Brandi Carlile

Brandi M. Carlile (born June 1, 1981) is an American three-time Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter and producer whose music spans multiple genres. As of 2018, Carlile has released six studio albums and earned seven Grammy Award nominations, including one for The Firewatcher's Daughter and six for By the Way, I Forgive You. She was the most nominated woman at the 61st Grammy Awards (six) including nominations for Album of the Year (By the Way, I Forgive You), Record of the Year (The Joke) and Song of the Year (The Joke).



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Brandi Carlile
Carlile on stage in Seattle in 2010
Background information
Birth nameBrandi M. Carlile
Born (1981-06-01) June 1, 1981 (age 37)
Ravensdale, Washington, U.S.
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • producer
Years active2004–present
Associated acts

Brandi M. Carlile (born June 1, 1981) is an American three-time Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter and producer whose music spans multiple genres.[1][2] As of 2018, Carlile has released six studio albums and earned seven Grammy Award nominations, including one for The Firewatcher's Daughter and six for By the Way, I Forgive You.[3][4] She was the most nominated woman at the 61st Grammy Awards (six) including nominations for Album of the Year (By the Way, I Forgive You), Record of the Year (The Joke) and Song of the Year (The Joke).[5]

Carlile dropped out of high school to pursue a career in music, teaching herself piano and guitar. Her debut major label album, Brandi Carlile, was released to critical acclaim yet achieved limited commercial success. Carlile garnered wider recognition with her 2007 single "The Story", from her album of the same name. The Story was awarded gold status in 2017, having sold over 500,000 copies to date.[6] The Firewatcher's Daughter earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album and peaked at number 9 on the Billboard 200.[7]

Carlile has released seven albums, including The Story (2007), Give Up the Ghost (2009), and Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony (2011), the latter reaching number 14 on the Top Rock Albums chart.[8] In May 2017, Carlile released Cover Stories, featuring 14 artists covering tracks from the original The Story album, including Adele, Pearl Jam, and Dolly Parton, it debuted at number 30 on the Billboard 200. Her latest album, By the Way, I Forgive You, was released in February 2018 to critical and commercial acclaim. It debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200, her highest charted position to date, and also reached No. 1 on Billboard's Top Rock Albums.

Carlile's music through the years has been categorized in several genres, including pop, rock, alternative country, and folk. She said of her style, "I've gone through all sorts of vocal phases, from pop to blues to R&B, but no matter what I do, I just can't get the country and western out of my voice." Carlile has been a part of several activism campaigns and an advocate for causes ranging from spreading awareness for health issues to empowerment of women.

Life and career

1981–2003: Early life

Carlile was born on June 1, 1981,[9] in Ravensdale, Washington, United States, a small town 40 miles outside of Seattle. Growing up in the only house for miles, Carlile played in the woods, built forts and played music with her brother Jay and sister Tiffany. Brandi, whose mother is a singer, taught herself to sing when she was a little girl, and she started singing country songs on stage when she was eight years old. She attended Tahoma High School, but later dropped out to pursue her music career.

At age eight, Carlile performed Johnny Cash's "Tennessee Flat Top Box" with her mother, Teresa Carlile[10] and began playing the guitar and writing songs at age fifteen.[11] At sixteen, Carlile became a backup singer for an Elvis impersonator.[12] According to Carlile, she was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder as a teen and dropped out of school to pursue a career in music.[13] After being introduced to the music of Elton John, Carlile taught herself to play piano, and at 17 learned to play the guitar.[6]

2004–2006: Career beginnings and debut

Carlile performing in Birmingham, Alabama in 2006

Carlile began her career performing in Seattle music clubs with the twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth.[14] In the beginning, Columbia Records signed Carlile in 2004 on the strength of songs she had been recording periodically at home. Released in 2005, Carlile showcased those early songs along with newly recorded tracks in the self-titled album Brandi Carlile. The 2006 re-release by Columbia Records included re-recordings of "Throw It All Away" and "What Can I Say".

The album earned enthusiastic reviews; she was featured on Rolling Stone's "10 Artists to Watch in 2005" list, and other "artist to watch" lists by Interview and Paste. In his review of the album, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote, "The accolades, combined with cover artwork that captures her at her cutest – as if she were a cousin of Rachael Leigh Cook – might make some listeners suspicious of Carlile, since the cumulative effect makes her seem like a pretty, prepackaged creation." He further wrote, "her music is... rich, warm, and seductive, familiar in its form and sound, yet sounding fresh, even original, particularly in how her folky singer/songwriter foundation blends with her art-pop inclinations."[15]

The album peaked at number 80 on Billboard 200 and reached number 1 on US Folk Albums.

