Saturday, September 22, 2012

Karyn Ellis

Interview by Chris Koppers/images courtesy of Karyn Ellis

I noted Karyn's musical skills with her video "Bitter Grasses "
and many folks of my readership know Karyn and my humble person got something in common: using a Rolleiflex camera. 

Karyn tells us somewaht about "Hey little bird" - the early days of her career, her sources of inspiration, her current and future plans, and why "somebody that I used to know" can be found right here in our lovely interview.

You participated in a song contest when you were nine – and you left
the spot with the first prize in hands. Did the song (and its success)
“Hey little bird” also pave your way into “I want to step into the
music business” phase?

Ohhh, I loved that song when I was a kid. Thanks for mentioning it!
“Hey little bird sitting in a tree, let’s have lunch together you and
me. How about pizza...”

My performance in that contest was the first taste of standing on a
stage. Feeling what it was like to sing into a microphone with the
lights shining on me. I loved it. I was hooked! You know, I’ve never
really thought of it as my entry into the music business, but now that
you point that out, maybe it was the moment I thought to myself I want
to be a professional musician when I grow up. (Or more likely, I
thought “I wanna be a superstar!!!!”)

Now that I’ve been a professional musician for several years, I don’t
bother to think of it in terms of stardom anymore. What I think is how
amazing! I am able to live my life making and sharing music. You
mention the ‘music business’ and of course there is the administrative
rudgery associated with running your own business. Long hours, few of
which are actually spent in the act of being an artist. 

But overall I am as happy as that little bird that I am able do what I am drawn to
do: write and record and perform music. It is powerful for one’s heart
to have an audience with whom you can share what you create. And it is
nice that I get to eke out a wee living from it, too.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

To be perfectly candid here, I find have to be rather sneaky with
inspiration. I’m not a muse-strikes-me-daily kind of writer by any
stretch. I tend to work best to deadline, such as writing songs for an
album. Sometimes I strum chord patterns to myself, pretending to be
playing around on my guitar. Suddenly a melody or first lyric will
bubble up by itself. Words can come from titles of newspaper articles
(though the songs are often not about the article itself) or from
writing freely in my notebook. I love pens and paper, putting down in
longhand whatever comes to mind. A neat turn of phrase or a curious
word will spark my interest.

I rarely start out with a concrete theme that I want write into a
song. Usually there is some sort of playfulness I feel towards
language itself… this is where I tell you how much I love my rhyming
dictionary! Once the germ of an idea has taken hold, I will hone in on
the story and the meaning. But before that it is fair to say that my
songs tend to come from simply noodling around.

Having said that, a lot of my songs lately seem to be about voyages
and courage. This makes sense, since I recently moved across Canada.
It takes five days in a car to get from my old place to where I live

What is your current project?

I am in the middle of recording a new ten-song album called More Than
A Hero, which I am self-releasing in the spring of 2013. We’re about
half way through the tracking, and I’m back in the studio in a couple
of weeks to finish up. I’m totally excited about this record – I have
been traveling back and forth from my new home in northern British
Columbia to my old hood in Toronto, Ontario. I am recording at a place
called The Rooster. Don Kerr is the owner/operator of this little gem
of a studio in the west end of the city. He and I co-produced my last
album, Even Though The Sky Was Falling, which came out at the end of
2009. Working with him on that project was so creatively amazing – I
feel like I grew a lot as an artist by making that record – and it
only made sense that Don and I would do this next one together too.

I also have a side project of sorts before I head back into the
studio. These past few weeks I have been donning my manager’s cap and
running a campaign to raise funds for the new record (did I mention
I’m releasing this CD myself? :)) Can I put a little plug in for that
project here? It’s called: Jump In! Be a Backer.

I’ve been asking fans and friends of mine to support the release of the album by
pre-ordering it in advance. Incidentally, there are a few folks from
Germany and the UK who have already pre-ordered the new album through
this campaign. It is cool to think that my little album will be
crossing the ocean all by itself, long before I arrive with it on the
release tour.

