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Voice like Honey

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Brandi Carlile
Wed., August 8th
***Brooklyn Arts Center (change from Greenfield Lake Amphitheater due to inclement weather)
516 N. 4th St.
Doors: 6 p.m. • Show: 7 p.m.
$35/adv. or $40/day of

DAUGHTER OF EVOLUTION: Brandi Carlile taught herself to sing from the age of 7, and is now a renowned American musician. Courtesy photo

Brandi Carlile is a wrecking ball. She, as a vocalist and songwriter, possesses undeniable strength and prowess. But unlike some mainstream musicians, she’s not demolishing the foundations her influences set in stone. Rather her goal is always to progress, ever remodeling her musicianship. Even as a child, Carlile taught herself to expand her range by copying the singers she admired most, such as Thom Yorke and Patsy Cline.

What she’s crafted is like honey. The qualities of her deep, rich tone elicit a natural fondness from listeners. It seems her voice was a gift she didn’t have to work on—though she says that’s not the case. One can appreciate her vocal control, something which only comes with practice.

Perhaps the beauty of it lies in her true ability to connect—she and her band mates, twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth, form a trifecta of songwriters who expose themselves for pure need to express themselves. Lyrics roll on like whitecaps cresting in the middle of the night: They are honest words in the gentle care of Carlile’s voice.

The three got their start in Seattle where, just as she strived to perfect her own sound, Carlile’s determination lured the boys to play with her. She admired the Hanseroths when they were members of The Fighting Machinists. So she said to them, “If you start a band with me, I’ll get us signed and on the road within a year.” They were signed with Columbia Records by her deadline, releasing their debut album in 2005.

Since, they’ve recorded a duet with Elton John, recorded with producer T-Bone Burnett (John Mellencamp, Counting Crows), and toured with Ray LaMontagne, Tori Amos, The Avett Brothers, Sheryl Crow and Dave Matthews Band. The band even heads the Looking Out Foundation, an organization which raises money for multiple beneficiaries: Fight the Fear Campaign, The If Project, United Nations World Food Programme and many more.

Carlile was kind enough to share insights into her career before she comes to Brooklyn Arts Center on Wednesday, August 8th.

encore (e): You taught yourself to sing by studying the techniques of your favorite artists. Did you ever study with a vocal teacher or take chorus, too?
Brandi Carlile (BC): Funnily enough I tried out for choir in junior high school. I didn’t make it! I got in at high school, though, and took a year of choir. I never studied with a vocal instructor; I tried once with a very famous maestro but his age was too advanced. By the time I learned about him, he passed away shortly after. In or around 2006 I had some vocal trouble and spent an evening with a specialist, and I learned some great warm-up and cool-down techniques.

e: You’ve been performing since you were 7—do you think you grasped the power of music even at that age? Or is that something you discovered as you got older?
BC: I grasped and understood the power of performance and vocals, but it wasn’t until much later that I developed an understanding and a love of music and writing.

e: To me, you come across as extremely dedicated and confident. What would you say is your strongest character trait?
BC: Thank you! Well, I wish I were more self-aware. I’d love to hear what the twins had to say about my strongest character trait—they’d know better than me! I’d have to say that I think I am driven but deeply thoughtful.

e: While recording your latest album, “Bear Creek,” in a Washington barn-turned-studio, you mentioned acting differently because it felt like home. Can you elaborate on how feeling natural improves your performance?
BC: You just take greater risks when you’re in an environment you feel more comfortable in. I’ve come to understand at this point in my career that risks sound good… The element of self-consciousness mixed with wonderment.

e: Does it scare you to share so much of yourself with the world, lyrically? Do you think the twins get nervous to expose their feelings as well?
BC: I’m not sure how the twins feel about it, but for me—not just in music—expressing my feelings in an honest sometimes unflattering way really drives me. I’ve always been a glutton for punishment around communication.

e. While performing, when you guys are vibing really well together—can you describe how you feel in that moment?
BC: Well at the beginning of the tour it’s all based on adrenaline and the excitement that comes from knowing that at any moment the train could go off the tracks. But once the tour progresses and the songs get tighter, a powerful and quiet confidence happens between us—the knowledge that each of us are capable of carrying a performance. Both of these scenarios are really cool because it makes a tour into an evolution; there’s nothing put on about it, and you can bet that no one will ever see the same show twice regardless of the set list. Sometimes it’s hard to decide which I prefer, the first shows or the last.

e: You often stop at state parks to enjoy nature while on tour. What is one of your favorite U.S. places you’ve visited and why?
BC: We love stopping up in northern Michigan—in Traverse City there’s a really cool music camp in a place called Interlochen. Our manager has a house there so we pull the bus up and spend the day fishing and swimming in the lake. It’s always cherry season in July.

e: Why was it important for you to begin the Looking Out Foundation?
BC: We founded the Looking Out Foundation in 2008 as a way to give back to the community. We decided to donate $1 of every concert ticket sold to the foundation, so that we could be self-sustained and provide funding and grants to humanitarian organizations we believe in. Being able to channel money and support such worthwhile causes and campaigns has been a highlight of my career.

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