"People have different expectations from women songwriters and performers. I played through two pregnancies" We chat with Karen Jonas
Having just released her third album, Butter, Karen Jonas is lighting up the country / Americana scene again. With a broader set of influences and a different vibe from her 2016 release Country Songs. With a new baby in tow, and despite an early start, she's in the mood to talk Butter.
Hey Karen, how’re you doing today?
Great! Living the dream.
Where are you right now?
Sitting on my couch in Fredericksburg Va, drinking coffee.
What have you been up to today?
Well let’s see. We got up at about 5:52 (but who’s counting?) tried to snooze until about 7, then gave up and made breakfast. Now the baby is napping and the rest of the kids are outside and I’m trying to get some work done. And did I already mention coffee? Coffee helps. Also, there’s a mosquito buzzing around that I can’t seem to squish.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a busy singing and songwriting mama of four. I play about 150 shows a year with my guitarist Tim Bray. I do mom stuff. There’s not time for much else!
What can you tell us about your new record, Butter, in two sentences?
Butter explores my life as a mother and a musician, the balance of the two, and my struggles with the music industry. We spent 18 months in the studio, working carefully, creating a record that I love every second of.
How did you go about writing and choosing which songs to record?
I write a lot. I got the concept of this very personal mama/musician album and started to build the songs thematically around that.
One of my favourite songs on the album is the opener ‘Yellow Brick Road’, what can you tell us about that track?
It was the first AND last song we recorded for the album. We finished all of the songs and then decided to give it a total redo. I’m happy with the final product. It’s about valuing what you have, and not jumping ship for unsubstantiated promises.
I also really like ‘Kamikaze Love’, can you tell us what that song’s about?
Nobody has asked me that yet! I’m glad I get to tell the story. I wrote 'Kamikaze Love' while I was waiting for a guy to pick me up on a first date. I already knew I really liked him. Unfortunately it went up in flames just like I predicted, but not in a good way.
I’m also enjoying ‘The Circus’, what’s going on there?
'The Circus' is about realizing that what you’re working toward is a farce. It’s about seeing through it, checking out, and making a new plan. There’s a strange calm about it, a sense of clarity.
What’s the one song on the record that you would really want people to hear?
This is an album that I feel strongly about as an album listening experience. That isn’t a very popular concept in the age of singles and Spotify streams, but I think it works best as a collection of songs.
Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality in general life at the moment, have you ever felt you were treated differently as a woman in your industry?
Definitely. People have different expectations from women songwriters and performers. I played through two pregnancies. It’s hard to get industry folks to take a chance on anyone, but especially a pregnant lady. But here I am still going.
When was the last time you were starstruck?
Starstruck isn’t really my thing. Everybody’s just people.
Can you tell us the best and the worst thing about your hometown of Fredericksburg?
Fredericksburg has a strong supportive music community. And it’s a beautiful town, I love walking around downtown with my kids. We’re coffee shop regulars. The worst thing is that it’s off route 95, which has the really bad traffic.
You’re touring at the moment, what’s your favourite thing about being on the road?
I love having time to think and write. I like soaking up the energy in other cities. We’re getting ready to head to New York City this weekend, it’s my favorite.
And what do you hate about touring?
I miss my babies!
What are your plans for the rest of 2018?
We’ll be touring to support Butter. I’ll keep writing. The kids will go back to school. Then Christmas. Keep on rolling.
If you could recommend one other song to hear this week, what would it be?
Our Virginia friends Revelator Hill release a single called 'My Everything' on July 14. Give it a spin.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
Black. Usually microwaved because I get distracted while I’m drinking it.
To find out more about Karen, including tours dates and the like, you can visit her website. You can also follow her on Twitter, like her on Facebook, or see what's going on with Karen on her Instagram.