After the pandemic delayed Brandi Carlile’s second annual Echoes Through the Canyon concert by a year, the Maple Valley Grammy slayer is heading back to the Gorge Amphitheatre Aug. 14 with support from Sheryl Crow and roots-fusing rocker Amythyst Kiah. The Gorge bash, which will also be livestreamed through VEEP ($25), won’t be Carlile’s first gig since pandemic restrictions eased. But it will be one of her first shows since announcing her forthcoming album “In These Silent Days,” a top-to-bottom stunner arriving Oct. 1 that finds Carlile making even bigger creative strides than she and the Hanseroth twins did on 2018’s “By the Way, I Forgive You.” (Yes, it’s that good.)
We caught up with Carlile ahead of the show to discuss Echoes Through the Canyon, her knee-buckling new single “Right On Time” and pandemic voyages aboard her new boat, named after a classic Elton John album (naturally). Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What was it like preparing for those first [July] shows in Montana after all this time off?
Oh, it was nuts. I was really nervous. I was working out trying to do cardio and eat right, no alcohol, and hydrate — all this kind of stuff. I thought I could prepare myself for it. But when I actually got on stage [laughs] A) there was no emotionally preparing myself for what that felt like. But B), the physicality of live performance cannot be trained. There’s no way to predict the muscles that you use and the stuff you do on a stage when your adrenaline’s pulsing that hard. So by the next day, I felt like I was in a car accident.
How did it feel emotionally to get back on stage?
I was mentally preparing myself so that I didn’t cry, because crying destroys your vocals for a good hour. So I knew I couldn’t do that. But the second song in, the last chorus I kinda lost control for a minute and had to stop singing. It was just beautiful. I think that the energy of a live concert, I’m used to it coming at me from the audience like a silent invisible wave of palpable energy coming from the crowd towards me in one direction. And the way that it feels right now is like being in the middle of a cyclone, like in [the] circle of the energy. Because it kinda hits me in a roundabout way and it comes back and goes back into the crowd, and I see it hit them.
It’s like this universal thing. I think that we are sort of transcended by the audacity of togetherness, because I don’t know if any of us really fully knew if it would ever be this way again. And here it is, it is that way again. And we don’t even care what the person to the right or the left of us believes. We just care that we are together and we’re vaccinated.
Echoes Through the Canyon, this burgeoning tradition you started at the Gorge, was interrupted by the pandemic. How do you feel specifically about resuming what you started out there, at a place that I know is special to you?
Well, born and raised PNW, Washington state girl, that venue’s been in my soul and in my life since I was a child. To me, it was a damn near unattainable dream, and I’ve always been pretty good at dreaming big. But I don’t think I ever dreamed Gorge big. So when I’m there, my whole life flashes before my eyes. It’s kind of a stunning realization to me. It’s always so surreal. It’s like, “Oh my God, I’m at the Gorge and I’m on this side of the chain-link fence.” I’m not up there on that blanket like I have been my whole life just wishing it was me down here. It is me down here now.
And of course, we have new music from you. Why did you select “Right On Time” as the first single?
I think that song kind of selected itself, don’t you? It’s just got this way of telling you it’s important and I knew as soon as it was written that it was the song that I could step up and say, “OK, I’ve done that since ‘The Joke.’” And I’m really proud of it. Like, really proud of it. And singing it is euphoric.
Can you tell me about how the song came together and where you were coming from lyrically?
Well lyrically, we were in these silent days. We were in these moments of uncertainty that could very easily give way to apathy and monotony and I think that some of our relationships and our hearts sort of suffered and broke in all that stress without any outlet for it. People got married, divorced, babies were born and people died, and there was this placidity. I wouldn’t say serenity, I would say placidity about that time. That song “Right On Time” is about ending that apathy in a big way — and it doesn’t necessarily mean you ended it in the right way. It just means that something happened to break the silence. Something happened to break the monotony of that time and it might not have been right, but it was right on time, like it needed to happen.
After all the success of the last few years, did you feel any added pressure to sort of get it right with whatever music you first put out under your own name again?
I felt a little bit of pressure as a songwriter to follow up “The Joke.” I felt like “The Joke” was a really good song and I’m really proud of it. So, it was hard for me to relax about that. But I’m not an intentional writer anyway, so I knew that even if I tried I wouldn’t be able to make myself write another song like “The Joke,” or a song better or lesser than “The Joke.” I knew that whatever song came to me I would just have to write it and that would be the direction that I was headed in musically. And it was “Right On Time.” And when it arrived, I was open arms to it.
How did you and Courteney Cox connect and wind up working together for the video?
We connected in kind of a roundabout way. We both have the same stylist. Our stylist, Maryam Malakpour, is like an absolute visionary. She’s more than a person that picks out your clothes. She helps you figure out who you are and how you want to present, and that says a lot too about queerness and gender presentation and things that are really important to me. So she’s important and when she tells me something is special I listen. She loves Courteney and around that time, Courteney had done a cover of “The Joke” on piano.
We met on Instagram through Maryam and “The Joke” — and I think Ellen DeGeneres sent me the video of Courteney singing “The Joke.” We just connected and decided to hang out. Then the pandemic hit and we didn’t get to hang out in person, but we stayed in touch. Then just a few months before the video, we actually met and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m obsessed with this person. This person’s amazing.”
I know you worked with Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings again. What is it about the chemistry between you all that you wanted to get the band back together, so to speak, for the new album?
This band right now, me and Tim and Phil have been together for 22 years. We’re a family, we’ll never not play together for a day in our lives. We’re always together. But this band in terms of the strings and Chris Powell on the drums again, then Dave and Shooter in the studio — and now Shooter’s in the band playing piano. This band is feeling really exciting and energizing to me right now. When I left “By the Way, I Forgive You,” I felt like I left in the middle of something instead of the end of something. And I wanted to go back in because I knew there was more in that vein to say and do. And I was right.
Sonically, are there any elements of the new record that you felt are a departure from “By the Way, I Forgive You” or is it more of a continuation?
It’s not a continuation. It wound up being shockingly different. But spiritually, it’s a continuation.
You’ve been busy with a number of projects during the pandemic. But I also remember seeing you got a boat. Any big nautical adventures?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I got my whole captain’s license, I got a boat. I’m spending all my time out in the Sound, the Strait, the San Juans. I hit all of the Dungeness seasons, all the shrimping days, I hit lingcod and then halibut and chinook. [I] basically spend a lot of my time just being a PNW girl these days out there in my boat, the Captain Fantastic.
Heading into the Gorge, can we expect to hear a fair amount from the new record?
Oh yeah. I got some wild surprises for the Gorge. Anybody that’s gonna come to that show is never gonna forget it.