'Analog Girl' in a Digital World 

Brandi Carlile on making music for today

When Boise Weekly asked what she would be doing if she wasn't making music, Brandi Carlile answered, "I'd probably be a cowboy out riding around ... maybe fishing or something."

Before she signed her record contract, she had only a house, a truck and a horse. As a cowboy, she says, she wouldn't have a cell phone or computer. And not just because she couldn't afford them. "I'd find a way not to need them," she says, laughing.

In his recent release, Workbench Songs, Guy Clark sings about an "Analog Girl:" "Well she ain't got no cell phone / You got to call her when she's home ... Now don't try to e-mail her / You've got to snail mail her / You got to take pen in hand." Carlile seems to be just that kind of a woman. And as an analog girl, she's also a self-proclaimed "total music bum" who's "never had a real job." She comes from a musical family, joining her mother on stage for the first time when she was just 8. Carlile learned piano, motivated in part by Elton John, and then took up the guitar at age 17 after taking inspiration from the Indigo Girls.

When it comes to making music, she's proven to be very good at it. Carlile is only 25 years old, but she's been making music for most of her life. Her second CD, The Story, was released earlier this year and has been a nice surprise for music fans who may have missed her first, self-titled CD. On the basis of her soaring vocals and the thought-provoking lyrics behind that CD's popular success, the Seattle native is currently wrapping up a tour of the United States, stopping in Boise for a performance at the Big Easy Concert House May 23.

When asked if she'd been to Boise before, Carlile said she'd been through one time, back when she was about 15; she went to the state fair and remembers riding the roller coaster. She has a positive impression of Boise. "It's like eastern Washington; I like it a lot," she says.

Carlile says she's not surprised about the popularity of her first two CDs. The first sold modestly, but that wasn't unexpected. She said it was just a project put together as a starting point. It wasn't really something she planned on being popular. However, she approached The Story differently. It was really her best effort. If it hadn't been well-received, she'd have been disappointed, but that doesn't seem like anything she'll have to worry about since the response from critics and fans has been uniformly positive.

Part of what makes Carlile's music so appealing is the help she gets from musical twins, Tim and Phil Hanseroth, who accompany her on guitar, bass and harmony vocals in the studio and on stage. Even when the trio isn't performing, they spend most of their time together. Carlile says that they just spend a lot of time together "being friends." That helps their music, she says, adding, "When you remember that you're working and playing with friends, everything becomes more natural."

While she wrote many of the songs on her CDs, the Hanseroths share songwriting credits. I asked her about her songwriting strategy. "It's random," she says. "I have phrases and song notes on napkins and scraps of paper all over my place ... I don't set any boundaries or limitations on my songwriting." And, she adds, "I seem to write a lot of song lyrics in the shower."

The collaborative process is random, too. She feels that there's a very good balance between her and the Hanseroths. Working with the brothers has taught her simplicity, she says, especially in her lyrics. And working with them seems to help her deal better with the business side of music making. "We effectively ignore [the business side of music] as much as possible," she says. "We would lose our creativity if we didn't."

But being a successful musician is more than just making great music. It includes a lot of hard work. Carlile's tour started shortly after The Story was released in April. She was in Ann Arbor, Mich., when we spoke. Other tour stops included Boston, Toronto and Chicago, and her stop in Boise comes in between concerts in Boulder and Spokane. After stops in Seattle and Portland, she'll be going on tour with the Indigo Girls in June. She's looking forward to playing with them, saying, "The Indigo Girls will always be an influence on me."

Carlile says she'd like to go on tour in Europe and she'd love to spend more time touring Canada as well. She grew up close to Canada; she really likes it, and feels she would enjoy spending more time up there sharing her music.

For people that haven't seen her perform, I asked how her live shows are different from her CDs. "It's not too much different," she says. "Just louder and with more jumping around." And she couldn't say if the next CD would be much different from the first two. "We're constantly writing and working on it." She and the Hanseroths are trying some of their new material when they're on stage now. If it works on stage, they'll record it that way.

For being an analog girl, Carlile isn't totally out of touch with today's digital world. She likes her iPod. She likes a lot of new artists, including The Weepies, Tom Brusseau and Ray LaMontagne, and says she's really enjoying Ryan Adams' new release, Heartbreaker. And, of course, she still listens to the Indigo Girls.

Carlile's advice to Boise music fans? Try to find The Story on vinyl. "We recorded it on tape and produced it on vinyl because that's the best, most amazing way to hear it." According to her, an analog recording will allow listeners to hear little glitches, dropped picks and other nuances that can't be heard digitally. She sums up her feelings, saying, "I enjoy my iPod, but the best and warmest way to listen to music is still on vinyl."

Carlile really is an analog girl--an interesting and talented one, but still a an anomaly in a digital world. Guy Clark might have someone just like Carlile in mind when he sings, "Ones and zeros, zeros and ones / She'll have none of that virtual fun / She's a real deal ol' fashioned analog girl / In a digital world."

Carlile closed our interview saying that she knows that she'll still be doing something with music in the future. "I'll always be making music at some level," she said. She doesn't have to add that she will likely still be favoring analog music then, too.

: Brandi Carlile, May 23, 8 p.m., tickets available only by listening to 94.9 FM The River, (208-344-3511, www.riverinteractive), com), Big Easy, 416 S. 9th St., 208-367-1212
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