We were deeply honoured to make the acquaintance recently of Canadian Artist, Karen Stever. Karen’s outlook on life and her perspective on music is exactly in keeping with the ethos of Essentially Pop. We hope you enjoy our interview as much as we did!
EP: You grew up in a house filled with music. Tell us about that. What were your musical influences growing up, and how have they affected your music and your writing today?
KS: I had a very eclectic mix of music bombarding me in my childhood. My father loved Oscar Peterson, Liberace, Myron Floren and Ella Fitzgerald. My mother loved Air Supply, Chicago and Barry Manilow but she also played Chopin on the piano. My siblings liked U2, Metallica, AC/DC and dance music. I listen to all that but had a deep love for Beethoven. I think between this bizarre blend and losing both my parents too young, I developed a pretty severe intensity inside the walls of my stomach where I just needed the music that I was creating to be very unapologetic and direct.
EP: Was there ever a time when you thought you wouldn’t be involved in music?
KS: Music is definitely an appendage that I have tried to hack off. If you are surrounded by enough people who tell you that you suck at it or that it won’t make you any money, you eventually believe them. I started to consider the success levels of each of these individuals like ‘consider the source’. In non-music related jobs that I held, all I could think about was writing and music. When I finally got to a place where I didn’t care what people thought of me in general, I was unleashed to return to the playground again. I have tried very hard not to put financial pressure on the music so that it would remain pure.
EP: What’s your take on the current state of the music industry?
KS: It’s quite up and down like a yo-yo isn’t it? I think the music industry is always moving but not necessarily in the right direction. Everyone seems to be busy but not accomplishing a lot. Instead of trying to understand it, I think it’s better for an artist to put on horse blinders. What has truly been lost in the music industry is artistry. If more artists assessed their reason for making music in the first place, The music would come from a genuine place. I think people who used to work for record labels did it because they loved music and the live scene. Now, they sift through numbers online to see where the most profit is. I can’t blame him because they have to answer to a higher boss. I just believe this is dangerous because it puts people on the top of the charts who are winning a social media popularity contest. I have fallen in love with music so much again, I only think about it really when I’m asked.
EP: You have a very positive philosophy on life. What do you think has led you to believe this, and what advice do you have for others who aren’t quite so confident in following their dreams?
KS: I have a general philosophy that life is really good and that many of us who feel depressed actually live somewhere where there is opportunity. However, because I am a human with extra strong emotions, I do tend to fall flat on my face more often than not. Many of my logical friends maintain a much better balance than I do. What I am starting to realize (and it is a journey) is that people who are artistic tend to feel more intensely and therefore we hurt more intensely. That initial realization has helped me a lot to keep my emotions in check. I also have moved away from a “follow your dreams” mentality. The truth is what we dream about isn’t always going to happen. What we imagine for ourselves could be cut short by circumstance. It is way healthier for me personally to view myself as a part of a bigger picture where the best thing I can do is inspire others to happiness and and some sort of contentment. In doing this, I get a greater reward and realize what my purpose is. For musicians and artists, we have bought into the mentality that we can stand on the stage above everyone else and therefore that will define our success. Success for me is to live in balance and harmony with the world around me.
EP: Your first album, “Playground Isolator”, was released in 2008, and “Idiot Savant” came out last year. What’s happened in between all that time? Were you always working towards this album? Did you have different projects on the go at the time?
KS: Oh you mean the ‘black hole’ portion of my life? Ha! If I ever get up the nerve or energy I will write a book on that time. I was working. I wrote and produced records for other people and just worked at paying bills. ‘Playground Isolator’ was an exorcism of demons whereas ‘Idiot Savant’ was my personal return to the playground. I don’t think it could’ve happened any sooner than it did. It really wasn’t a conscious decision to insert that much time in between two records, life’s intense drama just took over.
EP: What advice would you give to the Karen Stever just starting out, based on what you know now?
KS: I think the advice I would have for another artist is really just the same advice I would give anybody. While you feel like your world is falling apart, make sure you are devoting time in your day to do something that you are personally very passionate about and safeguard that time from anyone who wants to take it from you. Try not to think about the home that your music will live in. Learn how to fall in love with the art, writing and music again. Once you feel that it’s time to share, share it! But try not to think about anyone’s reaction to it. Once I quit caring what people thought of me, I was free. I hope for you, above all else, to be free.
EP: Talk us through “Idiot Savant”.
