LOS ANGELES — They say it’s “music’s biggest night.” But with the 62nd annual Grammy Awards happening Sunday at Staples Center, the party starts long before the red carpet is rolled out. The music industry’s highest celebration spawns a week’s worth of events and our Seattle contingent got in on the action. Here’s how a few Seattle-linked acts kicked off their Grammy weekend.
Thursday, Jan. 23 — Sound check before Brandi Carlile’s show
The line on Sunset Boulevard formed several hours before showtime. T-shirt bootleggers patrol the sidewalks outside of a security gate, while on the other side, two photographers hover on a red carpet, ready to snap Instragrammable pictures of people deemed very important.
Inside, Brandi Carlile — whose name will grace the Hollywood Palladium’s marquee that night — and longtime bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth are midway through one of the less glamorous aspects of putting on a Big Time Rock Show: sound check. A pesky kick drum keeps reverberating and Tim is fighting a nasty guitar hiss, issues seemingly resolved by the time their hard-rockin’ set — part of a corporate-backed Grammy-week concert series for holders of a certain credit card — gets underway later that night.
In front of an audience of at least three sound techs, one reporter and a dozen or so scurrying venue staff, Carlile and her band — replete with three-piece string section — symphonically thunder through a test run of Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water” that make us fear for the ornate chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. “Wooooo, all right!” Carlile exclaims, presumably satisfied with the results. “That sounds crazy.”
After a whopping six-night stand at Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium, Carlile and the Hanseroth twins are in Los Angeles for the Grammy Awards. Following last year’s showstopping Grammy spree, the familial trio is up for several more trophies, primarily for their work on Tanya Tucker’s resurgent album “While I’m Livin’.”
“Oh god, I should show ya,” Tim says excitedly, later sitting in the velvet-roped VIP section before the crowd swarms in. “When we were making the record … I was like, ‘You know what Tanya, if this record goes No. 1 or if it gets a Grammy nom, I’m gonna get a Tanya Tucker tattoo.’”
Tucker’s career-jolting album earned four nominations, actually, with Carlile and the Hanseroths sharing in two of them (Song of the Year and Best Country Song) as co-writers on Tucker’s “Bring My Flowers Now.” True to their word, Tim and Phil, who pledged the same, roll up their sleeves to reveal matching two-day-old tattoos bearing Tucker’s name and a rose.
“We can’t do her next record because we’re gonna run out of room on our arms,” Phil jokes later.
While it’s another busy Grammy week of rehearsals and gala appearances for Carlile, who will perform with Tucker during Sunday’s televised ceremony, the Hanseroths are getting off easy this year. They’ll do a few promo events, stroll the red carpet and cheer on their bandleader and Tucker during the awards show. Otherwise, it’s largely back to dad mode with their official Grammy entourage, including their wives and two kids each. Phil’s on double parenting duty, since his wife, who’s also Carlile’s sister, is doing Carlile’s hair and makeup all week.
The glitzy, celeb-sighting red-carpet milieu stands in contrast to Carlile and the twins’ rural King County lifestyles when back home, but they’re hardly fish out of water, having experienced “music’s biggest night” several times now.
“I like to walk the red carpet because my wife loves it,” says Tim, minutes before retreating backstage as fans start trickling in. “I’m not crazy about it because I’m not like a ‘born star’ or anything like that. … But I really feel proud to be able to go there with my wife and be like ‘Man, we really earned being here,’ you know?”
Later Thursday night, despite coming off that Nashville run, it feels like Carlile and the twins are ready to blow off some steam during their unbridled performance. Sure, those three-part harmonies — which a reminiscing Carlile notes weren’t exactly “cool” in late-’90s Seattle, when she was starting out — and knockout ballads are reliably flawless. But from the Metallica-on-acid riffage that dissolves into a kick-starting “Hold Out Your Hand” out the gate, it feels like Carlile and the band just want to crank it up and let loose.
“Ahhhhh, that feels so good!” Carlile exclaims after an extra rollicking “The Things I Regret.”
“I needed this, starting a week like this with so much pressure.”
Friday, Jan. 24 — Sneak peek at Pearl Jam’s new album
Even before the first tequila shot, Eddie Vedder seems to be in good spirits.
