Conversations at KCTS 9/Brandi Carlile

Conversations: Brandi Carlile 06/24/2012
  • Conversations at KCTS 9

Brandi Carlile

We talk with the singer/songwriter and Northwest native about her music career.

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  • Transcript

About the Episode

Singer/songwriter and Northwest native Brandi Carlile joins us to talk about her music career and her new album.

About Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile is an American alternative country and folk rock singer-songwriter. She has released several albums including "The Story," "Give Up the Ghost," and "Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony," which reached number 14 on the Top Rock Albums chart. Carlile's new album, "Bear Creek", was released on June 5, 2012.

Enrique Cerna:
Brandi Carlile, welcome to Conversations.

Brandi Carlile:
Thank you for having me.

Enrique Cerna:
Well, the pride and joy of Ravensdale, is that what it is here in King County?

Brandi Carlile:
Yep.

Enrique Cerna:
Did you grow up there the whole time or what?

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah. You know, around that area, kind of like Ravensdale, Black Diamond, Maple Valley, they're all kind of in the same district. Yeah, definitely spent a fair amount of time there.

Enrique Cerna:
I have to admit that I had to look it up on the map to see where it was exactly. And I wasn't quite sure if it was in King County or if it was out of the county or whatever.

Brandi Carlile:
King County, yeah.

Enrique Cerna:
Tell me about, you know, growing up there and then finding a love for music.

Brandi Carlile:
Well, it's really, um, rural, you know, which I think has its own undertones of musicality itself. So it's really like a lot of nature, a lot of isolation, a lot of animals. And you know, there's just a lifestyle associated with living rural, rural lifestyle. So I would say that, you know, musically, it influenced me in the country and western direction. And you know, in music and in life, like fishing and playing around with farm animals and stuff like that.

Enrique Cerna:
Family, did they have music interests?

Brandi Carlile:
Yep, yep, I have a lot of music in my family. My mother is a singer and her father was a really amazing country singer, and his siblings all played banjo, guitars, even on my father's side of the family and my great grandparents followed around bluegrass festivals for years with the do bro. And my sister and brother sang, so there's just a lot of musicality in my family.

Enrique Cerna:
How old were you the first time you performed in front of somebody?

Brandi Carlile:
first performed in front of somebody when I was, well, somebody or just on stage?

Enrique Cerna:
Yeah...

Brandi Carlile:
Like properly on stage, when I was between 7 and 8, in Auburn, Washington.

Enrique Cerna:
Auburn. What was the affair?

Brandi Carlile:
It was old theater, it was called the northwest grand ole Opry at the time. And my mom used to sing there. And I told my mom I wanted to sing there. So I played a song by Johnnie Cash.

Enrique Cerna:
Were you playing guitar at that time?

Brandi Carlile:
No, I was just singing.

Enrique Cerna:
Was your mom singing with you or did you have any backup?

Brandi Carlile:
That time, it was just me. She made my outfit, though.

Enrique Cerna:
She did?

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah, there was definitely fringe and rhinestones involved.

Enrique Cerna:
Early on, you had the getup.

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah.

Enrique Cerna:
Well, congratulations, your fifth album now is out.

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah.

Enrique Cerna:
Tell me about Bear Creek.

Brandi Carlile:
Bear creek is actually here in Washington state. We made this record, so it's kind of in the Woodinville area, it's a huge 100 year old barn that's been turned into a fantastic state of the art recording studio. And it was important to us to make this record here, because since we've been in Columbia, we've tended to go to other places to make our records, we were working with Burnett and Rick Ruben.

Enrique Cerna:
Big names.

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah. Feels weird even to say it. But there's something to be said for the concept of going somewhere else, out of your comfort zone to complete a project. And that for this one, me and the twins, we wanted to bring it home figuratively and literally.

Enrique Cerna:
Tell me about the twins. Explain those guys.

Brandi Carlile:
Tim and Phil Hanseroff, Seattle born and raised. We've been working together for about a decade. They were in a band called the Fighting Machinists. I loved their band. And when their band broke up, I asked them if they would sing and write songs with me. And we've been together ever since.

