Brandi Carlile Performs an Elton John Cover and One of Her New Hits Live on the Stern Show
Grammy-winning country star returns to promote new album “In These Silent Days”October 5, 2021
Award-winning singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile made her way back to the Stern Show on Tuesday morning, connecting with Howard from Sirius XM’s studio in Los Angeles. In addition to opening up about everything from her 100-acre compound outside Seattle where she hosts the occasional Pearl Jam guitarist in a yurt to dressing up like her idol Sir Elton John during a talent show as a kid, she and her band blew Howard and his listeners away with a live two-(and-a-half-)song concert.
First, Howard wanted to know how Brandi was coping with the pandemic which made touring near impossible for musicians across the globe precisely at the time the now-40-year-old musician’s star had really started to shine. “Everyone’s turned onto the whole Brandi Carlile experience, and then you win five Grammys, and then [this] hits,” he lamented. “You were at the point in your career where the major bucks would come in.”
“I’m still hoping for that,” Brandi laughed. “It was like a victory lap and then, ‘Oh, no—say it ain’t so.’”
“It was such a major interruption in that moment that I was waiting so long to get,” she continued, telling Howard it had been difficult to play for half-empty theaters while she and her band were climbing the ladder and that COVID hit just as they’d finally started packing fans into arenas.
“We were just really ready to seize this thing and then coitus interruptus,” Brandi added with a laugh. “It was just this row of sold-out shows … and then they all went away. They just disappeared and I was like, ‘This was some kind of cosmic joke.’ But it happened to everyone.”
If there was a silver lining it was that it gave her something to talk about with fellow country music superstar Bonnie Raitt, who, like Brandi, had found fame a few years later in life than most recording artists. “We talked a lot through this [thing],” she said.
Busking With Dave Grohl
Even the pandemic couldn’t stop Brandi from making new music and continuing to tell her story. In just the past few months alone, she published an autobiography and released the critically acclaimed new album “In These Silent Days.” She’s also teamed up with a slew of big-name musicians in recent years, singing “Better Man” last month with Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder, collaborating with Chris Stapleton on Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” during the tribute to Chris Cornell, and busking in the streets with Foo Fighters frontman and recent Stern Show guest Dave Grohl.
“How does that even happen?” Howard wondered of the team-up with Grohl.
The idea came to Brandi while she was eating lunch with Dave in Seattle. She regaled him with stories about when she used to busk nearby, one thing led to another, and before they knew it Brandi, her bandmates Tim and Phil, and Dave were jamming together on the streets of Seattle to a crowd of people passing by.
“It’s really surreal [when] you’re standing right in a place where you’d stood, hoping you’d make $40, hoping 10 people would stop—except [now] you’re standing next to Dave Grohl,” she told Howard.
“Did you take any money? Did anyone throw anything in the guitar case?” Howard asked.
Brandi said they did collect a couple bucks but donated the proceeds to the busker who had just vacated the space to let them all perform. “People threw some stuff in the guitar case and we gave it to him,” she said.
Working 9 to 5 With Dolly Parton? What a Way to Make a Living
Another collaboration Howard has a few questions about was Brandi’s much-heralded “I Will Always Love You” duet with Dolly Parton at the Newport Music Festival in 2019.
“[Dolly] is so beautiful you cannot help but have this massive crush on her, and she sings like an absolute angel, and she just has this confidence where she’s so tiny but you’re leaning on her. I felt like I was in the palm of her hand, wrapped up by my hero, you know?” Brandi told him. “I’ll never forget that moment, every single thing about it.”
Howard was curious how the two had decided to share the stage.
“It was her idea to sing it together but I had asked her to come and join me at Newport Folk Festival,” Brandi said.
“They hadn’t had an all-female headline set, and so I got to curate it. I asked Dolly to come out—I wrote her letters for like nine months—and when she agreed she just called me on the phone and she was just very assertive,” she continued before dipping into an impression of the beloved superstar. “She was like, ‘I’m going to be doing “She’s an Eagle,” uh, “Because I’m a Woman,” uh, “I Will Always Love You”—I’m gonna be singing that with you—we’re gonna do “9 to 5,” “Jolene,” and I’ll see you there. I’ll be there if the creek don’t rise,’ and then she just hung up. I saved that voicemail forever which is why I know it word-for-word.”
“The blending of your two voices is very sweet,” Howard said.
“Well, you gotta think I’ve been harmonizing with her since I was seven in my room,” Brandi laughed. “[But] she didn’t know it.”
Singing for Soundgarden
“Hunger Strike” wasn’t the only song Brandi performed at Chris Cornell’s 2019 tribute concert. She also earned praise for singing “Like a Stone” with Audioslave and “Black Hole Sun” with Soundgarden. On Tuesday, she confirmed a recent report suggesting she was open to fronting Soundgarden once again.
“I wasn’t trying to be presumptuous,” she said of the headline. “I loved Soundgarden so much, and I loved Chris Cornell, and I love Kim [Thayil] and Matt [Cameron] and Ben [Shepherd]. I feel so connected with them, you know, just being from Seattle, and every time I sing with them—and the twins come and play in the band, too—it just feels like heaven. It just clicks. I just hope we can do more someday, is all.”
