Brandi Carlile’s Northwestern Songs

“I think the world of myself, but the world doesn’t think much of me,” sings Brandi Carlile on “Fall Apart Again,” a track from her eponymous debut. This hardly seems to be the case at all though. On the strength of Brandi Carlile [Columbia/Red Ink]—a sprightly ten-song coming-of-age record that gracefully straddles the fence between country, traditional folk, and classic pop—the music world at least is beginning to regard this down-to-earth Washington native as one of its finest young talents.

A performer since age eight, Carlile—now 24—did a stint backing an Elvis impersonator before hooking up with guitarist Tim Hanseroth and bassist Phil Hanseroth (aka the Twins) to form an uncommon artistic alliance. Explains Carlile, “We cowrite songs together, tour together, and did a lot of the production work on the record together, so it’s essentially a band situation. I equate it to the early Elton John records when he was writing with Bernie Taupin and had Dee Murray, Davey Johnstone, and Nigel Olsson behind him. He was a solo artist, but had the band vibe going on.”

As more and more young musicians get stifled by the hype-generating corporate rock hit-making machinery, Brandi Carlile’s DIY approach is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Was everything on Brandi Carlile recorded live?

Except for a few overdubs, yes. There were strings on a couple of songs and we’ve been touring with a cello player lately, but it’s essentially two guitars, bass, and drums. I’m not a big fan of additional instrumentation. I want the record to be a representation of what we sound like live, because I consider myself a live performer. Recording is just ten percent of what we do. I also prefer to record my vocals and guitar together because doing everything at once improves the way I play.

How so?

My playing better mirrors the emotions of what I’m singing that way. If I’m singing loud, my accompaniment gets more frantic and intense, and if I’m singing softer, my playing will be sparser. A perfect example of this is on the song “Tragedy,” which was done live in one take.

Were you a singer before you were a guitar player?

Yeah. I really taught myself to play around my voice. I think I may have subconsciously picked it up from listening to James Taylor because he’s the master of that style. He knows how to underscore his vocals through his accompaniment. Roy Orbison was an influence on me in that respect too, except he used basic, overemphasized downstrokes in an almost nursery-rhyme way to help get his point across. “Follow” is totally me trying to be Roy.

For such a young artist, your roots go fairly deep.

I’m a weirdo in that respect. I grew up in the sticks listening to traditional country and folk music and started out singing at this little theater outside Seattle called the Northwest Grand Ole Opry. They had a house band and maybe ten different singers each week. You’d rehearse on Wednesdays and do the show during the weekend. That was my whole life all through school. I didn’t even know the grunge thing was happening until years later.

You’re currently headlining a sold-out tour. Has the transition from opening act to main performer been easy?

Yes. It’s very easy to play to a roomful of people who are there to see you, but I actually love playing for someone else’s audience, especially if it’s an artist who’s the complete stylistic opposite of us. You get to see a free concert every night and you also get the opportunity to win over people that might not otherwise have been exposed to you.