Following the strong pop sound of “Give Up The Ghost,” much of “Bear Creek” feels like a more country-driven recording. Was that a conscious decision or did it just turn out that way?
Brandi Carlile: It just turned out that way. I wrote a bit in that genre for some reason. I couldn’t tell you exactly why. I think that “Bear Creek” is more roots-based, but it’s not just musically; it’s personally, as well.
The reason we named the album “Bear Creek” is that it’s so similar to home for us. It’s in rural Washington State, it’s in a big barn. It’s just like my house. When you get comfortable with your roots, you tend to write from there, and that’s one of the main reasons.
Because of the record’s sound, what would it mean to you if it was picked up by country radio and became a Nashville hit?
Well, first of all, I don’t think it will [laughs]. But I have to say that I grew up listening to classic Country & Western music. It’s definitely the bigger part of who I am then rock ‘n roll. Just like my teenage years, I thought that without boundaries or shackles, that I would explode into more of a rock ‘n roll performer.
But what happens is that every time those boundaries are lifted, I find myself reverting back to my roots-based, country-based, bluegrass self. It must mean that that’s authentically who I am.
You take listeners to church on “That Wasn’t Me.” It’s one of three songs on the album for which you get sole writing credit. How did that song came to be?
I was struggling with the concept of addiction with someone that I loved. Having to accept the fallout of what happens when somebody gets clean and they get this new beginning and you kind of get left with the past, the really damaging past.
How hard it is for them to be able to reassemble it back into the lives of the people that they hurt. That message of “Yeah, these things happened to you and I know you’re still reeling from them, but I wasn’t there, because I was wasted. I wasn’t there, so that wasn’t me.” It’s pretty significant for me.
Album closer “Just Kids” stands out because it doesn’t sound like anything else on the disc and it sounds like a new musical direction for you.
Writing in that genre is something I’ve been doing a lot on my own. It’s weird; part of me feels really country and roots-based and part of me feels really ethereal.
When I was working at (recording studio) Bear Creek, it was a late-night, stationary thing where I wasn’t usually leaving until three or four in the morning. Everybody would leave and I would go work on that song and the piano part was too complicated for me to play it for everyone, because they wouldn’t understand what I was doing. I never did get to play it for anyone until the end of the session.
At that point I’d done all these sessions by myself with the engineer, trying to piece the song together. One night, a guy named David Palmer came in to do the piano on “That Wasn’t Me” and he had these Moog synthesizers that reminded me of my favorite movies from the 1980s. That’s what the song was about, me and my brother in the ‘80s.
That’s what came out of it, this really dreamy thing. I didn’t want to fuck with it, because I felt like it was honest to where I was at that time.
How would you say that things have changed for you, if at all, since coming out publicly?
No, not at all. And to be honest with you, it was completely non-strategic in every way. I can tell you exactly how it happened. I tour so much, I spend so much of my life on the road making music, it’s amazing that I put my pants on the right way, get matching socks on.
One day I was helping my best friend Amy Ray release her record, “Didn’t It Feel Kinder,” doing press in New York for four days straight with gay press. I couldn’t understand how there were so many gay press outlets. I’d never done any before. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t want to talk to me, as it was going on [laughs]. That’s when I first realized, conceptually, I wasn’t out.
But I came out when I was like 14 years old, so I live my life as a gay person. I have lived accordingly. I’ve gotten involved in political things and I’ve been part of gay Pride festivals, performing for them. I’ve done charity campaigns for LGBTQ events. I just never considered myself not out.
As you said, you do spend a lot of time on the road. What can people expect from your upcoming tour?
What they can expect musically is for me to come out with my full band in a small string section, violin and cello, and to play all the new songs, all the old ones and the covers. I’m going to have a hard time keeping the set under two hours.
Top photo: Brandi Carlile’s most recent disc, ‘Bear Creek,’ shows the singer-songwriter reverting back to her ‘roots-based, country-based, bluegrass self.’ (Publicity photo)