Shortly after the release of the album, she left her home in Seattle and set out with the Hanseroth brothers, as she had worked with them on her earliest recordings and independent regional tours. The tightly knit trio, which forms the core of her band today, spent the better part of two years on the road honing the songs that would later become part of her album The Story.[16]

By the end of 2006, Carlile had embarked on several headlining tours and supported a variety of artists including Ray LaMontagne, The Fray, Chris Isaak, Tori Amos, and Shawn Colvin.[17]

2007–2009: Breakthrough with The Story

Her second album The Story was produced by T Bone Burnett.[18][19] It includes a collaboration with the Indigo Girls on "Cannonball." The album was recorded in an eleven-day-long session with Carlile, the twins (Tim and Phil Hanseroth) and drummer Matt Chamberlain to capture the raw intensity of Carlile's live performances. The crack in Carlile's vocals during the title track, "The Story", came out by accident and was a direct result of the way the album was recorded. "The Story" was featured heavily in General Motors commercials during the 2008 Summer Olympics, leading to increased exposure to her music.[20] "The Story" peaked at No. 5 on the iTunes Music Store's most purchased list. The song was also used in the 2008 commercial for Super Bock and helped the song reach number 1 and the album reach number 4 on the Portuguese charts.[21] "The Story" was featured on the end credits of the romantic drama film The Lucky One.

Her song "The Story" became her first single to reach No. 1 (in Portugal).

The album peaked at number 41 on Billboard 200 and number 10 on US Rock Albums. In response to the increase in album downloads caused by the adverts in the US (mentioned above), the album saw a 368 percent increase in sales from 1,323 to 6,198. To date the album has currently sold 257,776 copies in the US. The lead single, "The Story", saw an increase in downloads of 28,091 digital copies.

Music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine praised Carlile for The Story saying, "The roiling collection fulfills the promise of her remarkable debut, offering resounding confirmation that Carlile is a singular talent."[22]

"It wasn't until 2007's The Story—her T-Bone Burnett-produced sophomore release—that we realized even half of what we'd been dealt. Nearly a minute into the second song, something about her shifted from promise to absolute certainty as Carlile let loose a hurricane of lung power." wrote Rachael Maddux for Paste magazine.

Three songs from her previous (eponymous) album, "Tragedy," "What Can I Say," and "Throw It All Away," were further featured in the TV drama Grey's Anatomy. A special two-hour episode of Grey's Anatomy also featured Carlile's song "Turpentine" during footage of the spin-off, Private Practice. Grey's Anatomy also released a version of the music video for "The Story" with interspersed footage of the show. Actress Sara Ramirez performed her version of Carlile's single "The Story" in the musical episode of the show.

In 2007 Carlile performed at the Borderline in London and as guest on Newton Faulkner's UK tour. She was the opening act for Maroon 5 and OneRepublic during their Australia tour.[23] in April 2008, she performed on the BBC2 show Later... with Jools Holland.

Carlile's album Give Up the Ghost debuted at No. 26 on Billboard 200 and also received positive reviews from critics.

Give Up the Ghost was released in 2009 and debuted at No. 26 on the Billboard 200.[24][25][26] Produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Rick Rubin, it featured a collaboration with Elton John on the song "Caroline" as well as Amy Ray, drummer Chad Smith and keyboardist Benmont Tench. In 2010, National Geographic Channel in Latin America chose the song "If There Was No You" from the album as a jingle to promote its series "Grandes Migraciones" (Great Migrations). Also that same year, during the 21st GLAAD Media Awards, Carlile was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for "Outstanding Music Artist" for the album.[27] The album peaked at number 26 on US Billboard 200.

Erlewine called Give Up the Ghost one even better than The Story, saying "Give Up the Ghost opens up and breathes, never removes the spotlight from Carlile, who remains a singularly powerful singer/songwriter. When things are Spartan, her voice is haunting and gripping, wrenching out operatic emotions, but Give Up the Ghost trumps The Story because she allows herself to lighten up, to rock again on 'Dreams' ".

In one of the reviews of the album for Paste, Rachael Maddux wrote, "Writhing and burning and staring at life straight down the barrel, Give Up the Ghost is exactly the album Carlile needed to make at this moment. The production is thick but elegant, applied with full knowledge that the songs could exist beautifully in a sparse acoustic-strummed daze, but that they deserve more than that." She added, "The best part about Give Up The Ghost? She will probably make an even better album one day."[28]

2010–2014: Continued success

In 2011, Carlile's album Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony reached number 14 on the Top Rock Albums chart. The live album finds Carlile performing a mix of original songs and cover material. Recorded during two sold-out shows in November 2010 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, Washington, the album features Washington-native Carlile and her long-time band (including brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth) performing alongside the Seattle Symphony. Andrew Leahey from AllMusic called it Carlile's best and wrote, "'Live at Benaroya Hall' is more concerned with dressing up Carlile's music in elegant, orchestral clothing, and the results are pretty stunning, from the grandeur of "The Story"—now featuring horns, woodwinds, and strings. This isn't Brandi Carlile's first concert album, but it's certainly the best."

