For Brandi Carlile, band and family are one and the same

Oct 8, 2021
Originally published on October 8, 2021 8:44 am

If you're looking for a song to introduce you to Brandi Carlile, you could do worse than 2007's "The Story." It's her breakout single, and a great showcase of the range and expressiveness of her voice, how it can begin soft and vulnerable and then practically knock you out of your seat. And if you listen closely, it also gives you a window into the importance of two other musicians in her career.

Brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth, identical twins, have been collaborating with Carlile for years: They play bass and guitar, write or co-write many of the songs, sing harmonies and bring a certain edge to her music. And over time, the three musicians have gone from being bandmates and best friends to being an actual family. Their story together began in a recording studio in Seattle.

"I was in Seattle in my late teens in the late '90s, cutting demos in the upstairs bedroom of a recording studio," Carlile says. "I couldn't afford to be down in the big studio — which is where a whole bunch of Alice in Chains stuff was recorded, Pearl Jam's Ten, Temple of the Dog. It was kind of like the Seattle institution at the time."

At the same time, the Hanseroth twins were downstairs in the big studio with their band the Fighting Machinists, who seemed to be going places — Carlile says she couldn't stop hearing their names around town at the time. When they decided to all hang out one night, there was an instant connection.

"Her sense of humor, the like way she kind of, presented herself," Tim recalls, "I was like, 'Oh man. This is going to be a friend for life.' "

"Well, it was like that," Carlile concurs. "I wasn't used to, like, cool guys being nice to me. You know what I mean? I was just coming out of high school, and being queer in a small town. And I just wasn't expecting such a friendship."

In time, the Fighting Machinists broke up. Brandi and Tim started playing together, but Phil was resistant.

"Our band had just lost our record deal," Phil says. "We're busy working. Marriage is sort of on the rocks. I'm in two other bands. And then kind of hearing, 'Do you want to start doing this stuff after work three or four nights a week?' I was like, 'Not really!' But it took a moment. It took sort of hearing the harmony to kind of go like, 'OK, this is something special. You don't put an ad in the paper and find this.' "

YouTube

Today, the three friends and their spouses live together on a rural property outside Seattle. Phil is remarried to Carlile's younger sister, so they really are a big family — and the web of connections grows tighter when you factor in the children and in-laws that have become part of their extended clan, as Carlile explains: "It's like, me and my wife and our two daughters. Tim and Hanna and their son and daughter. Phil and Tiffany and their two kids, a boy and girl. And then, married to my wife's sister is our long time cellist, Josh. Married to my wife's other sister is our engineer, Jerry. And so there are more kids kind of being added to the compound, and yeah, we kinda all live in the same place."

And it was there, during quarantine, that she and the twins wrote most of their new album. It's called In These Silent Days, and perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of the songs are about family — which Carlile says created a push and pull between her creative instincts and her own insecurities.

"There's definitely something that tugs on you," she says, "like a youthfulness that tugs on an artist and goes, 'Oh, do you want to write about your kids? Do you wanna write about being a parent or a spouse? Are you trying to sound middle aged?' But you have to sort of squish that voice back down, no matter where you are as an artist, because authentically, it's true. It's the stuff that's on my mind, and that really is what we're waking up to every day."

YouTube

For Carlile, this steadily expanding personal and music project can sometimes feel like a way to create a stable family environment on her own terms. Tim says he sees their connection a little more simply.

"I honestly think what we do musically is just a result of our friendship, and not the other way around," he says. "I mean, I like fishing — when we all just go fishing or pulling up crab pots or shrimp pots together. Like, music's fun too. But I think the music happens because we experience all this life together."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE STORY")

BRANDI CARLILE: (Singing) All of these lines across my face tell you the story of who I am.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Brandi Carlile is a singer-songwriter with this really expressive voice and a huge vocal range. She does these songs that start out soft and vulnerable. And then they just knock you down.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE STORY")

CARLILE: (Singing) All of these lines across my face tell you the story of who I am.

MARTIN: This song, called "The Story," came out in 2007. It's Carlile's breakout single and a perfect starting point for our story because it points to something really interesting about so much of Brandi Carlile's music. It's a complete band effort, a partnership between Carlile and these two other musicians, named Phil and Tim Hanseroth. They're identical twins. They play bass and guitar. They write or co-write many of the songs, including the one we're hearing now, sing harmonies and bring a lot of edge to the music. As we'll hear, the three musicians have gone from being bandmates and best friends to being an actual family.

We talked to them last week, a couple days before the release of Carlile's latest record. And I wanted to know how the three of them crossed paths in the first place. Here's Brandi.

CARLILE: I was in Seattle in my late teens in the late '90s cutting demos in, like, an upstairs bedroom of a recording studio. I couldn't afford to be down in the big studio, which is where a whole bunch of Alice In Chains stuff was recorded, and Pearl Jam "Ten" and Temple of the Dog. And it was kind of like the Seattle institution at the time.

MARTIN: Phil and Tim were downstairs in the big studio. And their band, the Fighting Machinists, seemed to be going places.

CARLILE: And I really looked up to them because they have a record deal and they were so cool. And it's like all anybody talked about around Seattle was the Hanseroth twins - the twins, the twins.

