Brandi Marie Carlile (born June 1, 1981) is an American multiple Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter and producer whose music spans multiple genres. As of 2020, Carlile has released six studio albums and earned eleven Grammy Award nominations, including one for The Firewatcher's Daughter, six for By the Way, I Forgive You, and three of her work as a producer and songwriter on Tanya Tucker's 2019 album, While I'm Livin'. She was the most nominated woman at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards (six) including nominations for Album of the Year (By the Way, I Forgive You), Record of the Year and Song of the Year ("The Joke"). In 2019, Carlile formed an all-female quartet with Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby called the Highwomen. They released their debut album The Highwomen in 2019 to critical and commercial acclaim.
Born in Ravensdale, Washington, a rural town southeast of Seattle, 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 for selling 500,000 copies. The Firewatcher's Daughter earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album and peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard 200.
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 No. 14 on the Top Rock Albums chart. 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 No. 30 on the Billboard 200. All proceeds benefited War Child UK, a charity organization to benefit children whose lives have been directly affected by war. 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 LGBT rights and empowerment of women.
Life and career
1981-2003: Early life
Carlile was born on June 1, 1981, in Ravensdale, Washington, United States, a small town 30 miles outside 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. Carlile taught herself to sing when she was a little girl, and she started singing country songs on stage when she was 8 years old.
At age eight, Carlile performed Johnny Cash's "Tennessee Flat Top Box" with her mother, Teresa Carlile and began playing the guitar and writing songs at age 15. At 16, Carlile became a backup singer for an Elvis impersonator. According to Carlile, she was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder as a teen. She attended Tahoma High School, but later dropped out to pursue her music career. After being introduced to the music of Elton John, Carlile taught herself to play piano, and at 17 learned to play the guitar.
2004-2006: Career beginnings and debut
Carlile began her career performing in Seattle music clubs with twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth. 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."
The album peaked at No. 80 on Billboard 200 and reached No. 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.
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.
2007-2009: Breakthrough with The Story
Her second album The Story was produced by T Bone Burnett. It includes a collaboration with the Indigo Girls on "Cannonball". The album was recorded in an 11-day session with Carlile, the Hanseroths 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. In response to the advertisement, album sales increased 368 percent from 1,323 to 6,198. Sales for the lead single, "The Story", increased in downloads of 28,091 copies. "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 No. 1 and the album reach No. 4 on the Portuguese charts. "The Story" was featured on the end credits of the romantic drama film The Lucky One.
The album has sold more than 257,776 copies in the US and peaked at No. 41 on Billboard 200 and No. 10 on US Rock Albums.
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."
"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 album, "Tragedy", "What Can I Say", and "Throw It All Away", were 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. In April 2008, she performed on the BBC2 show Later... with Jools Holland.
Give Up the Ghost was released in 2009 and debuted at No. 26 on the Billboard 200. 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. The album peaked at No. 26 on US Billboard 200.
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."
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.
Carlile's next album, Bear Creek, released June 5, 2012, was produced by Trina Shoemaker. 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." "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.
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.
Carlile was also a judge for the 10th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.
2015-2016: The Firewatcher's Daughter
Carlile's fifth album The Firewatcher's Daughter released on March 3, 2015, on ATO Records. 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."
"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. "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."
The preview track, "The Eye", for which a video was released prior to the album, is a front-porch acoustic. 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."
The album was No. 1 on Billboard's Top Rock Album Chart, 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.
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.
USA Today wrote, "The Firewatcher's Daughter is an album with a big heart, one that responds with love, not fear."
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". On December 6, 2015, Carlile was nominated for the Top Americana Album category, with her The Firewatcher's Daughter for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards.
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.
2017-present: Grammy success with By the Way, I Forgive You
Carlile's sixth studio album, produced by Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings, 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. By the Way, I Forgive You went on to become the highest charting album of Carlile's career, reaching No. 5 on the Billboard 200. It also reached the number 1 position on the Billboard Top Rock Albums during the same week. The first single from the album, "The Joke", was listed on Former President Barack Obama's year end playlist. 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").
In 2019, Carlile co-founded the country music supergroup the Highwomen with Amanda Shires and Maren Morris, later adding Natalie Hemby to complete the line-up. Carlile appeared at Loretta Lynn's 87th birthday concert alongside Tanya Tucker where the two performed a song from Tucker's upcoming album While I'm Livin', which Carlile produced with Shooter Jennings. The Highwomen also made their live debut during this concert, performing "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels". Their debut single "Redesigning Women" was released on July 19, 2019, and their self-titled album was released on September 6 to critical acclaim. On January 16, 2019, Carlile appeared as part of a five-hour all-star tribute concert to Chris Cornell, which took place at The Forum in Los Angeles. Carlile performed a rendition of Temple of the Dog's "Hunger Strike", Audioslave's "Like a Stone", and Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun". All proceeds of the event, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, went to benefit the Chris and Vicky Cornell Foundation and the Epidermolysis Bullosa Medical Research Foundation. On October 14, 2019, Carlile performed Joni Mitchell's album Blue in its entirety in Los Angeles at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
On February 2020, Carlile was named Record Store Day 2020 Ambassador. On June 2, 2020, Carlile has teamed up with remaining Soundgarden members Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd. At Seattle's London Bridge Studio, they re-recorded new versions of two Soundgarden's songs, "Black Hole Sun" and "Searching with My Good Eye Closed", which was released on a 12-inch single vinyl dubbed "A Rooster Says", during the second of three Record Store Day events on September 26, 2020.
- Brandi Carlile (2005)
- The Story (2007)
- Give Up the Ghost (2009)
- Bear Creek (2012)
- The Firewatcher's Daughter (2015)
- By the Way, I Forgive You (2018)
- Cover Stories (2017)
- Live at Sony Connect (2005)
- Live from Neumo's (2006)
- Live at Connect Set (2007)
- Live at Easy Street Records (2007)
- Rhapsody Originals (2007)
- XOBC (2010)
- The list below only includes non-album singles.