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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at MaineToday.com and a music writer for MaineToday.com and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at Mainetoday.com. You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the News Center Maine TV show “207” to talk about...music of course.

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Posted: May 19, 2015

Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile’s tour kicks off with sold-out show Friday at State Theatre

Written by: Aimsel Ponti
David McClister photo, center. Courtesy photos left and right

David McClister photo, center. Courtesy photos left and right

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.

There’s a lot of chatter out there saying this is your best record yet. How does that feel?

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.

Maine fans think it’s pretty fabulous that you’re starting your tour here at the State Theatre in Portland. Is it safe to assume that you love Portland just a little bit?

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 “The Stranger at the Door” uses parts of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” to close the song out with. How did that come to be?

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?’

Has there been any backlash from the Chris de Burgh camp about poking fun at “Lady in Red” in the song in “I Belong to You?”

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 Avett Brothers song “Murder in the City” seems like a song you could have written. Why did you choose to put that on the record?

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.

So that we can all adopt the songs as our own?

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.

Is this the biggest collaborative effort in terms of shared songwriting duties, or have you and the twins always done it this way?

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.

Can you talk about the song “Mainstream Kid?” It has a very rock-a-billy and ’50s feel to it.

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.

Your daughter, Evangeline, will turn 1 next month. Do you bring her on the road?

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.

You recently lost your grandmother, Grandma Carol, and have posted that she was a huge part of your life. Will she be on tour with you in spirit?

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.

It must mean so much to you and your wife that she got to meet your daughter.

Yes. Absolutely. She loved the baby. She’s one of her 14 great-grandchildren.

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