MARTIN: Tim says he'd been hearing about Brandi, too, and that amazing voice. And when they decided to hang out one night, there was just this instant connection.

TIM HANSEROTH: Her sense of humor, her, like, way she kind of, like, presented herself - I was like, oh, man, this is like - this is going to be a friend for life.

CARLILE: Well, it was like that. It was like - I wasn't used to cool guys being nice to me, you know I mean?

MARTIN: Interesting.

CARLILE: I was, like, just coming out of high school - and being queer in a small town. And I just wasn't expecting such a friendship.

MARTIN: Over time, the Fighting Machinists broke up, and Brandi and Tim started playing together. But Phil wasn't into this idea at first.

PHIL HANSEROTH: Yeah. It's just that our band had just lost our record deal. You know, we're busy working, marriage is sort of on the rocks.

MARTIN: Oh.

P HANSEROTH: I'm in two other bands - and then kind of hearing, do you want to start doing this stuff after work three or four nights a week?

T HANSEROTH: (Laughter).

P HANSEROTH: And I was kind of like...

T HANSEROTH: (Laughter).

P HANSEROTH: Not really.

CARLILE: Not really.

(LAUGHTER)

P HANSEROTH: But it took a moment. Like, it took sort of hearing the harmony to kind of go like, OK, this is something that, like - it's special. You don't put it out in the paper and find this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS TIME TOMORROW")

BRANDI CARLILE, PHIL HANSEROTH, TIM HANSEROTH: (Singing) When the fire inside that burns so bright begins to grow faded, it can be hard to see the ground on which you stand. Though you may not be afraid of walkin' in the darkness, you will feel like a stranger in this land.

MARTIN: Today the three friends and their spouses live altogether on a rural property outside Seattle. Phil is remarried to Brandi's younger sister. So now they really are a big family.

We should also say you guys have a lot of kids in the picture, too.

CARLILE: Yeah. Right now there's seven.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You went - there was a pause. I heard you silently counting.

CARLILE: 'Cause there's a new one. There's a new one. I mean, it gets worse than this, Rachel. It's like, me and my wife and our two daughters, Tim and Hanna and their son and daughter, Phil and Tiffany and their two kids - boy and girl. And then married to my wife's sister is our longtime cellist Josh.

MARTIN: What?

(LAUGHTER)

CARLILE: And then married to my wife's other sister is our engineer Jerry. And so there are more kids kind of be added to the compound. And yeah, we kind of all live in the same place.

MARTIN: And it was there during quarantine that Brandi and the twins wrote most of their new album. It is called "In These Silent Days." And maybe not surprisingly, a lot of the songs are about family.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAMA WEREWORLD")

CARLILE: (Singing) Your mama is a werewolf with long, sharp teeth. I'm up all night, when the world should sleep.

There's definitely something that tugs on you, like a youthfulness that tugs on an artist and goes, do you want to write about your kids? Do you want to write about being a parent or a spouse, or, you know, are you trying to sound middle-aged.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CARLILE: And it's like...

(LAUGHTER)

CARLILE: But you have to sort of like squish that voice back down and just be where you are as an artist because, like, authentically, it's true. It's the stuff that's on our mind. And that really is what we're waking up to every day.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LETTER TO THE PAST")

CARLILE: (Singing) It's a game. Baby, it's just a game. And nobody loses when you learn to love the one who finally wins Sometimes.

MARTIN: I mean it's clear, Brandi, your own story's out there. You kind of found your own way through a lot of different challenges, including family and addiction stuff. And a lot of your journey seemed to be a quest to create a stable family environment on your own terms. Is that basically what you have ended up creating with Phil and Tim?

CARLILE: I think so, yeah. I mean, I take a lot of pride in my personal tendency towards codependence, you know, whereas a lot of people, I think, spend most of their lives trying to eradicate it. And that's probably because there were things about my family that really did work for me. Being able to sort of take those quirky little dysfunctions and codependencies and apply that has been paramount to me becoming the kind of person that can start a family of my own, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LETTER TO THE PAST")

CARLILE: (Singing) You're my letter to the past.

MARTIN: Tim and Phil, this is kind of an unlikely creative familial project (laughter) you guys have all embarked on.

T HANSEROTH: Yeah. It has been strange. I honestly think everything that we do musically is just a result of our friendship and not the other way around.

CARLILE: Yeah. It's true. It's probably the thing we do the least, is music (laughter), I would think.

T HANSEROTH: Yeah. I mean, I like when we all just go fishing or pulling up crab pots or shrimp pots together. Like, I mean, music's fun too, but I think the music happens because we experience all this life together. And it's odd. Sometimes I wonder what it was that made us all click.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LETTER TO THE PAST")

CARLILE: (Singing) You're a stone wall in a world full of rubber bands.

MARTIN: Brandi Carlile, Tim and Phil Hanseroth, it's been such a pleasure talking to you guys. Thank you so much.

T HANSEROTH: Thank you.

CARLILE: Thank you.

P HANSEROTH: Thank you.

MARTIN: Their new album is called "In These Silent Days."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LETTER TO THE PAST")

CARLILE: (Singing) And leave when the cracks appear - darlin', I will be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.