In Her Own Eyes

Brandi Carlile leaves behind her cabin for a tour that's making her a rising star

The last six months have been the busiest of Brandi Carlile's life.

The folk-pop singer-songwriter--talented and charismatic enough to qualify for the term "rising star"--has been touring nearly nonstop since the July release of her critically acclaimed debut album, Brandi Carlile.

She has opened shows for such artists as Dave Matthews, James Taylor, Chris Isaak, Marc Broussard, India.Arie, Jonny Lang, Sondre Lerche and Rachael Yamagata. As well as for Ray LaMontagne, who is "my new favorite artist right now," she said last week on the phone from her cabin home in Maple Valley, Wash.

"It's been just an unbelievable time. ... I've been touring 90 percent of the time." Right now, this 24-year-old wouldn't have it any other way.

"I really love that whole thing of being on the road. I live in a cabin in the middle of the woods, so it's a big difference, but being able to share my music with listeners makes it all worthwhile."

Carlile and her backing band still have dozens of nightclub dates scheduled, such as the one scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 25, at Plush.

Because she also toured incessantly before scoring a record contract in 2004 with Columbia Records, this will mark Carlile's third appearance at Plush. Of the hip Fourth Avenue-area club, she said, "They have a great sound system, and they give you enough beers."

Carlile says she always has preferred the intimacy shared with an audience while playing live to the isolated act of making records. "So when I make a recording, I try my best to make it sound like it's live."

She's been performing in front audiences for most of her life. At her first public appearance, she sang "Tennessee Flat Top Box" at the Pacific Northwest's version of the Grand Ole Opry. She was 9 years old.

"Then, when I was a little older, my mom had a band where she would play twice a week. I could sing with the band and have my little set during their set. When I reached high school, I started my own band, playing piano and guitar and singing. For a while, I also sang background vocals for an Elvis impersonator."

Carlile said she graduated to playing solo acoustic gigs as soon as she hit the age of majority. By the time she was in her 20s, Carlile had teamed up with "the twins," Seattle-bred brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth (guitar and bass, respectively), to play out in restaurants, bars, weddings and birthday parties in the Seattle area.

The Hanseroths remain the core of Carlile's band, and on this winter tour, they've hooked up with "an amazing drummer named Coach," she said.

Even as Carlile beats the bushes on a nightclub tour, she already has appeared on national television, performing Dec. 2 on Amy Grant's Three Wishes. She's still not even sure how it happened, she said.

"I wasn't familiar with the show, and I didn't know anybody who'd seen it. But we got the call while we were touring somewhere between Virginia and Kentucky that they wanted us to make a stop in New Philadelphia, Ohio, to go on this TV show. They put a whole bunch of makeup on my face. It was late in this concert with some other artists, and then they said, 'And here's Brandi Carlile.' We weren't on long; it was like 10 minutes."

She's also grabbed a little attention with the inclusion of her tune "What Can I Say" on the TV show Grey's Anatomy.

Carlile's gentle blend of country and rock swaddles songs that explore themes of warm contentment, aching melancholy and intense longing. Undeniable pop hooks make them memorable, and she sings in a caressing alto with which she can create a bluesy snarl or an unguarded falsetto.

Her music has been compared to that of Lucinda Williams, Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Neko Case, Ryan Adams, Coldplay and Roy Orbison, winning Tucson airplay on community radio station KXCI-FM 91.3, as well as on commercial station The Mountain (92.9 FM).

Carlile said she and the twins were prepared to go into the studio to record a new album this March, following the current tour. However, she recently scored a slot opening for British jazz-pop pianist and singer Jamie Cullum, so work on the new album won't begin until April.

Beyond that, she's not looking too far into the future. "I can only take things one month at a time right now. I could be a prep cook by this time next year, for all I know."