An interview with Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile’s influence on the music industry is popping up everywhere lately. Most recently, the out singer-songwriter’s most well-known single, “The Story,” was covered by Sara Ramirez as part of the Grey’s Anatomy musical event. Now Carlile’s latest album, Live at Benaroya Hall With the Seattle Symphony, a live release that sees her perform alongside the Seattle Symphony for her hometown fans, comes out today. caught up with Carlile to discuss sharing the stage with a 30-piece orchestra (she got chills performing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”) as well as how the Grey’s Anatomy fan feels about Ramirez’s interpretation of “The Story” and its use in part of a lesbian story line. As a Washington native, what was playing with the Seattle Symphony like?
Brandi Carlile:
Well, you get there and you realize in fact they don’t need to rehearse. But that the rehearsal is to prepare you for what’s going to happen when you’re standing there singing a song that you sing every night and all of a sudden 30 more musicians start playing with you. It’s so incredible. It’s this wave of really emotional sound that it causes you to take pause. You can’t afford to take pause during the show. So they want you to know at noon what’s going to happen to you. You get choked up. You get emotional. It’s so exciting that my heart rate speeds up and I forget words. Stuff happens because it sounds enormous.

AE: How did you determine which songs made the cut?
We had a lot of discussions about whether this was an album or whether it was a show. At the end of this discussion, we decided that we already have albums; that we really want this to be a show because we want people to know what a night with us is like. We play cover tunes.

AE: Any chance we’ll see a live DVD of the whole show?
No. It wasn’t video taped. The recording process was done before I even got there for rehearsal. They had everything ready to be recorded before I ever even arrived at the venue. So, I actually didn’t notice it being recorded, which is a good thing because all of my performances are really pure. There’s certain notes that instead of screaming them I might have sung them because I knew they were being recorded. But I completely spaced it and just ended up being totally guttural and normal throughout the whole night.

Video taping wouldn’t have done that. That would have been something that would have been hard for me to ignore. I just really wanted this to be a great show. Even the photographers asked if we could have the lights up a little bit on the first four songs and I said no to even that because shows are sacred to me.

AE: Shifting gears a bit, Grey’s Anatomy has always featured a lot of your music.
That show has been incredibly instrumental, so to speak, throughout the course of our careers. I think we’ve had like nine songs on that show. Some of them we wrote or recorded or constructed just for the show. I mean that’s how involved I’ve gotten in it. I really love that television show.

AE: Did you see the musical episode? What did you think of Sara Ramirez’s take on “The Story”?
I did see it. I get such a kick out of hearing people sing my songs. It makes me so happy to think that somebody else would care enough about something that I wrote or something that I sang to cover it. I think she’s a hell of a singer; probably the best singer ever to do the song that I’ve seen as far as covers go. As a fan of the show, it definitely was a huge moment. I was overwhelmed at the opportunity to have been a part of it.


AE: With Sara and “The Story,” how did you first find out?
The people from the show told me that it was going to happen. I was super excited about it. I saw all the things that she did with it. She’s probably my favorite character on Grey’s Anatomy. The only thing about the whole thing that kind of made me so sad is that of course I watched every version of it that she did on, like, Good Morning America. She always said that she was doing a song by (bassist) Philip Hanseroth.

It’s kind of sad but I got over it. The only reason it is sad is because I do enjoy the show so much and her character particularly. Maybe if she does it again sometime she’ll represent. If there’s one thing about people covering “The Story” that I’ve always wanted to hear it’s that nobody goes for it at the end. They always just kind of go back to the first version. She really went for it and she nailed it. So, I’m really happy.

AE: What did you think of the song being used in such an instrumental part of a lesbian story line, especially leading up to Callie and Arizona’s wedding?
It made me so proud. That’s a powerful song. That’s a powerful subject matter that they’re dealing with. Like I said, when they said that they were going to use the song on that show, I intentionally didn’t read the script about where the song was going to be placed because I didn’t want to know what happens. I watch that show every week. I’m following that story line and I was just really kind of excited to be a part of it.

That’s subject matter that we’re dealing with all the time in our community. All the parental stuff and the stuff around (gay) marriage and civil unions. That’s relevant and that show’s tackling it and I’m just impressed as hell that they are.

AE: The big wedding episode is coming up May 5, so hopefully we’ll see more.
If you know anything about it don’t tell me. May 5 is the day I leave for tour, dammit!

AE: Maybe Sara can send you a screener.
Yeah. Maybe. I’ll tell you what. If I ever come to L.A., maybe I’ll ask her to come out and do it as a duet with me. Wouldn’t that be so fun?

AE: Speaking of lesbians on TV, did you happen to watch The Voice? There was an openly gay Washington resident who landed on Cee Lo Green’s team: Vicci Martinez.
I know Vicci. That’s so awesome. I’ve been hearing about her forever, even before I got signed. Once I got signed, I had all these residencies at places and then I got signed and had to stop playing all of them with like no notice. Vicci filled a lot of those spots. I saw her play a couple of times. I didn’t know she was gay, first of all. Second of all, I’m so proud of her and excited that she’s gotten out of town and is doing something.

Brandi Carlile: Live at Benaroya Hall With the Seattle Symphony is available today.