Brandi Carlile's third album, Give Up The Ghost, unveils her talents in their truest form. After two albums and non-stop touring, she has let her guard down and offers her most candid recording to date. If the phrase "give up the ghost" most often refers to death or dying, it can also be used to describe the passing of stages in life, of transformation.
"To give up the ghost is not just to die since we do it a handful of times throughout our lives. It's a sort of leaving yourself behind," she explains. "Or what you knew yourself to be so that you can grow and transcend love or youth. Sometimes both."
The recording of Give Up The Ghost offered new experiences including working with the likes of Elton John, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers multi-instrumentalist Benmont Tench, drummer Chad Smith and Amy Ray of The Indigo Girls, all of whom contribute to the album.
For Carlile, the album is one of extremes: "The songs that are stripped down, raw and bare are that way so it makes the listener feel a little uncomfortable," she says. "And the ones that are huge are really big, with big harmonies, piano, layering electric guitar solos and a string arrangement like at the end of 'Pride and Joy.'"
After debuting with her self-titled album in 2005, the Washington State-bred Carlile saw her fanbase mushroom with her sophomore disc, The Story, in 2007. Among the growing legion of Carlile fans is Elton John. "Brandi has an amazing voice," he says. "She�s a great songwriter and has a tremendous career ahead of her." Proudly, Carlile says that John - who duets with her on the song, "Caroline" - played a key a role in her evolution as an artist: "I've been listening to country and western music my whole life and I was totally immersed in Grand Ole Opry culture, wherein the entertainers are usually not the ones who wrote the music. But when I was 11 and discovered Elton John, I realized that performers do write and perform their own songs, and I immediately went out and got a keyboard and started writing." When they recorded together, "I was just overwhelmed by the years, and by the influence that somebody can have on another person's life without even knowing it."
"Caroline," a playful song inspired by her niece, is one of several songs riddled with confidence and proudly wearing the influence of Carlile's recent studio and stage success. Elsewhere, the sparse "If There Was No You," and the passionate, open-hearted "Looking Out" are simple, spirited love letters. On "That Year," Carlile remembers a friend who committed suicide while they were both teenagers. She had a dream about that friend, which led to the song: "Something like that never really leaves you. At that age, you might not have the coping skills to really understand."
Give Up The Ghost was recorded at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, birthplace of legendary recordings by The Doors and Led Zeppelin. The first single, "Dreams," was written with her longtime bandmates, twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth (on guitar and bass, respectively - Carlile's band also features cellist Josh Neumann). "The twins and I sat together in a circle and wrote 'Dreams' acoustically, with three-part harmonies. We put all of our energy into and it, and played it on the road for a year. But when it came time to record it with a drummer, we couldn't get it right. It wasn't sounding as energetic as it was supposed to. So we decided to just record it as the three of us. But, unbeknownst to us, in the other room, drums were being recorded as we were playing. It worked - we didn't end up changing the way we play it."
If she took root in performing songs by the likes of Patsy Cline as a child, Carlile's journey to places like Sunset Sound gained traction during her teen years when she first started playing in bands. Eventually, she and the Hanseroth twins recorded a collection of songs, for which they had modest hopes. To their surprise, those songs became Brandi Carlile, which sold more than 120,000 copies and spawned the popular single "What Can I Say."
Her second album, The Story, upped the ante considerably, selling 313,000 copies and rising to No. 41 on the Billboard albums chart, and boasting songs like the title track and "Turpentine." Several of Carlile's songs have appeared in commercials and on televisions shows such as Grey's Anatomy. Along the way, she has toured with the likes of Ray LaMontagne, and Sheryl Crow, who raved about Carlile's support performances online: "She has the most amazing voice I may have ever heard. Soulful. Country. Perfect in every way-and propelled by taste."
With all that encouragement and experience under her belt, when Carlile set out to make Give Up The Ghost, she did so with ample ambition: "When we recorded The Story, we set up our instruments with one drummer, like a stage, and we treated the record like a show, and we recorded that performance. This is this is the first time we treated something like a record. We really dug in and created an environment specifically for each song. We didn't go halfway on anything."