The Pearl Jam frontman is holding court in front of an invite-only crowd gathered in a dimly lit Hollywood event space. It’s a typical industrial-chic room where industry players and journalists, full on mushroom crostini and tiny cheeseburgers, are sprawled out on lounge-y bench sofas and stools before the main event. The NeueHouse Hollywood is a stone’s throw from the concert hall Carlile rocked the night before and less than a mile from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery where Chris Cornell’s ashes are buried, making this small pocket of valet country feel like Seattle’s Grammy-week ground zero.
We’re here for a sneak preview of Pearl Jam’s new album, “Gigaton,” arriving March 27 alongside a spring and summer tour (no Seattle dates at this time). Intrigue around the Seattle titans’ first studio album since 2013’s “Lightning Bolt” spiked days earlier when the band unveiled curveball single “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” which finds Pearl Jam armed with synthesizers and channeling its inner Talking Heads.
“I’m really hoping it’s loud,” Vedder says of the Dolby Atmos system — think surround sound on Jose Canseco-grade steroids — it will be played on. “My ears are not what they used to be. It’s an occupational hazard.”
Before the playback begins with Vedder leading the room in a ceremonial tequila toast, he offers a few words about the record he describes as having a layered, multidimensional sound — hence the Dolby Atmos system. Of the creative process, Vedder says: “You’re always searching for a little sort of magic. … To say that there was some magic” in this record would display “more self-confidence than I’ve had in my entire life.” Though he seems to believe there is.
Without drawing too many conclusions from a single listen, much of “Gigaton” feels like new terrain for the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers. At times there are hints of post-punk, warbly psych licks, spaced-out synth sounds, as well as Who-vian stadium thunder that wouldn’t sound out of place on other Pearl Jam records. For those wondering, “Dance of the Clairvoyants” may reside on the outer edges of the band’s latest experiments.
As the album blasts through the arsenal of speakers, Vedder sits in a reserved section with one of his daughters, plus Republic Records honcho Monte Lipman and others, hunched over listening intently. Midway through, Vedder briefly works the room with the aura of a rock-sage beach poet. But for a while there, he was just a convivial dude with a tequila bottle needing to be killed, coaxing people to drink at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
“I’ve toasted [with] a lot of you,” he says after the listening session comes to a close. “I’ve never had that much tequila in the middle of the afternoon.”
Saturday, Jan. 25 — Calexico and Iron & Wine at Willie Nelson tribute
The goose bumps provoked by Rhiannon Giddens’ precise, heart-stirring take on “Crazy” are lingering as Calexico’s Joey Burns and Sam Beam of Iron & Wine unassumingly take the Troubadour stage. The small and storied West Hollywood club — home to Elton John’s star-making first U.S. shows, and birthplace of the Byrds and the Eagles — is packed for one of Grammy week’s hotter (at least for the Americana crowd) open-to-the-public tickets.
The Americana Music Association assembled an all-star cast to pay homage to the music of country great Willie Nelson, who as singer-songwriter-producer Shooter Jennings explains later to one fan is not in the house because “he’s Willie [expletive] Nelson.” The roster is heavy on Grammy nominees from the roots field, including Calexico and Iron & Wine, whose Sub Pop-issued “Years to Burn” is up for Best Americana Album, with its track “Father Mountain” nominated for Best American Roots Performance.
“Joey and I have been touring together a lot — I mean a lot,” Beam jokes beneath a glowing neon sign behind the stage, “and this song came on our radar.”
The indie-folk songsmith and alt-country vet ease into a slow, misty version of “On the Road Again” that does nothing to quell those goose bumps, though the clanking of beer bottles from the bar temporarily subsides in step with the hushed crowd. Throughout the night, up-and-comers like Madison Cunningham and British roots powerhouse Yola hold their own among more established artists, including Highwoman Natalie Hemby, indie-folk whistler Andrew Bird and even John Prine, who’s set to receive a lifetime achievement award Sunday. Tanya Tucker, who was slated to join Jennings for a duet, took the night off in order to rest for her Grammy performance after coming down with bronchitis, according to Jennings, who co-produced her album alongside Carlile.
As Jennings’ rough-and-tumble performance turns into an all-crew “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” a 1978 country chart-topper for his father, Waylon, and Nelson, the perfectly burning nightcap feels more PBR than caviar — an unbuttoned ceremony before everyone puts on those black ties and fancy dresses.