In the United States, the album reached peak positions of number 63 on the Billboard 200, number 5 on the US Billboard Folk Albums chart and number 14 on the US Billboard Rock Albums.[citation needed]

Carlile's next album, Bear Creek, released June 5, 2012, was produced by Trina Shoemaker.[8] The album is a collaboration between her and the Hanseroth twins. In an interview with American Songwriter she says, "We decided a decade ago to split everything in our band evenly amongst the three of us. So nobody has any vested interest in getting involved with someone else's song or their story. But nobody has a vested interest in keeping someone out of the story either. It always comes down to what's best for the song."[29] "Heart's Content" from this album was further featured in 2013's romantic movie Safe Haven, when Katie (played by Julianne Hough) and Alex (played by Josh Duhamel) heard it on radio in an empty diner and danced to it.[30]

Brandi Carlile and the Oregon Symphony at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Oregon in 2012

The album peaked at 10 on the Billboard 200, number 1 on the US Billboard Folk Albums and number 3 on US Billboard Rock Albums.[citation needed]

Carlile was also a judge for the 10th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.[citation needed]

On January 11, 2014, Brandi sang the National Anthem for the Saints vs Seahawks NFL playoff game.[31]

Carlile recorded a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" for the compilation album Sweetheart 2014.[32]

2015–2016: The Firewatcher's Daughter

Carlile's 5th album The Firewatcher's Daughter released on March 3, 2015 on ATO Records.[33] In a preview of her new album before release, the Boston Globe wrote, "Whether The Firewatcher's Daughter continues the country-folk flirtation of 2012's Bear Creek, returns to the warm adult songcraft of The Story and Give Up the Ghost, or explores some other direction entirely, she's sure to bring emotional intelligence, thoughtful clarity, and, most importantly, the most arresting female voice in pop this side of Adele. I'm betting on her."[34]

"We didn't make any demos. To me rock and roll isn't really a genre but more of recklessness or a risk," Carlile told NPR.[35] "The more something gets ironed out and sure of itself, the less it begins to rock somehow. That is what I think rock and roll is ... and it's scary."[33]

The preview track, "The Eye", for which a video was released prior to the album, is a front-porch acoustic.[36] The review from NPR Music said,

"The Eye" is exactly what it proclaims itself to be: a quiet breath in the midst of the album's glorious storm. Rooted in Carlile's love of both classic country and California pop, the song is the kind many other artists are going to want to cover. It will be hard to top the original, though; it so eloquently highlights the telepathic connection Carlile shares with her longtime bandmates. A favorite on recent tours, "The Eye" is destined to become a centerpiece in Carlile's catalog.[33]

The album was No. 1 on Billboard's Top Rock Album Chart,[37] and a first for her. This was Carlile's second consecutive album to break the Top-10 after Bear Creek topped out at No. 3. The album topped the charts in both US Folk and US Rock categories.

Carlile and the Hanseroth twins on A Prairie Home Companion in 2016

The Current reviewing the album wrote,

I thought she leaned too adult-contemporary for my tastes. Boy, was I wrong! This might be her most rockin' album to date. The album starts like a house afire: Carlile totally nails the vocal on the gospel influenced "Wherever Is Your Heart," and this one makes you realize just how good she is. When she sings, you're a believer. She'll have you singing along on the infectious "The Thing I Regret". Maybe the biggest surprise on the album is "Mainstream Kid," which shows some grit! It's as badass as Carlile has ever sounded. If you had Brandi Carlile pegged as an adult-contemporary softie, you might try again. Brandi Carlile and the Hanseroth twins show that they aren't afraid to rock out. The Firewatcher's Daughter is a bold and welcome addition to her catalogue.[38]

USA Today wrote, "The Firewatcher's Daughter is an album with a big heart, one that responds with love, not fear."[39]

She performed with The Avett Brothers on Late Show with David Letterman on May 4, 2015, singing the song popularized by the Carter Family, "Keep on the Sunny Side."[40]

Carlile was nominated for the Top Americana Album category, with her The Firewatcher's Daughter for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards.[41]

Carlile was the featured musical guest on Late Night with Seth Meyers on April 7, 2016. She sang the song "Mainstream Kid" (from The Firewatcher's Daughter), and dedicated the performance to Senator Bernie Sanders, who also appeared on the program that night.[42]

