Meaning Behind Brandi Carlile’s Breakthrough Hit “The Story”

The story of the Brandi Carlile breakthrough hit “The Story” has nothing to do with Brandi Carlile. Well, not directly at first, anyway. It has everything to do with two of Carlile’s collaborators and chosen family, twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth. And Phil, even more specifically.

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Carlile and the twin brothers are so close that she has more recently expressed regret that she didn’t include them in her band name. “There is no Brandi Carlile without the twins,” Carlile said to Variety. “One of my biggest regrets is going with my name as the name of the band.”

[RELATED: 4 Songs You Didn’t Know Twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth Wrote for Brandi Carlile]

So, what IS the story behind the song, “The Story”? For that and more, let’s dive in below.

Broken Horses

In Brandi Carlile’s New York Times best-selling memoir, Broken Horses, she talks about meeting the twins and desperately wanting to connect with them on a deeper musical level. She wanted them in her band. And even before that band was cemented, Carlile was playing their song, “The Story,” at shows around Seattle (see: Chapter 10 in her memoir).

When the twins officially linked up with Carlile around 2004, they cut the track. Prior, Phil and Tim were playing in a band called the Fighting Machinists. Later, Carlile’s version was released in 2007 on the studio LP of the same name and it became her biggest hit then. Truly, it was her breakthrough. When the song was cut, it was with acclaimed producer T-Bone Burnett, who produced The Story.

In the aftermath of the release, the song has been played by Carlile and the twins on late-night shows and it was highlighted as an iTunes “Download of the Week” in 2007. Later, it was used on the popular medical drama television show Grey’s Anatomy, which takes place in Carlile’s native Seattle, and later in a commercial for General Motors.

Since then, the song has been covered by big-name artists like Dolly Parton (for Carlile’s anniversary release, the 2017 album Cover Stories) and LeAnn Rimes.

How Did Carlile’s Compare to the Original?

“It doesn’t even compare at all,” Phil told Acoustic Guitar Magazine. “We had recorded a couple of versions, like one on a keyboard and one with acoustic guitars. It was just a lyric, a melody, a couple of chords—it wasn’t really anything until we started playing with Brandi and she was able to put some power into it.”

Carlile added, “‘The Story’ was already a beautiful song. Phil’s got a really powerful voice and sounded great singing it. But I think the song needed to be really loved by someone. If anything, I brought to the scenario a little bit of insanity, intensity, and cultishness. Especially when I was younger, I was a little overwhelmed. I came on the scene and I was like, ‘All right, let’s quit our jobs and get matching tattoos and never look back. I don’t care—forget about your wives, forget about everything, let’s just do this!'”

“When we first met Brandi, she was playing primarily acoustic guitar, and my brother and I were still playing only electric guitar in a hard rock band,” Tim added. “It was such an odd thing. We met Brandi and got into the acoustic guitar with her, and then six months later we were both getting divorces and had a bunch of tattoos, I swear. It was a big shift for everyone musically, and also we found our Charles Manson [laughter]. My brother and I have always had a close musical thing, but we finally found our third sibling.”

The Lyrics

The song, which peaked at No. 75 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart upon its release, is about a long, hard-lived life and love. The idea is that you share your story with someone else, someone special.

All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am

But these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to, it’s true
I was made for you

“The Joke”

About a decade after releasing “The Story,” Carlile and the twins were finishing their album, By the Way, I Forgive You, which would be their second breakout and earn them several Grammy Awards. Truly, that 2018 album, which was produced by Shooter Jennings and Dave Cobb, made Brandi Carlile into Brandi Carlile.

The breakout song from that album was “The Joke.” That song was the last track added to the final 2018 LP and it was something Jennings and Cobb, as Carlile talked about in her memoir, pushed her on, saying the LP needed something else. What? Well, something like “The Story.” (See: Chapter 17)

Thanks to that prodding, By the Way, I Forgive You and “The Joke” made history. But even that success stemmed from the original hit, “The Story.” Yes, what a story indeed!

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

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