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Jason Isbell Jokes He 'Had to Make a Lot of Mistakes' to Win His 6 Grammy Awards (Exclusive)

In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, the singer-songwriter gets candid about musical inspiration, Hollywood ambition and finding harmony between the highs and lows

<p>FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty</p>


With six golden gramophones now in his possession — including two from last month’s Grammys ceremony — Jason Isbell is ready to reveal the secret to his success.

“I try to be the only person in the category voters have ever heard of,” the 45-year-old says in this week's issue of PEOPLE, his tongue firmly in cheek. “Either you’re Beyoncé, or you find a niche genre. [Recording] Academy voters don’t listen to roots music, so all I want from them is to recognize my name. Now, to do that, I’ve had to make a lot of mistakes: I had to be an alcoholic and get a divorce. But now they say, ‘Oh, I’ve heard of this guy!’”


The current titleholder of best American roots song (for “Cast Iron Skillet”) and best Americana album (for Weathervanes, an album he and his band, the 400 Unit, released last June) can laugh now, but it’s taken some time.

Isbell, who began his career with the Drive-By Truckers before going solo in 2007, has been candid about his near-flameout, getting sober after a 2012 intervention and finding redemption and creative inspiration in fiddle player and one-time bandmate Amanda Shires, whom he married in February 2013. In December, Isbell filed for divorce, two months before the couple’s 11th anniversary, news that shocked fans.

<p>Frazer Harrison/Getty</p>

Frazer Harrison/Getty

Related: Jason Isbell Files for Divorce from Amanda Shires After Nearly 11 Years of Marriage

“I’m a far better self-soother than I used to be,” says Isbell of how sobriety has given him perspective on change. “I’ve been equipped for emotional hardship for a long time. So I’m grateful I’m on the right path, even though sometimes it’s difficult.”

Isbell’s professional path has taken him in unexpected directions in the past year. He made his big-screen debut in Killers of the Flower Moon, playing Bill Smith a former horse thief who marries into the Osage tribe. Sharing space with director Martin Scorsese and star Robert De Niro, he admits, gave him a serious case of imposter syndrome.

“Before I got on set, I was like, ‘What do I call these people?’ he recalls. “Someone said, ‘It’s Marty and Bob.’ I was like, ‘Are you serious? This is not a joke? I’m supposed to call them Marty and Bob?!’ Man, I was terrified.”

Related: New Jason Isbell Documentary Gives Peek at His Musical Process: Watch the Trailer

True to his tried-and-true life strategy, Isbell replaced the fear with gratitude (“That’s how you get to do the cool s---,” he says) and things got easier: “I realized I could stand there with Leonardo DiCaprio and think, ‘Well, if I f--- this up, I’ll recover from it.”

His costar Lily Gladstone came away impressed by his performance. “Jason is an incredible judge of character,” she says, “and his ability to translate that into performance and to articulate Bill with such clear layers in a relatively small amount of screen time was just delightful to watch.” The Best Actress Oscar nominee hints that a future collaboration with Isbell could be possible. “I am so down to work together again,” she says. “We definitely kick around ideas that would allow him to do what he’s best known for, as well as give the people what they want: more of his acting.”

<p>Apple TV+</p>

Apple TV+

One Hollywood aspiration Isbell doesn’t mind throwing out to the universe and any open-minded casting directors: “I want to play [Little Feat frontman] Lowell George in the Linda Ronstadt movie,” he admits, grinning. “All I know is, Selena Gomez is playing Linda, and I immediately told my manager and my agent: ‘’If there’s going to be any Lowell George in this movie, I want to play him.’ I can even bring accurate equipment — I have the Dumble, I have the amplifier, I have the guitars. I’ll show up with all the stuff; they don’t have to rent it from Norman’s Rare Guitars, which is what they usually do.”

For now, there’s always the day job. Isbell and the 400 Unit are currently on tour in support of Weathervanes. “I’m going to get up in the morning ... and play shows with my buddies," he says. "And that is still my favorite thing.”

Photo by Taylor Hill / Getty Images Jason Isbell
Photo by Taylor Hill / Getty Images Jason Isbell

For more on Jason Isbell, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

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Read the original article on People.