Home Arts & Entertainment Interviews & Reviews An Interview with Brandi Carlile

An Interview with Brandi Carlile

brandi-carlile-bonnarooThe girl can't help it. With a spirited smile that could charm the devil, Brandi Carlile possesses a natural beauty and wholesome goodness that radiates from the inside out. Like her music, she is honest, heartfelt and uncompromising in her values and beliefs. Her passion is her music and music is her life. And at 29, Brandi Carlile is doing exactly what she set out to do as a small child growing up in rural Ravensdale, Washington. She is living her dream. 

Born June 1, 1981, the oldest of three children, Brandi Carlile grew up listening to the likes of Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash.  Her early years were strongly influenced by her mother, Teresa Carlile, a local country and western singer. At 8 years old,  Brandi performed  Roseanne Cash's "Tennessee Flat-Top Box" at the Northwest Grand Ol' Opry and was immediately hooked by the lure and applause of the audience. Under her mother's watchful eye, Brandi continued giving live performances and cultivating her musical talent. At 16, Brandi got a job with her best friend as a backup singer for an Elvis impersonator, who also happened to be  her best friend's father. By 17 she had taught herself to play the guitar and piano, had long been writing songs, and had just discovered rock and roll. Brandi was completely "wowed" by legendary music greats Elton John, Freddie Mercury of Queen, Roy Orbison, and Radiohead's Thom Yorke, all whose influence would come to play an intricate part in refining Brandi as an artist.

Brandi Carlile's traditional, down home roots stemmed by the theatrical magnetism of her rock mentors propelled Brandi upward into  a genre of her own.  She is reminiscent of another time, yet she is completely new, unique, and refreshing. Apart from being an incredibly, insightful songwriter with lyrics seemingly cut to size for her listeners and having an exceptional voice full of emotional bravado's, falsettos, and sensitive undertones,  Brandi Carlile has showmanship. She does nothing half way. She fully engages herself with her audience, wooing the crowd from start to finish.  Giving 110% at every performance and often meeting with fans after shows, she is humble and thankful to be able to do as she does. While her radio presence  appeals mainly to the pop genre, to really appreciate Brandi Carlile means to listen to the full spectrum of her lyrics and music which encompasses  alternative country, folk, rock,  blues and indie. Since her self titled debut  in 2005, Brandi Carlile has been on the fast track to success. With three albums under her belt (Brandi Carlile (2005), The Story (2007), and Give Up the Ghost (2009) ) and endless touring, both in state and abroad, Brandi's popularity and fan base continues to grow as she plays fairs, festivals, and venues both large and intimate.

I had the opportunity to interview Brandi Carlile this week to talk more in depth about herself, her life as entertainer and her latest release, Give Up the Ghost. She is a fascinating individual worth getting to know. Her charismatic personality and sincere openness left me daydreaming, wishing I could get to know her better.  As for her musical talent and performances, they speak for themselves...so don't cheat yourself; give her a listen. She is currently on tour and will be performing at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island on July 31st. Heartfelt thank yous go out to Brandi, Mark Cunningham, and especially, Sandee Fenton for making this interview possible. For more information and tour dates visit brandicarlile.com


An Interview With Brandi Carlile 

By: Jessica Layne 


ATNE: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you perform?

BC: I would say it's pretty non genre specific. It's a contradiction of my classic country and western up bringing and the rock and roll influence of my band...and I have a real big voice.


ATNE: What are the makings for a great live performance?

BC: I think it's an interactive experience with the people at the show and being able to draw the energy from the crowd and give it back to them...it's more than playing the show...it's being at the show as well as playing the show.


ATNE: From where do you draw your inspiration for writing? 

BC: It depends...it's a mental habit...it's the twist on all these lines I have to come up with lyrics for...those sound really fun and crisp to write, but they’re not my favorite. My favorite ones are the ones where I'm able to sit down with a pen and paper and write and then I have to find a way to make whatever I say a song. Those are the ones that inspire me for the longest and they’re the most fun for me to take to tape.


ATNE: In a recent interview you said that being asked to perform at the Lilith Fair was "one of the best moments in your career" and that this event really helped sculpt who you are as a person. Can you elaborate a little bit more on this and also describe what it felt like to be 17 in the  audience and again now, 12 years later, as an artist  sharing this same stage?

BC: It felt more like a movement than it did a concert, ya know, because it was completely built around social consciousness and outreach…not to just the under-served and the under-privileged but to the bands, to under-exposed bands...that reached out and made contact. In each individual town...there were side stages, there were local stages, so to a teenager in a band it was like a campaign of music that was putting women on the radio. Some of them were selling concert tickets. Woman were becoming a brand in a way that they hadn't had officially before. They unofficially did it in the 50s, 60s and 70s, but the Lilith Fair was that movement that swept up me and my generation as a teenager. It's an honor to play it now because the people that contribute to that concert are my heroes and influences...it's a total honor...I mean...that's an understatement.


ATNE: In New England, the Newport Folk Festival is like the "Godfather" of all festivals...You think Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Richie Havens, and Johnny Cash...all these legendary greats who paved the way for new and aspiring artists. What impact do you think festivals such as these have on society today and how do you feel being invited to perform again at the Newport Folk festival this coming July?

