In 2014, Brandi Carlile embarked on the first ever Pindrop tour: A series of concerts with “no amplification, no microphones, [and] no PA system” that took place in old venues built to help sound carry before electronic assistance was available or desirable. She hit the road with “the twins,” her longtime collaborators Tim and Phil Hanseroth; Tim, Phil, and Brandi each have a young child, and all three kids came along for the ride as well.
The trip was historic in some ways — Carlile suggests that the Pindrop tour was the first of its kind — so she made a short documentary about it. Watch part 1 here. Below, view parts 2 and 3, premiering exclusively on Billboard, and read a Q&A about her adventures in un-amplified performances.
How old is your daughter now?
Evangeline is 18 months old, she was born in June.
When you first decided you were going to have a kid, did you already know you were going to take him or her on the road?
I knew because the twins had theirs out. Theirs are a little bit older than mine, so it was always kind of a thing that were going to have our families out on the road. We knew were going to live a little bit differently than most people that do this job.
When did the twins have their children?
Josephine is going to be four in March. Wilder just turned two a couple days ago.
So once one of you decided to have a baby, all the rest followed suit?
We do things like that; we always have. Every milestone we’ve each taken individually we’ve taken it together, either by design or coincidence.
How long have you been playing with the twins?
About 15 years.
And all three kids get along ok?
They get along great. It’s funny because they’re each an only child. There are three only children having to share space together, and thank God — it teaches them really valuable skills for interacting and sharing and conflict resolution. My daughter is obsessed with them. She says nothing but Wilder and Jojo all day long.
Were your parents musicians?
Yeah, my mom is a singer. She didn’t tour or anything, but she had covers bands and played at bars and it was sort of part of our family’s culture for a long time.
There are some famous musicians whose parents took them out on the road, like Questlove. Do you think your child is going to end up being a musical genius?
She doesn’t seem like much of a musical genius! She won’t entertain people. She has a way about her, she has a sweetness and she doesn’t need to be the center of attention like her mother does.
Does she know your songs now?
She really shows partiality to the really rocking ones like “Mainstream Kid.”
But you were out on an acoustic tour this time — have you done the Pindrop Tour format before?
No, it’s the first time anyone has ever done that including me. It was a whole concept about old, un-amplified venues being kind of underserved by the fact that people go in there with PA systems and blast these rooms out like they don’t really have anything to say. The Pindrop tour was about making the room a part of the band and a part of the evening.
When did you come up with that idea?
Over the years of touring mostly the East Coast and Europe, I’d play beautiful old theaters that are built for amplification. They’re made to carry sound with or without a PA system. I wanted to really use that to its full potential and bring people in to hear these rooms that are in their towns that they go to night after night for concerts but haven’t ever really heard them.
What was it like rearranging the songs for the new style?
That was the complicated thing. We showed up thinking we were just going to get to play our songs, but the truth is the dynamics get much different when you don’t have amplification. If you’re playing a song and there’s a guitar solo, chance are first of all you’re probably not going to hear that solo very well, and if the guitar player turns to me or to his brother for showmanship, to the audience, the sound just disappears. It changes things in that respect. And normal human things like stomping become a percussion instrument that you can’t just start and stop randomly whenever you want to. You have to think about what your body is doing. What it basically inspires is more connectedness and more outward expression towards the crowd. And a lot less acting.
Did you have a theater of the right sort to rehearse in before the tour?
We got one day of rehearsal out in Portsmouth, New Hampshire at a place called the Portsmouth Music Hall — one of the most beautiful pre-amplification venues in the country. One of the oldest ones actually. It’s a picture box style theater that’s just literally stunning.
Just one day?
One day. We cut half the songs off the setlist and completely re-approached the whole tour based on one practice.
Those songs didn’t have enough dynamics. They didn’t get quiet enough and loud enough in one moment. They were too linear for that setup.
You talked in one of the videos about the connection between entertaining and motherhood — can you expand on that a little bit?
There’s definitely a moving beyond self that happens when you’re entertaining. I’m not saying it’s an act of charity or anything pious like that, I’m just saying that essentially it causes you to look beyond yourself and try to fill a need or fill a void. I think about that every time I step out on stage. What’s this room here for? Why, collectively, are these people here? What, collectively, do they want? You can tell right away if they want to dance, or if they want to sing, or if they want to cry. You can tell right away the collective energy of the room — it takes on a life of itself, and you cater to that need. Certainly having a baby for me has drawn a correlation between those things. Every morning I walk into her room and think, what does she need me to be today? Though have to take a lot of breaks from entertaining, and I don’t get a lot of breaks from motherhood.
Has the Pindrop approach influenced you in the studio?
It influenced the last album and it will certainly influence the next. It’ll influence every single song I write from here on out. It was such a raw way to present my songs. Without a mic and a bunch of reverb and fancy colored lights and a fog machine and all that shit, it was every word that came out of my mouth felt like it was supposed to be more important. Because it felt like a preaching pulpit in some way. It was much different than a rock n’ roll show. It really made me squeamish about my half-hearted lyrics. When I would say them, the ones I knew I didn’t put my heart and soul into, I noticed it. I felt it. Whenever I write a song now, I think could I say this in a Pindrop tour? And if I couldn’t say this in a Pindrop tour, then I can’t say it. Can I make this truly expressive and poignant or not? If I can’t, it’s not worth it.
Carlile has several tour dates coming up; check those out below:
11/30 – Brownfield, ME – The Stone Mountain Arts Center
12/2 – Rutland, VT – Paramount Theatre
12/4 – New York, NY – Beacon Theatre
12/5 – Poughkeepsie, NY – Bardavon
12/6 – New Haven, CT – College Street Music Hall
12/30 – Chicago, IL – Thalia Hall
12/31 – Chicago, IL – Thalia Hall