Singer/Songwriter, Karen Dezelle, is everything that you expect a dedicated songwriter to be. She effortlessly translates her life experiences into something deeply melodic and never shies away from telling her story. And her story is a colorful one. Her life memories are scattered across various locations in the States, including Texas and Oklahoma, venturing as far as the tropical Caribbean Islands and rainy London. That latter of which is where she started performing, from coffee shops to clubs, acoustic or full band, she explored the musical landscape of the places she was in and let that teach her. Each place has left a distinct imprint on her, from influences to stories, she utilizes life experience and molds her music in a way that is relate-able and harmonious.
Karen Dezelle took the stage at The Hotel Cafe on February 13th, assisted by long time songwriting partner John Adair, to celebrate the release of an EP the two of them had worked hard on, tilted “Lost And Found.” Her presence is ever humble, which coincides with her sweet personality and quiet demeanor, allowing the listener to shift their focus almost entirely to the music. And her music is really something. It’s reminiscent of Jewel’s early days, when her songs were direct and simple, almost fully acoustic even on a major label release. Dezelle tells stories in much of the same way, laying the facts out in melodic form, expressing her discontent or happiness without fear.
Her voice is much like her personality, sweet and sunny, at times dipping down to an almost whisper that never fails to capture the full impact of the emotion. She performed each song off her “Lost & Found” EP, including the positivity inducing Susie’s Song, written about her sister. There was the delicate, You & Me, a tender love song that asks for perseverance and hope in a relationship. Almost as if for these moments alone, Dezelle remained seated throughout most of the show, her focus seemingly on the emotions as her eyes fluttered shut during particularly heartfelt moments. Fearlessly is sparse balled, one that lets Karen’s vocals have their time to shine, while the story slowly begins to unfold in a natural and unique way. She easily conveys the experience of letting go of the walls that surround you as you begin to fall in love, while allowing that emotional experience to encompass you. John Adair had a beautifully interwoven electric guitar solo on this song, filling the room with his own tender, instrumental expression, a departure from the consistent quietness of the track itself.
A stand out moment of the show for me was when Karen debut a new song, off her up-coming release called, Love You Anyway. Her guitar acting as the rhythmic focal point, it remains consistent with her simplicity, but truly allows her vocals to bend and flow in ways that we don’t often hear from her. It’s a story that’s about the end of a relationship and the power within yourself to walk away from it. Not an easy thing to do, and Karen builds her words around these rough life moments in such a way that makes them very real. Karen offered a truly unique and beautiful night of music to all the guests at The Hotel Cafe, giving them an insight into who she is as a songwriter, and what better way to celebrate the release of a stand out EP than to celebrate the songwriters behind it!
I had a chance to sit down with Karen Dezelle and John Adair before they hit the stage for their dynamic show at The Hotel Cafe. Continue reading for the interview and an exclusive listen to Karen’s new song, Love You Anyway.
I know you’ve moved around a lot and that really seemed to aid your love of music. What inspired you to really start playing and songwriting?
It’s funny, I have a really vivid memory of being a little kid in my back yard in Texas with a toy piano, I must have been like three years old. I remember going over to it and playing it a lot, and being really zoned out with it. My mom picked up on the fact that I was in a different place when I was doing that. She asked me if I wanted to take music lessons and that’s when I started. I took piano, but I would pretty much just sing the whole time. I’d play like three notes and then start to sing, so they told my mom, “I think she really wants to sing.” That was when it started. All the writing and stuff, every teenage girl likes to write stuff, and it just became songwriting for me.
As far as writing and performing, what artists would you say inspire you the most? Ones that have maybe inspired your sound?
I’ve always loved Jewel. From when I was 13, I think she was really popular with everyone then. I loved her. I used to sing all her songs. Just her style in general is really soulful and honest. And I like Joni Mitchell a lot. I’ve always liked older music, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. Then bands like Bright Eyes and Conor Oberst. Their lyrics really inspire me a lot.
When you’re writing, what situations in life do you feel tend to inspire you?
Whenever I feel really emotional about any particular situation. So difference circumstances can bring that out, really, any kind of internal conflict. I heard a quote, actually today, that said something like “A song is what happens when you have a thought but words won’t convey the emotion, so you have to sing.” Like, when it’s too much to just talk about, there’s more behind it. Situations like relationships always bring that out in people. When you’re not sure what you should do or what people are expecting. Those kinds of situations.