BC: It's one of my favorites so far if not my favorite. I think we need them now more than ever. We needed them in the past and they came through for the artist...ya know with Woodstock. We need them now more than ever because they show people that music is not the problem with the industry, that people will still congregate to hear music, people still love their favorite bands and people still love to sit in the grass. The problem is how the message is being delivered...it's not the message itself...Festivals are showing that right now...I just came back from Bonnaroo which was absolutely packed and allowed people to see their favorite bands while  living in less than savory conditions...it struck me once again...it's like 2 or 3 things I do every year...music is not the problem, it's the industry. Festivals are doing a better and better job at bringing eclectic artists and bands and they’re doing a better and better job at pairing together cross-genre artists. It provides situations that aren't class divided...that aren't age divided...you know what I mean...pairing artists of different generations...it makes it more communal...which is what we need to join together and try to cross over those barriers.


ATNE: How have you grown as an artist and individual over the past five years? What life lessons has your career taught you about people and the world in which we live?

BC: Well, I would say the biggest personal thing I've learned is that overall you will be happy doing what it is that you are to do at whatever level that is...although it's so rewarding meeting my heroes and finding some of the venues I always wanted to see, let alone play a show in...I realize that my level of happiness is pretty consistent with the fact that I do what it is I love to do...regardless of the ebb and flow...we are going to be happy doing what we love to do.

ATNE: Can we talk some about the Looking Out Foundation. Give me your thoughts on the importance of giving back to community and preserving our environment. How is your organization making a difference and tell us  about your latest projects?

BC: I tend to think that some of the indigenous communities have a stronger foothold on how to repair the environment than almost anybody else does and almost any of the modern day greening. I really do think that the Indians have it figured out...so a lot of the things we do with our foundation which are environmental is through the Indigenous Rights Crusaders...but I have to say that Looking Out is a general outreach foundation and its a lot more caught up in its projects than it is in its brand...we reach out to a lot of local communities, women's communities, the at risk population, the under-served population. We teach self defense courses. We are part of a documentary project that documents memoirs from women in prison to their daughters and young girls who are trying to alter their projectory...there's a lot of education.


ATNE: What does the bandanna you wear on your left arm represent?

BC: Oh, it's kind of a shout out of respect and homage to the gay Castro....it's a nod of respect to my way-pavers...the people who paved the way.


ATNE: You used vintage instruments from the 40's and 50's and analog recording in the making of the Give Up The Ghost. Can you expand on this and help people better understand this approach to making albums?

BC: You know old instruments - they've got a lot of stories in them....and there are a lot of physical reasons why they sound better. I mean, instruments age and twist and dry out and it becomes kind of a struggle to play them, for me anyway, and in a way, I think that is really conducive to honest music  because I think good art truly comes from struggle. When I use analog equipment and vintage instruments its not because I'm a vintage snob or a vinyl enthusiast - it's because of the limitations that it presents. Recording to tape is, to me,  more about what you can't do than what you can do, and that's why we've made our records that way so far. I can't say we are always going to be able to afford to do tape this way.

 ATNE: Of all the songs on Give Up The Ghost, I am most intrigued by the lyrics in  "I Will". Can you explain what compelled you to write this song and its meaning? 

BC: I couldn't figure for the life of me how to make it into a song...I can't say what it's about...but I can say that it was a thought process that took a long time. It had a lot of words and I couldn't figure out how to make it a song, so I just kind of spoke it and played guitar to it until it started to sound like a song.


ATNE: How has Brandi Carlile evolved as a band since you first started performing together?

BC: Gosh, ya know, we just kind of brushed up on our wisdom a little bit...gotten a lot more humble...we spend a lot more time with each other in close quarters...I think we've become better writers and we're a lot better together in the studio...


ATNE: What's one of your most awkward moments on stage?

BC:  ...there are so many of them!


ATNE: What do you enjoy doing most in your free time?

BC: Fishing and hanging out with little kids.


ATNE: How do you unwind after a show?

BC: Me and the twins - we jump on the bus...we start to cool off and we eat oysters out of a can...


ATNE: Do you wash them down with anything?

BC: Yeah, we wash them down with Diet Coke and Cheezits...it's really glamorous!



ATNE: Favorite thing to wear around the house?

BC: James Perse.  Are you familiar with that designer?


ATNE: I wouldn't know. I wear t-shirts. 

BC: They are the best lounging-around-the-house clothes in the world.


ATNE: I have to ask this question for my daughter - Team Edward or Team Jacob?

BC: Oh, totally Team Jacob...no, no - Team Edward!


ATNE: No fair. you can't switch sides!


ATNE: If you weren't an entertainer, what career would you have?

BC: I would be a cowboy


ATNE: Would you be a good cowboy or bad cowboy?

BC: It depends on any given day.

ATNE: If you could choose any place on the planet to live the rest of your days, where would it be and why?

BC: Maple Valley...where I live ...I'm a creature of habit.


ATNE: When eating an ice cream sundae, do you eat the cherry first or save it for last?

BC: I eat everything that I want the most first while I'm hungry.


ATNE: Does that include the cherry?

BC: Yup!

ATNE: So we'll look forward to seeing you in Newport!

BC: YES....I'm so proud to be a part of the Newport Folk Festival...it's such a big deal to me and the band. It's been a huge influence on us and our music and the people who came before us and it's really and honor to be a part of it.


Written By : Jessica Layne


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