One cell in the sea

Adam Griffiths


Credit: Jason Hall

Brandi Carlile and Alison Sudol are wandering souls.

For the 26 and 22-year-olds, respectively, that can be daunting.

“I think that I have a tendency to just get lost in this sort of desolate feeling that can come from being on the road,” Carlile said. “I’m a total glutton of punishment for that.”

Sudol is frank.

“I have a definite dark side,” she said.

After a recent screening of actor Emille Hirsch’s latest film, Into The Wild, in which his character leaves the life he’s built behind to take to the road, it clicked for Carlile.

“It’s like you know there’s that irresistible pull to being on the road, to not ever feeling quite grounded,” she said.

All this probably has something to do with why she and Sudol work so well together on tour.

Carlile and Sudol, the face of the piano-folk A Fine Frenzy, will play the House of Blues Cleveland on Wednesday. The show is part of Vh1’s month-long “You Oughta Know” tour, which wraps upw next month in Seattle, Carlile’s and Sudol’s hometown.

“I’ve grown up watching Vh1,” Sudol said. “There have been such great artists – Snow Patrol, Feist, K.T. Tunstall – that have to come out through (Vh1).”

Carlile said it’s enough to have support in any capacity from the network.

“They’re known for classically giving artists that aren’t mainstream mainstream attention,” Carlile said. “To see my video on there – it’s amazing.”

While on the road promoting new albums, seeing their work recognized more and more is becoming a reality for both women. This time last year, Carlile and Sudol were recording their latest – Sudol’ s One Cell in The Sea was her debut, and Carlile’ s The Story was the follow-up to her first, self-titled, studio album.

“I was so nervous,” Sudol said. “You only get to make your first album once. I didn’t know if people were going to hear or listen to or like the music. I was more excited than I ever had been in my life.”

The “love and unity and enthusiasm” Sudol claimed went into the record is apparent. Entertainment Weekly called One Cell in The Sea “a colorful world of bemusement and sentimentality.”

“It’s the perfect snapshot of where I was when we made it,” Sudol said. “There’s nothing that we would change on it. I’m excited about making more albums, but there’s nothing I’d go back and do again. At the end of the day, it’s about really listening to it and making sure you’re getting across what you want to get across.”

Carlile directly channeled her passion for recording The Story. Her sophomore album was recorded in eleven days, and there weren’t more than five takes for each song (Carlile’ s voice even cracks in the title track).

She worked with drummer Matt Chamberlain, who’s recorded with the likes of Tori Amos and Ben Lee, and T-Bone Burnett produced the album.

“I think that’s how we’re going to do the next one, too,” Carlile said. “Your first instinct, your first performance is the best one. There’s something special about going with something before it’s tired, doing each song like four or five times and choosing the one we like the best.”

The raw, upfront intensity both artists bring to their performances is unique. “Almost Lover” was one of the first songs Sudol ever penned, and performing it every night is giving the ballad a new life.

“I think when I started singing that song, I was singing it for myself,” she said. “Now, I sing it for all the people who have had their heart broken or are dealing with situations that are hard to get past. It’s sort of bigger than me now.”

For Carlile, her songs are second nature.

“I don’t know if I’m thinking before I start,” she said. “If I am, I have no idea what.”

In “The Minnow and the Trout,” a track on One Cell in the Sea, Sudol writes, “I know that we’re different / but we were one cell in the sea in the beginning / and what we’re made of was all the same once / we’re not that different after all.”

It seems to paint a picture of the dynamic between these two rising stars.

“We play very different music,” Sudol said. “We’re both coming from the same place, but we have different ways of doing it. I think it’s a good thing that the people coming out are not seeing the same thing all at once.”

Carlile, though, is nonetheless taken by Sudol’ s performances.

“I’m incredibly inspired by her every night,” she said. “The melodies are haunting. I keep waking up with them in my head thinking I wrote some brilliant melody.”

That works for Sudol.

“Music is what I’m here to do,” she said.

Contact assistant all editor Adam Griffiths at [email protected].