Brandi Carlile | Music | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Brandi Carlile

Ladies First: Rising star Brandi Carlile uses her fame to help women in need.


Picture a young and innocent Brandi Carlile, a curious tomboy growing up on her family’s farm. She’s adventurous and alone. The nearest neighbor is a long walk and there are no girls her age. She sings constantly to stave off loneliness—or to give her idyllic life a soundtrack.

Now, picture the same girl witnessing an act of pointless violence against a woman just for being a woman. As she grapples with the injustice of life, her singing becomes a therapeutic release. Her country walks become an escape. She still has the playfulness and adventuresome spirit, but with sincere concern for her fellow woman.

It is not hard to see the young tomboy in the present-day Carlile. She is a down-to-earth, compassionate person with a great sense of humor and a tough-yet-personable demeanor. She prefers the country life. As she says, “I live in rural Washington state, down a long dirt road on five acres. I have a horse, a dog and a cat. I just put a trout pond in my yard. And I still sing constantly.”

Carlile has found success in the past five years with her heartfelt folk tunes and raucous rock & roll. She has become popular enough to tour the world, make three well-received albums and get her tunes on television’s Grey’s Anatomy. For her most recent album, 2009’s Give Up the Ghost, Carlile teamed up with famed producer Rick Rubin, and her hero, Elton John, backs her on one song. In Utah, Carlile has gone from opening act to selling out shows at The Depot and The State Room, and she played a well-received show at Red Butte Garden this year.

While becoming more commercially successful, Carlile has also evolved into a highly aware and wise adult. Her music and her concern for humanity grew together and symbiotically feed one another.

Carlile has always been aware of the troubled aspects of society, particularly for a woman. She knows many women who wound up in jail because they made bad decisions. She knows many others who were violently attacked or otherwise victimized because of their sexual preference. Now, thanks to her success, she has the influence to do something about it.

Carlile founded The Looking Out Foundation, which is “a simple outreach foundation where we get money and decide not to keep any of it.” Carlile makes sure that the nonprofits that she works with actually don’t make a profit, and her foundation acts as a broker between donors and nonprofit organizations. “We donate to true nonprofits,” Carlile says. The Looking Out Foundation has donated to many organizations working on environmental and humanitarian causes, but has recently decided to focus its funding.

“Over time,” Carlile explains, “we have transformed and become more about women.”

She focuses most of her personal time and attention on two non-profits, The If Project and Fight the Fear.

The If Project ( pairs female inmates with at-risk girls, a sort of girl-centric “Scared Straight” program. “The inmates talk to the girls about how they would have made completely different choices had they known exactly what was in store for them in jail,” Carlile says. The Fight the Fear Campaign evolved out of a hate crime in which two Seattle women were beaten, most likely due to their sexual preference. The foundation hosts regular seminars on self-defense for women in the area.

Carlile is very careful with her own Looking Out Foundation. She keeps it small and she keeps the overhead low. “We try to keep our foundation from becoming an obstacle for our issues,” she says. “If our foundation increases visibility, then our issues lose visibility.”

Carlile, the adventurous tomboy, still retains her childhood wonder and delights in the idyllic farming life, but she is on the front lines to help the lives of all women. 

w/Katie Herzig
The State Room
638 S. State
Tuesday, Sept. 14
Sold out