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On the Road with Brandi Carlile

For Carlile's 2015 tour, front-of-house engineer Alex Gardner and monitor engineer Jesse Turner talk mic choices and more.

Brandi Carlile and her band at The Paramount in Seattle in mid-October. Photo: Todd Berkowitz
Brandi Carlile and her band at The Paramount in Seattle in mid-October. Photo: Todd Berkowitz

Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile is known among her fans for a vocal character that translates seamlessly into blues, pop and R&B while rooted in C&W. In March of this year, New York Times music critic Jon Pareles wrote, “Her voice encompasses the full spectrum: quiet and clear, tremulously tearful, decisively rasping or reaching to a scream. She can yodel, too.”

Carlile’s power and range is further reinforced and complemented by her longtime collaborators: Tim Hanseroth (guitar) and Phil Hanseroth (bass), also known as “The Twins”; drummer Brian Griffin; and cellist/pianist/keyboardist Josh Neumann. Carlile’s fifth studio album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter (ATO Records), released earlier this year, charted Number One on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums, Folk Albums, and Independent Albums charts.

Mix was in the house at The Paramount Theater in Carlile’s hometown of Seattle to see the final show of her fall 2015 tour, which included stops at the Ryman Auditorium and Radio City Music Hall. Beginning on November 28, Carlile and The Twins will embark on a winter acoustic tour in the Northeast.

Front-of-house engineer Alex Gardner and monitor engineer Jesse Turner traveled with the band this past fall. “We carried backline and a small supplemental lighting package, but the only audio that we carried was a mic package and the two consoles, both Avid SC48s,” Gardner says.

Neumann and Sennheiser mics take care of the vocals. “Brandi uses a Neumann KMS 105 vocal mic for both her downstage center and piano positions,” Gardner says. “She has actually been using the 105s since before I was around, and we have had great success with them over the years. The guitar and bass players each use Sennheiser e865 vocal mics.”

“My goal is just to amplify her vocal,” Gardner explains. “She has an amazing voice; I’m certainly not trying to alter it. The only thing that I insert on her vocal channel is a Waves C6 multiband compressor. She does have very dynamic range and when she really lays into the mic there are a couple of frequencies that tend to jump out. That’s why the multiband compressor works so well. It allows me to control those troublesome frequencies without having to compress the whole vocal. Compressed sounding vocals are not what we want.

“I use a hall reverb on all of the vocals throughout the show and tap delay on particular songs,” Gardner continues. “I also have a couple of other reverbs and another delay that are used at different moments in the show for big dramatic effects, making something stand out, adding different textures, etc.”

Gardner reveals he is retiring from touring at the end of the year: “I’d love to say thank you to everyone that I’ve ever toured with, or worked with locally, for making the last 17 plus years of my life so incredible.”