Brandi Carlile Talks About Her Current Album

In a day and age when artists spawned by YouTube and reality show competitions are here today and gone tomorrow, Brandi Carlile represents a throwback to an era when truly gifted musicians achieved a level of respected longevity.

With the release of “By the Way, I Forgive You,” Carlile’s sixth studio outing and winner of three 2019 Grammy Awards (including Best Americana Album), she’s firmly established quite the creative foothold for herself. Produced by the tandem of Americana guru Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings, these 10 songs are less about artifice and more about honesty and craft—something that’s in short supply on the pop charts nowadays.

And while Brandi Carlile’s career path has found the Washington state native working with the likes of T-Bone Burnett and Rick Rubin on albums and landing on then-President Barack Obama’s Spotify playlist, she remains remarkably grounded and humble. So much so that she unfailingly shares the credit for her success with Tim and Phil Hanseroth, Carlile’s identical twin bandmates who have been her ride-or-dies from day one and continue to serve in that role.

“We met when I was just at the end of being a teenager and we were playing music and singing together. They were in other bands and they had a band that was signed and dropped and I was doing a lot of solo stuff, but I had been playing on and off with other bands too. I proposed in a really over-the-top way that we quit everything else and totally focus on each other. I swore that I would get us a record deal and I sold all my microphones and I bought Tim an EBow. I said we should quit everything and I don’t know why (they agreed), because they were adult men, but they did,” she laughingly recalled. “We made a pact right then and there that everything would be equal three ways, no matter what. And it always has been and it’s really, really worked for us as a band and for me personally.”

Earnestness and raw emotion infuse Brandi Carlile’s latest opus. She lovingly shares the day-to-day parenting challenges she shares with wife, Catherine Shepherd, as the mothers of daughters Evangeline and Elijah, with matter-of-fact couplets in the hypnotically acoustic tune “The Mother” that include, “The first thing she took from me was selfishness and sleep/She broke a thousand heirlooms I was never meant to keep/She filled my life with color, canceled plans and trashed my car/But none of that was ever who we are.”

Elsewhere, she opens with “Every Time I Hear That Song,” a story of forgiveness to an ex-lover wrapped in layered harmonies and subtle French horn, and “Sugartooth,” a nod to a real-life troubled friend of the band who grappled with addiction. Driven by pounding piano and Carlile’s plaintive wailing, it’s Dylan-esque narrative are what Carlile calls “…Tim’s opus and the best lyrics he’s ever written.”

Add in the rich orchestration of the late Paul Buckmaster and what you have is a recording that hits you square in the heart and the head, particularly on the outro “Party of One,” in which the singer-songwriter lays her soul bare as the arranger’s string arrangements envelop her world-weary singing. It was a particular triumph for Carlile, who grew up idolizing Elton John and met Buckmaster at age 16 before first working with him a decade-plus later while recording her 2009 album “Give Up the Ghost.”

“Elton John is one of the artists who has influenced me in such a fantastic way because he knows that Elton John is not a man and that Elton John is a combination of people, one of those people being Paul Buckmaster. He knew it so much that he pictured Paul Buckmaster in his early records. So you can cut a picture of Paul Buckmaster [from “Tumbleweed Connection”], say, if you were an obsessed 13-year-old girl and hang it on your wall. That’s when I became infatuated with Paul Buckmaster,” she shared. “Over the years, I have 10 Paul Buckmaster arrangements and he was a real important influence on my life and a good friend. It’s unbelievable when he died because it didn’t seem at all like he was running out of time when we were working on this album.”

The empathy that reverberates through Carlile’s music also translates to the real world via her Looking Out Foundation. Founded in 2008 by Carlile and the Hanseroths, this nonprofit fund supports causes and organizations that often go unnoticed, with $1 from every concert ticket sold going towards these efforts. Among the causes that have benefited over the years are WhyHunger, the women’s self-defense movement Fight the Fear and most recently, War Child, a charity that helps children of warfare. Using the 10-year anniversary of her 2007 sophomore bow “The Story,” Carlile got a number of artists including Dolly Parton, Pearl Jam, Adele and Kris Kristofferson to re-record all those songs and donate all the proceeds to War Child. It was a cause that struck close to home for her.

“When I had my daughter Evangeline, I was hearing and reading about Aleppo in Syria and feeling immobilized with what was happening with kids there. And I just couldn’t reconcile the room I was putting my child to sleep in and the way that some of these kids are living. So, my wife pointed me in the direction of War Child,” she said. “I knew the 10-year anniversary of “The Story”was coming up and that’s my most commercially successful album. I thought if I could get artists that are bigger than me to sing the songs, that we could really raise money and (we) somehow talked Sony Records, Warner Brothers, all the producers and administrative people around me to not take any money from it and donate back their commissions. And some of the biggest artists in the world sang songs and we’re right on target to raise a million dollars for War Child.”

As grand as “I Forgive You”sounds through speakers and/or headphones, Brandi Carlile promises more of the same for those venturing out to see her in a live setting.

“It’ll be different than anyone who’s seen me before. I’m doing a much longer set—I’m doing the entire album with a lot of other songs, too—a lot of stuff from ‘Give Up the Ghost,’ ‘Bear Creek’ (her 2012 album) and one or two from ‘Brandi Carlile’ (her 2005 debut)and ‘The Story,’”she explained. “Less from ‘The Story’than ever because I just did ‘The Story’ tour. I’ve also got a couple of new covers—Elton John and Led Zeppelin. I’m bringing a string quartet, a new drummer, a French horn and a pianist. It’s going to be a big, refined and sophisticated show, but I’m still going to drink whiskey and lose my mind, so it’ll be great.”

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