♪ I left home a long, long time ago ♬
♪ but I'm on my way back home ♬
♪ it's been hard to be away ♬
♪ how I miss you and I just want to kiss you ♬
♪ and I'm gonna worry until my dying days ♬
♪ I'll be there so long ♬
♪ when you are sad, you know I wish I could be there to make your sorrow disappear ♬
♪ and set your troubles free ♬
♪ I promise you too ♬
♪ wherever I might be ♬
♪ burning, wheels keep on turning ♬
♪ sometime, I feel I'm wasting my days ♬
♪ how I miss you and I just want to kiss you ♬
♪ and I'm gonna worry until my dying days ♬
♪ how these days grow long ♬
♪ it keeps burning on ♬
♪ how these days grow long ♬

Enrique Cerna:
I heard that you actually went up to them and said, hey, make a band with me and we'll have some success.

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah, there was definitely some propositioning in that way. I didn't know what I was talking about. But it somehow panned out in the way that we all hoped that it would. And I did, I did do that to them.

Enrique Cerna:
Were you always confident about your ability to perform and to have success with it?

Brandi Carlile:
I guess so. Maybe just innately, I don't know, I think it was just something I was always told from a really young age that I could do, you can do whatever you want, you can be whatever you want to be. And I was just trying to choose between being an astronaut and a cowboy. You know, it was like this fantastical life that I was told that I could have. So I feel really lucky in that way.

Enrique Cerna:
So when you met the guys and you said, okay, look, we can do something together.

Brandi Carlile:
Yes.

Enrique Cerna:
How did they take it?

Brandi Carlile:
They were kind of, they had a little bit of a, we'll see kind of attitude. And they probably thought I was a little bit ridiculous. I mean a really strange girl. And still am.

Enrique Cerna:
Did they already know you?

Brandi Carlile:
They kind of knew of me. You know, I was too young to get into some of their shows and they let me push an amp and pretend like I was helping out. Sorry, crocodile, sorry rain dancer. And you know, they were always real nice to me. And we talked to each other at the recording studios. But they came out a couple of times at the paragon and local bar gigs and they knew that I could play and sing. And I just wanted somebody to sing harmony with. They were so magical-- at the time and still are.

Enrique Cerna:
So you're the team.

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah.

Enrique Cerna:
I heard that when you would perform locally at places, but you also worked at a bus girl and other things there.

Brandi Carlile:
Yes.

Enrique Cerna:
But you actually were your own best promotion. You spent a lot of time e mailing and calling folks saying come out and see me tonight?

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah.

Enrique Cerna:
And did you convince local bar owners to let you play or just work there?

Brandi Carlile:
Bar owners and restaurant owners, people that don't even typically had music, like I just had a little P.A. system and I would go in and I'd talk to the owner or manager and say, I know you might not have music, but if you let me set up and play for three hours on Tuesday nights, then I promise that you'll see in an increase in your customers. Because I'll make friends and play covers and stuff. So they would let me. And then before I knew it, I had residency, five, six nights a week, residency all different plays, you know, the Paragon, the Dukes, the Dubliner. I mean all over town, I had residencies and gigs, even Salty's on Alki, had a big there. And had a gig there. Yeah. I would take my 15 minute breaks, go out to people's tables while they were eating dinner and have a conversation with them while they were eating dinner, and take their phone numbers and e mails. And once a month, I'd do a proper show at the Tractor or the Crocodile and I would say come out and support me. And they would come out. Because people in Seattle are really amazing about music and loyalty. >>> It's poignant that me and the twins produced it ourselves. We learned so much from that in every way possible. And we just needed to apply that knowledge in our own way. 60 kind of break off the shackles of that a bit. Because if there's one thing about working with a major producer that's daunting, I'd say it's 90% educational and just amazing. It was a pivotal point in our evolution. But if there's one thing about it that can be daunting is that you sometimes feel that there's such an audience, that you don't want to try out in these things that you would typically do if you were sort of alone with your friends, you know, playing instruments you don't really know how to play maybe, or doing things that could be deemed as, you know, gluttonous in some way, vocally or musically. We just had this feeling that you get like when you're a teenager and your parents go away for the weekend. Like what would we do if there was nobody to tell us we couldn't do it? And that's what Bear Creek feels like to me.

