Catch up with indie-folk singer-songwriter Karen Dezelle and listen to her latest single, "Alchemy", from her forthcoming EP, Room For Two, set to release later this Summer.
What first got you interested in music?
Karen Dezelle: I think it's just innate. Music has always been another world for me, very magnetic and transcendental. I have one vivid memory of being about 5 years old in my backyard in Texas playing a toy piano, and my mother noticing I was in a different place when I was doing that and asking if I wanted to take piano lessons. My heart just sort of leapt at that moment in a way I never forgot. I have a 2-year-old nephew now and he is very drawn to all things that make sound. He runs over whenever someone starts playing music and watches, fascinated. I love seeing that because I think, "oh, he's got it too!". Most of my family has this spark for music that's inexplicable, just in our blood maybe and built into the fabric of who we are.
Do you remember the first song that you wrote?
Probably something with my brother. We always had little songs and ideas. The first serious song I wrote was in college. It started on piano and was heavily focused on lyrics. I was very into rhythmic rhymes. Another musician and I were joking recently that there should be a word for the very specific feeling you get when you find something you wrote years ago and you want to cringe and laugh, but love it at the same time because it brings back a flood of memories. It's funny to think how those feelings were so paramount and intense at the time. It always looks different in retrospect.
Which musicians have you been influenced by?
Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, M Ward, Regina Spektor, Ben Harper, Eva Cassidy... so many I love and I love them all differently. One of my favorite music teachers once told me that if you like something, pay close attention, because most things we like are a part of us we haven't discovered yet. I think about that a lot in music and in life. What you're drawn to says something important about where you are headed.
How would you describe your sound to someone who had never heard your music before?
Story-telling forms the basis of my music so in that sense it is definitely rooted in the folk tradition. There is a heavy use of vocal harmonies to add a sort of dreaminess or emotion in certain places and a lot of experimentation mixing acoustic and electric instrumentation, which I hope reflects that most of the songs are about juxtaposition and self-discovery. There is some alt-country harmonics and subtle gospel influence, because I have to pay homage to my Texas roots, and I am really taken with alt-country artists recently like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Sharon Van Etten...I definitely want to explore that sound more.
What were your inspirations behind your new single "Alchemy"?
I wrote that particular song as a gift for someone special to me. It's about the specific things I find wonderful about them, almost like a portrait. In a more general sense it's a contemplation on the mystery of our summons to love and how those inclinations become activated, almost like some sort of divine alchemy. It's also about the transformation that happens when you do love someone, how ordinary things seem extraordinary, and how you are sort of reshaped in the process too. It's not often I write a song specifically for one person. I did it once for my sister too. It's fun to do and it makes the song more meaningful in a way.
Can you tell us more about your forthcoming EP, Room For Two, and how this new EP compares to your previous releases?
The songs on this EP were written at completely different times in my life, so there is a greater span of time covered in this release. Some of them are songs I was never brave enough to release before because they are so personal. Three of them are about relationships; one of them is about spirituality, a sort of ode to a higher power; and one of them is about being fearless about who you really are, retaining what matters most to you, but accepting what is. They are more diverse than previous releases, with more experimentation across genres, and more personal subject matter.
Is there a song from Room For Two that you're most excited to share with your fans?
"Home" is the one that is most meaningful to me. It is deeply personal and writing it was a spiritual experience. Of all the songs I've written, it's probably the one that is most revealing of who I really am. I also have the most hopes for that one meaning something to other people. "I'd Go Anywhere" is also an exciting one because it is a departure musically from previous releases, with heavy Americana influences and a generally more upbeat tempo.
What do you hope your fans and listeners are able to take away from your music?
I heard someone say once that the reason for writing music is that in certain moments a song can give us just the right amount of escape and just the right amount of connection and so that we find peace in the juxtaposition. My favorite musicians do that for me. Their songs can fill a void. My hope is that, through being radically honest and deeply personal with my music, something universal will emerge and that people will recognize themselves somewhere and feel more connected and less alone in the internal worlds we all carry. I think really good songs leave room for the audience to interpret things and participate in the meaning, so that they can find that connection. That's one of the main ideas behind the title 'Room For Two'. I want listeners to feel like they are involved in the song, that there is space for them there, and that it almost wouldn't exist in the same way if they weren't actively connected to it. Everyone hears a song differently, every single time, and in that way, each time it's played is a one-time experience that only they can create and that can never be replicated. That's what makes music transcendental. It's what makes it so powerful in the way it can connect us to each other. And it's what makes being a musician become a responsibility to deliver just the right amount of presence and space to your audience.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Just that I'm grateful for all of this...the journey of it, the people I've met, the opportunity to make music and share it, and writing this to you right now. So thank you.