Brandi Carlile’s career seems stuck in the fast lane. Worse problems.
Weeks after notching yet another Grammy win, this time with her all-star country band The Highwomen, the Seattle folk-rock hero released a memoir, “Broken Horses,” on Tuesday. We recently had an in-depth conversation with the hay-hauling rock star-turned-author about the illuminating book – and that’s all well and good. But there was also some unfinished business.
We never really got the whole story on last year’s pandemic-delayed Soundgarden collab she and the Hanseroth twins recorded after being named 2020 Record Store Day Ambassadors. The two-track RSD exclusive, titled “A Rooster Says,” finds the trio tackling a pair of Soundgarden classics with the surviving members of the band. Carlile’s take on “Black Hole Sun” still beautifully haunts radio station airwaves, and, being supremely Seattle stuff, we had to get the backstory.
“We’re big Easy Street people and we’re big on all the indie record stores here,” Carlile said. “It’s one of those things that make us feel most proud to be from where we’re from. If you trigger it, man, we can get some big chest-pumping Seattle pride, and that Record Store Day Ambassador, it triggered it.”
Carlile and the twins were fresh off performing at the star-studded Chris Cornell tribute concert in 2019 when they got the RSD call. For the Los Angeles megashow celebrating Cornell’s life and music, Carlile had been tapped to sing Audioslave’s “Like a Stone” and a Chris Stapleton duet on Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike.” Day of the show, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron rang, wanting to know if Carlile could fill in for another artist who was slated to sing “Black Hole Sun.”
“I was like, you [expletive] know I can do it, absolutely! Are you kidding me?!” Carlile said. “I was like, just one condition – can the twins be the guys that say [high-pitched] ‘black hole sun!’ because I knew it was going to be one of our proudest moments as a trio.”
Carlile and the equally geeked twins were still buzzing when they got the RSD Ambassador nod and immediately knew they wanted to work with the fellow Seattle heavyweights for their RSD release. The two bands hit Shoreline’s famed London Bridge Studio to record together, a fitting site with shared history. It’s where Soundgarden cut its major-label debut, “Louder Than Love” (among a slew of other iconic grunge albums), and where a teenage Carlile met the Hanseroths as her career was gaining steam.
“There was like pictures of us on the walls, (looking) like kids in there,” Carlile said. “It was so surreal to be in that studio with those guys. We will never forget it.”
“Kim (Thayil)’s tone, Ben (Shepherd) with his frickin’ bass all the way down to his knees and Matt just brutalizing the drums,” she continued. “And I was getting to sing Chris’ songs in the original keys – it was still hard for me to sing, and I’m a woman. That’s how miraculous of a singer Chris Cornell was.”
Following the LA tribute, “Black Hole Sun” – Soundgarden’s most famous tune – seemed like a natural choice. But for our money, the stonerific B side “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” is the show-stealer – Carlile’s at-times Southern-ish drawl perfectly fitting the desert metal motif on the heavier-than-heavy sludgefest. Turns out, she’s had plenty of practice.
” ‘Searching’ is my favorite Soundgarden song,” Carlile explained. “I had covered it for years in Seattle. I covered it at the Paragon, at the Dubliner – I covered it all over town, acoustic. I’d always wanted to break that song back out again, so that one fit like a glove.”
There are a lot of legends on Carlile’s ever-growing list of collaborators. But playing with other hometown heroes – whether in the studio with Soundgarden or hopping onstage with Pearl Jam – is different.
“It feels maybe the most surreal, because … it brings you right back into who you are and where you came from,” Carlile said. “It makes you almost not be able to believe how far you’ve come.”