Where will you see yourself in 2013?
In Europe, at some point, releasing the album! :) More Than A Hero
will come out mid to late spring, and I will definitely be doing tours
around Canada with it. And I hope to head across the pond a little
later in the year. 

I’d love to see the album take off and lead me to
new and interesting places. I do a lot of solo touring, by virtue of
economics, but these new songs demand a bigger show, I think. By that
I mean the songs really come alive when there is a rhythm section
behind me. Okay, so I’m going to say let 2013 be the year of the Karyn
Ellis band!

I should add here that I am coming over to Europe this November and
December to play some shows around Germany, Switzerland and The
Netherlands. I’ll be bringing Even Though The Sky Was Falling with me,
since the new one won’t be quite finished yet.

Bitter Grasses – How was the video photography? Who developed the storyboard?

I was fortunate to receive a small grant to make the Bitter Grasses
video from FACTOR (a private not-for-profit agency that funds Canadian
artists to make and release albums. An incredible resource for us here
in Canada.) Because of that grant, I was able to hire a professional
director, whose name is Jonathan Bensimon. He came up with the vision
and the storyboard for the video.

The gorgeous cinematic quality is his doing, and the Rolliflex camera
you mentioned in your email belongs to him, too. I think it was his
first camera back when he was an art school student. Apparently the
shutters sticks a little now, so he only hangs onto it for nostalgic
reasons. And maybe that’s why he entrusted me with it for the video
shoot. I had to learn how to hold the camera properly to pull off my
character – a bohemian photographer from the 50s. That was no easy
feature because the makeup designer had me wearing fake nails to
complement my beret and capris pants. You can’t tell when you’re
watching the video, because it was shot in black and white, but those
nails are hugely bright red. As an aside, all the still shots shown in
the video? Jonathan took those, not me. I was acting!

What is your favorite song?

Hmm. That is a hard question. Do I have a favourite song? As soon as
you asked that I immediately heard that insanely popular tune
“Somebody That I Used To Know” come flying into my head. I don’t know
that it makes it my favourite; I don’t even have a copy of it… I think
I’ve only heard it, like, five or six times. I’m a little embarrassed
even to mention it because it IS so popular, but there is something
evocative about the way the melody rolls about. And even though the
song has been out for a little while now, I still am compelled to sing
along with it when I do hear it. That is a songwriter’s dream, isn’t
it? To write a song that haunts you like that.

Picture this: Instead of singing your songs you have to draw a picture
of one of your songs: How would it look like? Vivid colors? Happy
animals, people?

Hahaha. You’re a photographer, aren’t you? :)
Let’s see… How about my song “Beauty” from Even Though The Sky Was
Falling. That one is a wide angle shot of a raggle-taggle marching
band in their somewhat matching band outfits. Their pants are rolled
up to their knees, and they are wading in the ocean parallel to the
shore, while the sun sits in the late afternoon. The colours in the
picture are mostly old gold and pale blue. Trumpets, flutes, tubas,
trombones are held up in angles to the players’ mouths. Metallic rims
of the drums are glinting in the sun. Exuberant dogs and kids wearing
princess and pirate costumes are dancing along beside them.

Yes, that’s what the song looks like.


Samantha Wilson said...

You both should take the Flexes and shoot if there is no tommorrow.
Ha ha.

Superb coverage. Don't see such authentic interviews that often.

I already love crankbox.

Hope to see more soon.


Samantha W.

Carl H. said...

Checked it out and I like Bitter Grasses.

Thank you for sharing the interview.


Harm B. said...

Karyn got the groove.

Can't wait to see her here in the Netherlands.


Carolina said...

Super cool music blog.

I like her music!

Thank you for introducing her.


Carolina :)

Emma said...

Hello from Germany.

I need to check her tour dates out.

Thank you so much for introducing her.


Anonymous said...

Gotta buy her album.

Thanks for sharing.