Dirty Dozen: Karen Jonas

Karen Jonas’s intensely personal songwriting first grabbed international attention with the release of her critically acclaimed 2014 debut album Oklahoma Lottery. Three years of non-stop touring with her guitarist Tim Bray have produced a smoldering live act that’s left audiences breathless across America, culminating in their much-anticipated sophomore release. Country Songs is a refreshing mix of classic sounds with new, head-turning country swagger.

Can you tell us about yourself? Where you’re from and what you’ve been up to over the past few years?

Greetings from Fredericksburg Va! I’m a rockstar by night (well, a country singer/songwriter at least), and mother of three by day. I’m an all-systems-go full-time busy lady, but I can also take a nap like a champion when I get the chance.

It’s been a busy few years for me – I’ve proudly birthed two albums and a baby, all while playing 200+ shows each year. Three years ago I partnered up with musical and organizational genius Tim Bray, and we’ve been non-stop recording and touring and just generally having a time ever since.

How would you describe your music?

We play alt-country/americana music, maybe with a dash of folk and a little bit of rock’n’roll. You can call it whatever you’d like though, I’m not a stickler for labels.

Can you tell us a little bit about your influences?

I’m a songwriter at heart, and my greatest influences come from the likes of Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan (I call him Robby Z). They aren’t just songwriters, they’re great expansive thinkers. I picked up some twang more recently, by way of classics like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Oh and Dwight Yoakam. And his jeans. And that dance he does.

What are you currently promoting?

Our sophomore album, Country Songs! The title track is a song about learning to appreciate Country music after getting your heart broken. But as an album title, it’s also a challenge to a changing definition of Country music. We have some really bad pop Country here in America (maybe you do too), which makes me hesitant to tell people that we play Country music. But, to me, these ten songs are real Country Songs.

Have you got a particular song you’ve done that you’re particularly proud of, one that might define you?

Every song I write feels like it might define a little moment in my history. Lately I’ve been thinking of the title track of my 2014 album, Oklahoma Lottery.  It’s a song about the Dust Bowl, the great American environmental disaster that coincided with the Great Depression, but it’s also about uncertainty and leaving a broken home you once knew and loved. I wrote it about a divorce, but today it feels right for our current state of political upheaval.

What are you currently listening to?

Christmas music! There’s something so comfortable about Christmas music, and its fun to share the enthusiasm with my kids.

And your favourite album of all time, the one you couldn’t do without?

Can I have two? Joni Mitchell’s “Miles of Aisles” and Paul Simon’s “Graceland” both changed my life and formed my concept of songwriting. When I was 16 my dad played Miles of Aisles for me. I had a major “a ha” moment and realized that I wanted to become a professional singer/songwriter. So I did.

What are your hopes for your future career?

I try to focus on things that I can control – so I hope to keep writing, recording, and releasing inspired albums. I’ll keep building my networks and connecting with people – and I’ll leave the rest to luck and fate and the fickle Gods of the music industry.

If money were no object what would be your dream project?

A thoroughly planned, well recorded, professionally promoted record with a hefty budget of time and money would be pretty dreamy!

What’s the best thing about being a musician?

I get to express myself for a living – that’s hard to beat. Good food and drink, nice people, and dressing up is fun too. Getting to work with awesome, funny, super-talented musicians (like my most best friend and guitarist Tim Bray) makes it even better.

And the worst?

Sometimes we play for bars where people aren’t really focused on the music. Sometimes people don’t like what we do. But, I learned long ago that not everyone will like me or my music. And there’s something really satisfying about putting it out there, keeping my head up, and not giving a damm.

Finally, have you anything you’d like to say to the readers of Americana UK?

Hello! And thank you for giving my take on Country music a listen. We hope to see you all soon.

Author: Rudie Hayes

Rudie is the weekly host of the syndicated radio show - The Horseshoe Lounge Music Session - playing the best American Roots and hosting terrific live guests.

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