KS: I really felt inspired by a Supertramp track called, The Logical Song. This song takes us from childhood innocence to a place of being a vegetative society. Because I had gone through a fairly intense depression, I listen to that song and was scared that the end goal for all of us was abandoned. I did not want that to be where we ended up and I wanted us back to the playground again.
I broke down the lyrics of the song into 12 parts. I gave myself some working titles and developed a story about a nine-year-old boy from the 1930s named Ian. The story chronicles Ian’s journey through Hell and his struggle to get back to the playground again. The musical backdrop is intensely symphonic and orchestral because that time period was very dark. I am writing a book as well. Each song from the record is a moment from each chapter of the book. There are over 50 animals mentioned in the record itself and many more in the book because Ian (who is a nonverbal Savant) has a strong relationship with them. He sees things very differently than how we have been taught in society. It is my hope that through his eyes we can regain the balance.
EP: What’s the most surprising song/artist we’d find in your music collection?
KS: I’m not sure anyone would care enough to be surprised in the first place but I will say that I love old 80s theme songs. I spend way too much time searching for things like the Super Mario Brothers theme, The Muppet show theme. I love quirky little ditties like, the Ladybug Picnic from Sesame Street!
EP: When not making music, what does Karen Stever get up to?
KS: I am a huge fan of garage sales and breathing life back into the things I find there. This could be antiques that need refinishing or candlesticks that need painting.
EP: You’re proudly Canadian. What’s the music scene like in Canada, as opposed to say, the US or the UK? Are there as many opportunities, or do you feel it’s just a matter of getting out there and doing it, regardless of where you’re making your music?
KS: I absolutely love my country but I’m not really into the music scene here. I think my musical taste is much more European and ugly. The Canadian music scene is really for those who make safe/feel-good music. This is not to say I don’t know people here who make really cool music but they tend to struggle to find an audience.
I consider myself a writer mostly and so I really enjoy time at home. I don’t look for opportunities so much as I look for cool people to have relationships with.
EP: You’ve released “Idiot Savant” via Pledge Music. Talk us through the process of that. Was it hard, challenging, rewarding…what was the best thing about it? And why Pledge? Why self release rather than through a record company?
KS: A couple of people who are very dear to me and talked me into doing it. I had the record written done and was going through a time. We’re simply couldn’t afford to share with the world. One of the comment someone made to me was, “We will help you get it out there, Karen.” I had sat with my Horse blinders on during a very terrible time in my life for so long that I really had no gauge of who is paying attention to what I was doing. I sincerely thought nobody was around anymore because there was way too much time in between records. When I launched the campaign I was excited by the thought that there could be something positive come out of it because I believed in the strength of the message within the record, but never did I think that in just eight days my friends would fully fund the release of it. I ended up with 200% of what I was looking for. I was really amazed at how decent people are. The very best thing to happen with the release of this record is I have witnessed so many people begin their healing journey back to the playground. The greater message is spreading without my knowledge or permission, really! Remarkable!
EP: Where can we buy your music?
KS: I am trying to keep it on karenstever.com right now while I watch the state of the music industry flail around. My hope is for people to also spend time on the website to read the blogs and find some inspiration there. The music is intimately connected with the things I write, so it doesn’t make sense to have it spread all over the Internet.
EP: How important is it for you to have creative control over your music, your writing, your videos and so on?
KS: I have certainly been accused of being a bit of a control freak I think I consider myself more like a mama bear. The characters in the story and on the record are very intentional. It would take somebody else to long to get up to speed to catch up. I definitely see certain people in the music and film industry collaborating to further this whole project. It is really about timing of that. I have really learned that ‘music is the boss’ and so I’m letting it naturally dictate when it’s ready for the next chapter.
EP: What’s your view outside your window right now?
KS: It’s all cornfields and gravel road. 🙂
EP: Where is Karen Stever going to be in 5 years time?
KS: That is absolutely impossible for me to answer since taking on the attitude I have. I am trying really hard to be a child of discovery again. I have tried to control my life and it didn’t work so now I am riding life’s wave. I do think I will always be a country girl but if life needs me in the city, I guess I’ll begrudgingly go there. 😉
EP: And finally…..What question do you wish somebody would ask you in an interview – but nobody ever does?
KS: What if I turned it around on you and asked you if you have personally found your passion? Are you spending time with your inner child? Are you back on the playground again?
EP: Thanks for talking to us Karen – you ROCK big time xx
KS: Mad love on you, you RULE!