You’re here tonight to celebrate the release of “Lost & Found,” your new EP. What do you feel inspired you throughout most of EP?
A lot of them… You & Me and Fearlessly are both about falling in love. You & Me wasn’t really inspired by anyone specific, it was just about the situation. Fearlessly, was about a particular person. Susie’s Song was about my sister! Quitter wanting to pursue music but being afraid about what people would think. It just was so off the beaten path from what I was raised to do. And Lost & Found was about everyone’s interconnectedness with each other. This man, John Adair, is really responsible for helping with the music, he crafted it and co-wrote all the songs. He was a big part of it and finding the inspiration for it.
Do you co-write a lot or write more often on your own?
Karen: We (John Adair and Karen) co-write together
John: I’m more of an editor. I edit things out, Karen has a lot of words, verses and choruses. I pare it down and make it fit the music a little better. I make sure it says the same thing, you know, but in a different way of saying it. Just to make it a little more musical. The more we work together, the more she’s written since we started, the less I have to do because it seems like she’s sort of started editing on her own before I get to it. Before she had all these thoughts and tons of verses, and now she edits before she gets to it, because she knows what I’m going to say.
Karen: It’s like a game of JINGA, you know? I go to the Songwriting of Los Angeles and they have this principal they teach that says, take out as much as you can without it losing its integrity. Then it becomes more musical. So, I feel like he’s helped me a lot with that.
That’s hard. I feel like, and maybe it’s just me, especially when it comes to saying something or writing things down women tend to be more wordy. We have a lot to say.
John: In working with guys and girls, I feel like that’s definitely the case. It’s good! I’ve never worked with guys where we’ve had too much and had to scale back, it’s always like, “What are we gonna write about?” That’s just the way we are. It’s always better to have more than less.
Karen: I’ll have a song that I want John to work his magic into it.
John: She’ll have lyrical and melody worked out, simple chord structures, and I’ll try and make it more instrumental. It’s a lot of composing, not that she doesn’t have a lot of musical knowledge, but sometimes she’ll bring me a song and it’s been the same chord progression for the last ten songs. I want to keep the integrity of her song so, we work around it.
Karen: He helps with lots of instrumentation. John’s a instrumentalist, so he plays a lot of instruments on the EP. The process prior to that for me, is that music and lyrics come together. Lots of times I’ll start playing a song and then I’ll think of lyrics I’ve written in an angsty moment on a napkin in a car, and I’ll think “THAT’S PERFECT!” for that song.
John: It’s pretty easy, she has no shortage of material. The hard part is to make it your own sound.
Karen: Yeah, and deciding… sometimes parts of a song are actually songs within themselves. And you think, well maybe this verse should just be it’s own song somewhere else.
How long have you two been writing together?
Since 2011, about two years.
I heard you were working on a new EP. What can we expect, sound wise, off this new release?
I think the new EP is a little more evolve. The content and the material itself is evolving more. I think it’s less about me and more about everyone, which is what I want to do. Less individual. Hopefully. I’m so excited! These are my favorite, any time there’s a new song it becomes my favorite, but this really is. That’s what you’re living at that moment, so I want to play it. It’s a nice feeling to get to play it when its fresh.
Performance wise, what show shave you gone to where an artist really blew you away?
Jason Isabell, I saw him play at a place in San Francisco, it’s a tiny intimate venue that has great acoustics. It’s a little like The Hotel Cafe actually! There was no one there and I was there with my boyfriend at the time. And Jason was just incredible. He’s got this southern, really emotional sound, and really great stories about his songs. So I felt really connected to what he was doing. And, I’ve seen the Counting Crows a few times, what’s so cool about them is I’ve never seen the same show twice. Their live performances are so different from their albums. You feel like you saw something that was just for you that no one else is ever going to see it again. He changes up the melodies. It’s crazy, they’re recognizable, but he’ll go off on these tangents. It’s not how it goes but you like it! Whenever I’ve seen them I liked them a lot. Danny Eisenberg played on my album and he played with them a few times, so that was pretty cool.
What else is on the horizon for you?
I’m going to do a show in San Francisco soon. Playing more shows. I really want to start writing again, the past several months have been really fun playing these songs, and promoting this EP. But I always get that tug to go hide out, drink some wine, and write some stuff. Play a little, write a little… I think that’s the plan.