Kim Ruehl: So I'll start with the [easy] question. Do you consider yourself a folksinger? Do you identify with traditional music at all?
Brandi Carlile: I identify with traditional music, yeah. I think that the concept of putting things into different genres is kind of a new concept. I think that Bob Dylan used to be country and Willie Nelson used to be folk, and it’s all the same thing. So, yeah, I consider myself a folk musician.
Just in the year since I've found out about you, your videos are on CMT, your music is on pop radio. It's kind of all over the place. Do you feel like that is a good thing, do you kind of identify with one market [more]...?
No I think it's a good thing. As long as nobody's forcing it to happen; you know what I mean? As long as people want to hear the music, I'm all for getting it to them. If that makes it pop music or country music, that's fine with me. Like I said, I think the whole idea of categorizing music into different genres is kind of silly. It's all the same.
I read a couple of articles right after The Story came out where different writers at different magazines were sort of pronouncing that "Brandi Carlile" ... well, you're Brandi Carlile, of course ... but that "Brandi Carlile" refers to the band name. Do you consider yourself a band leader? If the band breaks up are you going to still be Brandi Carlile, doing the "Brandi Carlile" thing?
[laughs] No, I'm still "Brandi Carlile." I've been playing with the twins [Tim and Phil Hanseroth] for five years, and I’ve known them for eight years ... you know I was playing around town [back before that] and I was Brandi Carlile; so when they started playing with me, that's the way it was all the time. We all have an equal share of the workload in general, you know, lugging all the gear and driving the van. You know, all the s*** that you do when you're a band on the road. We divide everything in our band right down the middle. We treat each other with equal respect all the time. We think of ourselves as a band. I don't know how somebody else looks at us, there’s nothing we can do about that. But [the twins] don't have a problem with being in a band called Brandi Carlile. If there was a band called Tim Hanseroth, I'd be in it.
How do you approach songwriting? Obviously you all write songs, but as far as arranging; when you write a song, do you have an idea in your head of what parts they'll play? Or do you kind of bring it to the twins and it's every man for himself, and what works, works?
Those guys are psychic. When I write a song, they just know what to play and when they write a song [what I play] goes without saying. That's why we work so well together. If the lyrics aren't something I would say or something I feel then I'll change it. I'll sing it differently or change the key, or sing it higher. If I come up with a song and they think there should be different chords, then they'll just do it, and then the song is what it is. It happens so naturally that it's not worth messing with. Sometimes one of us will have music and no words and another one will have words and no music, and then we'll write a song together, all three of us.
Back to The Story—these are all songs you were playing in your live show for a while. How did you go about translating what they'd become in your live show, into the studio? Or was that something T Bone [Burnett] took care of?
I think that was T Bone's biggest contribution—making us realize we weren't as slick as we thought we were. We were going to make a record in like a day. We were just playing shows every night, kicking ass, you know, and we just thought, we're going to go into the studio and plug in our guitars and just play a set. That ended up not being the case. He was really brilliant to make us play really unfamiliar instruments. And Mark Chamberlain playing on the drums, bringing new life into every song, there aren't words to describe what that guy is. The only word that comes to me is "genius," but it applies to him. T Bone ... he walks in the room and there's an instant environment of T Bone-ness. There’s something about that guy.
I'm assuming you two weren't real tight before you started working on this record ...
Me and T Bone? Uh, no.
So how did you go about acquainting him with your songs before you started recording? Or did you just dive right in?
We sent him a lot of live demos. And then we went to his house a few weeks before recording and played some songs for him in his living room. Yeah, I don't know that he was well-acquainted with them before we went into the studio. Maybe it's good that he wasn't too acquainted with them; I know we were too acquainted with them. We were way too acquainted with them, so maybe that made it a little fresher.