Brandi Carlile to play Reno’s Knitting Factory
Brandi Carlile has a singularly powerful set of pipes, and a point of view that makes people stop and take notice.
There will likely be some hushed intervals as well as toe-tapping moments when Carlile takes the stage of the Knitting Factory on Sept. 16, with her set preceded by the folk-rock sound of Swedish sister act Baskery
She’s been taking her roots-rich show on the road in recent months in support of her album “The Firewatchers Daughter,” released in March. The record hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Rock Album chart and peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard 200.
Carlile says the record’s warm reception has made her feel valued.
In these days of auto-tune and committee-style songwriting, slickness is often the surest precursor to success. “Firewatcher’s Daughter” takes the opposite approach: Each of its dozen songs was recorded in a single take.
The no-fuss, no-muss production—along with a closer adherence to Carlile’s alt-country muse—comes courtesy of a parting of the ways. After the release of her 2012 record “Bear Creek,” she was cut loose by Columbia Records.
Since then, Carlile has joined the ranks of Dave Matthews’ ATO. It’s a strange experience, going from a heavy-handed major label to an indie-friendly outfit that gives its artists creative license in spades.
Sometimes, freedom feels a lot like chaos. There were some emotional times when Carlile hit the studio with longtime collaborators Phil and Tim Hanseroth, who play bass and guitar, respectively.
“You should’ve seen the fireworks in the studio,” Carlile said in a KEXP interview. “There was storming out of rooms, there were tears, there were group hugs. It hasn’t been like that before. We were looking at each other, going ‘Are we Fleetwood Mac right now?’”
With the record in the can, Carlile calls the label change-up bittersweet, but heavy on the sweet.
“[Columbia] is a special, legendary label that’s associated with everyone you ever thought was a poet,” she told the Chicago Tribune earlier this summer. “But we really wanted to go about recording and living our musical lives in a totally different way. We needed a radical change. In that way it was beautiful.”
Her personal life has also changed radically in recent years.
Carlile, now 34, tied the knot in 2012. Last June, she and her wife, Catherine Shepherd, welcomed a daughter named Evangeline. It’s the kind of happily ever after the singer/songwriter never thought was possible.
“I didn’t know when I was growing up, because I was different, that I would have an opportunity to have a family and to get married and have that be OK—and not just be OK with my parents but with the federal government,” she told the Associated Press in March.
Traveling with a wife and child in tow is novel for Carlile, whose song “Wherever is Your Heart” underscores the way love can make you feel at home, even amid a cross-country tour. But music has always been a family affair for Carlile.
Growing up on the outskirts of post-grunge Seattle, she might easily have gravitated to angst-rock. Her mom, Teresa, though, was in a country band. The musicians would gather at the Carlile house and then, when they were through rehearsing, young Brandi was allowed to take the mic.
She had her first gig when she was 8, performing Roseanne Cash’s “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” at the Northwest Grand Ol’ Opry, and joined an Elvis impersonator’s backup band when she was 17.
Carlile, who taught herself to play guitar and piano, also began writing and recording songs. It was on the strength of these early efforts that she was signed to Columbia at age 23.
Critics hailed her 2005 self-titled debut as auguring a promising career, and Carlile worked hard to earn the praise. She toured ceaselessly, cultivating a fan-base that thrilled to a voice that soars with passion and cracks with heartbreak.
It was her sophomore album, however, 2007’s “The Story,” that brought her true notice. Buoyed by prominent placement on an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” the title track became a hit.
In what has become her signature song, Carlile laments that, however long and hard you live, your stories “don’t mean anything when you’ve got no one to tell them to.” Her vocal chops are in full effect in “The Story,” climbing from a drawl to a scream, calling to mind another powerhouse singer by the name of Janis Joplin.
In the intervening years, Carlile has gone from relative obscurity to the status of national treasure among aficionados of Americana music. In fact, when President Barack Obama’s Spotify playlist was released last month, Carlile’s “Wherever Is Your Heart” could be found among his favorite fare.
While Carlile’s is the household name, she does her best work when bookended by the brothers Hanseroth. Along with their fretwork, the identical twins write songs for the group and provide vocal support.
The trio has been playing together more than a decade, so long that their voices blend together as easy as braiding hair.
It’s a preternaturally close musical connection that is especially in evidence in “The Eye,” a song written by Carlile that features three-part harmony throughout. In the song, which shows off her skill as a wordsmith, she sings, “I wrapped your love around me like a chain/But never was afraid that it would die/You can dance in a hurricane/But only if you’re standing in the eye.”
In one of the more telling moments in the song, which an NPR reviewer has called “a quiet breath in the midst of the album’s glorious storm,” Carlile describes herself as “a sturdy soul.” And you certainly would have to search far and wide to find someone with a sturdier and more arresting voice.