Interview With 'Karen Jonas'
Karen Jonas released her third album ‘Butter’ earlier this year which is amazing in every sense of the word (check out our review here). The ten songs are all stylistically diverse and incorporate multiple genres seamlessly, but, more importantly, the songs fit together like a puzzle to truly feel like an album with ebbs and flows. Karen was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions for us here at 3 Songs & Out.
‘Butter’ feels like a natural extension of where you have been going as an artist. In my review, I stated that it feels like a landmark album and is a strong contender for my album of the year. I love the way you have incorporated other genres and the horns into this album. What was your vision for this project?
I wanted to work slowly and intentionally, and let the songs speak for themselves, with nuance. I didn’t want to subscribe to any one genre if we could better serve the songs in another way. We spent over a year visiting the studio, listening back, making changes, building parts, making more changes, until we found our own version of perfection. I’m glad you like it!
‘Gospel Of The Road’ is an extremely powerful song where we see you wrestle with your love of being out playing with your love of being with your family. What was it like putting words to those emotions?
I love it when people tell me I can’t do something, because it gives me so much drive to go and do it anyway. I wrote 'Gospel Of The Road' to justify myself as a musician. I have a family at home, but I’m also called by this great journey as an artist. “It shines like silver, it’s pure like gold, it rings like church bells, for the gospel of the road.” It’s a very sincere song, set in among a lot of witty and cutting songs on this album.
Was ‘Mama’s First Rodeo’ inspired by an actual person or a combination of people who have tried to get you to put your business in their hands? It paints a vivid picture.
'Mama’s First Rodeo' was inspired by a real person. He was some kind of character. As a working musician, you don’t want to discount people who may actually be able to help you, so you try to see things to their logical conclusions. This guy turned out to be a total bullshitter though.
‘The Circus’ ends the album perfectly. It is a beautiful song and brings a sense of closure. How did that song come to be?
I wrote 'The Circus' sitting at my kitchen table one day. I had been toying with a lot of circus imagery: touring can be like a circus, and then four kids at home is kind of a circus too. Usually I can handle it all with humor, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do both things, but I guess I was feeling pretty tired that day.
You and Tim Bray have been musical partners since I first learned about you from Saving Country Music on Oklahoma Lottery. How long have you two worked together? How did you find one another?
We’ve been playing together for five years now. Tim is a Fredericksburg, VA native, and when I moved here I started hearing about him. One day he stopped by one of my solo shows, and we started working together shortly after. He’s been an incredible supporter of my songwriting, an organizer and driving force, and generally my best friend every since.
One of my favorite songs from your past is ‘Wasting Time.’ It is a showstopper of a moment and still gives me goosebumps when I listen to it as your vocals touch the soul. Tim’s guitar work is equally compelling. Tell us a bit about that song and the ‘Country Songs’ album in general.
Well that song is kind of a tough one, I wrote it very honestly, through tears late one night. I think I’m still able to tune into that when I sing it. Tim’s guitar on that recording is one of my favorite moments on 'Country Songs'. 'Country Song' is an album of heartbreak songs, written during a couple of years of upheaval in my life. It’s true that sad times make for good songs.
How do you look back on your debut ‘Oklahoma Lottery’ now?
'Oklahoma Lottery' is an album that we made for our friends here in Fredericksburg, and as a way to book shows. We jumped into our local studio here for a day and just played it live. I was surprised and flattered when it received much wider attention. I love the songs. We may reimagine some of them one day.
What artists were important to you when you were younger?
My dad played Miles of Aisles for me when I was 16 and I never looked back. I spent high school and college digging into Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan. And in fact, that’s what I still listen to.
Do you remember the time when you decided you wanted to pursue a future in music?
When I was a little kid, I heard a band playing 'Big Yellow Taxi' at a backyard party (it’s funny that it was a Joni Mitchell song but I didn’t know it then). I wanted to BE that lady singing. I was sure that somehow she would invite me on stage to sing with her even though I didn’t really know the words. It was a slow process, but here I am.
You seem extremely comfortable in a live setting and did a Facebook live show for fans following the release of ‘Butter.’ What is your favorite part of performing live?
I love a quiet room and a listening audience. I get to interpret the songs every time we play them live, which, at the risk of being dramatic, is sublime. It’s like writing them all over again.
What album would we be surprised to find in your collection?
I’m not sure if any of them would surprise you too much. I like to listen to things over and over again for a ridiculously long time. I’ve been listening to a Ray Charles Greatest Hits album in my car stereo for about a year now. Before that it was a year of The Wallflowers, 'Bringing Down The Horse'.
What is your favourite thing to cook with butter?
Lately I’ve been making some dinner rolls that are pretty fab. Butter in them AND on top.
What is your favorite drink pre-show and post-show?
Coffee on the way to the show, whiskey pre-show, and whiskey post-show.
Do you get to bring the family out on the road with you?
Not usually. Hopefully one day we’ll have more resources to bring them along.
When do we get to see you down here in Texas, and when do our readers across Europe get to see you on that side of the pond?
We don’t have anything on the books right now, but we’re looking forward to visiting y’all soon. How does 2019 sound?
What comes next for you?
More shows and more shows, we play 4 nights a week most weeks, but fairly local right now. The baby just turned one so we’ll get back out on the road soon. Other than that, it’s a secret. But be on the lookout, because we’re always cookin.
Check out the video for 'Butter'
‘Butter’ is available now on digital, CD, and vinyl https://karenjonasmusic.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/karenjonasmusic/
Interview - Gerald Stansbury