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The honesty of the subconscious

On 'Giving Up the Ghost,' Brandi Carlile was trying to transcend the world that surrounds her

Brian T. Atkinson
Brandi Carlile says she was influenced by the Lilith Fair tours. 'It really sculpted me musically and socially, and it gave me a foothold in my position as a female artist,' she says.

Brandi Carlile's 'Give Up the Ghost' backs probing narratives with an unmistakably independent spirit. Accordingly, the 28-year-old singer, who will join Sarah McLachlan's rejuvenated Lilith Fair this summer, connects deeply with our most autonomous icon.'Oh, I love Willie Nelson and ('Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain') so much,' Carlile says. 'My grandfather used to sing that song. It's one of my favorite country songs ever written.' The Washington state native performs Saturday at Hogg Memorial Auditorium.

American-Statesman: How did the songs on 'Give Up the Ghost' come together?

Brandi Carlile: I think this one came together more like a second album. The first and second (albums) were kind of the same body of work. When we made the first record, we made it like a compilation of B-sides to sell at our shows. 'The Story,' which we made with T-Bone Burnett, we consider the first to not be B-sides. This actually ended up being our deepest, most complex lyrically.

Explain its lyrical concept.

It's written around the concept that your subconscious mind is more honest with you than your environment is. Your environment can limit you to the moment. And although living in the moment is a great way to live life, it's not really where great art comes from. That's the whole concept of giving up the ghost, trying to transcend the moment and pull from a bigger place.

Like 'Dreams'?

'Dreams' is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. It's a song about sex dreams! Look, it is what it is. They happen when you're on the road for a long time (laughs)!

You haven't been comfortable in the studio in the past. Were you this time?

No, I was just as uncomfortable this time as I was last time, if not more so. That's honest. I'm a live artist. It's really easy to extract this performance of intensity and honesty when you have a thousand people hurling their energy toward the stage. There's something to draw from.

So, you have to manufacture that live energy in the studio?

Yeah. For example, I sang the whole 'Looking Out' with (Indigo Girls singer) Amy Ray in the booth with me. That made me nervous (laughs), and it made me really excited.

At least you'll be in your natural element on the Lilith Fair tour this summer.

I don't know what kind of artist I would be without Lilith Fair. I went to every single one in my hometown. Every one! I didn't just go; I camped and I busked and I was a part of it. It really sculpted me musically and socially, and it gave me a foothold in my position as a female artist. It's huge to be asked to be apart of it.

Was it more the message or the artists that impacted you?

Certainly the concept of Lilith Fair is as important as the tour. The social activism and the outreach that was happening specifically in each individual town was just as powerful and made just as much of an impact as the music itself did. It was an unbelievable experience for a 17-year-old.

Will you be playing the Lilith date in Austin (exact dates have not been announced)?

I was told I'll be playing a few dates in Texas. That was the only hint I was given — a few dates in Texas. If that means Austin, that'd be amazing!