2017–present: Grammy success with By the Way, I Forgive You

Carlile's sixth studio album, produced by Dave Cobb By the Way, I Forgive You, was released on February 16, 2018, and was preceded by three tracks: "The Joke", "The Mother", and "Sugartooth". Carlile performed songs from the album on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. She also made a guest appearance on John Prine's album The Tree of Forgiveness.[43] By the Way, I Forgive You went on to become the highest charting album of Carlile's career, reaching number 5 on the Billboard 200.[44] It also reached the number 1 position on the Billboard Top Rock Albums during the same week.[45] The first single from the album, "The Joke", was listed on Former President Barack Obama's year end playlist.[46] The album received critical acclaim from critics, leading Carlile to receive 6 nominations at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards, the most nominations for a female in 2019, including the all-genre Album and Song of the Year categories. She won in three categories: Americana album and both best American roots song and best American roots performance (for “The Joke”).[47]

Personal life

Carlile on stage in 2010

In a November 2002 interview, Carlile identified herself as a lesbian.[48] She later told the Los Angeles Times, "I don't have to have a lot of formality around it ... there were people before me who paved the way."[49] In June 2012 she announced she was engaged to Catherine Shepherd.[50] The two were married in Boston, Massachusetts on September 15, 2012. The couple have two daughters.

Carlile is the inspiration behind a restaurant in Seattle across from the Paramount Theatre called The Carlile Room.[51]

Carlile owns a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog, a horse, a goat, five chickens and a cat.[52] She wears AURYN tattoos on her shoulders.[53] She is a Christian[54][55] and lives in Maple Valley, Washington.[56]

Activism and humanitarian work

In 2008, Carlile established the Looking Out Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, to give financial support to causes that she believes in. The Looking Out Foundation has awarded grants to Reverb, the American Diabetes Association, Honor the Earth, The Bridge School, UNICEF, The Women's Funding Alliance, Doctors Without Borders and the HRC among numerous other organizations.[citation needed] . The Looking Out Foundation has launched numerous grassroots campaigns including Looking Out For The Hungry, The If Project and The Story Campaign. Carlile also donates $1 from every concert ticket sale to the foundation.[57][58]

In January 2010, Carlile's Looking Out Foundation partnered with the Seattle Police Department, the Indigo Girls, and two local Seattle self-defense studios to support the Fight the Fear Campaign.[59]

In May 2017, Carlile released Cover Stories, a benefit album featuring songs from her 2007 groundbreaking album, The Story. Troubled by the world's refugee crisis, especially the horrific impact it has on children, Carlile and her Looking Out Foundation chose War Child UK as the beneficiary of the album. Cover Stories features 14 artists, all of whom cover songs from The Story. Highlights are Dolly Parton's cover of "The Story", Pearl Jam's cover of "Again Today", and Adele's cover of "Hiding My Heart". Other artists featured are The Avett Brothers, the Indigo Girls, Kris Kristofferson, Jim James, Margo Price, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Secret Sisters, Anderson East, Shovels & Rope, Torres, Ruby Amanfu, Miranda Lambert, and Chris Stapleton. Former US President Barack Obama wrote the foreword. One hundred percent of the proceeds from album sales go to War Child UK through the Looking Out Foundation and its Story Campaign. War Child UK is an organization dedicated to creating a world where no child is torn apart by war, keeping them safe, giving them an education, and equipping them with skills for the future. In October 2018, Carlile teamed up with Sam Smith to re-imagine the single "Party of One" as a duet with the proceeds going to the ongoing Story Campaign.[60] To date, Carlile has donated over $675,000 to War Child UK through The Story Campaign and sales of her benefit album Cover Stories.


Studio albums


Carlile won Seattle's City of Music Breakthrough Award for 2010.[61]

YearAssociationCategoryNominated WorkResult
2010GLAAD Media Awards[27]Outstanding Music ArtistBrandi CarlileNominated
2015Grammy Awards[62]Best Americana AlbumThe Firewatcher's DaughterNominated
2018Americana Music Honors & Awards[citation needed]Artist of the YearBrandi CarlileNominated
Song of the Year"The Joke"Nominated
Album of the YearBy the Way, I Forgive YouNominated
UK Americana Awards[63]International Album of the YearNominated
International Song of the Year"The Joke"Won
2019 Grammy Awards[64] Album of the Year By the Way, I Forgive You Nominated
Best Americana Album Won
Record of the Year "The Joke" Nominated
Song of the Year Nominated
Best American Roots Song Won
Best American Roots Performance Won

Touring and performances

In July 2018, Carlile announced the creation of her own music festival, Girls Just Wanna Weekend. This festival will occur in Mexico in January 2019 and will be fronted by all-female musicians such as Indigo Girls, Maren Morris, Margo Price, Patty Griffin, and others.[65] Carlile was inspired to create her own festival after participating in the Cayamo Cruise festival for numerous years.[66]


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