|Young singer works with her idol
Saturday, May 30 2009
Brandi Carlile can't escape Elton John. But, really, it's not like she'd want to.
The singer-songwriter from Ravensdale, Wash., who turns 28 on June 1, 2009, makes no secret that she's a big fan of Elton and has been since childhood. He read it himself in a story a couple of years ago, and he responded with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine from Carlile's birth year, a gift that "totally blew my mind for, like, a year," Carlile says.
And it gets better for Carlile: Elton joined her on a new song for her album, "Give Up the Ghost," which is set to come out in the fall. Grammy winner Rick Rubin (Dixie Chicks, Red Hot Chili Peppers) produced "Ghost," the follow-up to Carlile's 2007 hit record, "The Story," which was produced by Grammy winner T Bone Burnett (Roy Orbison, Elvis Costello). For that album, the band performed live-to-tape using Burnett's vintage instruments, with little extra added to the songs.
ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" featured several songs from the album, and a full-length video for the title track aired after one episode. The song, which was featured in a GM Olympics commercial, is best known for Carlile's now-famous voice crack and is her biggest hit.
Having recently returned from performances in Europe, Carlile is touring the United States this summer, making three Bay Area stops in 10 days. She chatted with The Chronicle recently from a tour stop in North Carolina, where she talked about "The Story," recording and, of course, Elton John.
Q: What kind of effect did the success of "The Story" have on you, personally and professionally?
A: It just meant that I was going to spend more time on the road, which I love. And, I don't know, it felt really good to have that kind of success for a record that was made live and that was made with the intention of being as close to who I really am, who we really are as a band, as possible.
Q: I read that you were a big fan of Elton John's, and that you were going to collaborate on this album for a single.
A: Yeah, he did! He did collaborate with me. It's so killer! I can't wait for you to hear it. We recorded a song together called "Caroline." It was amazing.
Q: What was it like to work with him?
A: It was insane. It was like an out-of-body experience. He's been my hero since I was 11 years old. To get to work with Elton, it was just crazy. I don't even know how to describe it. He was amazing. He nailed the piano in one take. It took him an hour and a half to sing and play piano on this song, and then he stuck around and absolutely schooled me on new music for two hours and gave me a music lesson, basically. It was wonderful.
Q: This is your third studio album, and you've already worked with T Bone Burnett and Rick Rubin. How common is it for someone in your position to get to work with people like that so early in your career?
A: It always seems like the most normal thing in the world when it's happening. It's just one of those things where I guess, looking at it from a bird's-eye view, it's pretty crazy. ... There have been a couple of times where I'll kind of look around and go, "Oh my God. I'm playing guitar and records in his living room," or sitting back and listening to mixes with T Bone when he puts his sunglasses on, like, "Oh, my God. That's T Bone Burnett." But while it's happening, they're just, like, friends and collaborators and musical heroes. I don't know; it's like being inside of a tornado. I'm sure you really don't know the magnitude until you're outside of it.
Q: It seems like every interview you do, you're always asked about that note on "The Story," and how you hit that note.
Q: Is that a question that you ever get tired of hearing?
A: (laughs) It's a question without an answer, because my voice, it just gets f- up when it gets loud. It does weird things. ... I could not do that again if I tried. In fact, it's never happened since then. Ever. (laughs) But every night I always sense this vortex right before I hit that note. Everybody gasps, you know what I mean? Can she do it? Is she gonna do it? And I never do it. I've never hit it again. But my voice always gets crazy right there. It'll scream or it'll slip, go out of key or get f- up. The more distorted my voice is, the better that note sounds.
To hear Brandi Carlile's music, go to www.brandicarlile.com.
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