Karen Jonas

Interview by Kaylah Rodriguez
Issue 44 • October 2016 • Fredericksburg

You have to get your heart broken to appreciate country music. That’s what this singer-songwriter tells us in her aptly-named sophomore album.

Music video for "Wasting Time" by Karen Jonas | Videography by Timothy Ryan Poe

So thank you for teaching me to like country songs
For making me so sad, I want to sing along

After more than 200 performances together in the past year alone, Karen Jonas and guitarist/collaborator Tim Bray have witnessed a natural evolution in their songwriting. It’s this hard-earned foundation that underpins Karen’s sophomore album, Country Songs, a collection of work that reflects the rich sound they’ve honed together in their live shows. This release follows in the spirit of her critically acclaimed 2014 debut, Oklahoma Lottery, full of intensely personal tracks that capture both the true essence of country music and a uniquely local sound that the duo hope to bring to the national stage.

While the success of Oklahoma Lottery was somewhat a surprise, having come together out of personal pieces written in Karen’s room with no thought of being recorded, Country Songs delivers a noticeably more intentional sound. Produced in Fredericksburg by Jeff Covert at Wally Cleavers Recording Studio, Karen and Tim chose to record the album entirely live. “There’s a cohesion there that’s hard to replicate when we are doing different parts separately,” Tim explained. Karen described the results as not having “a studio perfection about it. It’s got a real grit rather than a produced grit.”

Honesty is what comes to mind when listening to this album. There’s a genuineness that makes these tracks feel something like diary entries. “I’m a very private songwriter,” Karen confessed, “I like to be by myself where no one is listening. I’m very fragile at first.” This tender vulnerability is apparent in the single “Wasting Time” where she pines, “I’m holding on / I’m holding out for love / Yes, I’m holding on / I’m holding out for you / I don’t know what else to do.” In the more upbeat, almost whimsical “Whiskey and Dandelions,” she daydreams the lines, “We won’t notice the days go by / Ten years in the blink of an eye / Silver morning to golden night / We won’t notice the days go by.” Whether belting out her heart in an emotionally charged moment or caressing a contemplative lyric, Karen navigates the emotional waters of her own experiences with a smoky-sweet voice that carries both the warmth and sting of a good bourbon. “I still write very much to a moment,” she reflected, “not really to a theme or to an album even. I try to write for whatever I’m particularly feeling at that time. It turns out that when you do that, though, it ends up involving a story arc. When you go through whatever you’re going through, you learn things and your writing progresses with it.”

For Karen and Tim, an important aspect of Country Songs is the context in which the music would be created. Still not satisfied with the current state of the music industry, this will be their second album released entirely independently. Finding strength and confidence in what they’ve accomplished together thus far, an independent album just felt like the natural thing to do. “I like the idea of a sound that could be something other than the factory music that all comes from the same place, from the same people, with the same musicians playing on every album,” she said. “It’s us here, doing our best with the people that are actually from here.” Both long-time residents of Fredericksburg, Karen and Tim went on to explain that these were songs written there, with people from there, and about experiences that happened there. The result is a locally authentic work with an element of Fredericksburg baked into just about every part of it. Even the album’s aesthetics are locally sourced with cover art by Amber Renee and music videos filmed by local videographer Timothy Ryan Poe at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery and along the historic downtown streetscapes.

During a time in country music when so many albums are created as products to be cheaply consumed, Country Songs delivers an exceptionally refreshing experience. This is a collection meant to provoke the same contemplation and longing that inspired them, that demand to be taken in a bit more thoughtfully. Karen so graciously gives us little glimpses into her head and heart that come together like a love letter to the country music she has come to treasure. Much in the same way that Dwight Yoakam sang straight to her soul, Karen’s voice invokes emotions you didn’t know you were ready to feel, while Tim carries them forward with the twang of his signature Gretsch. Karen explained that, in a time where there’s something disingenuine about so much of what’s on the radio, “it’s important that real music can connect us and help us understand our experiences.“ Country Songs bears that empathy, helping you understand your own story a bit better.

On October 14, amidst the dreamy backdrop of the Kenmore Inn’s newly renovated ballroom, Karen and Tim will debut Country Songs as they play the entire album through from start to finish. Praising the advantage of these more intimate settings, Karen explained, “It’s more about connecting with the audience. We definitely have a conversation with the room when we’re in a listening space like this that you don’t get to have in a louder setting. I think especially when hearing new music, you need a set up a little bit in order to latch onto what it’s about, so it’s really fun to be able to do that.”

Country Songs will be performed in its entirety at an album release show on October 14 at the Kenmore Inn. Music at 7 PM, admission includes one free CD. Tickets and album pre-orders available at karenjonasmusic.com

Photography by Tim Snyder

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