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CONTENT

A Conversation with Brandi Carlile

Ben Ashby

Christmas in August and a Music Crush Confirmed (or…)

Christmas Comes Early: A Magazine Writer and the Story She Will Be Telling For Years.

Liza Turner || August 2012


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She had me at “Cormac McCarthy”… or maybe “Dolly Parton”...

Oh, who am I kidding? In the most awesome movie cliché moment of my life, Brandi Carlile had me at “Hello.”

In August, I took a long lunch break – one justified with adoring phrases illogically strewn together in nervous excitement: “I love this woman. She is going to call… ME. I hope I don’t say something utterly foolish. Do I refer to her as Ms. Carlile? Her voice [insert any platitude about angels singing and/or music to my ears].” – and decided to spend the few minutes prior to my phone interview just practicing breathing…and securing my cell phone, the one I misplace about four times each day, close by my side.

You see, Brandi Carlile and Tim and Phil Hanseroth’s 2012 homage to the Seattle dairy barn-converted-into-studio production site, Bear Creek, has been on repeat in my car for months. I have been a huge fan of this Washington singer-songwriter since 2007. That year her second album The Story was released, which includes some of my favorite songs:

“Turpentine,” “Have You Ever,” and the title track. Her voice, smooth and pure and yet rich and haunting at times, stirs me. Her storytelling, descriptive of emotions we all experience, but articulated in a rare combination of beauty, intelligence, and occasional playfulness, confirms her status among those songwriting icons whose influence is apparent in her work: Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Cash. Her fluid positioning somewhere at the intersection of outlaw country, folk, Americana, bluegrass, and rock allows for creativity in sound and style.

I first encountered her comfortable and inviting stage presence in January 2009, at the Brown Theater concert in Louisville. Brandi remembers this concert as well because the crowd stood, entirely engaged, for two hours. Brandi seems smart and funny and simply “real” even as she and the Hanseroth twins do something pretty amazing on a stage many feet away.

When the opportunity came to interview Brandi, I exchanged multiple emails with her incredibly helpful, entirely unpretentious, press team, which brought me to my kitchen table, awaiting a call from “my” Brandi Carlile.

And the call came. A month later, my best friend Melissa and I stood outside a post-show meet-and-greet room in the basement of Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom, giant peel-and-stick guest passes adorning the shirts we spent far too much time picking out, talking to one of my idols. August and September 2012 will go down as two of my favorite months of my adult life.

And thus, I share with you bits and pieces of those conversations. Although part of me wishes you could hear the warmth, genuineness, and really damn funny, but good-spirited, sarcasm in her irrefutably distinctive voice, I can’t lie; a bigger (and without a doubt, more childish) part of me likes keeping that all to myself.

Q. What is one song, from any genre/artist, you wish you had written?

A. “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen

Q. If you could perform a duet with or write a song with anyone, who would it be?

A. Dolly Parton (perform), Bernie Taupin (write).

Q. Favorite venue? Cities you’re particularly excited to visit this tour?

A. Favorite – Red Rocks; Excited to play – Beacon Theater in New York

Q. Describe a typical day when you’re on the road A. Wake up, down two cups of coffee, go for a walk with my fiancé [now wife] go explore the city we’re in, do a sound check, have dinner with the band, take a shot of whiskey, play the show, meet and greet afterward, movie on the bus with the band before bed.

Q. What are you currently reading and/or who are some of your favorite authors?

A. The Bible; Favorites – Cormac McCarthy (Outer Dark), Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild; Into Thin Air), Rob Bell (Velvet Elvis; Love Wins).

Q. How do you take your coffee?

A. Black – straight up trucker style.

Q. Favorite room in your house?

A. I’m kitchen-obsessed and particularly drawn to reds. All of my favorite kitchen tools and supplies are red.

Q. Favorite piece of art or furniture in your home?

A. Photo of Paul McCartney, taken by Linda McCartney, and given to my fiancé; piano from around 1900 that one of my best friends’ family members gave to me when I was 17. Two things that have traveled everywhere with me: a horse and a piano.

Q. What is the “Looking Out Foundation” all about? Other social issues of importance to you?

A. Growing up, I was a “fan’s fan.” I would follow people only when I loved everything about them. They had to be an activist who stood up for values I believed in. People like the Indigo Girls and Elton John set the bar high. I thought “if I ever get there, I want to give back some of the blessings I’ve been given by having this job.” The Looking Out Foundation serves to promote civil rights, environmental awareness and women’s empowerment.

Q. Describe the perfect Christmas morning. Do you consider yourself a good gift-giver?

A. God, kids, family: Waking up at my house, with my family all around, snow outside, coffee spiked with a little Bailey’s Irish whiskey, kids running everywhere. I’m an over-the-top, far-beyond-my-means gift giver. If I hear my dad say he wants a snowmobile, that’s all I can think about all year.

Q. What are some things few people know about you, but that you don’t mind sharing with us?

A. 1) I love to be humble and pious, but I drink champagne like soda pop. 2) I don’t know how to open a bottle of champagne. 3) I love to be laughed with, but hate to be laughed at. 4) I have eight animals – two chickens, a horse named Sovereign, two cats named Lanie and Blue, a Doberman pincher named Bailey and two goats named Tim and Phil.

Q. If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be?

A. Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Jr., Freddie Mercury. I’d also be in a band with all three.

Q. I’ve read that when growing up, you felt ostracized by some of those in the church community. What is your relationship with the church like today?

A. The church has been a stumbling block to LGBTQ rights and there seems to be a tragic misunderstanding between those voices. I have a lingering “bad taste in my mouth,” but I personally see no contradiction between sexual orientation and religion.

Q. How do you decide the artistic direction of your videos, websites, publicity photos, CD covers?

A. We’re [Brandi and the Hanseroth twins] are heavily involved with the storyline/plot of the videos. Grammy-winner, Michelle Holme (Columbia Records) plays an important role in designing CD covers. I don’t worry about photos too much as long as they look unaltered and honest.