— A Wise Woman Once Said

Brandi Carlile tells us how to break into music (and other killer advice)

If you know Brandi Carlile’s music, you love Brandi Carlile’s music. Or at least, that seems to be the pattern. The three-person rock and roll band, named after one human woman, consists of Brandi Carlile herself and Tim and Phil Hanseroth, two brothers who everyone refers to as “The Twins.” The singing and songwriting and instrument playing trio make unfathomably beautiful music together and have been for 15 years. It’s music that bends and winds, sometimes stopping at gorgeous storytelling and harmonies, other times manifesting as crank-it-all-the-way-up garage rock.

The band’s new(ish) album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter, came out in March, and today, they begin what is sure to be an absolutely killer summer tour, with stops all across the U.S. The entire mood of The Firewatcher’s Daughter is an evolution for the band, and seems to be a settling into a sound they’ve been working towards for years. It’s their first album released post their departure from Columbia Records, it’s produced by the trio, and it’s marked by a quality of impulse, experimentation and power found so palpably in their live shows. It should also be mentioned that the album was recorded in the lead up to significant personal life changes; Brandi’s wife, Catherine Shepherd, was pregnant while they were writing and recording. With all that in mind, The Firewatcher’s Daughter is incredibly special to the band for reasons both personal and professional. And oh yeah: it’s excellent.

After listening to the album roughly 700 times, we were lucky enough to score a phone call with Brandi herself getting the opportunity to pick her brain about her career and her music. Brandi chatted with Hello Giggles and walked us through her origins in the biz, what her process is like, and her favorite songs. We also learned that in addition to being the badass musician that she is, she’s chock full of girl power advice for young musicians. Read on for a taste of Brandi’s bold, brave, brilliant ethos. We officially have a new rock idol.   

Hello Giggles (HG): What was Brandi at 16 doing? Musically, or not so musically? I’ve read there as an Elvis impersonator involved? 

Brandi Carlile (BC): Yeah, there was an Elvis impersonator involved. Amongst other things. That was part of my early discovery of music, singing background vocals for an Elvis impersonator. The cool thing about that though, was that I got to learn about harmony and vocal layering and stuff like that.

But, also I was in bands. I was in a rock band called The Shed. And I was doing a lot of busking at Pike Place Market [in Seattle].

HG: Cool! And what was your process like of being “discovered” and getting signed?

BC: Well, it started out with me doing a lot of busking at Pike Place and just throwing my guitar case out there. The pressure of having to do a set somewhere and know a lot of songs, and know how to play them, and present yourself, was kind of lifted because there were new people walking by every two seconds. So I could play and recycle the same songs over and over again. And I got a lot of confidence from that.

The thing I learned, I think, that was the most poignant about busking, was I learned what makes people stop what they’re doing; in a really extreme sense. And really that’s all you have to learn as a musician trying to get noticed, is what makes people stop what they’re doing. What makes people stop what they’re doing if you’re on the radio; to what makes people stop what they’re doing if they come to a concert with friends and they wanna talk; all the way down to what makes people put down their beer or their fork in a restaurant. But when you’re busking, you actually learn what makes people stop when they’re walking somewhere else. For me it’s about dynamics, and a lot about vocal dynamics, and guitar dynamics.

Then, I was able to graduate into restaurants and bars where I invested, with my busking money, in a small PA system and I’d go to places that didn’t normally have music and I’d say, “I know you don’t normally have music in here, but I have a PA system and if you let me play on Tuesdays and you notice that your cliental grows on Tuesdays then you can start paying me.” . . . And once a month I’d have a proper show at a club like the Crocodile. And once those shows started filling out that’s how I got a record deal.

HG: That’s so bold! I’m very impressed. Was there a moment for you when you were like “I’m a musician NOW.” Like, this is the moment it’s happened.

BC: That hasn’t happened quite yet. And I hope it never does! There’s always a feeling of arrival every time something special happens for me. And it’s felt like that since the very beginning.

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