Enrique Cerna:
You've made a video.

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah.

Enrique Cerna:
And you got Kris Kristofferson.

Brandi Carlile:
Say it.

Enrique Cerna:
Kris Kristofferson to play kind of a lead character in this. Tell me about the video and tell me about the role that he plays.

Brandi Carlile:
Well, the video is about a man who's trying to assimilate back into the real world after being locked up for a long time, Shawshank redemption kind of vibe. And he gets paroled and he gets back out on the street, and he goes back to his old neighborhood, and he thinks that he can do the things that he used to do before he went astray. You know, he used to build bird houses and play guitar. And he's ready to show the world that that wasn't him. The song is called "that wasn't me."

♪ and you fall all the way to the bottom ♬

He gets out in the real world and he realizes that people are texting and nobody is listening to him playing his guitar, and nobody is buying his bird houses. And you just kind of see him come to grips with the reality that who he was just doesn't fit anymore in this realm. And so he did some things that got him back into trouble, and he walked into a bank with a piece of paper, and he handed it to the teller and he said, please give me one dollar of your bank's money, this is a robbery. Because he wants to go back to prison and be who he is there. So the person that plays this is obviously Kris Kristofferson. I mean he completely embodied that character in a way that actually made me cry several times on set.

Enrique Cerna:
How did you convince him to do this?

Brandi Carlile:
You know, I'm sure there are so many elements of getting someone like Kris to do something like a small artist video. But I sent him a letter, I told him how much the song meant to me, and how much he means to me an as influence, and I think he's one of the greatest living song writers that we have today, he's a treasure in country music and beyond. So I just kind of told him that, that I wanted him to do it.

Enrique Cerna:
You hadn't met him before?

Brandi Carlile:
You know, I had met him, but he doesn't remember meeting me. Like about a week before Johnnie cash's 80th birthday celebration, we all did Johnnie Cash tributes, I sang “Folsom Prison Blues,” Kris sang “Sunny Morning Coming Down.”

Enrique Cerna:
And so he gets this letter, I guess how did he end up responding and what moved him?

Brandi Carlile:
His wife got my record for him and played it for him. And he had such a response to the music, that I honestly can't even repeat some of the things he said about my record because it's staggeringly flattering. And so when he came out and we did the video, he sang with me and we sang some Hank Williams songs and drank some whiskey, and it’s one of the big moments of my life, I'm pretty sure.

Enrique Cerna:
Did you record all of this stuff?

Brandi Carlile:
I got some of it. I snuck a couple of things on my iPhone. He doesn't care.

Enrique Cerna:
I did see on Youtube having a little sense of some whiskey. I take it he likes to have that now and then when he works? Maybe not just working.

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah. And you wouldn't know. He's one of those guys, he's so stoic. I'm sure I was just stumbling around and giggling like a school kid, after I did my shot or two of whiskey, but he was just like, all right, next scene. I mean everyone knows I love Elton John in so many different arenas.

Enrique Cerna:
You've worked with him.

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah, I've worked with him. I love Elton as a musician, I love Elton as a humanitarian, philanthropist, and I love him as an entertainer. He's just the best. But Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Brenda Lee, Kitty Wells, the women of country and western music have really influenced me in a lot of ways too.

Enrique Cerna:
Do you know Sheryl Crow?

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah, I know Sheryl Crow.

Enrique Cerna:
She's quite complimentary about your music.

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah, she has been so kind to me. And it's been a pleasure to get to sing with her and work with her over the years because she's one of my great heroes too.

Enrique Cerna:
Tell me about working with Elton John.

Brandi Carlile:
On my last record, I asked Elton to play piano on my song. And he called me up personally on the phone and agreed to do it. And I flew from Fort Collins, Colorado, in a snowstorm to meet him in Vegas, in true Elton John style. And we recorded a song together, spent the day talking about music, and we just keep in touch now and then.

