Brandi.

CARLILE: Thank you so much. What a great chat.


CARLILE: (Singing) When the rain don't fall and the river don't run and the wind takes orders from the blazing sun...

KELLY: That was the singer Brandi Carlile talking about her 2018 Grammy Award-winning album called "By The Way, I Forgive You."


CARLILE: (Singing) The devil don't take a break. The devil don't take a break. Hold out your hand. Take hold of mine now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.