London songstress Karen Emeny has been around the London Music scene for a little over a decade since her first release, 2009’s EP Finding the Words. Combining a folk/country sound with a pop/rock/90’s sensibility, Karen has developed a sound unique to her personality and recently released a 5 song EP titled The Right Mistakes which also features multiple Juno nominee Emm Gryner. We talked with Karen recently about her music and her passion.
You’ve been at this for a while, you started when you were 12?
Yeah, I started writing when I was 12. I took classical guitar lessons from a young age and I got really interested in writing my own music.
Did you go to Fanshawe for music like so many London artists?
I actually didn’t go to school for music, I went to university for an honours specialization in English and a minor in History and then I went to teacher’s college. I always wanted to be a teacher but I also wanted to become a musician so I think I found a nice mix of the two where I do have the security of teaching and that passion and also can explore music in my time away from teaching. I take advantage of my weekends to try and play shows and recording throughout the year and gigging summers. It’s a little bit of best of both worlds.
How did you get involved with Emm Gryner?
I was playing the Dollhouse Showcase a couple years ago and Emm was brought in to emcee the night and we connected there. I reached out to her shortly after and said hey, I’m working on a couple of singles, would you be interested in playing some piano? She said for sure, just send me the tracks and I’ll record and send it back to you guys. So she played piano on my two singles that I released in 2017 (You Left me With a Kiss, Maybe Tomorrow). I later ran into her at the Jack Richardson Awards and she connected me with (Grammy/Juno Award winning producer) Kevin Doyle and she said do you want to write a song together and we’ll get Kevin to produce it and that’s where Meant For This came from. From there I asked her if she wanted to play bass on a couple of the other tracks and then I started working with her through mentoring and some vocal coaching and she was really helpful with a lot of ideas for the rollout of the EP.
How was it working with Kevin Doyle?
Well he worked with Alannah Myles on Black Velvet and with Anne Murray for several years and is well recognized so it was really neat to have the opportunity to work with both him and Michael Marucci who was actually a student of his. The songs definitely have different production and different vibes to them but they all have a what I feel is a 90’s sound that is unique to my music. I think they all came together really well.
Your music has a bit of a country sound to me but the latest recordings seem to be heading in a more progressive direction.
I wouldn’t say anything purposeful. I do notice it shifted a little from some of my other music, but I wouldn’t say that I always pushed the country route either. I grew up listening to and emulating a lot of Jewel when I was a kid and that’s when I got into writing. I just loved Jewel and her music and I feel like I have that little bit of country inflection in my voice for sure, but I really like that I can approach different genres and kind of cross those barriers. When I write just whatever comes out comes out and then in the production you can kind of push things a certain way I guess.
I love the flow of the new EP, it has a nice shift in the middle and then the ethereal feel of Someone Else building to the final song Hard Love which is a really strong song.
Thank you, I really wanted to have a flow to the EP where we didn’t put the two slower ballads together and have a nice mix and also to have that build with a strong start, I think having Meant for This kick it off was really great. Actually hard Love is one of my favourites because it has a little more rock to it. Sarah Smith invited me to play with her last summer in Grand Bend and I said hey, do you want to join me for this song because she has such a unique rock kind of voice and I thought it would be a cool collaboration and she ended up loving it so I hope we get to do that live again because it was a lot of fun.
I noticed Sarah’s drummer Bobby Reynolds in the video for Meant for This, that’s a cool video.
Thanks, Bobby was in the recording for that as well and he was also in the recording for Someone Else. He’s such a great guy and we had so much fun with the video and Darryl (Lahteenmaa) who I worked with for that was just phenomenal. We had a lot of fun working throughout the year and freezing our butts off in the middle of winter. I think the concept was really well placed with that one.
How is reception to the new music? Things are starting to open up a little in regards to live performing, right?
Yeah, it’s really hard releasing during Covid because I didn’t get to do my release show. I had to postpone then I had a lot of follow up gigs that I unfortunately had to cancel. I’m just hitting the tail end of patio season now that things are starting to open a little again and trying to fit in a few shows before school starts and our patio weather is gone but I think the reception has been really positive. I’ve had people come up to me and message me and tell me their favourite songs but right now I’m mostly selling hard copies of the EP on my own and hopefully with shows coming up I can sell more at shows. People have been really supportive of it and it’s interesting to hear what their favourite songs are and why they connected to them.
The Right Mistakes was charting well on Radio Western 94.9.
Yeah, it hasn’t been too bad, it’s kind of back and forth, one week it’s at number 2 and the next week it’s not on the chart and then it’s back again. It’s been nice to have the support of Radio Western and just having my name out there, it’s really great because you’re hoping that it reaches new audiences.
You’ve done some fundraising involving backpacks for kids. Is that something you became passionate about as a teacher?
That is, it’s connected to my school, especially with everything with Covid. I usually do a Christmas fundraiser. I’ve done it the last two years, where we focus on families in need within our building and then I have friends and family who choose to sponsor a family or a specific child and give them a chance to have a decent Christmas and then when Covid happened we were kind of unsure how we were going to deal with it in the school and with all the protocols we needed to make sure each student has enough supplies because they can’t share anything. So I said to my principal what do you think about just putting it out there and see who’s willing to donate backpacks or supplies or money and the response was pretty overwhelming. Lou Dawgs here in London reached out and wanted to help so we connected with them and arranged to put on a show where I’m doing a small opening spot and half of the door proceeds are going to the cause.
It’s great to see an artist give back to the community and you certainly are using your talent for a good cause. I wish you the best of luck and much success with your latest release. Let’s hope live music returns with a vengeance sooner rather than later. We really need it in our lives and we need performers like yourself to thrive. Thanks for talking with us today.