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Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris Talk Female Inspirations on International Women’s Day

The pair also revealed who's expected to cameo on their Highwomen side project, from Sheryl Crow to Janelle Monae.

Brandi Carlile,Maren Morris. Brandi Carlile and
Sanford Myers/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Brandi Carlile and Maren Morris, both Grammy-winning singer-songwriters, discussed representation of women in the music industry and their female inspirations on International Women’s Day.

The two sat down together at the historic RCA Studios in Nashville, where Elvis Presley once recorded music and Dolly Parton accidentally drove her car into a wall, for a Beats 1 interview on Apple Music. Fresh off three Grammy wins for her album “By The Way, I Forgive You” and the single “The Joke,” Carlile spoke first about the rise of women in country music.

“There’s this really quiet movement of women in country and western and rural Americana music, where we’re suddenly waking up, and looking to our right, and our left, and realizing that we can’t compete with our sisters anymore,” she said. “We know why it’s happened and it’s as a result of the fact that there are so few spaces for all of us that we are positive if we let the spotlight off us for one second it might not come back.”

“I get sad when I think about the women that can’t stand beside another woman who’s having a bigger moment or is a bigger star at the time, and they feel so threatened,” Morris added. “The thought of there being so few spaces limited and that we have to be this dog-eat-dog kind of society, especially with our gender, it’s just so untrue and unfounded at this point.”

Morris also said that she and her husband, country songwriter Ryan Hurd, have noted the differences men and women face in the music industry.

“The last few years have been all the questions to me about, ‘What’s it like to be a female in the industry?’ Last night as a joke to Ryan, I said, ‘As a male, what’s it like to be in the industry?’ He started laughing. He was like, ‘I would never be asked that,'” she recalled.

Carlile revealed more of the artists involved with her upcoming Highwomen supergroup, a project she has formed with Morris and Americana artist Amanda Shires.

“The whole idea started with Amanda,” said Carlile. “We were basically hanging out and we got to know each other, became fast friends, fell in love, and she said we should start like a political movement. She made me hip to this thing called Emily’s List and I was like, ‘Yeah. We should.’ … Maybe we should start a musical movement like a Trojan horse of love, you know? Where we get inside the mechanism, fix it from inside but we don’t embattle it. And she was like, ‘Yeah. We can call it the Highwomen.’ And it was a joke. And I was laughing, but I was like, the Highwaymen? And she’s like ‘Yeah, but the Highwomen.’ She’s like, ‘And not high like high, but like exulted. Like above the fold. …. And we started talking about women that inspire us in American music. First word out of my mouth was Maren Morris. And I think we’re gonna make some really amazing things happen.”

“And I love the music I’ve chosen for my personal project,” said Morris, “but I have so many songs in the well that maybe didn’t fit my album but deserve to be maybe living in a space that is a little rootsier.”

Added Carlile: “One of the things that we’re doing is we’re calling it this pirate ship because it’s more people that can ever be in the band, but Natalie Hemby’s writing with us, and Lori McKenna, and Miranda (Lambert)’s probably gonna do one. Janelle is doing a verse. Sheryl Crow’s playing bass. And then our boys, our men — adjacent feminists, you know? Jason Isbell, the Twins (Carlile’s bandmates, Phil and Tim Hanseroth), (producer) Dave Cobb, Chris Powell. It’s turning into a movement in Nashville to very kindly, but insistently, say women need to be included.”

Carlile also discussed some of the female musicians that have inspired her throughout her career, like Crow and Alanis Morissette, while she and Morris both gushed over each other’s music. Off of Carlile’s Grammy-winning album, Morris said “The Mother” was her favorite song.

“Ryan and I just like cry in our office listening to the vinyl of that record,” she said. “But that song in particular, especially after getting to know you and (Carlile’s wife) Catherine (Shepherd) over the last few months, just hits even closer to home.”

Carlile then explained how she created the song. “It was written about my experience of being a gay mother that didn’t give birth to my own child and the trials and tribulations of coming to terms with that. And also falling in love with my daughter at the same time,” she said. “She came from my body but I didn’t give birth to her and I struggled with who that made me in her life. The song was a way for me to answer myself, answer that question.”

They discussed Carlile’s mesmerizing Grammy performance of “The Joke,” which caused Morris to let loose with a visible, if not audible, F-bomb on camera.

“I was not aware that a camera was on me when you were performing,” said Morris. “I hope I’m asked back after that, but I was just feeling it, you know? You hit that high note at the very end and everyone just lost it. It was pandemonium.”
“I’ll never forget it,” said Carlile. “It was really one of the highlights of my life. I’ve never been one of those people that can pull off the I”m too cool to care’ thing. …  I just really cared, and I just really loved it, and I felt really proud of getting to stand on that stage and have that moment. Growing up, being allowed to stay up late, and watch Whitney hit the notes, and just thinking that maybe somewhere some little girl was going to get to watch me hit that note, it felt really important to me. Even if I never get to do anything like that again, I did it once and I’ve got the footage for my girls.’
Morris pointed out that the first person to rocket up out of her seat and remain standing during Carlile’s Grammy performance was Monae. “Yeah, that was really surreal,” Carlile said. “And, actually, serene. Of course, you’re really nervous at first, and I was in that first verse, and I looked out, and I saw somebody standing there, just only person, and just standing, and looking really direct eye contact with me. She was just swaying and she had the most peaceful look on her face. I was like, ‘I’m going to sing the second verse to her and see if I can get comfortable.’ It did, it made me really comfortable. Then, slowly around her, people started standing, and then before I knew it, it was the whole floor, and my heart was just beating out of my chest with joy.”