Folk rock singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile spoke candidly with Time Out Magazine this week about collaborating with Elton John, coming out publicly and how her organization, the Looking Out Foundation, found its roots.
Carlile said she’s been looking to gay role models like Elton, The Indigo Girls and Freddie Mercury since before she even knew she was gay because of their edge. "I didn’t really make the connection that they were gay, but I felt drawn to them because they were going against the grain, and I knew there was something that they had that everybody else didn’t have," Carlile said.
On her latest album Give Up the Ghost, Carlile collaborated with Elton John, who plays piano on the track. Before ever meeting him, Carlile mentioned John in an article with The New York Times and then he sent her a bottle of wine from the year she was born before calling her to chat. Calile was blown away and decided not to disrupt the relationship until a couple of years later when she reached a pivotal point in her career and decided to reach out to him via email. John agreed to play the song.
"It was great. I mean, he finished his job within an hour and a half. He was, like, way over my head. I knew he was a great musician, but I just could never have quite prepared myself for how incredible he was."
On coming out, Carlile explained that she was never really secretive about her sexuality, even discussing it with fans, although it took a while for the press to ask her — and she was thrilled when they did.
"It’s always been a part of my thing, you know? I write completely gender-specific songs that are clearly being sung by a homosexual."
Carlile got a lot of great feedback from fans and really became a role model for the younger queer community — recognizing, of course, that her experience was a little different than that of country and christian musicians like Chely Wright and Jennifer Knapp, who she is really proud of for coming out.
"There are other country stars I suspect of being gay too, and I hope that they make their way out sooner or later for the sake of younger country artists."
Carlile also discussed the Fight the Fear Campaign, which is part of the Looking Out Foundation she created. The campaign started after two women were attacked in their home and one was killed trying to save her partner. Carlile contacted the woman and teamed up with the Seattle police department and two women-owned-and-run self-defense organizations to start a free self-defense program for women in shelters, youth centers and senior centers.
Funding for the Looking Out Foundation originally came out of a GM commercial that Carlile was hesitant to take part in. At first, she refused to allow GM to use her song "The Story" to promote a new car. GM came back and offered for her to write the text and make it exclusively for their environmentally sustainable cars.
So after a lot of deliberation and sounding out to people I respect, I called them back and said let’s do it. But we still took all the money GM paid us — every single penny of it —and donated it to grassroots environmental organizations.
Bravo to Brandi for all her advocacy.