Bend loves Brandi Carlile.
Ticket sales tell the tale. The fast-rising singer-songwriter will return to town next week for her fourth and fifth shows in three years (see “If you go”). Both shows have been sold out for weeks, as was her last appearance here, last summer at the Tower Theatre.
And Brandi Carlile loves Bend back, though it has little to do with tickets.
“I love the area. It feels like home to me,” she said last week in a telephone interview from a tour stop in New Orleans. “There’s definitely an element of nature there that makes me feel really grounded. It’s exceedingly beautiful, and all the people just seem to be really open and receptive.”
People, in fact, are the reason Carlile clearly remembers each of her Bend shows. Her first, in June 2007, was as an opener for her good friends and mentors The Indigo Girls. Her second — opening for Sheryl Crow at Les Schwab Amphitheater in 2008 — is where her opinion of local music fans was formed.
“I remember she was late to the gig and I had to play for a long time. I mean, I must’ve played for 45 minutes into her set before she got there,” Carlile said, “and the audience never once left us. They never once acted bored or irritated, and they were incredibly receptive to Sheryl when she got there. They let me play at least half an hour (or) 45 minutes into a Sheryl Crow show without Sheryl Crow, and I won’t ever forget that about Bend. I won’t ever forget how kind they were.”
Her audience last summer at the Tower — a much different venue with a much different atmosphere — was equally memorable, she said.
“We had an attentive audience, but they were also rowdy at all the right times,” Carlile said with a laugh. “That one was coming off the end of a ... strenuous two-month tour, and I thought I was done. I mean, I thought I was just too tired. And when we went and walked out on stage for that first song and I felt the energy coming from the audience, I got a second wind. I could’ve gone for another month after that show.”
If Bend audiences are enraptured by Carlile and her songs, they’re not alone. Just three records into her career, the Seattle-area native is, by all accounts, one of music’s rising superstars. Her game appears to have no weaknesses: She’s an ace songwriter with a singing voice that’s both enormous and endearing. She’s an engaging performer with looks that match her chops. And at only 28, she seems wise beyond her years, and she pours that wisdom into her songs.
Take Carlile’s most recent album, released last fall. It’s called “Give Up the Ghost,” and it features several big-name guests, such as Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, Heartbreakers multi-instrumentalist Benmont Tench, Indigo Girl Amy Ray, and the man Carlile called her “greatest hero of all time,” Elton John.
Despite the glitzy names, however, Carlile’s songs and voice stand out. “Give Up the Ghost” is a solid collection of tunes that run the gamut from driving rock to delicate folk to rollicking, Dixieland piano-pop.
Thematically, the record works with a wide-angle lens, looking not at life’s little this-and-that, but the bigger picture.
“We had a concern about ‘Give Up the Ghost,’ because to us it felt like a sophomore record, and we know what sophomore records are all about,” Carlile said. (Her first two albums were recorded as one body of work but released separately.) “Your first record is about the vastness of life and all the things that happen to you the first time around — first love, first loss, coming of age. They’re huge, and that’s why they resonate with people.
“Second records are about the road, and the road is enchanting and it’s a wonderful topic, but it’s unrelatable, really,” she continued. “And it’s small. There are really big things that are happening to you while you’re on the road, but sometimes you can’t see past the road long enough to write about them, and what I really didn’t want to do was ... put out a record of road songs.”
The title, “Give Up the Ghost,” is a term commonly associated with death. But for Carlile, giving up the ghost means transcending the moment and focusing on what’s truly going on inside the head and the heart.
“It’s like, yeah, I miss my parents, but do I really miss my parents? Is that what I really feel right now? Do I miss my parents or do I miss being their daughter?” she said. “Do I miss being young enough to just have somewhere to go home to? So you transcend the immediate feeling, and you write about where it comes from.”
So, yeah, a conversation with Carlile can be deep. But it can also be silly when she talks about her dependence on coffee, and serious when she discusses working with super-producer Rick Rubin and the battle of art vs. commerce, and self-deprecating when she describes working with Elton John.
“Some would argue I didn’t keep my composure,” she said. “I would argue I didn’t keep my composure.”
But Carlile always seems steady and self-assured, even as the upward trajectory of her career gets steeper, with no peak in sight. In the coming months, she’ll join the lineage of two of her greatest influences when she records an episode of the long-running and respected “Austin City Limits” TV show, and then joins the revived Lilith Fair tour. The original Lilith Fair, which ran from 1997 to 1999, “shaped the kind of artist that I am,” Carlile said.
Even with Carlile’s preternatural level of talent and poise, this kind of rise can be overwhelming. “I couldn’t be more grateful. It couldn’t be more of an honor and a privilege to be where I am. I can say that for every one of me there’s a thousand people just as good ... who aren’t getting to live this life,” she said. “To say that I’m blessed is the understatement of the century.”