Exclusive: Allison Russell Talks Grammy Nominations and Living a “Joyful” Life

On Friday (November 10), when the recent Grammy nominees were announced, Americana star Allison Russell was out for a jog. And that was a good thing, she says, because if she had been hyper-aware of the nominations, she may have driven herself mad with anticipation.

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Of course, Russell, whose debut solo album, Outside Child, was also nominated for multiple Grammy awards two years ago, and who has garnered other nominations since then, is no stranger to accolades these days. Even if there was a time earlier in her life when she never thought she’d see it.

[RELATED: Review: Allison Russell’s ‘The Returner’ is a 5-Star Triumph in the Face of Pain]

“I was working on [my memoir],” Russell tells American Songwriter, speaking about her schedule on Friday. “And I lost track of time. And I had actually forgotten what day it was, so I didn’t remember it was Grammy announcements day, which is for the best, because I was too nervous watching.”

But then, she says, her phone “started blowing up.”

“It was actually Brandi Carlile and her beautiful wife who were the first to text congratulations!” Russell adds that, seeing that note, she thought she was nominated for one Grammy, but then quickly found out she’d gotten four nominations for her 2023 album, The Returner.

Two years ago, she garnered three for Outside Child and last year she got another for her work with Aoife O’Donovan. Now, she boasts eight nominations. “I think it’s such a gift,” says Russell, speaking about her big-time professional recognition. “I don’t feel pressured by it at all. It is such a miracle in my life.”

On November 11, just a day after finding out about her latest nominations, Russell played a show in Seattle, Washington, at the Tractor Tavern. The location was the first major U.S. venue to book Russell for a gig some 20 years ago when she was in her “baby band” and traveling around like “ragamuffins.”

“The Tractor Tavern was the first American venue, a proper venue, to book us,” she says. “And we used to come down [from Vancouver, B.C.] and busk in front of Bumbershoot [music festival].”

Speaking of Seattle, Russell also credits one of the city’s favorite daughters—Carlile,—for her success. “No one would have heard of Outside Child if Brandi Carlile hadn’t championed it,” Russell says. “It’s what she said when I wasn’t in the room that enabled me… That has absolutely changed my life.”

Russell, who is currently on tour with many dates ahead, expressed hope and ambition when it comes to her concept of the future. Yes, she says, humanity seems in crisis. Yes, there are wars. Yes, the planet’s environment is in peril. But she believes there is a chance for people to come together and operate from their best abilities and intentions.

“It’s the shadows and light,” she says. “When you’ve been to the rock bottom of misery and trauma to the point where there were many years when I did not think I could continue to be in this world—to go from that to this kind of community and connection and circle work and being valued as an equal by peers that I have looked up to my whole career, it’s tremendously affirming and life-giving and joyful. I can’t overstate it.”

Russell, who is also part of another Grammy-nominated album, Joni Mitchell’s recorded appearance at the recent Newport Folk Festival, on which she sang and played clarinet, says she has a lot more work ahead of her. She wants to take the success she’s experienced and not only grow it for her team but to bring others into the fold. As Carlile has helped her, she wants to help the next generations.

“I’m growing the circles of artists,” she says. “The joy to me is that I’m seeing in real-time that it’s working.”

Later in the night, hundreds of Russell’s Seattle fans got to see her perform. Turning the carnage of her past into the care of her present and future, she called it onstage: “Fighting to wage peace.”

And all this was the subject matter of what she sang with her four-piece backing band in the Emerald City, multilingual songs like “Springtime” and others like “Eve Was Black.” It’s the stuff that makes up the majority of her two solo albums, Outside Child and The Returner. Indeed, Russell has returned with her sophomore record this year to show that, no matter where she goes, she’s here to stay.

“I feel so intensely committed to doing whatever I can to reduce harm,” Russell says, “and as an artist what I can do at shows is to build these circles of safety.”

Photo by and courtesy of Jason Tang

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