Brandi Carlile Goes Straight for the Gut Brandi Carlile's second album, The Story, broods with a powerful confidence and earthiness, and improves on the potential of her self-titled debut. She is not afraid to really put herself out there, even with something as naked and honest as her voice cracking.
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Brandi Carlile Goes Straight for the Gut

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Brandi Carlile Goes Straight for the Gut

Brandi Carlile Goes Straight for the Gut

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In the course of a single song, Brandi Carlile can seduce you with a whisper.

(Soundbite of song "The Story")

Ms. BRANDI CARLILE (Singer): (Singing) All of these lands across my face, tell you the story of who I am.

ELLIOTT: And then moments later, abandon all restraint and go right for your gut.

(Soundbite of song "The Story")

Ms. CARLILE: (Singing) All of these lines across my face Tell you the story of who I am. So many stories of where I've been. And how I got to where I am.

ELLIOTT: This is the title track of Brandi Carlile's most recent album, "The Story." One reviewer said it was like listening to Brenda Lee fronting Pat Benatar's band. When she's not on tour, Brandi Carlile lives a quiet life in a log cabin in rural Washington State where she grew up. But she took a trip to the big city to talk to us.

From KUOW in Seattle, Brandi Carlile. Welcome.

Ms. CARLILE: It's my pleasure.

ELLIOTT: As we just heard, you were not afraid on this song to really put it all out there. We even hear your voice crack a little bit there at the climax.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELLIOTT: Were you not nervous about doing that?

Ms. CARLILE: I was nervous about it. I mean, I didn't think it was going to happen but that's the thing about singing live in the studio is whatever happens is the truth and you can't go back and change it.

ELLIOTT: Now, when you're in the studio, you do have a chance to do something like that over. Why didn't you?

Ms. CARLILE: Because it was the truth. It happened and the band was making a great take and it was sounding amazing. And in a moment, it just happened and it ended up being right with that performance. It's funny, if the band had been playing a different take, maybe that scream or that vocal imperfection may have not fit, but it was the right thing at the right time.

ELLIOTT: Comes off very real.

Ms. CARLILE: Well, thank you.

ELLIOTT: Now, you were able to work with the legendary music producer T-Bone Burnett on this. He's known for working with the likes of Roy Orbison, Elvis Costello. He did the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack. What did he do for you that pulled out something different?

Ms. CARLILE: Well, all kinds of things. I mean, we recorded live and we have been playing the songs live for a long time so that sort of developed like a really sort of workman like feel to them, which I think was not quite vulnerable enough and at the time we though, you know, we're this great tight band. We can go in and knock these songs on a few days. And it ended up being a little too perfect, you know? So, he did a few things. One, we played with Matt Chamberlain who's always been a drummer hero of mine from Seattle. And also T-Bone brought this amazing vintage instrument collection up to the studio. And I played on a 1932 rosewood parlor guitar. We all played on guitars from the '20s, '30s, '40s, and threw amps and equipments too. It was amazing.

ELLIOTT: How did that change your sound, playing with something old?

Ms. CARLILE: Well, it makes you think about what you're doing a little more. I think that at that level of value and age, those instruments tell their own story. They really do. When you play those kinds of instruments you have to think about what you're doing and you feel what they've done and what they've been through and they sound incredible.

ELLIOTT: There's this one song on the CD called "Have You Ever," and it immediately made me thing about Patsy Klein.

Ms. CARLILE: Oh, yeah. She's one of my main, you know, especial vocal influences. She's huge to me.

(Soundbite of song, "Have You Ever")

Ms. CARLILE: (Singing) Have you ever wondered lonely through the woods? And everything there feels just as it should. You're part of the life there. You're part of something good. If you've ever wandered lonely through the woods.

ELLIOTT: I wouldn't think there were a lot of 26 year olds who listened to a lot of Patsy Klein.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CARLILE: I grew up listening to classic country music. And in my house that was all we listen to. That was the music in our house. And everybody had their favorite artist. And my mom's was Tammy Wynette and mine was Patsy Klein. I just felt like in a genre of music that - the women sound so pretty and beautiful and their voices are so, you know, melodic and in some sense is like soothing and Patsy Klein was just not concerned about sounding pretty in any way, shape or form. I just always thought it was so cool.

(Soundbite of song, "Have You Ever")

Ms. CARLILE: (Singing) Have you ever been out walking in the snow? Tried to get back to where you were before.

ELLIOTT: You have bit of twang there that I wouldn't necessarily place in the northwest.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CARLILE: I know. It's funny. I grew up being really immersed in the whole culture. You know, my grandfather was a yodeler and bluegrass and country singer. And his brother was a banjo player and then mother was a - their mother was a salon style piano player. And I grew up just really immersed in country music. And when I became a teenager and started to understand what's going on in Seattle with the (unintelligible) scene and what was starting to go on in my own musical taste. You know, I've fallen in love with Elton John and Queen. I wanted nothing to do with country music. And I tried, and tried, and tried to get away from it and get it out of my voice and out of my person, but overtime it sort of came back around.

