When Brandi Carlile, a petite, sassy songstress, takes the stage, her sheer presence commands attention. Strange that one person who seems to be nothing but modest and humble can have such an intriguing intensity, especially when she opens her mouth to sing. She comes to Utah two or three times a year because she believes there is something incredible about the audience.
“I remember before we’d made it out to Salt Lake City much my dear friend Amy Ray (of Indigo Girls) had told me that there was something special about a Salt Lake crowd,” Carlile says. “She was right because I look forward to every Salt Lake show purely because of the guileless audience and how connected they are.”
Then Carlile takes in a little of what Salt Lake has to offer, “I always try to take a day off on either side of the gig just to play golf, visit the indie record store and eat at the Red Iguana.”
When she’s not recording, touring or doing spur-of-the-moment gigs, Carlile says she takes it rather casually: “When I’m not in Salt Lake City in my down time I play golf, go fishing and cook for my friends.”
The 30-year-old Washington native was born in the small coal mining town of Ravensdale and began playing the guitar and writing songs at the age of 15. Her music spans most genres but at the heart of it is textbook rock ‘n’ roll. Her latest testament to her incomparable talent is Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony, a work Carlile is particularly moved by.
“Being onstage with the Seattle Symphony was a profound experience for me and a really intense marriage of two very different musical worlds. The ruckus spontaneity of a rock ‘n’ roll band and the refined, more sophisticated classically trained, symphony …” Carlile starts. “If we were more honest I believe we each could use just a touch of the other. That clash makes for a great show with a lot of intensity to project on an audience. I was only a witness and I loved it!”
The 13-track album is riddled with several uniquely reconstrued covers such as Elton John’s “Sixty Years On,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” (a truly amazing rendition).
“One of my favorite things to do when considering covers is to play with someone’s gender perception associated with the lyrics,” says Carlile. For instance the song ‘Creep’ by Radiohead takes on a new meaning when there is this girl singing ‘I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo.’ Or even better ‘Folsom Prison Blues.’ A woman singing about how she shot a man in Reno just to watch him die is a little tougher to take. And I love that.
Carlile, who is openly lesbian, said in a 2009 interview with the Los Angeles Times, “I hope that somewhere in Small Town, USA, a 15-year-old kid looks to me as a role model the way I looked at the Indigo Girls and Elton John as role models … and I hope they also recognize that the reason why I don’t have to have a lot of formality around it, the reason why I don’t have to wear it on my sleeve and make a spectacle of it, is because there were people before me who paved the way so I wouldn’t have to.”
Carlile returns to Salt Lake City, Aug. 21, at the Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre, 300 Wakara Way. For tickets visit redbuttegarden.org or call 801-585-0556.