She knows how to have a laugh, she started her own foundation for charity and she likes to throw back some whiskey before a show—this girl sounds too good to be true! Brandi Carlile is the biggest artist out there who hasn’t had a “hit” in the conventional sense (she said it herself), but that hasn’t stopped her. Coming out full force with a new album and marriage, Carlile is at the top of her game. GO had the chance to ask her a few questions about her creative process, the married life and who she’s rockin’ out to when she has her headphones on.
GO: Your new album Bear Creek came out this summer. Which are your favorite new songs to play?
BC: We’re constantly learning and integrating new songs from the album into the set list, and as my favorites change with the seasons, I’m loving how the audience is singing the lyrics more and more. That said, I’m finding the audience participation to “Keep Your Heart Young” really endearing.
Bear Creek seems very comfortable, like all of the musicians were in their element, and it has a great flow from track to track. Was there any difference in the creative process on this album compared to your others?
Certainly, any time you unplug a musical group from the socket of industry formula you’re going to find something that breaks the mold sonically and creatively. Making a record in Seattle was a home based, heart-felt environment for experimenting with our songs and instruments.
How do you like co-writing with other people, such as your infamous partners-in-crime the “Twins,” who also happen to be family?
I’m a born collaborator in almost everything. There are no solitary pursuits in Brandi land, as long as I get to be the boss! [Laughs] Truly, I love co-writing above most creative exploits.
How would you say your songwriting has changed or developed through your career? Have there been pivotal moments that significantly changed how you create?
I don’t think my songwriting has been very informed by my career, which is one of the few byproducts of not having hits! But naturally, as you gain more life experience, your lyrics become less speculative and as a result, maybe less judgmental and broader. Musically I know a few more chords but I don’t use them just to use them anymore.
Your songs deal with loss and heartache, whether it’s a friend, family member or lover. Do you use songwriting as a therapy for the emotions that you feel as a result of that loss? Do songs that you’ve written stick out to you as a sort of timeline in your memory?
Yes they definitely do. But I find answers in my songwriting. I use it as a way to consult my subconsious and learn to say what I already know.
What would you say are the more powerful and meaningful of your songs intrinsically, the ones about loss or the more optimistic?
Well there aren’t too many of the latter since I use songwriting as a medium to work through problems. But the more resolute the better these days. I like That Wasn’t Me.
Remaining generally gender neutral is something that you try to do in your songs, which probably helps especially since you often have co-writers who are male, but do you think this will change now that you are married? Are we going to start hearing any directly addressed love songs now?
[Laughs] Remaining gender neutral is not something I strive to do in my songwriting. Many times, addressing a person as “you” feels more intimate to me. I tend to work through my difficulties and conflicts in a two-person conversation. Bringing in a third person such as an audience, just so that I can use words like “her” and “she” has never quite gotten me there in a truly intense exchange. There are lighter-hearted songs and laments where such an address feels right, but they tend to be more contemplative and less immediate. Having said that, the sky’s the limit.
As I just mentioned, you’ve also recently gotten married—congratulations! How is the married life treating you and how do you plan to deal with time apart when you are on the road?
Married life is wonderful, I’m enjoying it very much and it makes me feel very grownup. I don’t plan to spend any time apart from Catherine if I can help it, there was too much of that shit in the beginning of our relationship with her living in London! But she’s a constant muse for me so having her with us feels very natural.
In 2008 you founded the Looking Out Foundation, which supports humanitarian outreach in local communities through music, and donate money from each concert towards it. Tell us a little about it—what made you decide to create this outreach program and what are some of the highlights you’ve seen come from it?
We founded the Looking Out Foundation because as our band grew more successful, we felt we had a responsibility to give something back. I’m really proud of our work with the If Project and our Fight The Fear Campaign. But I think my favorite recent project was Cause Of The Day, where we helped raise awareness and funds for local humanitarian organizations in every town we played in during our summer tour. It was pretty humbling to see how these small, grassroots organizations have helped so many people on a personal and profound level. We’re also excited to be partnering with WhyHunger on our fall tour by launching our Looking Out for the Hungry Campaign!
Let’s say we take a look at your iPod. What’s in your 25 Most Played List?
The Lumineers / Gregory Alan Isakov / The Beatles / Elton John / Jonny Cash / James Taylor / Emmylou Harris / Radiohead / Blitzen Trapper / Alabama Shakes / The Avett Brothers / Alison Krauss / Kim Richie / Damien Rice / Aretha Franklin / John Prine / Miranda Lambert / Sheryl Crow / My Morning Jacket / Amy Ray / Queen / Patsy Cline / Dolly Parton / Taylor Swift / Civil Wars.
It’s 30 minutes ‘til show time: What are you doing? Vocal warm-ups? Taking shots? Any pre-show rituals?
Watching the opening band, doing a shot of whisky with my band, and getting pumped to see familiar faces in the crowd!
For a truly inspiring and memorable live show experience, get your tickets for her current tour and come see one (or both) of her New York dates as she graces the Beacon Theater on October 28 and 29th. For more info, visit brandicarlile.com.