Brandi told Howard Soundgarden was “totally open” to further collaborations, too. “God, we get together and it never ends,” she said.
Speaking more about that night’s “Black Hole Sun” cover, she revealed Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose was originally supposed to perform on the song. “It makes perfect sense when you think about it vocally,” she said.
“I don’t know what happened [with Axl]. All I know is I got asked to do it,” she said, explaining her only request was that her bandmates Tim and Phil be allowed to partake in the tribute as well. “I just knew they’d get such a thrill out of being on stage with those fellas, and we stayed up until 4 o’clock in the morning that night thinking that nothing was ever going to get better in our careers than that moment.”
Party of Two
Brandi spoke at length about her family on Tuesday morning. She has two young daughters with her wife Catherine, whom she married in 2012. Howard was curious to hear more about their love story, including how the two met while Catherine was a charity coordinator for Paul McCartney.
Brandi said they knew each other for quite some time before the romance began. “She told me I lacked substance, that she just didn’t think I was a viable or a real person—and she was right at the time,” she laughed.
The sparks finally started flying one day after Catherine walked onto the tour bus and Brandi saw her in a new light, causing her to become “totally infatuated.” “I spent a lot of my life really being only attracted to masculine women, so it didn’t occur to me,” Brandi explained. “[Catherine] was sort of outside my gender profile, from what I understood to be my persuasion, but then one day I just saw her—and I saw her—and I knew nothing was ever going to be the same again. And it hasn’t been.”
After nearly a decade of marriage, their relationship continues to blossom.
“Everything is wonderful,” Brandi told Howard. “She’s my … absolute best friend and arch-rival, and the person I love to be around the most, and the person I hate to leave a room, and the person that I argue with until late in the night.”
The Twins Perform ‘The Sound of Silence’
While discussing some of the best songs ever recorded, Brandi let it slip her bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth had been working on a mean cover. “You ever heard the twins sing Simon & Garfunkel? They do ‘Sound of Silence,’” she said.
Howard was intrigued. “You guys are super talented. I want to hear it,” he begged.
Brandi was equally curious what her bandmates’ voices would sound like so early in the morning, and Tim and Phil were happy to oblige. “We can do a little piece of it,” Tim said while strumming the intro to the iconic song.
“Wow,” co-host Robin Quivers said after hearing the opening verse.
“Wow is right,” Howard said. “This is why I love talking to musicians. Within 30 seconds you gave me goosebumps and tears.”
Never Meet Your Heroes (Unless They’re Elton John)
Brandi grew up idolizing rock icon and repeat Stern Show guest Elton John – so much so that while other girls she competed in music contests against emulated the likes of Celine Dion and Reba McEntire, she went with the “Rocket Man” instead.
“One time, I convinced my mom to let me dress up in like a white suit and do ‘Honky Cat,’ which is such an eccentric song for like a 12-year-old,” she recalled of the 1972 hit. “She made me like big, feathered sunglasses out of pipe cleaners and boat shoes that said ‘E’ and ‘J’ on each foot with like sequins and stuff … that was a big moment, actually.”
The singer has since become friends with her hero and she told Howard the feeling has gotten less surreal as time has passed. “I’m getting less and less nervous,” Brandi noted of the dynamic. “He’s like every single thing you hope he would be and that includes great at dirty jokes, curses every third word, but like he’s also really upstanding and moral and he’s got a lot of opinions … I picked a good one, you know?”
Madwoman Across the Water
Choosing to play the Elton song “Madman Across the Water” Tuesday morning with her band, Brandi explained its greatness and that she picked it specifically for Howard. “I think it’s really rhythmically unique and there’s something really unhinged about it,” she said. “It always makes you feel like you’re on the edge of your seat, like the whole thing could fall apart at any moment and indeed, sometimes it does. And I love the lyric, man … it’s about a proper weirdo.”
Pressed further, Brandi opined on who she believes the madman to be. “I think he’s a man of like great wisdom who makes a spectacle of himself and realizes that he’s being laughed at,” she explained, adding, “and he’s not being fully appreciated for his genius, but he can kind of take it.”
‘Right on Time’
Brandi closed out the interview and mini-concert with a performance of “Right on Time,” a single off her new album “In These Silent Days.” Before diving in, Howard was curious to learn how “Friends” star Courteney Cox came to direct the song’s music video.
“We became friends in the weirdest way and I got to hanging out with her and I realized how much we had in common,” Brandi said, explaining they met through their stylist and that Courteney, like herself, enjoyed cooking for everyone around her. “I sort of fell in love with her and so did [my wife] Catherine.”
“Courteney heard the song and she basically acted out the video for me,” Brandi continued, saying the actress had plenty of great ideas right away for the music video. The shoot was harder than Brandi expected—requiring her to conquer several fears in the process—but ultimately rewarding. “It made me so uncomfortable, and then when it was over I realized it was actually one of the most cathartic things I’ve done,” she said.
Brandi said the song itself was written quickly and meant to capture the intensity of the “silent days” her album was named after, as well as the strain they put on families and relationships.
After hearing the live in-studio performance of “Right on Time,” Howard and Robin were blown away. “I’m not going to be able to shake that off,” Robin said.
“That song is a home run,” Howard concluded. “I don’t even know how you hit those notes. My chills have chills.”