For Brandi Carlile, band and family are one and the same
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.' "
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."
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."
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