Photo by Frank Ockenfels
For singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile, confidence is key.
“The level of rejection [you] experience [in] music can be devastating,” she says. “You need an underlying sense of self worth to persevere.”
And persevere Carlile has.
“I was passed on by every record label at least once - some three times,” she says.
In Chicago to play the Chicago Theatre last week, Carlile spoke with Our Town about touring, her new marriage, and tenacity in the face of rejection.
Our Town You convinced your bandmates to work with you by promising them you’d be signed and on the road within a year. What made you so certain?
Brandi Carlile What made me so certain was a completely unprecedented and underlying sense of cockiness. But at 19 years old I really believed that I could do whatever I put my mind to, plus the twins were so good, I knew it would be more like them getting me signed and on the road within a year!
OT How has your writing (both process and content) changed over the course of your career?
BC Naturally, as one gets older, the content of a song is based a bit more on experience and less speculative than songs from your early twenties and late teens. The really challenging thing is performing these songs in light of a wiser outlook and trying to make sense of early opinions; retrospect definitely is 20/20.
OT Obviously at this point listeners pick and choose, downloading only certain songs. What does it mean to create at this point in history when people’s attention spans are shorter than ever?
BC My objective isn’t to acquire listeners in a cultish sense, my objective is only to be blessed with the opportunity to interrupt someone’s life for three and a half minutes at a time and make them happy or reflective. I don’t worry too much about the climate of the music industry, so to speak, because humans have needed music for much longer that we’ve known how to sell it. As far as live music goes, no device will ever be able to cheapen the connections between people in a room.
OT What’s your favorite song off your most recent record and why?
BC It’s ever-changing, but if I’m looking back at Bear Creek ten years from now and asking myself which song moves me the most, it would be “That Wasn’t Me.”
OT You recently got married. How do you juggle career and relationship?
BC With complete and utter co-dependence. No I’m just kidding, who really knows?
OT On the road, how do you stay balanced? Do you have any daily routines?
BC I used to sleep until damn near two p.m. every day, wake up just in time for a coffee, shower and sound check. My wife is from London and she gets me out of bed at a reasonable time every day so we can do and see something in every city, eat something healthy and get some fresh air. This is the most I’ve ever enjoyed being on the road and I’ve enjoyed it my whole life so that’s saying something!
OT How do you stay in shape on the road?
BC By trying not to snack late at night, an hour and 45 minutes of screaming my head off on stage and every chance I get, hotel gyms!
OT Back to routines, is there anything you HAVE to do before you play a gig?
BC Nothing consistently over the span of my career but on this tour I’ll do a shot of whiskey back stage during the intro to "Raise Hell!"
OT Was being out ever a debate for you?
BC Yeah, when I was thirteen and I couldn’t figure out whether it was true or not. But between the ages of fourteen and fifteen, I found the strength to tell my parents and siblings and a few friends at school. There was a lot going on in the media at the time--Ellen--and there was a lot going on in the music world and it made me feel brave. My hope is to be a part of that in solidarity with other kids trying to come to terms with who they are.
OT What’s your guilty pleasure song?
BC "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" by Bonnie Tyler, it’s also my go to karaoke standard.
OT What’s the best thing about playing in Chicago?
BC Well I love Chicago as a city. It’s infinitely beautiful and so diverse but getting to play the Chicago Theater was a dream come true for me. We all know what that marquee looks like and I’d opened for a band there a long time ago, so it’s always been in the ethers of my mind to come back and headline that stage.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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