Carlile on stage in Seattle in 2010.
|Birth name||Brandi M. Carlile|
June 1, 1981 |
Ravensdale, Washington, United States
|Genres||Alternative country, folk rock|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, piano, banjo|
|Labels||Columbia, ATO Records|
Brandi M. Carlile (born June 1, 1981) is an American alternative country and folk rock singer-songwriter. She has released six albums including The Story, Give Up the Ghost and Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony, the last reaching number 14 on the Top Rock Albums chart. Her first commercial album, Brandi Carlile, was released to critical acclaim and limited commercial success. Her 2007 single The Story, from the album of the same name, was a greater commercial success, and was used by General Motors for commercials. Carlile's latest album The Firewatcher's Daughter garnered her further acclaim and a Grammy Award nomination.
Carlile's music through the years has been categorized in several genres, including pop, rock, alternative country, and folk. Carlile said of her style, "I've gone through all sorts of vocal phases, from pop to blues to R&B, but no matter what I do, I just can't get the country and western out of my voice."
Carlile was born on June 1, 1981, in Ravensdale, Washington, a small town 40 miles outside of Seattle. Growing up in the only house for miles, Carlile played in the woods, built forts and played music with her brother Jay and sister Tiffany. Brandi, whose mother is a singer, taught herself to sing when she was a little girl, and she started singing country songs on stage when she was only 8 years old.
At age eight, Carlile performed Johnny Cash's "Tennessee Flat Top Box" with her mother, Teresa Carlile and began playing the guitar and writing songs at age fifteen. At sixteen, Carlile became a backup singer for an Elvis impersonator. According to Carlile, she was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder as a teen and dropped out of school to pursue a career in music. After being introduced to the music of Elton John, Carlile taught herself to play piano, and at 17 learned to play the guitar.
Early years and first album
Carlile began her career performing in Seattle music clubs with the twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth. In the beginning, Columbia Records signed Carlile in 2004 on the strength of songs she had been recording periodically at home. Released in 2005, Carlile showcased those early songs along with newly recorded tracks in the self-titled album Brandi Carlile. The 2006 re-release by Columbia Records included re-recordings of "Throw It All Away" and "What Can I Say".
The album earned enthusiastic reviews she was featured on Rolling Stone's "10 Artists to Watch in 2005" list, and other "artist to watch" lists by Interview and Paste. In his review of the album, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote, "The accolades, combined with cover artwork that captures her at her cutest – as if she were a cousin of Rachael Leigh Cook-- might make some listeners suspicious of Carlile, since the cumulative effect makes her seem like a pretty, prepackaged creation.". He further wrote, "her music is: it's rich, warm, and seductive, familiar in its form and sound, yet sounding fresh, even original, particularly in how her folky singer/song.writer foundation blends with her art-pop inclinations."
Shortly after the release of the album, she left her home in Seattle and set out with the Hanseroth brothers, as she had worked with them on her earliest recordings and independent regional tours. The tightly knit trio, which forms the core of her band today, spent the better part of two years on the road honing the songs that would later become part of her album The Story.
Breakthrough with The Story 2007–09
Her second album The Story was produced by T Bone Burnett. It includes a collaboration with the Indigo Girls on "Cannonball." The album was recorded in an eleven-day-long session with Carlile, the twins (Tim and Phil Hanseroth) and drummer Matt Chamberlain to capture the raw intensity of Carlile's live performances. The crack in Carlile's vocals during the title track, "The Story", came out by accident and was a direct result of the way the album was recorded. "The Story" was featured heavily in Toyota commercials during the 2008 Summer Olympics, leading to increased exposure to her music; "The Story" peaked at #5 on the iTunes Music Store's most purchased list. The song was also used in the 2008 commercial for Super Bock and helped the song reach number 1 and the album reach number 4 on the Portuguese charts. "The Story" was featured on the end credits of the romantic drama film The Lucky One.
The album peaked at number 41 on Billboard 200 and number 10 on U.S. Rock Albums. In response to the increase in album downloads caused by the adverts in the U.S. (mentioned above), the album saw a 368% increase in sales from 1,323 to 6,198. To date the album has currently sold 257,776 copies in the US. The lead single, "The Story", saw an increase in downloads of 28,091 digital copies.
Music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine praised Carlile for The Story saying, "The roiling collection fulfills the promise of her remarkable debut, offering resounding confirmation that Carlile is a singular talent."
"It wasn't until 2007's The Story—her T-Bone Burnett-produced sophomore release—that we realized even half of what we'd been dealt. Nearly a minute into the second song, something about her shifted from promise to absolute certainty as Carlile let loose a hurricane of lung power." wrote Rachael Maddux for Paste magazine.
