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Encore: Country music artists Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile on their friendship

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It can be hard to get a word in edgeways when you try to interview Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile together. They are so busy telling stories, laughing, singing.

TANYA TUCKER: You know, (singing) I don't mind keeping picture. So...

BRANDI CARLILE: (Singing) I don't wear those shoes no more.

TUCKER: That's it. Go, girl.

KELLY: Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker are queens of American music, and now they are making it together. In the first part of this conversation, we talked about the album they came together to make, which won best country album at the Grammys in 2020. Now, we're going to hear about the friendship that developed during that collaboration.

TUCKER: One of the things she said to me one time, she said, Tanya, T, we're just magic together. That's what we are. And I thought that was just like, wow.

CARLILE: I think we are. I do.

TUCKER: Yeah, well, I know we are now.

CARLILE: We're an unlikely pair.

TUCKER: You think it now, that means I know it now.

KELLY: These two women are different generations. Brandi Carlile is 41 to Tanya Tucker's 64. And when they first met three years ago, Brandi's star was rising. For Tanya, it had been 25 years since her last Grammy nomination. People who could sing you every word of a Dolly Parton song might have struggled to name a Tanya Tucker song. Brandi told me she started wondering if Tanya was ripe for a comeback as she was chatting one day with her producer, Shooter Jennings.

CARLILE: He heard something in my voice, and he made a comment. I said, oh, you know, she's my hero. I've loved Tanya Tucker since I was a little girl. I was like, what is she up to? And he goes, you know, she's still singing. Great.

KELLY: It was true. Long story short, Brandi went to meet Tanya and helped to write and produce that Grammy-winning album. They made a film together about the process called "The Return Of Tanya Tucker," which got me to wondering - after all the years out of the spotlight, how did Tanya feel about a return?

Was there ever a moment, Tanya, where you wondered, do I still have it? Like, do I have another album in me?

TUCKER: Every day.

CARLILE: She still does.

TUCKER: I mean, every time I - before I step on a stage, I have that thought, you know, 'cause every show is different. There's - that challenge is to get them off their - especially when they're a little older crowd - to get them off their seats and on their feet. But it's always a thing where I think, I just don't think I'm probably going to - I don't think I'm going to be good enough. I got to do something, you know, 'cause there's always - when you can't sing, you got to dance, you know?

CARLILE: (Laughter) You're a good dancer.

TUCKER: And I have had - yeah, learn how to dance. But I said, you know - I said, if a cowboy asked me if he - if I wanted to dance, I said, I'll dance with you if I can lead.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: Here's a taste of what these two are cooking up together. This is Tanya - her new single, co-written with Brandi. It's called "Ready As I'll Never Be."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "READY AS I'LL NEVER BE")

TUCKER: (Singing) And watching doves fly sooner than me, I guess I'm ready, ready as I'll never be.

KELLY: That voice - you don't sing like that unless you have seen some stuff on this Earth. And listening, I wanted to put the same question to Brandi Carlile that you already heard me ask Tanya. Did Brandi ever ask whether her friend wanted another round of fame and all the pressure that comes with it?

CARLILE: I checked in regularly with myself, with her about whether she shared our desire for her to regain this recognition or whether or not it was bordering on exploitive. There were days that she'd wake up, and she wouldn't come out of her bus. And I'd go, I need to check in. I need to make sure this is right and that this isn't me forcing a desire that I have for this person, you know?

TUCKER: Oh, yeah. I understand that.

CARLILE: But it didn't...

TUCKER: But when we were recording - is that what you're talking about?

CARLILE: Yeah. But when the lights go down, when your shoulders go back and you become Tanya Tucker, it becomes so clear to me that fundamentally, that is what you love. That's who you are.

TUCKER: Yeah. And Willie, I think, said it best. The only time I'm free and nobody can tell me what to do or say, I like that outfit, or I don't like that, or give their opinion is when I'm on stage. So maybe that's a little bit about what I do.

CARLILE: I feel that way, too. I feel really safe up on stage. I feel like that's where I'm the most understood.

TUCKER: Yeah, exactly.

KELLY: Whereas what makes Brandi Carlile nervous? Well, that would be having Tanya Tucker come visit.

CARLILE: I was worried that my house wouldn't be, like, fancy enough for her, you know, because she's a contradiction.

TUCKER: Oh, God, I love your house.

CARLILE: She's a contradiction - like, one in - on one hand, she, like, rides rodeo, and she's totally rugged.

TUCKER: Cutting horses.

CARLILE: Cutting horses, sorry. But on the other hand, like, she's frickin' (ph) fancy. She's country music royalty, you know? So I was like, I don't know if my house is fancy enough for Tanya Tucker. But she'll understand, like, you know, I've lived in this log cabin my whole adult life.

