We caught up with the ‘Say Something’ songstress to talk music, fashion, competition and careers. She tells us about her current single ‘Open My Eyes’, explains why she doesn’t regret putting university on hold and reveals which UK artist she’d love to duet with!
Debut: So Karen, you’ve been away for about a year, tell us about what’s kept you busy?
Karen: I’ve been working on a lot of new material and there’s a lot of cool stuff in the pipeline so I think there’s definitely going to be more music in the next few months and some collaborations as well.
Debut: Sounds fun! In terms of collaborations, who would you like to work with?
Karen: There’s a lot of dream ones, I’d like to work with the Weekend or Justin Bieber because vocally I’d love to work with both of them and I really like Calvin Harris; I love what he did with How Deep is your love. I would also love to do a duet with Craig David, that’d be sick!
Debut: For those that don’t quite know what you’re about, can you summarise your music in one sentence, what do you bring to the music industry that’s different?
Karen: I’m bringing back R&B soul to dance music so that at nighttime you can party to it, but at daytime you can have a listen to it as well, just feel-good music.
Debut: Tell us a bit about your latest single Open My Eyes what is it really about?
Karen: Open My Eyes is about feeling alone and needing someone to pick you up, needing to relax. I worked with Frances (Sophie Frances Cook) on it and MJCOLE produced it, ( he’s worked with the likes of Jess Glynn, Sam Smith and Dizzee Rascal to name a few) which is amazing, as I absolutely love him, he’s a garage legend. I think he’s done a really good job and hopefully people like it.
Debut: Some critics have said it’s really similar to your last song ‘Say Something’, what are your thoughts on that?
Karen: I think it’s similar as the chorus has similar patterns but Say Something is finger clicky and a bit diva and Open My Eyes is more uplifting and feel-good. In terms of the songs, they are both completely different, which is what I wanted to do, show people a different side to me, show that I’m not all just flick of the hair, diva type of thing! haha
Debut: You’ve definitely shown a different side, in the video with the different looks, especially with your hairstyles, it’s the first time we’ve seen you with straight hair..
Karen: I thought it was important to show a bit of personality and experiment with different looks, especially in music videos; you can really experiment with colours and styles that I wouldn’t usually go to. The pink flamingo outfit where my hair was all stripped back, was thanks to Terri Capon, the hair and make up artist, she nailed it and I couldn’t believe we shot that video in one day and she did all those looks in just one day! It’s so much fun to have input in the looks for the video because I’m so into hair, I think it’s my thing, I love it, I try doing it on my own. But when I wake up and haven’t washed it, it looks a little different!
Debut: Open My Eyes, has a great summer vibe what summer hits can you predict and who are you loving right now?
Karen: Oooh that’s tough! I love NEO –Total Love, I really like Meghan Trainor’s latest single ‘NO’ I actually love it, she just has an ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks about it’ sort of vibe, I’m really happy that Craig David’s come back on that track with Blonde as well, I think it’s awesome and I’m so pleased he’s come back, because Craig David is an absolute legend!
Debut: Where do you see your music heading in the next five years?
Karen: I’ve been in the studio for over a year now and I’ve been experimenting with the musical journey I wanna take. Say Something came so naturally and that’s where I feel like I need to go back, where I sit comfortably, I really want to move in the next couple of years to something with more R&B, pop vibe to it, sort of like Fantasy by Mariah Carey but with sort of more British sound to it, more garage sort of vibe.
Debut: What difficulties are you facing so far or trying to overcome in terms of your music?
Karen: Two things, there’s a lot of competition, I’m from Newcastle and in Newcastle you don’t really get a grasp of what else is out there, where as here in London there’s an abundance of amazing female talent, and I feel like you have to really be yourself and be comfortable in your own skin. Know what you want to say and what you want to do, sometimes you compare yourself to other people, but you have to be really strong and stay true to what you wanna be.
Karen: The other thing is that sometimes I overthink about what kind of music I want to put out, but I should just sit and write about what I feel like and want to say at that point, instead of overthinking it and trying to impress people and trying to be smart or clever, I think you should just be totally natural.
Debut: In saying that, how would you deal with you management trying to move you away from what’s natural to you and attempting to change your image?
Karen: I’m pretty strong in terms of image and if someone said ‘can you do this shoot where you take your boobs out’ I’d be strong and say no because even if it meant you get a million followers, it’s just not the way that I am. I really want to show younger artists and younger generations that it’s all about the music for me, it’s about the talent and being able to sing and get people to like you because of your music rather than any other direction. That’s why I love old-skool so much because they weren’t getting naked on stage it was all really classy and about the voice.
Debut: What would you describe your fashion style as?
Karen: I love wearing a good pair of heels, but I don’t think I can do it everyday because my feet will probably not be of use for a while, I do like trainers Airmax, because they’re so comfortable and can go with like jeans or whatever, I really love dresses, dungarees and once the winter and the cold is truly over it’ll be co-ords, shorts and t-shirts!
Debut: Who is your celebrity style Icon?
Karen: At the moment, I really love Rihanna, I love all the stuff that she’s wearing on tour, I think she looks amazing, and probably Whitney Houston and Mariah, I loved Mariah Carey’s simplicity back in the day, she would wear the black dresses and little heels, the big hair and nice make up. Same with Whitney, she would wear white vests and jeans and it was always kind of casual but still very classic at the same time, I love a classic look.
Debut: What’s your work ethic like? Do you take an obsessive or relaxed approach?
Karen: I am definitely not the relaxed approach type. I’m pretty on it! I know I can have a good time after gigs and stuff but before a gig I’m sitting in a corner drinking some honey and lemon and I’m just really chilled out focused on what I’m doing, even before I got signed, I was trying every opportunity just to get noticed because it is so difficult for new artists, every opportunity I had I would just take it no matter what.
Debut: Is that the advice you’d give someone starting out in the music industry?
Karen: Yeah, it’s all about believing in yourself and putting a lot of practice in and make sure you feel ready when performing and being comfortable and not take it too seriously, have fun!
Debut: At the age of 16 you chose to not go to college or university and follow your musical passion, how hard was it for you to make that decision?
Karen: I did want to go to university, from an early age I always knew I wanted to go and study history or law to be a barrister, or a history law teacher but in year 11 I thought, I really love to sing why don’t I just give it a shot?
It was really scary, I signed up to colleges, to a music course to do my A levels, and I just didn’t turn up to either of them. I said to my mum ‘I need to try this for a little while!’
My mum is from the Philippines and education there is so important, it is here but even more so in the Asian countries. I f you have a qualification you can do whatever so she was a bit hesitant about at first, so I just started gigging to get experience and although at the time.
I had no money, I was scared I was never going to make it, and I felt like giving up, I just carried on.
I did actually go back to college at 18 because I panicked and thought let me just do my A levels in case I want to go to uni, but then a year after that I got signed. And I thought you know what, I can go to uni at any time in my life; I don’t need to do it now because somebody tells me to. You never know I might go back and study it part-time or whatever but at the moment singing is what I want to do and I feel I can make a lifetime career out of it.. hopefully!
Open My Eyes may have come out in February, but we think it’s got a great spring/summer vibe! Have a listen below..
You can catch Karen performing live in the next few months, at the gigs below..
30/4 – Supporting Example at Starworks Warehouse, Wolverhampton
7/5 – Supporting Example at Coventry Student University Summer Ball
28/5 – Gay Pride Bradford
29/5 – Gay Pride Birmingham
25/6 – The Arena Stourbridge