Enrique Cerna:
These experiences, I mean it's got to just, sometimes you sit and think about it, be pretty, pretty amazing.

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah. I mean I think that the milestones are what make my career and my achievements so exciting for me is getting to meet my heroes and play on certain stages at the grand ole Opry and the things that I've done in the last, you know, decade, I'll be eternally grateful for, even if I don't do them in the next decade.

Enrique Cerna:
Albums for you started what, 2005?

Brandi Carlile:
2004 is when I signed to Columbia. But I signed with an album. So I signed with the self titled debut Brandi Carlile in 2004. So I recorded it say from 2001 to 2003.

Enrique Cerna:
And then from there, you had about every two years or so, maybe even a little less than that where you've been coming out with albums.

Brandi Carlile:
About every two years is I suppose the industry standard. I think we should go back to the '70s and do two a year, though.

Enrique Cerna:
Do you.

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah, I do.

Enrique Cerna:
Do you like that process?

Brandi Carlile:
I like that process because I feel like records are just that. They're a record, they're a documentation of your life and its trajectory. So it doesn't make a lot of sense to me to only document in two year spans. So I love the concept of it, I love what it means to put down six months in lyrics and poetry, and then share that with your fans and the expression. I like recording. I loved producing with the twins on “Bear Creek.” It's my favorite record we've ever done.

Enrique Cerna:
Are you, is that where you want to head to? Performing still always going to be there for you?

Brandi Carlile:
Performing is my greatest form of expression, that's who I am as an artist. For me, song writing, for me, my art isn't like a solitary pursuit, like I'll write the songs and with the twins or by myself, but it's not done then, it's not done until I sing them on stage in front of other people. So I could never even give that up or even put it on the back burner. But I do love to produce, and with the twins, I think the three of us could make some really great records for other bands.

Enrique Cerna:
One of the works you did was at Benaroya Hall.

Brandi Carlile:
Yes.

Enrique Cerna:
In 2011. Tell me about that experience. That's a great venue.

Brandi Carlile:
It's a great venue. I've done a lot of symphony halls in this country, and Benaroya Hall is just at the very top. And you know, I mean you know what it's like to live in Seattle. When I was busing on Pike Place and driving past Benaroya Hall and looking at that marquee, I never thought I would do one show there or two. It's pretty cool. And the symphony was absolutely outstanding.

Enrique Cerna:
How did that work, working with the symphony to perform your music as well as to have them be involved?

Brandi Carlile:
Well, it was amazing, it was like the clashing of two very different worlds, which I think we could use in more areas in our industry, the music industry. Because it's like at the end of the day with the way things are right now, rock shows aren't really selling out very often. And symphony halls certainly aren't selling out very often. So somebody got smart about the idea of introducing contemporary rock 'n roll and pop artists, or even country artists, to, you know, local symphonies. Because it helps the symphony hall and it helps the band. And I just think that we could take that into other areas, other genres, you know, and really cross genre and break down lines that people like to use to divide and conquer. So that we can come together as a community and our industry can grow.

Enrique Cerna:
Well, some artists have already done some of that, and you know, traditional country artists working with a rapper.

Brandi Carlile:
Yes, cool, right?

Enrique Cerna:
Actually, it's pretty cool, yeah.

Brandi Carlile:
I like it.

Enrique Cerna:
I do too. Particularly with the right song, the right combination. And then make them so entertaining. And I think it's probably good for both audiences to be exposed to the different, different styles of music.

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah. Country writers are really good about that. I've noticed a lot of country artists reaching out and doing those kinds of things, like you've seen Blake Shelton on The Voice and all the different genres that he has a passion for. A lot of the country artists I know personally are huge fans of R&B, rock 'n roll, or hip hop, even jazz influence in sometimes in some situations. And they make phone calls, they reach out. And you'll notice, country artists, a lot of times if there's like a top 40 pop or rock 'n roll hit, give it three weeks, and a country artist will cover it. It doesn't work the other way, though.

