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Meet the 'other' Carlile who's making beautiful music

15-year-old Caroline, niece of Grammy winner Brandi Carlile, tours with her band Small Town Strings. #k5evening

SEATTLE — Grammy-winning artist Brandi Carlile isn’t the only member of her family making beautiful music.

Caroline Carlile plays banjo, guitar, and piano, records her own songs and is already producing music for other artists.

She’s Brandi’s niece, and just turned 15.

Based in Curlew, Washington (roughly a seven hour drive from Seattle,) she formed the band Small Town Strings.

Their first gig was for 20 people at a family reunion. Less than two years later, they played for a crowd of 12,000 as a featured artist at Kettle House Amphitheatre in Montana.

Accompanied by her 12-year-old brother JayJ and 17-year-old friends Hannah Jackson and Aurora Wentz, Carlile now regularly tours (and attends online public school at Insight School of Washington to accommodate her schedule.)

Evening host Kim Holcomb chatted with her via Zoom.

HOLCOMB: “We’re talking over Zoom because you live pretty far away from Seattle in a very small town — how many people live there?”

CARLILE: “About 7,000 in the county, which is as big as King County. In the town that I live in, I'm going to say an even 2,000."

HOLCOMB: “What does it feel like to play on stage in front of thousands of people?”

CARLILE: "People say it's inhuman to not get nervous before you go on stage — I don't. I get excited, but I'm not nervous. The 12,000 people was pretty crazy, it was really exhilarating."

HOLCOMB: "When did you know music was your thing?"

CARLILE: "I’m going to expose myself here: I was the most annoying small child. From five to seven, I wanted to sing and I wanted to dance and I wanted everybody to pay attention to me the entire time. I was always a big dreamer, I wanted to be like Dolly Parton. Then when I turned 12… I realized this is something that I always wanted to do and I was starting to see it come to fruition and see it as a possibility of something you could actually do as a job.”

HOLCOMB: “Who are your musical inspirations?”

CARLILE: "Dolly and John Prine, probably. I have a Dolly Parton shrine in my room.”

HOLCOMB: “And you got to meet Dolly — what was that like?”

CARLILE: “I got to meet Dolly when I was 13 in a studio in Nashville, and it was crazy. Lots of people say you should never meet your heroes but she was one of the biggest, most down to earth (people,) so friendly, so sweet. And she's, like, huge — she's a huge celebrity, but she was so cool."

HOLCOMB: “What would you say is your favorite aspect of creating?”

CARLILE: "I think first and foremost, it's always playing live. I very much like attention, and I love connecting with people. My second-favorite thing is probably recording and producing. It’s new for me because I just learned how to do it this year, over winter break. I recorded ‘Haunted Heart’ in my living room, so all of the button pushing and engineering stuff, that's all me. After that is writing. It's the same thing all writers say, it's very therapeutic and very necessary."

HOLCOMB: "When people hear your full name, and they hear your last name, do you see the wheels turning?"

CARLILE: "They will definitely make the connection. (But) I've had friends that had no idea, no idea. It's perfectly fine when they see it for (Brandi) and what she's done because it's all so cool and amazing. But it's also great when they just see it for what I've done."

HOLCOMB: "How has your aunt inspired you?”

CARLILE: “She's probably the second-biggest support system in my entire life besides my parents. I'm really grateful because I feel like I have learned a lot of stuff without having to experience anything bad, from her. Learning from the mistakes she's made so I don't have to experience that, some really bad stuff that I've avoided because of it."

HOLCOMB: "How does your hometown inspire you?"

CARLILE: "Because they're the type of people that you can always come back to, no matter what."

HOLCOMB: "Do you have any plans to follow in your aunt's footsteps and leave school early to just pursue this full time?”

CARLILE: “My mom's a teacher. There's no way that I'm going to drop out of high school! (laughter) To some degree, it is following in my aunt's footsteps, but also graduating high school. That's my biggest flex over her, 'Well guess what? I finished the 9th grade. So, take that!'"

HOLCOMB: “What’s your ultimate goal?”

CARLILE: "The ultimate goal is just to continue rising."

With help from her mother, Carlile also created the Kettle River Music Festival Foundation, which organizes an annual event showcasing local artists. It also raises money to support kids in rural areas by supplying instruments and music lessons. The 2022 festival is scheduled for August 5-6 at Stotts Festival Grounds and RV Park in Curlew. Admission is $16 for adults, $11 for students/veterans/seniors, and free for children 12 and under.

Follow Small Town Strings on Facebook and Instagram for future show dates.


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