Brandi M. Carlile (born June 1, 1981) is an American alternative country and folk rock singer-songwriter. She has released several albums including The Story, Give Up the Ghost and Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony which reached number 14 on the Top Rock Albums chart. Her first commercial album, Brandi Carlile, was released to critical success and limited commercial success. She’s perhaps best known for her 2007 single “The Story” from the album of the same name which was released to somewhat larger commercial success.
Carlile’s music through the years has been categorized in several genres, including pop, rock, alternative country, and folk. Carlile once quoted, “I’ve gone through all sorts of vocal phases, from pop to blues to R&B, but no matter what I do, I just can’t get the country & western out of my voice.”. After being introduced to the music of Elton John – which she later described as her “gateway drug” to rock ‘n’ roll—Carlile self-taught piano and, at 17, learned to play the guitar. Carlile discovered music on her own during her teen years.
Carlile was born on June 1, 1981, in Ravensdale, Washington, a small town 40 miles outside of Seattle. Growing up in the only house for miles, Carlile played in the woods, built forts and played music with her brother Jay and sister Tiffany. Brandi, whose mother is a singer, taught herself to sing when she was a little girl, and she started singing country songs on stage when she was only 8 years old.
At age eight, Carlile performed Johnny Cash’s “Tennessee Flat Top Box” with her mother, Teresa Carlile and began playing the guitar and writing songs at age fifteen. At sixteen, Carlile became a backup singer for an Elvis impersonator. According to Carlile, she was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder as a teen and dropped out of school to pursue a career in music.
Carlile is known for possessing a big voice that cracks emotively when she is belting. Her lyric content often showcases a “Southern sensibility” as well as reflections upon her personal experiences. Her music, although appealing to the pop genre, encompasses alternative country, folk, rock, blues and indie styles. Describing it herself, Carlile says “I mean, I couldn’t be less interested in becoming genre-specific in any way. If I could be anything to the music industry, it would just be sort of a human eraser of lines between genres, just because it’s so damaging – ‘they’re on that team, I’m on this team.’ ‘I don’t like country.’ ‘I don’t like rap.’ I would just really like to prove to someone that doesn’t like country that they do.”
Carlile grew up studying and listening to her favorite vocalists, experimenting with the capacity of her own voice. In interviews, she has referred to drawing upon various artists including Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Thom Yorke, k.d. lang, and Roy Orbison in her music. She often cites Patsy Cline as a major influence: “Patsy Cline was a big part of me discovering my vocal capacity. Most people don’t realize how loud she is. If you really listen closely, the amount of times in any given song that she distorts, you might think it’s your car speakers or something. They didn’t quite know how to fully contain her voice then. She was loud.”
In a November 2002 interview, Carlile identified herself as a lesbian. She later told the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t have to have a lot of formality around it … there were people before me who paved the way.” In June 2012 she announced she was engaged to Catherine Shepherd. The two were married in Boston, Massachusetts on September 15, 2012. In June 2014 they welcomed their first child, a daughter named Evangeline.
Carlile performed with Ben Taylor in the Eden Presents…Alive in the World concert series for the benefit of Eden Florida, an organization that assists children and adults with autism. In 2008, she created the Looking Out Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, to give financial support to causes that she believes in. The Looking Out Foundation has awarded grants to Reverb, the American Diabetes Association, and Honor the Earth, among numerous other organizations. Carlile also donates $1 from every concert ticket sale to the foundation.