When you interview someone as well known as Brandi Carlile, you sometimes get a pleasant guy named Sean or Chris who calls to let you know that the phone interview has been canceled. Someone named Shannon reschedules. When everything is sorted out, Sean or Chris will call to connect you to Carlile, letting you know that in 15 minutes he will chime in on the line to give you a five-minute warning.
Carlile, 30, is touring behind her fourth studio album, "Bear Creek," which came out last month, peaking at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 and No. 3 and No. 1 in rock and folk respectively. She has made records with iconic producers like Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Johnny Cash, Weezer) and T-Bone Burnett (Elvis Costello, Roy Orbison, K.D. Lang, Al Green). She's been interviewed by Rolling Stone, featured on National Public Radio and sold out 2,000-seat venues.
Chart success, handlers and sold-out concerts aren't often associated with singer-songwriters who dropped out of high school at 16.
Getting an early start in building this career fueled her decision to drop out and set out on her own.
"I couldn't think of a good reason not to get a head start," said Carlile, who signed with Sony-owned Columbia Records at 23 years old.
Looking back, she doesn't think dropping out got her signed any earlier. She especially wants younger fans to know that -- Carlile doesn't recommend dropping out of high school.
"I was working in bars and restaurants and busking to pay my truck payment, my rent and my cellphone bill," she said. "You don't drop out and get signed to Sony."
Carlile attributes her appeal to her band not sticking to any genre and casting a wider net, but it's her voice that's the center of it all.
"I think people gravitate toward her because the clarity and power behind that voice really makes you stop and say 'wait a minute; something is going here,' " said Loren Dixon, program director at KNBA. But Dixon admits he almost missed the boat on Carlile.
"I saw the name Brandi with an 'I' and my first instinct was, 'Oh, this is a pop artist and not for us,' and then started listening to some songs and realized, 'Yeah, this is for us,' " Dixon said.
He said her big vocals recall the rock vocalists of the '60s and '70s, and he called her songs relatable -- listeners feel like they know her. Dixon said that's reflected in her live show.
"I haven't seen that kind of general enthusiasm for an artist for quite a while up here. I've seen interest, I've seen exuberance, but there was squealing going on," said Dixon, who attended her two previous Alaska shows.
He said Carlile's relatability and sense of authenticity carry over to the stage, noting that despite her success, she has yet to be coerced by her label into singing pop songs.
"They know I can't sing that s--- with a straight face," said Carlile.
Then Sean or Chris chimes in: "Hey guys, I'm sorry to interrupt. Paul, you have about five more minutes."
Carlile's concert to benefit Covenant House
The Looking Out Foundation was founded in 2008 by Brandi Carlile as a humanitarian outreach organization. One dollar from each ticket sold for a Carlile concert goes to the foundation, which has channeled funds to charity groups like MusiCares, RED, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Human Rights Campaign and others. As part of that charity work, Carlile has started the Cause of the Day project to coincide with her summer tour.
The Looking Out Foundation will raise funds and promote awareness for local organizations nominated by fans from each city on the tour, and the Anchorage concert will benefit Covenant House, which serves homeless youth in the area.
"We thought that Covenant House would be a perfect choice for Anchorage because it serves the local community and it is a grass-roots organization that supports homeless youth, which is a cause Brandi really believes in," said the foundation's executive director, Catherine Shepard.