Any attempts to qualify or quantify Brandi Carlile’s effect on listeners are destined to fall short, if not fail altogether. Sure, given the right tools, you could dissect her technical ability; but even the sharpest critical scalpel will never get to the heart of the matter … and that’s where she hits you. Right smack in the heart. There’s an intangible emotional consideration to the experience, as well as a more subtle, somewhat visceral component. And while great singers can move a listener to tears or send chills up their spines, the really, truly great ones leave a more lasting impact that lingers well after the last chord has resolved. Brandi does both — creating both immediate and indelible impressions upon all those who hear her.
With the June 5 release of Bear Creek, Carlile and her ever-present twin accomplices, Tim and Phil Hanseroth, make those varied impressions once again as they also venture into previously uncharted waters of producing themselves. (Yes, the unreasonably talented Trina Shoemaker co-produced and engineered the record, but still …) From the opening high holler of “Hard Way Home” to the tender apologies of “That Wasn’t Me” to the driving beat of “100,” Bear Creek is pure Brandi Carlile Band. In fact, she confessed, “It scares me how much of who we are is in this album.”
To mark the CD’s release, Brandi is offering three album tracks recorded live at Bear Creek Studios to NoiseTrade users. New fans and old can just sit back and let her stunning voice wash over them, doing what it will to their DNA. In the end, we can all agree that Brandi Carlile is already the blessing she strives to be.
NoiseTrade: I’m so curious about the interplay between your vocal ability and your songwriting, as well as the arrangements and production that come later. What’s your process in terms of that … as in, how does your voice inform the crafting and arranging of a song? Does it lead or follow?
Brandi Carlile: It leads and it informs it completely. In fact, everything I’ve ever learned to do musically — be it guitar, piano, or writing a song — was only so I’d have something to sing and perform with. For me, the creative process is never complete until it ends in performance.
NT: Although your various musical influences can be gleaned in different tracks, you also have a sound that is all your own. I hear it in the progression of your melodies and it seems to cross over into the writing that Phil and Tim do, too. What might I be picking up on? Is there a melodic thread of some sort that runs through … a certain leit motif, perhaps?
BC: Well, the three of us have been together for over a decade and when we become excited about something new, or reignited with something older that we used to love, it tends to happen all at the same time. So, if we’re on a road trip from Seattle to L.A. listening to Pet Sounds, you might notice a melodic theme in the songs we write for the next six months.
NT: Speaking of your influences, are there any musical giants or heroes out there that you haven’t yet worked with but want to? I mean, Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, Sheryl Crow, Elton John, Paul Buckmaster, Rick Rubin, Kris Kristofferson, Dave Matthews … what an underachiever you are!
BC: Dolly Parton!!!!!!!
NT: You established the Looking Out Foundation in order to support various causes that you believe in – including Honor the Earth, Fight the Fear, The If Project, and more. That makes you something of a triple threat. By that, I mean your passions as a songwriter, a singer, and a humanitarian all seem fairly equal. Do you identify as one more than another? Is that shifting for you with age? (Happy birthday, by the way!)
BC: Thank you! All three of those things are equally important to me at this point my life. There have definitely been times when one was more important than the other, but there are great people who are able to balance these sometimes conflicting concepts, and I strive to one day be one of those people.
NT: I so appreciate and respect your stance in terms of your gaiety … letting your music do the talking for you. k.d. lang has said, when she’s performing, she wants both men and women to be attracted to her because “art transcends whatever tools you’re carrying” and the fantasy – whatever that might be – should take over. How would you describe your approach to that tarmac? Which lens would you say is the primary perspective for your world view: spirituality, sexuality, intellect, emotions?
BC: I just did an interview with a straight guy who’s obsessed with Alanis Morissette, Patty Griffin, and the Indigo Girls. I think he speaks to our future about how we compartmentalize genre and gender in music. I have great hopes and great admiration for the way that’s been paved by the likes of k.d. lang, Elton John, the Indigo Girls, and Ellen DeGeneres, et al. The best way I know how to honor and continue that legacy is by living honestly and being a blessing.
Writer Kelly McCartney cites Shaun Cassidy, Kenny Rogers, and Rick James among her early musical loves. These days, she’s more likely to be listening to Joanna Newsom, Gillian Welch, and The Shins.