Brandi Carlile's Album Inspirations: Elvis, Elton John's Parenting & Being Painted

Brandi Carlile
Alysse Gafkjen

Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile is traipsing through an airport with her 3-year-old, Evangeline, discussing her latest album, By the Way, I Forgive You (out Feb. 16), over the phone, when there’s a serendipitous event: "There’s this girl with a guitar, singing 'What Can I Say' from my first album," says the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, 36. "She doesn't know it’s me -- I look like a kindergarten teacher." 

Coincidentally, that’s the core tension of Carlile’s weighty new LP: how an older millennial faces motherhood, marriage (she wed Catherine Shepherd in 2012) and mortality.


Bettmann/Getty Images

"[Co-producer] Dave Cobb loves [Presley’s 1972 medley] 'American Trilogy' and wanted me to understand the emotion and intensity Elvis put into it when we were working on [lead single] 'The Joke.'"


Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Sir Elton John, Elijah Joseph Daniel Furnish-John, Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John and David Furnish in September 2017.

"Nobody is ever prepared for what it means to be a parent -- and a gay parent, we’re just putting pen to paper and starting to tell other gay parents what it might be like. Over the past two years, I’ve heard a lot of wisdom from really interesting parents like Elton John, who went through an enormous change when he [and husband David Furnish] had kids, and I was observing them intensely."


Alexander Porter/BFA/REX/Shutterstock
Carlile & Shepherd

"I don’t think marriage is work, but I hear straight couples asked all the time, 'Do you feel different now that you’re married?' And they’re like, 'Hell, no,' because marriage is an institution they’ve had access to since the beginning of time. But it is different for us. That’s what [album-closer] 'Party of One' is about: No matter how epic the fight is, you always have to ask yourself what you can do to stay."


Courtesy Photo
Brandi Carlile, 'By The Way, I Forgive You'

"I flew to North Carolina and sat for [The Avett Brothers’] Scott Avett, who I am a massive fan of, and he painted me. I was honestly terrified -- I don’t know if you’ve seen his face, but he’s a perfect human -- and I never saw his painting until it was the album cover. Then [former presidential photographer] Pete Souza stayed at my house for eight days. I’d get out of bed in the morning, rubbing my eyes, and he’d be taking pictures. It was insane."

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 3 issue of Billboard.