A literate singer/songwriter whose music splits the difference between pop/rock and folksy Americana, Brandi Carlile was born in the small town of Ravensdale, Washington, an isolated community 50 miles from Seattle. With few neighbors or friends nearby, she grew up learning to make her own entertainment, which included hiking trips in the nearby woods and self-taught vocal lessons. Carlile also grew attached to the classic country music her parents doted on, specifically Patsy Cline, and she made her stage debut at the age of eight after she was taken to a local country radio show by her mother. At 17, Carlile picked up the guitar, having developed a taste for rock & roll through Elton John's classic albums of the '70s, and began hitting the Seattle bar scene, playing anywhere she could get a gig (including a stint singing backup for an Elvis Presley tribute act).
While playing clubs, she encountered a band called the Fighting Machinists, featuring twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth. Impressed by their instrumental skills and spot-on harmonies, Carlile became an instant fan of the band, and when the group broke up, she persuaded the Hanseroth twins to form a new group with her. While they started out as an aggressive rock & roll band, Carlile's emotionally powerful songwriting and acoustic guitar work soon became the dominant component of their sound, and they began touring regularly, headlining small venues and opening shows for Dave Matthews, Shawn Colvin, and India.Arie.
In 2000, Carlile recorded the first of several self-released recordings that sold briskly at shows. By 2005, she'd gained enough buzz to secure a contract with Columbia Records, which released her self-titled debut later that same year. The album earned enthusiastic reviews, and Carlile was named one of 2005's "Artists to Watch" by Rolling Stone. In 2006, Carlile and her band began work on her second Columbia album, The Story, with T-Bone Burnett producing. The record was released in spring 2007 to warm reviews, and the inclusion of its title track in several commercials (most notably a General Motors ad that aired during the 2008 Beijing Olympics) helped boost sales. Give Up the Ghost followed in late 2009 and cracked the Top 40, featuring production from another high-caliber studio hand, Rick Rubin, as well as a duet with childhood idol Elton John.
Carlile rang in 2010 by issuing a Valentine's Day-themed EP, XOBC. She also continued to tour, making a well-received stop at the annual Bonnaroo Festival that summer and collaborating with the Seattle Symphony for two shows in November. The symphonic concerts were recorded and released the following year as Live at Benaroya Hall. In 2012, Carlile returned with the album Bear Creek, featuring production from Grammy Award-winning mixer/producer/engineer Trina Shoemaker. Taking its title from the Washington recording studio in which the album was recorded, Bear Creek included the leadoff single "That Wasn't Me." Carlile returned to Bear Creek Studios to put together her follow-up, The Firewatcher's Daughter. Opting for a loose and live feel for the album, it was recorded almost without demoing any of the songs or overdubs. The album appeared the first week of March 2015. In 2017, Carlile commemorated the tenth anniversary of The Story by assembling a star-studded charity album for War Child, Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of the Story. Inspired by an Adele cover of "Hiding My Heart," the album also featured Dolly Parton, Pearl Jam, Kris Kristofferson, Jim James, and the Avett Brothers, among others. ~ Mark Deming