Brandi Carlile on “Bear Creek,” her personal style and if she’ll ever get married

It’s hard to believe Brandi Carlile isn’t from the South. Her songs can’t help but have that country-way about them: The storytelling narratives, the themes getting through hard times and missing someone so much it threatens to consume you all together — even her speaking voice has a bit of a twang. But mostly it’s her charm. She is warm and friendly, like she’d give you a ride home if she saw you in the rain or offer you a cup of tea as soon as you walked into her house. That genuine charisma is why so many fans have become smitten with her over the course of career. Well, that and her voice.

Photo by Frank Ockenfels

After Brandi signed with Columbia Records and released her second album The Story in 2007 she became well-known in circles of music-aficionados for her brand of yodel-pop-folk that she took on the road with the likes of The Indigo Girls. As her songs were used in ad campaigns and Grey’s Anatomy, more of the world grew accustomed to her way of making contemporary music that is almost decade-less: A song that doesn’t reflect any specific time or event, but could remain relevant at any time in your life or hers, or whomever you think about when you hear it. That’s what makes Brandi Carlile such a rarity in music, and why she can play with a symphony orchestra backing her up or in front of a crowd that came to see Dave Matthews and attendees leave as fans if they weren’t already.

Since Brandi’s 2009 album Give Up the Ghost, a lot has happened. The singer/songwriter turned 30. She broke up with her long-time partner. She secluded herself with her songwriting partners, Tim and Phil Hanseroth, and producer Trina Shoemaker at a recording studio where they created Bear Creek, which is out today. Bear Creek (named after the Pacific Northwest studio it was recorded at) is just as timeless as the rest of Brandi’s albums, with tracks like “Keep Your Heart Young” and “Hard Way Home” that already sound like campfire classics. Then there’s “That Wasn’t Me,” her first single which has an accompanying video starring Kris Kristofferson. It’s a heart-wrenching piano-driven tune about losing oneself and, in turn, losing everyone and everything else.

We talked with Brandi a few days before she turned 31 about songwriting, how she keeps so fit and if she’ll get married now that her home state of Washington is in the process of making same-sex marriage legal. It seems like you took turning 30 kind of hard. How do you think 31’s going to go for you?
Brandi Carlile: I think I’m pretty settled into it. I’m happy with it. My brother turned 30 last night and I had his birthday party at my house and I was kind of thinking “Well I’m glad I didn’t have to face that one again.”

AE: [Laughs] Yeah! I have to tell you I love the video of you taking a whiskey shot with Kris Kristofferson. That video shoot must have been fun.
BC: So much fun! It was so much fun, it was pretty exciting. That shot of whiskey was like one of four that we had that day. That one was really big.

AE: [Laughs] Can you tell us anything about the concept?
BC: Totally. But one of the things about working with Kris on the video was that we sang songs together, we sang Hank Williams songs. It was really really cool. So the video concept is about a guy who gets out of prison, sort of like a Shawshank Redemption scenario where he doesn’t know quite how to assimilate back into the real world. He tries but he hasn’t figured it out yet. And he goes back to the place where he used to live. He uncovers this old guitar in this old house where he lived before he was locked up. So he thinks he’s going to be able to do those things again and he’s never seen an iPhone or any sort of contemporary distractions and nobody really wants to hear what he has to say. Nobody cares about the kind of archaic lifestyle that he’s trying to bring into this generation. He ends up getting discouraged and tries to rob a bank. So that he can go back to prison.

AE: That’s kind of sad!
BC: He turns in a bank slip to the teller that says “Please give me one dollar of your bank’s money. This is a robbery.” And you’d think it would be sad but, for some reason, he wants to go back so bad that you’re happy for him, like he won some game or something.

AE: Sounds like it’s going to be awesome.
BC: I planned it to come out around the album release because it’s a very special video.

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