“Very simply, this delicate, sweetly-melodic Toronto songstress needs to be heard.”
Brad Wheeler, The Globe and Mail
Robert Reid, Guelph Mercury
If you’re looking for the official biography, please click “Biography” over on the left hand hives. You’ll find the details about my career: where I’ve played, who I’ve played with, charting information and all that formal stuff you may need to know. But for those of you who are perhaps curious about me as a person… how / why I do what I do, I thought I’d introduce myself by way of a first person autobiography. By no means is it complete, but off the top of my head…
Let’s see. Hi, I’m Karyn. I have been singing and making music for as long as I can remember. I love it.
As a young girl faced with the chore of washing dinner dishes, I would make up tunes to pass the time. On long car rides, I’d hum. We had a family friend who used to be the official singer of the national anthem during the Canadiens hockey games, and there is even a photograph of him and me singing “Oh Canada” together in the family room. Apparently after that I continued to belt the anthem out at the top of my lungs every time I used the facilities. I don’t remember that myself, but that’s what my mom says.
When I was nine I entered a singing contest while on a family vacation at one of those all-in deals in Guadaloupe. I won first prize! I sang an acapella version of “Hey Little Bird” by Sandy Oppenheim, my favourite kid’s singer at the time. Google it, it’s cute. I remember the sensation of my voice in the microphone being thrown across the room, and the visual hush over the room caused by the bright lights shining on me. I thought to myself, “I like this!”
Incidentally around that same time, my sister and I made a super-8 movie called “The Magician” starring *me* (my sister, who is older, naturally wanted to be the director). We used the fancy feature of stop & start filming to create *magic* on film, you know… beds being made and doors opening by themself, that sort of stuff. I wish I knew where that film was because I’d love to post it.
My mother was self-professed tone deaf, whereas my father was a big audiophile, particularly for classical and jazz music. He was always playing Mozart and Peterson and going on about the fidelity of the recordings and so forth. There was a piano in the house, and he would play “Fur Elise” and songs by all the big B greats. Don’t get me wrong, this music was excellent, but I confess I grew up a bit of a music snob having absorbed his attitude that “composers” were the stuff of true genius whereas “popular songwriters” were …well… popular. I even studied opera in University for a couple of years, until the disparity between what I was learning and what I truly loved… singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen… became too much for me and I quit.
I did squeak out a BA in music, but my real musical education happened around the campfires of folk festivals, the streets where I busked for several years and in the pop-records I sang along with over and over again until I had every inflection down.
It was about the time that I quit University that I took up guitar. In fact, I bought my very first guitar – a classical – in a pawn shop in Athens, Greece while I was backpacking around Europe. (Later I traded it for a violin, an instrument I’ve yet to master.) I learned to sing a few songs on guitar and started busking to pay for hostels and trains. This is when I wrote my very first song, a tender tune about a butterfly. I think this set the tone for most of my future writing… which has tended to be somewhat poignant and sad.
Despite my early ambitions of being a super star (fed by my glorious first place in that singing contest), I didn’t really think much about becoming a “professional musician”. I figured you got discovered and famous and that was that. I didn’t realize you had to, like, practise or anything. So, for many years I worked odd jobs cleaning, waiting tables, stocking a needle exchange, selling Christmas trees in New York City, writing and performing singing telegrams while waiting for the day my break would come. Occasionally I played shows, often for rooms full of friends, but mostly I ignored music while I attempted to sort out what I wanted to be when i grew up.
Fast forward a few years, of me slogging odd jobs and flirting with music and songwriting, and I found myself unemployed. Luckily I was able to get a grant to go to a music management school, where I learned that it was possible to both love music and make it your “profession” at the same time. I became an entrepreneur… opening my own label/managment company called “Mathilde’s Home Productions”, which I still operate today. I even started practising regularly.
While I was at school, I recorded some songs in their studio with some fellow students helming the board. I later got these tracks professionally mixed & mastered, and they became part of my first album “Bird”. Okay, those of you who know me know that I actually recorded two other albums before that… “Inside and Back” and “Telling Stories”. (Actually three if you include “Who Needs To Be Big”, a live recording of a band called the Loud Sisters that I fronted while living in Peterborough.) I don’t include those in my discography, though, because I think of them more like journal entries than actual records. That’s just me.
I must say it was pretty AMAZING the first time I heard that my song had been played on CBC radio. I still have the phone message that my friend Heather left me excitedly telling me she’d just heard it on Richardson’s Round Up, a CBC Radio 1 program that aired nationally. Suddenly I felt like I was a *real* recording artist, and I started touring Canada and also writing a new record called “Hearts Fall”, which I put out two years later in 2006. I did even more touring across Canada.
At that point I started to think ahead to record number three. I decided that unlike previous albums, which were mostly live-off-the-floor sorts of recordings sans producer, that I would make a bonafide studio album for the next one. This explains the four year gap till the release of “Even Though The Sky Was Falling”. I really wanted to take my time with and enjoy the studio and the production of it. I spent a year writing the songs and another 15 months arranging & recording it. And I’m glad I didn’t rush, despite my inner critic urging me to oh-just-get-on-with-it-already. It took exactly the right amount of time, and I’m pleased with how it turned out.
So now this new year brings the exciting and nervewracking adventures of putting the album out into the world and seeing how people respond to it. Today I was totally touched to discover that someone had tweeted an excerpt of my lyrics on their twitter stream. To me that is the biggest honour, that something I write inspires others to share.
Hmm, that was my freely associated autobiography drafted late one night. I know it’s missing some essential things… like how I was born in London England; I grew up in Toronto, Montreal, New Jersey and Kingston Ontario. That I love dagwood sandwiches and don’t love olives, that most of my musical influences are friends of mine who are amazing Toronto musicians, and so forth. But I think I’m done for now. I gotta go grab supper. I will get back to you with more details later. Till then, go ahead and read my fancy “official” bio, if you like. I wrote that one too.
Hey… here are a couple of nice quotes about my singing. Feels good!
“[S]he shows the kind of vocal agility that only the greatest possess. Moreover, her eclectic approach to failed loves and her songs about burning desire offer the best imaginable play ground for this.” CrtlAltCountry.be / Benny Metten
“[I]t is Karyn’s voice that carries the music to singular heights. Under the surface of her folky vocals, there hides a youthful playfulness and sensuality. It is this contrast that makes her music so pleasing. And how beautiful the phrasing! Karyn sings neither sentences nor words, but syllables. She carefully weighs and reweighs each one on her tongue, only then hesitantly lets them out: in this you see the true folk singer.” Rootstime.be / Frank Celis