ELLIOTT: We almost hear you yodel in that song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CARLILE: Yeah. I know. It's borderlines on yodeling. I love yodeling though. It's just one of my favorite things.

ELLIOTT: Did your grandfather teach you to yodel?

Ms. CARLILE: He died. He got Lou Gehrig's disease and I never really got to sing around him. But I think that he'd be real proud about my yodeling because I think I may have learned it from him.

ELLIOTT: Can you give us a little taste of that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CARLILE: (Unintelligible)

ELLIOTT: I know you're on the spot here.

Ms. CARLILE: (Singing) I want to be a cowboy sweetheart. I want to learn to rope and to ride. I'm gonna ride through the plains and the deserts. Out west of that great divide. I'm gonna hear the coyotes sing. I'm gonna feel the wind in my face. Strum my guitar and yodelaheehoo. It's a life I love the best.

(Soundbite of Yodeling)

ELLIOTT: I think you did him proud.

Ms. CARLILE: Did I distort?


(Soundbite of laughter)

ELLIOTT: Brandi Carlile, I want to talk to you about our main collaborators and band mates - the twins. Tim and…

Ms. CARLILE: Phil Hanseroth.

ELLIOTT: Have the three of you been through as much heartache as we hear on this album?

Ms. CARLILE: Yeah. I think we have or we wouldn't write about it, you know? I mean I love people that write story songs and that are able to take themselves out of the smallness of their own experiences and write about what it would be like to experience something that haven't - you know, some of my biggest lyrical heroes like Bernie Toppin and Bob Dylan have been able to do just that. But I think what's going on here is true confession from the three of us.

ELLIOTT: There's one song that has what I would call a very old soul feel here. It's called "Cannonball." And the Indigo Girls are singing harmony with you. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of song, "Cannonball")

Ms. CARLILE and the Indigo Girls (Folk Rock Duo): (Singing) Bright lights like white lightning. Who shot me down? Who'll cut me down? I'm frozen in my bed till the day comes around. How I'm lost. How I'm found.

ELLIOTT: This song has a very classic timeless feel. You can almost imagine hearing it, sitting around a campfire a hundred years ago. Is that something that you all tried to do?

Ms. CARLILE: Well, I think I set out to get some thoughts out of my head first - first thing's first. And I found accompaniment.

ELLIOTT: What was going on in your life at the time?

Ms. CARLILE: It's just sort of one of those really ethereal searching songs. I just had a friend that went off to Iraq and I was just wondering about, you know, life and death and lying awake at night and just searching, thinking. And I ended up in the middle of the night just kind of jotting down those lyrics.

(Soundbite of song, "Cannonball")

Ms. CARLILE and the Indigo Girls: (Singing) Someone told me a lie. Someone looked me in the eye. And said time will ease your pain. But behold, when you fall. It's that same old cannonball coming back for your heart again.

ELLIOTT: Have you shared the song with your friend?

Ms. CARLILE: He wouldn't get it if I did. It wasn't really about him, it was about me wondering, you know, where it starts and where it ends. And it's pretty dramatic actually when I say it that way.

ELLIOTT: Is he still over there?

Ms. CARLILE: No, he made it back. He did two tours and came back. And he's home.

ELLIOTT: Let's talk about another one of the songs on your CD "The Story," "Wasted" had very interesting lyrics. This is a song - it seems to me about the frustration of watching somebody waste their talent. Want to listen to a little bit of the song?

Ms. CARLILE: Why not.

(Soundbite of song, "Wasted")

Ms. CARLILE: (Singing) If you had eyes like golden crowns and diamonds in your fingertips you're wasted. If shining wisdom passed your lips and traveled to the ears of god you're wasted. And so I hate that your overrated most revered and celebrated cause you're wasted. Then again it's good to get a call. Now and then just to say hello. Have I said I hate to see you go. I hate to see you go.

ELLIOTT: Were you watching somebody in your life when you wrote this?

Ms. CARLILE: I though I was at the time, and I don't think so anymore at all. But, you know, it was a bold statement at the time and, you know, it sort of embarrasses me that I was ever that judgmental but you - it's like a photograph, you can't go back and change what you're wearing just because of this, you know, the '80s - whatever. So, it's like, that's how I feel about that song. I was watching my brother not pursue music. And it was really upsetting because I've though and I really think that he's so talented. But just because that's my path, doesn't make it his. He just had a baby a few days ago so, I dead wrong…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CARLILE: About what his path was.

ELLIOTT: Does he dabble in music at all?

Ms. CARLILE: Yeah. He plays in church and he plays harmonica, piano, guitar and he's an amazing singer. So, he's just - he's really talented but he's not like me. He doesn't need to do it all the time in order to feel normal.

ELLIOTT: Well, Brandi Carlile, thank you for speaking with us.

Ms. CARLILE: Thanks for speaking with me. I appreciate it a lot.

ELLIOTT: Brandi Carlile's latest CD is "The Story." To hear more selections from the album, visit our Web site,

(Soundbite of song, "Wasted")

Ms. CARLILE: (Singing) Then again it's good to get a call. Now and then just to say hello. Have I said I hate to see you go. I hate to see you go.

ELLIOTT: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

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