Brandi Carlile and Tish Melton Are Mentoring Each Other

“Like most good partnerships, it really is kind of a two-way street," Carlile told Jezebel of working with Glennon Doyle's 17-year-old singer-songwriter daughter.

Brandi Carlile and Tish Melton Are Mentoring Each Other

It’s been nearly three weeks since 16.9 million Americans tuned in to the Grammy Awards and watched as Joni Mitchell took the stage for the first time. Not far from the Los Angeles Convention Center, one 17-year-old singer-songwriter covered her eyes and cried along on her couch. For Tish Melton, the sight of an 80-year-old Mitchell singing Both Sides Now, one of her most celebrated–and sobbed to–songs was overwhelming. But unlike most high school seniors, Melton has a bit more in common with Mitchell than just confessionalist lyricism and calling California home. 

On Mitchell’s flank that night was Brandi Carlile, the Grammy-winning artist and producer who’s been instrumental in her return to the stage after a brain aneurysm nearly rendered her incapable in 2015. She was by Mitchell’s side for a surprise performance at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival, just as she’ll be there in October when Mitchell plays the Hollywood Bowl. By now, anyone even vaguely familiar with Carlile knows that commending singer-songwriters–whether up-and-coming (Carook), established (The Secret Sisters), or veteran (Tanya Tucker)–is quite simply her constitution. Recently, Melton’s become one of those up-and-comers. She also happens to be the daughter of Glennon We Can Do Hard Things Doyle.

How Carlile and Melton met can really only happen to a kid born to an internationally lauded author and co-parented by one of the most famous women’s soccer players in the world, Abby Wambach. In short: As Melton became more serious about forgoing college and pursuing music full-time, Doyle sought the guidance of Linda Perry, the 4 Non Blondes frontwoman, producer, and another longtime champion of singer-songwriters. Perry is also the co-founder of EqualizeHer, an initiative that seeks to establish equal representation of women and non-binary people in the music industry. Perry advised Melton–who started making music during the pandemic–to keep going and by October 2022, she had a set at an EqualizeHer showcase at the famed Troubadour. Perry liked what she heard and sent a video of Melton’s performance to Carlile who, regardless of any skepticism, saw immediate promise in the teen’s penchant for navel-gazing and a natural ability to put her musings to music. 

I know what you’re thinking: Melton is, for all intents and purposes, a nepo baby. You’re right, of course. Her talent, however, is as obvious as the fact that Carlile doesn’t exactly have a track record of offering her decorated hand to every New York Times bestseller’s spawn. After months of studio time, the pair collaborated on what became Melton’s debut EP, When We’re Older, a five-track rumination on the teenage experience from someone who, frankly, sounds very little like a teenager.


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Even upon first listening, it’s easy to identify who inspired Melton’s sound. There’s a bit of Lucy Dacus on “Michelle” which details a devotion that’s left its host truly indefensible, and a little Taylor Swift during a spell of spitefulness on “The Chase.” Regardless, Melton manages to bring something exceedingly rare to the EP (out March 1). In short: cohesive and clear-sighted songwriting that indicates she has more to say about fleeting youth–and all of the yearning that comes with it–than a lot of other burgeoning singer-songwriters.

Carlile wants the record to show that, even though it may sound like she’s Melton’s mentor, she’s gleaned just as much–if not more–from the high school senior: “Our mentorship has kind of gone both ways in that I’ve probably been given as much or more by Tish–musically and philosophically,” Carlile told Jezebel in a phone interview. “Like most good partnerships, it really is kind of a two-way street.”

Despite Carlile’s approval, an anticipated EP, and Instagram comments from Gwyneth Paltrow, Melton’s still experiencing most of life’s firsts–from getting behind the wheel to giving your heart away. Both have their place on When We’re Older, specifically “Long Drive” and “Damage.” The former, Melton told Variety, was inspired by the realization that she’s now the one in control of the car while “Damage” details the all-too-familiar aches of early infatuation. “That song specifically was really hard for me to put out, but I knew that I should because I think it’s really honest and a lot of people resonate with it,” Melton told Jezebel. Of the single, Magnet Magazine wrote that its narrative underpinnings “won’t insult the intelligence of listeners over 25.” Melton, however, was admittedly more worried about what her peers would say at school that day.

When I tell her that I thought it could also easily apply to more platonic pining, Carlile quickly interjects. “I look back on some of my like, high school and post-high school friend breakups and I’m like, ‘Oh, we were just like a bunch of big ol’ lesbians, huh?’” she jests before offering a bit of wisdom like a tried-and-true sonic sage. “What you’ll find, Tish, is that the meaning of a song will totally change. In 10 years, you’ll look back on ‘Damage’ and be like, ‘That was not about that person at all, that was about myself.’ It’s weird how those songs become thematic to who you are and your habits, and the things that you will sustain and tolerate just follow you throughout your life, then that song can slip into all those situations forever and ever.” 

“As we get older, we need more validation for our feelings.-Brandi Carlile”

As friends take stock of their college acceptance letters and solidify their plans for the future, she’s opted to study at the school of Carlile. There’s arguably no better place for her but that doesn’t mean she’s not already feeling isolated from the average high school senior. She mentions a best friend who’s always wanted to become a veterinarian and comments on how lucky she is to know exactly the steps she must take to achieve that. Not comparing herself to her peers, she thinks, will be difficult in the coming years.

“I think that I just have to keep reminding myself that I want to do something very extraordinary,” Melton said, noting that someday, she, too, hopes to take the Grammy stage performing the kind of discography that’s defined the soundtrack to her adolescence.

“Everything you say, is such an ‘oh shit’ moment,” Carlile encourages. “You speak with such clarity about what you’re feeling.”

Meanwhile, it’s difficult not to wonder how Carlile, who not so long ago was in Melton’s exact position, manages to keep creating despite how many “firsts” she’s already had. This, I’m told, is where their relationship takes the shape of a two-way street. Melton, Carlile says, has reminded her that even a fading moment or feeling gone unfulfilled is worthy of a melody.

“Well, this is the most profound thing that Tish–just by existing and being an artist–has taught me. As we get older, we need more validation for our feelings,” Carlile explains. “We start to learn that our job, especially as women, is to set ourselves aside for other things and other people. Our feelings don’t even get acknowledged by us, let alone written into a song. As a mom, I stopped asking myself what I even liked, what I do for fun. Then I meet Tish and she’s like, ‘Yeah, that song’s just about one night. It’s like, ‘Man, I want that permission again. I want to self-indulge in that way.’”


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As someone who’s played an integral role in the careers of countless female and femme musicians–from those who’ve just begun to, in Mitchell’s case, those sadly approaching their end–I ask if there’s a commonality between those writing about the firsts to those chronicling their lasts. 

“You know what? One thing that those two stages of life have in common is that those artists have a really strong sense of self,” she says. “Joni’s been really supported and uplifted by the youth around her–all the people that are reflecting back on her, the fragments of herself that we’ve taken and run with and created our own little affectations and our own little livelihoods of mimicking Joni, when we’re back around her, we’re reflecting all those fragments of light. What she’s given people like Tish…she started the process of validating and destigmatizing young people’s feelings by writing songs as a young person that were so incredibly expository.”

As Mitchell once wrote: “Something’s lost and something’s gained, in living every day.” Melton has a lot of life left to live, and even more perspective to gain. What she has now, though–potential and Brandi Carlile’s stamp of approval–is, to use Melton’s own word, pretty “extraordinary.”

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