Brandi Carlile on Bear Creek and Kris Kristofferson

Singer Brandi Carlile celebrated her 31st birthday earlier this month in the Cascade Mountain Range smoking cigars, drinking beer and playing golf with her family and friends. She was only 22 when she approached brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth to start a band with her.

She confidently promised the pair -- who she refers to as "the twins" --  that if they agreed, she would get the three of them signed to a record label and on the road within one year. Looking back, Carlile says that it was a bold thing to say, but she really wanted to play with them and knew that she had to "step it up" to work with them.

"Naively, I guess I've always had [a confident] attitude. I think you have to have that attitude to make things happen in the music realm because the odds are a bit stacked against a person," Carlile says. "You sort of have to have a blind confidence to power forward in any industry, but even more so in the music industry."

Carlile fulfilled her promise and landed them a deal with Columbia Records. Five albums later, the band is still going strong and released their newest album, Bear Creek earlier this month. Named after the studio it was recorded in, Carlile says that the studio itself had a big influence on Bear Creek.

"The studio is in a rural setting in a big beautiful barn that was full of character and really great equipment and all of my friends and family," Carlile says. "It really felt like home."

In addition to recording in a new studio, Carlile decided to take the reins herself and record without the help of producers like T-Bone Burnett and Rick Rubin, whom she worked with in the past.

Brandi Carlile on Bear Creek and Kris Kristofferson
Photo by Frank Ockenfels

"I felt more inclined to take off the training wheels and try my own ideas for a while," Carlile says.

The lack of a producer inspired her to branch out and to take more risks.

"All of my albums are really thought out and I think that's typically really cool. We care a lot and we always have a plan and a direction," Carlile says. "I made a conscious decision not to make a conscious decision about this album and I think it sounds cool."

She describes Bear Creek as "recklessly fun," saying:

"I know the lyrics don't really give you that concept, but it's so out of order. There's no genre definition to it- you can't listen to it and say, 'Oh this album is country or rock or pop or blues.' It just doesn't have any assemblance of order. That's kind of what the whole recording experience felt like actually- people showing up at noon or one and getting out of bed and making coffee and going downstairs to work and then not leaving until three or four in the morning. It was a never-ending process of creativity."


Working on the music videos was also a process of creativity and Carlile snagged singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson to star in the video for "That Wasn't Me" after meeting him at Johnny Cash's 80th birthday party.

"Kris Kristofferson is one of the greatest-if not the greatest-songwriting legends," Carlile says. "I just felt compelled to ask him [to be in the video] and to take a chance on it."

Carlile says that shooting the video with Kristofferson was great and the pair drank whiskey, sang Hank Williams songs and bitched about politics.

Kristofferson isn't Carlile's only famous pal. Singers Sheryl Crow and Elton John have both sung Carlile's praises with Crow saying Carlile has "the most amazing voice" she may have ever heard.

"I was always a huge fan of Sheryl Crow. To have her support and her friendship means a lot to me and my career," Carlile says. "And I think it goes without saying that Elton John is my greatest influence in music. Meeting Sheryl and Elton and working with them were pivotal points in my career."

She has come a long way and laughs when she thinks about personally calling fans to make sure they would show up to her coffee shop and bar gigs early in her career.

"Occasionally when I have a big, important show I'll have a dream that I show up at the gig and nobody's come to see the show," Carlile says. "It gives me that familiar feeling that I used to have when I was playing at bars when I was responsible for the people in attendance. It's still very important to me and very satisfying when people show up and we get that kind of response."

Both of Carlile's performances at the Minnesota Zoo Amphitheater are sold out and she can't wait to return to one of her favorite states to perform.

"I've always loved Minnesota. I love the people. I think they're so open and kind and excited and excitable," Carlile says. "Minneapolis is such a great place for me to play because it's probably the biggest market for me in the whole country."

She is looking forward to showing the audience a "totally new thing"- from a new stage plot and new drummer to new songs and covers.

"I'm probably going to make a lot of mistakes, but it's going to be packed full of energy and excitement and gratefulness," Carlile says. "I can't wait to get re-antiquated with the people in Minnesota and have a two night party with my friends."

Carlile is playing two sold-out shows at the Minnesota Zoo Amphitheater June 20 & 21.

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