On her first two albums, 2013’s Lost and Found and 2014’s Bloom, Unfold, Wither, singer-songwriter Karen Dezelle took listeners on a mesmerizing journey through her thoughts and emotions, bringing them to life by way of introspective lyrics layered atop beautiful melodic flourishes. In support of those albums, Dezelle performed her unique brand of acoustic folk at famed venues across the United States and the UK including the House of Blues, The Hotel Cafe, Hotel Utah, The Bitter End and at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
Dezelle, who recently returned to Los Angeles after living in New York for several months, will soon be releasing her third album, Room for Two. On the first single, “Alchemy,” Dezelle sings of change and reflection, her voice softly dancing along a hypnotic beat and cascading instrumentals.
When and how did you initially become interested in music and performing?
I was always drawn to music. It was magnetic and transcendental for me always. I also grew up around it. My whole family played, and my mom would quiz me and my siblings on what instruments were playing in a song. We would all write songs together when we were kids. I loved to sing and started performing around the age of 11.
Growing up, who were your biggest musical influences?
There was a lot of old music played around my house as a kid. A lot of country, soul, rock ‘n roll, blues. I loved folk music. My parents would tell us about how the records we were listening to reflected a time in history and what was happening in music and the world at the time, why the songs were revolutionary. As a teenager, we moved to the Caribbean and then London so I listened to a lot of reggae, calypso, steel pan in Trinidad and then dance and indie rock music in London. I think it’s all influenced me. I borrow from everything I love.
What were your goals when you started writing and recording Room for Two?
I have been trying to leave room for the audience in the song. Making them less stories about my life and more musical canvases that encourage audience interpretation, that give elements of a story but just enough for their imagination to work with, like they are part of the process. That was part of the idea behind the title of the EP, Room For Two. If music is about connectedness, then there has to be space for the listener to participate. I also wanted to explore different genres and make sure every song sounded completely different, but that the arc of the story between them remained.
What is your songwriting process?
I usually start with lyrics. And everything is game. There are stories everywhere all the time. The music comes later. I will play around with the guitar, find a riff I like and then let the music and lyrics battle it out until they can both live happily together in the song. Ha.
Then there are rare occasions when a song just comes. They are what my good friend and fellow musician Sara Noelle calls “unique gift” songs. They are songs that seem to come to you out of nowhere, almost finished upon inception, and you know they were just given to you to channel. Two of my songs came that way and I remember exactly where I was when they did. I have no idea where they came from, they just found me. It was a fantastically strange experience.
How do you know when a song or an album is finished and ready to be released?
There comes a point where adding more would make it less and not more powerful. You don’t want to cover up the soulfulness. That’s when you stop. And you just feel it when you reach that point.
I go to the Songwriting School of Los Angeles and my favorite teacher there relates it to a game of Jenga. You actually want to take away as much as possible without the song losing it’s structure.
I found that the pieces you put away that go unused are often meant to be completely different songs in themselves.
What was it like performing at SXSW?
Austin is in my home state. So it’s great to play near family. I always think of Janis Joplin when I am there. Ha. Probably always will.
Are there any songs throughout the course of music history that you wish you had written? If so, which ones?
So many! “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” “Sonnet” by the Verve, “Imagine” by John Lennon, “Elephants” by Rachael Yamagata, “Post War” by M. Ward. Ask me on another day and I’ll give you completely different answers. :)
How do you relax or unwind after a long day?
Yoga. Listening to music. Running or walking outside… especially by the ocean. Talking to or cooking for people I love.
From your perspective, what’s the biggest difference between Los Angeles and New York?
The weather and the energy level of the people.
Is there anything you regret not doing when you were younger? If so, what?
Sometimes I wish I had moved around less… Stayed with things a little longer than I did. I liked to run away and seek something new a lot. It was fun and adventurous but there’s something to be said for standing still. I sort of regret not doing that.
With Room for Two in the books, where do you go from here?
I have been writing songs for scripts and film a lot recently. It’s a different creative process, starting with someone else’s story… it almost feels like you are painting on someone else’s painting. It feels like an honor and there’s a respect level to it, wanting to treat the work the writer has done with the utmost care. It’s also a good practice in empathy, trying to feel what the characters in the scene are feeling enough to write about it. You have to get in touch with the undercurrent or emotion of the moment in a different way. It’s helping me grow artistically and spiritually so I would like to continue with that.
I have some shows coming up in Los Angeles, New York, and Texas, and I have been writing a lot. Both music and prose. I am going to be featured in a book called Lyrics as Poetry which will be published later this year and includes a lot of artists I love and their linguistic work. I’ve been exploring writing a lot of prose as well as a lot of music, so you can expect more writing and more EPs to be released, as early as this Christmas.