Three songs from her previous (eponymous) album, "Tragedy," "What Can I Say," and "Throw It All Away," were further featured in the TV drama Grey's Anatomy. A special two-hour episode of Grey's Anatomy also featured Carlile's song "Turpentine" during footage of the spin-off, Private Practice. Grey's Anatomy also released a version of the music video for "The Story" with interspersed footage of the show. Actress Sara Ramirez performed her version of Carlile's single "The Story" in the musical episode of the show.
In 2007 Carlile performed at the Borderline in London and as guest on Newton Faulkner's UK tour. She was the opening act for Maroon 5 and OneRepublic during their Australia tour. in April 2008, she performed on the BBC2 show Later... with Jools Holland.
Give Up the Ghost was released in 2009 and debuted at No. 26 on the Billboard 200. Produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Rick Rubin, it featured a collaboration with Elton John on the song "Caroline" as well as Amy Ray, drummer Chad Smith and keyboardist Benmont Tench. In 2010, National Geographic Channel in Latin America chose the song "If There Was No You" from the album as a jingle to promote its series "Grandes Migraciones" (Great Migrations). Also that same year, during the 21st GLAAD Media Awards, Carlile was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for "Outstanding Music Artist" for the album. The album peaked at number 26 on U.S. Billboard 200.
Erlewine called Give Up the Ghost one even better than The Story, saying "Give Up the Ghost opens up and breathes, never removes the spotlight from Carlile, who remains a singularly powerful singer/songwriter. When things are Spartan, her voice is haunting and gripping, wrenching out operatic emotions, but Give Up the Ghost trumps The Story because she allows herself to lighten up, to rock again on 'Dreams' ".
In one of the reviews of the album for Paste, Rachael Maddux wrote, "Writhing and burning and staring at life straight down the barrel, Give Up the Ghost is exactly the album Carlile needed to make at this moment. The production is thick but elegant, applied with full knowledge that the songs could exist beautifully in a sparse acoustic-strummed daze, but that they deserve more than that." She added, "The best part about Give Up The Ghost? She will probably make an even better album one day."
In 2011, Carlile's album Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony reached number 14 on the Top Rock Albums chart. The live album finds Carlile performing a mix of original songs and cover material. Recorded during two sold-out shows in November 2010 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, Washington, the album features Washington-native Carlile and her long-time band (including brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth) performing alongside the Seattle Symphony. Andrew Leahey from AllMusic called it Carlile's best and wrote, " 'Live at Benaroya Hall' is more concerned with dressing up Carlile's music in elegant, orchestral clothing, and the results are pretty stunning, from the grandeur of "The Story"—now featuring horns, woodwinds, and strings. This isn't Brandi Carlile's first concert album, but it's certainly the best."
Carlile's next album, Bear Creek, released June 5, 2012, was produced by Trina Shoemaker. The album is a collaboration between her and the Hanseroth twins. In an interview with American Songwriter she says, "We decided a decade ago to split everything in our band evenly amongst the three of us. So nobody has any vested interest in getting involved with someone else's song or their story. But nobody has a vested interest in keeping someone out of the story either. It always comes down to what's best for the song." "Heart's Content" from this album was further featured in 2013's romantic movie Safe Haven, when Katie (played by Julianne Hough) and Alex (played by Josh Duhamel) heard it on radio in an empty diner and danced to it.
Carlile was also a judge for the 10th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.
In September 2012, she was featured in a campaign called "30 Songs / 30 Days" to support Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a multi-platform media project inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's book.
On January 11, 2014, Brandi sang the National Anthem for the Saints vs Seahawks NFL playoff game.
Carlile latest album The Firewatcher's Daughter released on March 3, 2015 on ATO Records. In a preview of her new album before release, the Boston Globe wrote, "Whether The Firewatcher's Daughter continues the country-folk flirtation of 2012's Bear Creek, returns to the warm adult songcraft of The Story and Give Up the Ghost, or explores some other direction entirely, she's sure to bring emotional intelligence, thoughtful clarity, and, most importantly, the most arresting female voice in pop this side of Adele. I'm betting on her."
“We didn't make any demos. To me rock and roll isn't really a genre but more of recklessness or a risk," Carlile told NPR. "The more something gets ironed out and sure of itself, the less it begins to rock somehow. That is what I think rock and roll is ... and it's scary."
