The American singer on marriage, music, faith and family
Having married a Brit in 2012, American folk/rock artist Brandi Carlile has announced her band’s intention to spend more time in the UK. At their recent sell- out concerts in Union Chapel, London, Carlile and “The Twins” used retro megaphones to fill the wooden-vaulted ceiling with harmonies.
Since parting ways with Sony, the band has signed to an indie label, spurring a return to their musical roots. Their fifth studio album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter, alternates soulful love ballads with explosive rock songs.
DIVA caught up with Brandi to talk about music, marriage, faith and family.
DIVA: I was struck by the mix of musical styles on The Firewatcher’s Daughter. How did that happen?
BRANDI CARLILE: When we first met, the twins [band members Tim and Phil Hanseroth] were in an insane rock ‘n’ roll band and I was a folky busker. People would say, “That is so bipolar, that does not work in one place!”. We didn’t kowtow immediately but slowly through the years, being a part of a major label, I think we naturally developed a formula for making records.
Were you guided in that direction by Sony?
Not in a way that is sinister, but it just happens. Demos are like homework: you turn them in and the label says, “That’s good enough, you can make an album”. And often the oddballs would get set aside. Now we’re rediscovering some of that innocence about songwriting, rather than worrying about being criticised for not having enough continuity.
Do you ever tour without the twins?
I try to, every couple of years, because it connects me to myself. But I miss the shit out of the twins. I really miss the blending of the voices – I’m such a harmony girl.
You say the twins are like family to you. How have you managed to create this work-family balance?
Accidentally, really. Tim and Phil are co- dependent by default, and I’m a born collaborator. Phil married my little sister, then they had a child. It’s bizarrely intimate. Then, when Tim met Hannah, his wife now, she was probably terrified. We just grabbed her and kept her in place. So the three of us have become intertwined in a way that is everything you think it would be: super dysfunctional and super special. Doors are slamming all the time, and there’s a lot of laughter.
Did you have a close-knit family when you were growing up?
Actually, now that you mention it, I grew up in a pretty tight family in close quarters! It wasn’t a tour bus, though, it was more like a trailer.
How did you meet your wife, Catherine Shepherd?
We actually met through the Paul Mccartney connection. I have a foundation called the Looking Out Foundation, and we were running a campaign called Fight The Fear, that teaches women and girls self- defence. Catherine helped us raise some money with Paul Mccartney’s support.
I read that you were married in Boston and in London – did you have two weddings?
We did three weddings – it’s kind of shameful! The way I justify it is that there are so many young people who are exiled from their families. So if our families want to be with us when we get married, the least we can do is travel to them.
We got married in Boston with Catherine’s father and stepmother. And we got married in Seattle near my family and friends. Then we came over here and had a civil partnership ceremony at Chelsea Town Hall. We had a huge party – I think it was my favourite.
Tell us about how you had your daughter, Evangeline.
We harvested my eggs and then implanted into Catherine. But she looks like Catherine! People comment on it all the time. It makes you wonder about nature versus nurture. The implanting, the growth of the embryo, so much goes into that hormonally. And there’s a neuro connection happening…
That’s amazing. You’re describing it as if she is almost a joint baby, genetically.
So here’s the secret. It does feel that way, and I thought that would matter, but it doesn’t. I love her with all my heart and she’s my flesh and blood but she’s just one of the kids to me. I could totally see adopting or absorbing someone else’s child into our family because when I look at her I don’t see myself, I just see her.
How does your Christian upbringing relate to your sexuality? Are you still a part of the church?
I haven’t left behind the church or the scriptures at all. But I’ve definitely reconciled them to my sexuality and community of LGBTQ friends.
How do you deal with Christians who are opposed to LGBTQ people?
There’s a certain amount of negativity or ignorance that I will not tolerate. I won’t tolerate it in defence of young LGBTQ people susceptible to suicide or homelessness. I can get really prickly about it, but I will first try to find commonalities. I find a lot of anti- Christian rhetoric too, in LGBTQ communities, and again there I try to find commonalities. I have a lot more tolerance for that kind of dissent because that’s what oppression does – it creates adversarial points of view.
Tell me about your tattoos.
They’re from a movie called The Neverending Story – I’m such an 80s geek! I’ve got them on my shoulders to protect my imagination.
The Firewatcher’s Daughter is out on 2 March on New York indie label ATO Records.
Digital readers can click the icon to hear Brandi’s exclusive cover of Dolly Parton hit, “Jolene”
“We had three weddings – London was my favourite”