Before returning to the spotlight last month to play her first full-capacity show in front of a live audience since the pandemic began, Brandi Carlile needed to prepare herself. So she drove her RV from her home in rural Washington State to the KettleHouse Amphitheater in Bonner, Montana. Brandi Carlile album
“I got to the venue the night before, because I wanted some alone time with the stage,” she says. “I slept there and woke up there, and me and the kids went out and sat in the seats and then I watched them roll down the hill. It was this kind of soft re-entry for me, so I could get my feet back under me—it wasn’t like catapulting back into New York City or something.”
A few weeks later, though, that’s exactly where Carlile found herself, having made it to the big city for a performance at Forest Hills Stadium (“the first time I’ve played anywhere with ‘stadium’ in the name,” she said from the stage) and for a series of television appearances to promote “Right on Time,” the first single from her new album, “In These Silent Days,” which will be released on October 1.
Along with her wife, Catherine Shepherd, and their two daughters, she was staying at a friend-of-a-friend’s townhouse in Tribeca. The morning before the concert, Carlile was still in camera-ready makeup following a TV appearance as she sat down at the kitchen table and spoke about what it meant to sing for an audience again. Brandi Carlile album
Since the release of her 2018 breakthrough, “By the Way, I Forgive You”—which won three Grammy Awards—Carlile has been creating at a staggering pace. She assembled an all-female all-star country group called the Highwomen, co-produced a comeback album by country legend Tanya Tucker and collaborated with an eclectic roster of musicians including Alicia Keys and Soundgarden. She created the Girls Just Wanna Weekend music festival and, during lockdown, performed regular livestream concerts from home so that she could keep her crew on payroll.
She’s also gotten close to some of her heroes, including Joni Mitchell; she performed Mitchell’s revered “Blue album” in its entirety in a 2019 Los Angeles concert, which she will reprise at Carnegie Hall on November 6, and has curated an ongoing series of private jam sessions at Mitchell’s house. She’s become a leading voice in the LGBTQIA+ community, and her Looking Out Foundation has raised over $2 million for various grass-roots causes. In her downtime, she wrote the acclaimed memoir Broken Horses, which was recently a No. 1 bestseller. Brandi Carlile album
Here are some things Brandi Carlile revealed to WSJ. Magazine…
Carlile on her breakneck approach:
“I first got onstage when I was 8 years old,” she says, “and then never didn’t get onstage for a month since then. There has never been any time in my life when I wasn’t performing for people, and it is in no way a cliché or hyperbole to say it is who I am.”
Carlile on feeling imposter syndrome:
“The term impostor syndrome makes sense to me,” she continues, “and just feeling like if I didn’t say yes to everything, eventually everyone was going to find out how unqualified I am to be in the position I’m in. I’m going to stop getting invited, and I’m going back to the bars if I don’t show up for everybody’s thing. I was getting really tired and empty.”
“I was not headed for a good outcome,” she says. “I was about to crash and burn. I was headed back into destruction for sure, and didn’t see it coming.
Elton John, a childhood idol, now friend, on Carlile:
“Brandi Carlile is an artist’s artist. I first heard her 18 years ago, and I’ve watched her grow. To me, she’s one of the best writers and live performers right now. Her voice is magical and inspiring.” Brandi Carlile album
Carlile on writing her book, Broken Horses:
“The book gave me such perspective and broadened my horizons,” she says. “It also did things for me emotionally, showed me the steps of how I got to where I am and put me in touch with my gratitude. It was a big life moment, the perfect thing to do right before turning 40.”
Carlile on the success and impact of her memoir:
“I felt like I had gotten my high school diploma when I got No. 1,” she says. “I stopped having the dreams that I was back in school trying to catch up and I got no pants on and the whole thing—I haven’t had one since.”
Carlile on the impact of writing about her faith as a member of the LGBTQIA community:
“The concept of being rejected, being queer but still needing my faith—so many gay people came to me and admitted that, and I don’t know that we LGBTQIA people have been allowed to be honest about how much of that we still want to hold on to. Faith is so much more sacred to the people that have had to fight for it, not just have it awarded based on some birthright.”
Carlile on the confessional nature of her recent songwriting:
“I think every artist has to reach a point in their career where they take a really sharp detour away from observation and more into a self-revelation,” she says.
Carlile on her friendship with Joni Mitchell, who she credits for this direction:
“Joni often recounts a dream that she had where she’s in a room with an audience, and her skin is made of clear cellophane and all of her organs are exposed,” she says. “You can see everything inside of her body—she’s more than naked, she’s utterly translucent. That basically says everything that needs to be said about Blue. But it sets a standard, too, for at least once in an artist’s career they really have to fully lay it out there. The book was the high dive on that for me, and the album is the follow-up.”
Carlile on recording In These Silent Days:
“When I went into the studio to continue the experience of By the Way, I Forgive You, I think somewhere in the back of my mind I also intended to continue the music,” she says. “But then I got there and felt way more dramatic—vocally dramatic, musically dramatic, like I needed more catharsis than I needed before. So I just went in there and lost my mind, sang my face off, didn’t hold anything back musically or vocally.” Brandi Carlile album
Carlile on the evolution of her style, from clean-scrubbed cowgirl to slick, androgynous glamour:
“I want to approach this next few years of my life a little more flamboyantly,” she says. “I want to be just a little more glamorous and eccentric and androgynous. I want to be in a fishing vest in my Wellies, but I also really want to hang out with Elton John and wear sequins head to toe.”
Read the full interview here.
Photo: Neil Krug courtesy of WSJ. Magazine
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