The preview track, "The Eye," for which a video was released prior to the album, is a front-porch acoustic. The review from NPR Music said, " 'The Eye' is exactly what it proclaims itself to be: a quiet breath in the midst of the album's glorious storm. Rooted in Carlile's love of both classic country and California pop, the song is the kind many other artists are going to want to cover. It will be hard to top the original, though; it so eloquently highlights the telepathic connection Carlile shares with her longtime bandmates. A favorite on recent tours, 'The Eye' is destined to become a centerpiece in Carlile's catalog."
The Current reviewing the album wrote, "I thought she leaned too adult-contemporary for my tastes. Boy, was I wrong! This might be her most rockin' album to date. The album starts like a house afire: Carlile totally nails the vocal on the gospel influenced "Wherever is Your Heart," and this one makes you realize just how good she is. When she sings, you're a believer. She'll have you singing along on the infectious "The Thing I Regret". Maybe the biggest surprise on the album is "Mainstream Kid," which shows some grit! It's as badass as Carlile has ever sounded. If you had Brandi Carlile pegged as an adult-contemporary softie, you might try again. Brandi Carlile and the Hanseroth twins show that they aren't afraid to rock out. The Firewatcher's Daughter is a bold and welcome addition to her catalogue." USA Today wrote, "The Firewatcher's Daughter is an album with a big heart, one that responds with love, not fear."
Musical style and influences
Carlile is known for possessing a big voice that cracks emotively when she is belting. Her lyric content often showcases a "Southern sensibility" as well as reflections upon her personal experiences. Her music, although appealing to the pop genre, encompasses alternative country, folk, rock, blues and indie styles. Describing it herself, Carlile says "I mean, I couldn't be less interested in becoming genre-specific in any way. If I could be anything to the music industry, it would just be sort of a human eraser of lines between genres, just because it's so damaging – 'they're on that team, I'm on this team.' 'I don't like country.' 'I don't like rap.' I would just really like to prove to someone that doesn't like country that they do."
Carlile grew up studying and listening to her favorite vocalists, experimenting with the capacity of her own voice. In interviews, she has referred to drawing upon various artists including Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Thom Yorke, k.d. lang, and Roy Orbison in her music. She often cites Patsy Cline as a major influence: "Patsy Cline was a big part of me discovering my vocal capacity. Most people don't realize how loud she is. If you really listen closely, the amount of times in any given song that she distorts, you might think it's your car speakers or something. They didn't quite know how to fully contain her voice then. She was loud."
Personal life and humanitarian work
In a November 2002 interview, Carlile identified herself as a lesbian. She later told the Los Angeles Times, "I don't have to have a lot of formality around it ... there were people before me who paved the way." In June 2012 she announced she was engaged to Catherine Shepherd. The two were married in Boston, Massachusetts on September 15, 2012. In June 2014 they welcomed their first child, a daughter named Evangeline Ruth.
In 2008, she created the Looking Out Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, to give financial support to causes that she believes in. The Looking Out Foundation has awarded grants to Reverb, the American Diabetes Association, and Honor the Earth, among numerous other organizations. Carlile also donates $1 from every concert ticket sale to the foundation.
In January 2010, Carlile's Looking Out Foundation partnered with the Seattle Police Department, the Indigo Girls, and two local Seattle self-defense studios to support the Fight the Fear Campaign. Also in 2010, Carlile contributed the track "The Heartache Can Wait" to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation: More Hope For The Holidays album.
|Year||Album details||Chart positions||Sales|
|2009||Give Up the Ghost
|2011||Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony
|2015||The Firewatcher's Daughter
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart|
EP and demo
- Room for Me (2000)
- Open Doors (2002)
- We're Growing Up (2003)
- Acoustic (2004)
- Live from Neumo's (2005)
- Live at Easy Street Records (2007)
- Rhapsody Originals (2007) – exclusive acoustic versions recorded for Rhapsody.com
- Ghost Demos (2009) – limited edition EP, distributed with the first 2000 pre-orders of Give Up the Ghost
- XOBC (2010)
- Bear Creek EP (2012)
|2005||"Fall Apart Again"||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||Brandi Carlile|
|2006||"What Can I Say"||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|2007||"The Story"||75||48||35||44||38||3||1||16||The Story|
|2009||"Dreams"||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||Give Up the Ghost|
|2012||"That Wasn't Me"||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||Bear Creek|
|"Keep Your Heart Young"||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|2014||"The Eye"||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||The Firewatcher's Daughter|
|"Wherever Is Your Heart"||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
Carlile won Seattle's City of Music Breakthrough Award for 2010. The same year, she was a nominee for "Outstanding Music Artist", for her album Give Up the Ghost, at the 21st GLAAD Media Awards. Her 2015 album "The Firewatcher's Daughter" was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Americana Album.
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