TUCKER: And I love that house.

CARLILE: And she'll love it 'cause I love it, you know? So I'm waiting for her to come out, and she's calling me for directions, which is down a long, long dirt road, and she's on the phone.

TUCKER: From the airport - I'm coming from the airport.

CARLILE: Yeah, with an Uber driver.

TUCKER: Yeah.

CARLILE: And she goes, oh, [expletive], baby.

TUCKER: (Laughter).

CARLILE: He's stuck.

TUCKER: We're stuck.

CARLILE: I got to call you back. I'm going to get us out of this. She gets off the phone with me, kicks the Uber driver out of the seat...

TUCKER: Yeah, I'll show you how to get out of this.

CARLILE: ...Gets in the truck, pulls his vehicle out of the mud and then drives the rest of the way to my house with mud...

TUCKER: That's right.

CARLILE: ...All over her tracksuit and shows up. And I was like, yeah, I think I'm fancy enough for Tanya Tucker.

TUCKER: Yeah, but I loved your house.

CARLILE: Yeah.

TUCKER: And she makes the best huevos rancheros I've ever had.

CARLILE: Oh, yeah, I made that for you.

TUCKER: That was awesome.

CARLILE: That was with the shrimp and stuff like that.

TUCKER: I don't know what - it was just awesome.

CARLILE: I'd wake up in the morning. She'd be standing there in her boxers...

TUCKER: Yeah.

CARLILE: ...Cooking bacon with a fork.

TUCKER: Yeah, those little muffins you made - those were so great.

KELLY: See what I mean about how it's hard to get a word in edgeways? But I was curious about one more thing.

Talk to me, both of you, about timing.

TUCKER: It's everything (laughter).

KELLY: Tanya Tucker dropped her first country hit when she was 13 years old - 13. Brandi Carlile didn't make it big - like, really big - until her late 30s. And I had read a recent interview where she attributed her success in part to the fact that it came when it did.

CARLILE: Because, you know, you only have so many shots anymore. And if you're not ready for that - like, musically ready, emotionally ready, physically ready and just mentally ready to, like, seize that moment and go, this is my shot, I'm going to do this - I don't think you can do that in your 20s on purpose. But, you know, when it comes to, like, making it as a term...

TUCKER: Yeah.

CARLILE: ...People like me - and I'm really interested in what you think about this, too.

TUCKER: Oh, no. I'm saying, like, when's that going to happen?

CARLILE: Yeah.

TUCKER: I don't know when that happens.

CARLILE: Well, quite the opposite for me.

TUCKER: I don't feel that way.

CARLILE: I always felt like I had made it, even when I won a karaoke contest. So I recognize they're all different levels of success, you know? It all comes from inside.

TUCKER: Making it - your idea about it...

KELLY: What counts.

TUCKER: ...I think, changes...

CARLILE: Yeah.

TUCKER: ...As you go along.

CARLILE: What do you think?

TUCKER: Well, I agree with you.

CARLILE: Yeah.

TUCKER: But I think the next person that says I'm an icon or a legend or superstar, I going to punch them out.

CARLILE: You don't like it?

TUCKER: Oh, no because I'm looking - I'm trying to pack and (inaudible) - where's my - OK - if they could only see me now...

CARLILE: Yeah.

TUCKER: ...They wouldn't call me such a - an icon or anything.

CARLILE: Yeah. When you're washing your hair in a gas station sink?

TUCKER: Exactly.

CARLILE: Yeah. No, because we still all do that.

TUCKER: But getting ready.

KELLY: But winning a couple of Grammys...

CARLILE: Yeah.

KELLY: ...In your 60s - that must feel like, hey, I made it, yeah?

TUCKER: Oh, no, that was like...

CARLILE: Winning Grammys in your 60s.

TUCKER: I was so comfortable with losing that, you know, I was happy with that. No pressure, you know? But winning is like, oh, OK, now we're here, and we got to get - the next one's got to be better, you know?

CARLILE: Yeah.

TUCKER: It's just constant...

CARLILE: Next one is better.

TUCKER: ...Better, better, better, better - how far can you go?

KELLY: And you still feel that?

TUCKER: You know, but I got a long way to go, let me tell you.

KELLY: Tanya Tucker and Brandi Carlile - singers, songwriters, friends. Their movie, "The Return Of Tanya Tucker," is in theaters now.

Thank you so much.

TUCKER: It was a real pleasure.

CARLILE: Thanks for having us.

TUCKER: And that's really true.

CARLILE: What a kick.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "READY AS I'LL NEVER BE")

TUCKER: (Singing) It's time to sing... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Handel
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.