Folk and roots rock musician Brandi Carlile released her fifth studio album, “The Firewatcher’s Daughter,” in March. It cracked the top 10 on the Billboard album charts and reached No. 1 in the rock and folk categories, making it her most successful album to date. Her Friday night performance at the State Theatre in Portland sold out almost immediately. The show will feature her longtime collaborators, twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth, along with her longtime cellist and pianist, Josh Neumann. Carlile’s music is known for emotionally striking lyrics and stunning harmonies that are anchored by her resonant lead vocals. A conversation with Carlile, 33, from her home in Washington state covered the new record and the fact that the tour starts here in Portland.
It makes me feel really good. I love the idea that my love for music and passion for songwriting isn’t dimmer then when I started. I’m happy that it’s brighter. That kind of feedback has really made my year.
I really love Portland, Maine. It’s a place that I didn’t get to for a long time and then once I finally went there I was so pissed that it wasn’t something that I had been doing regularly on every tour. I kind of committed then to always visit. It’s cool to start the tour there ’cause we’re actually getting there a few days early. We are gonna set up and do production rehearsals and figure out the tour in Portland. There’s good things and bad things about being the first stop on the tour. It will be pretty off-the-cuff version of who we are, but you definitely won’t see a tired band.
The song was never really meant to be a song, it was a poem that I had written next to the bonfire out at my house. I wrote that poem, and the whole time the “Johnny Comes Marching Home” melody was playing in my head. I said ‘I’ve got to stay off that melody if I turn this into a song,’ and then I thought, ‘wait, why do I have to stay off that melody, why don’t I just include it at the end?’
Weirdly enough, no, but I was concerned that there would be, and it wasn’t long after that I wrote the lyrics that I immediately kind of regretted it because I didn’t like the feeling of picking on somebody else’s song, even though history does that to all our songs at some point. I don’t like to censor myself in my honest feelings when they’re coming out of my mind in writing. I really try to get them down first and then try to make the decision as to whether or not I want to then vocalize them. I always tend to make the decision not to censor myself, and I’ve gotten myself into a lot of trouble my whole life because of it. But I have to put the art first. Hopefully the man that wrote that song will have some compassion and realize that it was fleeting tongue-in-cheek.
The song just means so much to me. I’ve always heard it differently than they intended, which I think as a songwriter is a great compliment. Whenever I write songs I tend to not like to say what they’re about because I want somebody else’s interpretation to be able to be accessible to them.
Absolutely. Your own soundtrack, your own break-up, your own losses. And so I wanted to write a song that said all the things that “Murder in the City” said. I tried for a good straight year and then finally I was like, ‘why don’t I just sing “Murder in the City?” ‘ That’s the bar I’m trying to meet. The boys were really kind to let me do it.
We’ve all been writing together all this time, but honestly it’s been a little bit different on this album in kind of a cool way because everybody vowed not to finish their songs until we were in the studio. It was very collaborative and we all had a lot to do with each other’s songs more than I’d say about any other record since the beginning. We wrote together in such a way that we haven’t written together since that first record.
It was a collaboration between me and Tim, an old-style collaboration actually. We hadn’t collaborated that way in about 12 years. I wanted to write a song where the chorus was me singing the exact notes being played on the lead guitar. Unbeknown to me, Tim had this riff and he played it for me and the lyrics I had been writing fit right over the top of it. It was one of those psychic moments between Tim and me.
My wife and I bring her everywhere. She’s always on the road with me. I haven’t had to spend any time away from her yet. I don’t anticipate having to.
Yes. Just like always. She’d been in a wheelchair for 20-something years so it’s never been easy for her – she’s always made it a priority being there.
Yes. Absolutely. She loved the baby. She’s one of her 14 great-grandchildren.