♪ dreams, I have dreams ♬
♪ and on a sleeve ♬
♪ and you, you are in my dreams ♬
♪ you're underneath my skin ♬
♪ now, the dreams ♬
♪ I can feel the way, I can just go ♬
♪ I keep it to myself ♬
♪ I can love you ♬
♪in my dreams ♬
♪ and I have dreams ♬
♪ oh, I have ♬
♪ I have dreams ♬

Enrique Cerna:
Let's talk about your community work. And you have a foundation that you're involved in. And tell me about that. And what's the focus?

Brandi Carlile:
The reaching out foundation. It's something that the twins and I started between 2007 and 2008. And we started it because we had some seed money from an environmental issue that we didn't, we didn't want to keep. We did a commercial for G.M., they did a commercial for all environmentally sustainable cars. And they let us get involved in the construction of this commercial during the Olympics. And at first, we were a little bit tentative about getting involved with like a big American car company, that's kind of notorious for making gas guzzlers, but they were really cool to us, and really allowed us to become a part of this message that was not preaching to the choir. And I loved that. So I was really proud to do it. And when they paid us, we wanted to take the money and donate all of it to grassroots environmental organizations. But to do that, you have to start a foundation. So we started a foundation and have since shifted our focus to more of the humanitarian effort, but that's how it started. I'd say what we do most of the time in this community is empower the underserved. And I know how ambiguous that sounds, but it sounds ambiguous because we do things like educational documentaries from women in prison to help change the youth at risk. We teach self defense courses to women in battered women's shelters, homeless youth shelters, homeless shelters, LGBT centers, because we feel that's a community at risk for violence. So anything from self defense to empowerment, to children in hunger. We help out a lot of the food banks. There's a senior lunch program that we fund. It gets as small in the community as possible and it gets as big in a global effort as possible. I'm doing a clean water project for my birthday. We're digging wells in countries that need clean water. So it's an ambiguous title because we believe that there's need everywhere. And we just want to be there when we can.

Enrique Cerna:
You're going to be hitting the road here to get the album promoted and get people to hear your music. Is that tough?

Brandi Carlile:
Yeah, it's tough. It's gotten a lot tougher in the last few years. Just because, you know, I've just turned 30.

Enrique Cerna:
Oh my God, you're 30!

Brandi Carlile:
It feels weirder than I can quite explain. And my siblings are having kids. And the family is growing. And it's becoming of pretty demanding. And as it should. So I'm having to integrate my really career minded mentality and tour driven lifestyle into the family fabric that I do want to kind of be more attentive to in my next decade.

Enrique Cerna:
Want to have your own family as well, to be on the road with you?

Brandi Carlile:
Yes, sir. That's a goal, that's a goal.

Enrique Cerna:
All right. Well, best of luck. Best of luck with this new album. And the music is just wonderful. You got a great voice.

Brandi Carlile:
Oh, thank you so much. Thank you, I appreciate you talking to me. Means a lot to me here in town. Thank you.

Enrique Cerna:
Brandi Carlile, thank you for your time.

Comments

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06/25/12

Watch this broadcast and appreciate her amazing style. Those who have been followers know already. We are missing Brandi, the twins, and her band in Europe! Thank you for making this interview available.

06/22/12

I am a big fan of Brandi and her music but I live in the SW of England and so have never been able to go to see her perform live.Luckily I am able to watch interviews like this one and get great pleasure from hearing Brandi talk about her career, including songwriting, recording and touring. I have managed to get hold of most of her albums and live performances and also I am able to get hold of newspaper and magazine articles and interviews with her. I have to also say that I am so pleased that she has got engaged to Catherine Shepherd, and of course delighted as Catherine is English as I am. I wish them all the luck for their future together and their wedding in September, and I know Catherine is helping Brandi with her Looking Out Foundation and other philanthropic projects. Seeing them posing together I can see they are very much in love and have common interests in music and charity work. If Brandi ever reads this comments I would be delighted. Keep on singing and writing Brandi as you have a great talent plus an endearing smile and a great sense of humour. Hope she and the Twins come back to the UK sometime soon and I will do my best to get to the nearest venue to see her. All my love to Brandi from Bristol.UK. Pauline xx

06/24/12

I will pass along your comments which I'm sure she will appreciate.

--Enrique Cerna

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