When Brandi Carlile surfaced in 2006 — with a self-titled debut record on a major label — she already sounded fully formed. Her style was resolute: a little bit country, a little more rock ’n’ roll, all built around her magnetic voice.
Since then, the Washington State native has released three more studio albums that have made her beloved in Americana circles. “Bear Creek,” her latest release, comes closest to capturing the warmth she conveys on a live stage. Coproduced by Trina Shoemaker, who’s known for her work with Queens of the Stone Age and Sheryl Crow, the album gets its name from the creek that runs alongside the studio where it was recorded in Woodinville, Wash.
From the woodsy album artwork to the bucolic folk melodies, it’s easily Carlile’s most affecting statement. Working with her longtime band mates Phil and Tim Hanseroth, brothers whom Carlile simply calls “the Twins,” Carlile took a different approach to the recording sessions.
“We came up with the concept that we wouldn’t put any shackles on our respective genre and just write in whatever vein you’re feeling,” says Carlile, who comes to the Bank of America Pavilion with fellow singer-songwriter Josh Ritter on Saturday. (Carlile is also at the Cape Cod Melody Tent on Friday and Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom on Sunday.)
“In other words,” she adds, “when we chose which songs went on the record, we only chose the ones we thought turned out the best, whether they worked together or not.”
From the road, Carlile recently caught up with us to reflect on how far she has come in just six years.
Q. You share a co-writing credit with Tim and Phil on most of your records. What’s your dynamic like?
A. We’ve known each other for a really long time. We’ve been playing together for a decade now, and things have gotten incredibly close in recent years. The best thing about me and the Twins is that we agreed a long time ago that everything we do we split three ways no matter what. When a song gets brought to the table, it’s done. We don’t add to it or mess with it. Or if a song is brought to the table and it needs work in terms of chorus or the bridge or the lyrics don’t quite ring true with me, it can be worked on without any suspicion. Being a writer and being an interpreter are eerily similar, especially when you’re writing with people who are that deep into your life.
Q. How did you get Kris Kristofferson to star in the video for your new song “That Wasn’t Me”?
A. I have such an affection for Kris Kristofferson and his songwriting. “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” has broken my heart for so many years. We both played at an 80th birthday tribute to Johnny Cash in Austin, and it was an amazing night. When I saw Kris walking around, he was so beautiful and I knew he was the guy who had to be in the video. I wrote him an e-mail — begging, basically.
Q. You recently got engaged. Congratulations.
A. Yeah, I’m engaged! And you want to know something? I'm getting married in Plymouth.
A. Yeah. It’s a total coincidence. [Her fiancée] Catherine’s father lives there. We’re having the wedding in Plymouth in September, and it’s going to be tiny with just close family. And then we’re having the big party and reception in Seattle.
Q. Before your debut was released, there was a lot of buzz about you in Seattle. What was your rise like? Did you conquer Seattle first and then branch out?
A. I was absolutely uninterested in the traditional way of being seen and heard in the music scene. It wasn’t based on principle or idealism; it was just out of necessity. I had a truck payment, a cellphone payment, and rent. I had to work. The only thing I knew how to do was play music. I saved up and got a small PA system and borrowed money from my friends. I would go to restaurants and say, “I know you don’t have music in here, but if you let me come here, I’ll set up my PA and be unassuming and do covers. And if your business doesn’t increase on this day every week, you don’t have to pay me.” I did that until every night I had a gig. If I didn’t get paid, I would at least get paid by selling CDs or at least be fed. Eventually I was getting paid every night. On my breaks, I’d walk around and talk to people. I’d make friends and take down their e-mails and phone numbers. Once a month I would play a proper show in a club and call or e-mail all these people I had met and ask them to show up at the show. It would always sell out.
Q. That’s incredible dedication. How long did it take?
A. Three years. All my other friends in bands thought it was a funny thing I was doing. But those people eating clam chowder in restaurants buy T-shirts and albums, too.