Brandi Carlile

“Organic” is an overused term in this industry, but Brandi Carlile is definitely an example of letting the music find the fans, plain and simple. The 25-year-old artist from a small town near Seattle has a career that’s based on a strategy that’s a little like Rocky Balboa’s training regimen: tried-and-true and old school.

“We just have one of those artists that people react to and people respond to,” A-Squared Management’s Mark Cunningham told Pollstar. He stressed that while the plan was by the book (AAA radio, press and touring), nobody wanted to force the issue. “It really was good old-fashioned artist development. Let people find her, no pressure. And that was sort of the goal for the first record [2005’s self-titled on RED Records]. And it worked really well,” he said. “It doesn’t really happen that often and labels try it a lot. Going to radio with a song only works if people like it.” And with a solid foundation laid down, the recent release of The Story on Columbia Records makes for an easier job, according to Monterey Peninsula / Paradigm’s Duffy McSwiggin, who added that 12 of Carlile’s first 13 dates have sold out.

“We haven’t pushed her at all. We’ve just let it grow by itself,” McSwiggin told Pollstar. “Once people saw her they welcomed her back. Her music and her performance sold it for herself.”

Carlile has toured consistently for the last few years, opening for The Fray, Ray Lamontagne, Shawn Colvin, and Tori Amos, and playing solo dates up and down the West Coast. The most important difference between this 40-date tour and previous ones is the number of fans. Carlile is filling up venues in the 500- to 1,000-seat range, with two sold-out nights at the Bowery Ballroom and three at Schubas in Chicago. “The tour has been just amazing. It’s been really fun – all these little sweaty sold-out clubs,” Carlile told Pollstar.

Brandi Carlile

“It’s been really good, high-energy shows,” she said, mentioning her home market of Seattle, Boston’s Avalon Theatre and Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse – where she was joined by the Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers for a song. “I really don’t know when everything started picking up. I just consider it a natural progression if an artist spends their time on the road and puts in their time developing an audience,” she said.

Joining Carlile on the tour are longtime road pals and twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth on bass and guitar along with cellist Josh Neumann and drummer Steve Nistor. The tour will wrap up in her native Pacific Northwest at Vancouver’s Media Club June 8th. A spike in ticket sales was provided by a recent video feature on the popular ABC drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” which combined her video for the single “The Story” with highlights from the program. It also helped Carlile make some buzz on VH1 as a “You Oughta Know” artist, Cunningham said. Her music had been featured three previous times on the show, Cunningham said “Grey’s” music supervisors and producers became fans through her first record. “People were excited to hear the second record. It wasn’t a label cramming this down their throats, telling them, ‘This is a priority, we want you do that, you’ve got to do this,’” he said. “It was like, ‘Hey, here’s her record, we know you guys are fans. Hope you like it.’” Carlile said she is a huge fan of the show and regularly has “Grey’s marathons” during breaks from the road. “We’ve been touring in a bus for a year, and in a van for two years before that. And for two years before we got signed we were touring in our cars in the West Coast, playing five nights a week in little bars,” she said.

“So when something like this happens and you get a break or you get a spot on a TV show like ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ you just consider it bonus – for what you’re already going to do regardless of whether you’re getting help or not. It was just an incredible leg up. It’s a confirmation.” Everyone has the long view for Carlile but, in the short term, she’ll be seeing nothing but a lot of asphalt and backstage hallways. “She basically lives on the road, and that’s the goal for the next 12 to 18 months at least in the U.S.,” Cunningham said. The Story, which was recorded mostly live over a challenging 11-day session, has already dropped in Canada with hopes of hitting Australia, Europe and Japan. Cunningham said they’re looking to tour internationally.

“That’s my thing. I love performing,” Carlile said. “Hopefully it’s just something that I can keep doing for as long as I want to keep doing it, at whatever level. It’s always going to be what I do. I could be back in Seattle in a year playing bars again and it’s still going to be what I do.” Carlile’s fall tour routing will consist of large clubs and maybe small theatres in the 1,000- to 2,000-seat range, hitting each major market, McSwiggin said.