The last time folk rock singer-songwriter (and Washington native) Brandi Carlile blew through Portland, her powerful voice blended with the Oregon Symphony to fill the Schnitz with Johnny Cash covers, heart-wrenching love songs, and rollicking moments of pure, soulful rock. This weekend, she'll unleash songs from her fifth studio album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter, into the great wide open when she hits McMenamins Edgefield on September 11 and 12.
In honor of her upcoming PDX appearance, we're offering a crash course in the singer's music, life, love, and LGBTQ activism—just try to finish reading this article and watching these videos without a minor crush. It's been proven impossible.
1. She's not afraid to do it her own way: Love the voice cracks and raw emotion in the video above? Carlile avoids over-practicing or demoing her songs before recording in order to create a freshness that wanes after too many attempts at perfection. This preferred method is one reason she parted ways with Columbia and Sony after ten years to produce Firewatcher’s Daughter herself and release it with indie company ATO Records.
2. She started out performing on the streets of Seattle (and with the King): When Carlile was 16 years old, she sang backup for an Elvis impersonator and did a lot of busking at Seattle's famed Pike Place Market when she wasn't on stage with her rock band, The Shed. She has never formally studied music—she learned to play both piano and guitar by ear.
3. ...and she's still a busker at heart: On Carlile's solo tour this October, dubbed the Pin Drop Tour, she will play in her street clothes without amps or microphones.
4. She wears her emotions on her vocal chords: Carlile has described her new album as "super self-conscious. It gets angry at times, it's panicky and it's anxious, it's joyful, it's sentimental—all these real things that were happening in the studio, all these life changes that we were on the verge of. I can hear them.” Brandi admits most of her earlier albums came from a place of darkness, and shares that her new release has a lighter feel because she is happily married and mama to a 1-year-old daughter named Evangeline.
5. She considers her band her family—literally: Carlile has played with twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth since she was 17, and still shares almost all song writing credits with the pair. "They're not my actual siblings, but we've been playing together for over ten years now," she says. "One of them is married to my little sister. And they have a baby, my niece Josephine who's six months old and tours with us. She's not just my niece—she's Phil's twin brother's niece, so me and Tim share a niece." They even have matching tattoos of the auryn talisman from The NeverEnding Story, a movie they all loved as kids.
6. She's been out and proud since she was 14. Brandi has been open about her sexuality—she identifies as lesbian—since her early teens, and is proud to be an LGBTQ activist (see video below). Prior to the release of Firewatcher’s Daughter, Carlile took a three year recording hiatus to prioritize time with her wife and family, and she refuses to go on tour without her wife or kids.
7. She can perform in front of thousands every night—and still get nervous singing the national anthem at a Seattle Seahawks game.
8. She believes music can make a difference—and walks the talk: Carlile founded the Looking Out Foundation in 2008, dedicated to humanitarian outreach efforts through music including environmental issues and LGBTQ issues. Currently, the organization is focusing on its Fight the Fear Campaign, which supports violence prevention, and Carlile is working to “recruit and call educators in all forms of education, from university to public schools to private schools, to come and take [self-defense] courses. So if a history teacher from Little Rock Elementary comes to our class, she can take that to school and do an extra-curricular course with the girls after school one day.”
9. The Commander in Chief is a fan: When President Obama created a playlist for Spotify, Carlile found out she had fans in high places.
10. This cover of Creep. I mean, come on.
Brandi Carlile will perform at McMenamins Edgefield on September 11 and 12.