Ravensdale, WA-born and Seattle, WA-based singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile can trace the origins of her music career to her childhood — when she was 8 she performed Johnny Cash‘s “Tennessee Flat Top Box” with her mother Teresa. By the time Carlie was a teenager, she had learned guitar and started to write her own original songs. As the story goes, after a teenaged Carlile was diagnosed with A.D.D., she dropped out of school and began to focus on pursuing a music career.
Carlile’s career started in earnest when she met twin brothers, Tim and Phil Hanseroth, who are often referred to simply as “The Twins,” when she relocated to Seattle. As a trio, Carlile and the Hanseroth Brothers started writing and performing original material that possesses elements of pop, country, folk, alt country rock, the blues and indie rock paired with gorgeous three part Crosby, Stills and Nash-like harmonies equally inspired by the work of k.d. lang, Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, Elton John, Freddie Mercury and others.
The trio won the attention of Columbia Records, the label that eventually released Carlile’s self-titled full-length debut and her sophomore effort, The Story, which were both produced by the legendary singer/songwriter, producer and guitarist T Bone Burnett, and released both efforts to critical acclaim from a number of major media outlets, including Rolling Stone, who had named her one of their “Ten Artists to Watch” back in 2005. And with a rapidly growing national profile, Carlile toured with the likes of renowned artists including Shawn Colvin, Tori Amos, Chris Issak, Ray LaMontagne, Johnny Lang and The Indigo Girls; collaborated with the legendary Elton John on her Rick Rubin produced, Grammy Award-wining album Give Up The Ghost. Interestingly, Carlile has managed a rare feat for many artists these days as her work has been both critically and commercially successful — Give Up The Ghost landed at number 26 on the Billboard Top 100 and her live album, Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony landed at number 14 on the Billboard Top Rock charts. The fact that the sort of commercial and critical success Carlile has already achieved within the first decade or so of her career hasn’t lead her to being a household name like Reba McEntire, The Judds, Bonnie Raitt, George Strait and others, should suggest something about the very strange and difficult nature of the contemporary recording industry. If hitting top 30 and 20 respectively on the Billboard charts doesn’t make you a superstar, how could anyone else?
Carlile’s latest album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter was released earlier this year through ATO Records in the States and Maple Music in Canada to critical and commercial applause as the album landed at number 10 on the Billboard Top 200. Interestingly, the album was recorded almost entirely as first takes with little rehearsal and it gives the material an urgency and the forceful, emotional directness of a heartfelt confession of one’s soul to a lover. Comprised of mostly sparse arrangements of each vocalist accompanying themselves with bass and guitars, the material is recorded in an intimate fashion; so intimate that you can hear each vocalist pause as they take a breath and in the more emotional and heartfelt sung lines of any song, you’ll hear Carlile’s vocals quiver and ache. And although the material manages to balance raw, emotional directness with a deliberate attention to craft, the material is informed and inspired by personal experience — and it does so with a vulnerability, fearless earnestness and resolve that sadly seems so very rare in contemporary popular music.
Last Fall Carlile, and the Hanseroth Brothers played a completely acoustic tour — with no amplifiers or microphones — in small historical theaters, uniquely suited for such performances that they called The Pin Drop Tour. During the tour, the trio had a film crew follow them both on-stage and behind the scenes for a tour documentary, The Pin Drop Tour Documentary, which they released in 3 Chapters — chapters 2 and 3 were interestingly enough released today. Reportedly the documentary is a rather insightful view into Carlile’s world and songwriting, while offering viewers some incredible live footage — the sort of live footage that proves that she may be among the hardest working artists out there in almost any genre.
Speaking of live footage, Carlile recently released live footage of her, the Hanseroth Brothers and their touring band performing “The Things I Regret” at the world famous Red Rocks Amphitheater. Sonically, the song manages to sound as though it were inspired by Bruce Springsteen and U2 (in particular, U2‘s “Two Hearts Beat as One“) as the song possesses enormous, anthemic hooks and a devastating earnestness throughout. That shouldn’t be surprising as the song is generally about the profound heartache of a long-term relationship exploding to pieces before your eyes, the lingering ghosts and regrets and the difficulty of picking up the shattered pieces and trying to move on — with the recognition that life always pushes and shoves you forward but in stages. You’re never completely over everything but in one’s own journey that hurt become further away.
Carlile will be finishing the calendar year on the road, and it’ll include a NYC stop at the Beacon Theatre on Friday. Check out the tour dates below.