The last time I caught up via the online interview with Karla Adolphe, she was hauling a 35 foot motor home and touring as the Rusty Caravan.
Since then the dynamic artist released Honeycomb Tombs, an album that explored grief and meaningfully connected her with a global audience. Karla went an admirable length in the CBC Searchlight songwriter contest, being voted by devoted fans into the Top 10. Her young family and their new home were also caught up in the drama of the High River floods in 2013.
If you meet Karla Adolphe in person, one thing you’ll remember is her laugh. It’s as big, as generous and as commanding as her voice, which itself is a force of nature.
This Christmas, Karla is releasing a new EP of Christmas songs entitled Lingering: 4 much loved classics and one original new song. She recorded the EP in The Space in Red Deer, Alberta, and I asked her questions via email.
Ten Questions with Karla Adolphe about her new EP Lingering
Andrew Kooman: How have the last few years have shaped you and your music?
Karla Adolphe: It has been hard, gut wrenching and humbling. We bought our first house in High River on June 1, and after living in an RV and renting for almost a decade we were over the moon to be able to take an old house with a HUGE yard and renovate it and plant our roots in this town we love so much! Three weeks later we lost our house, RV and had to run from frigid water, it was surreal. On top of the disappointment of that event, I was pregnant and Gary’s job was in doubt, as he was a contractor in High River, but the town was a wreck.
So, all of these elements have forged in me a tenderness and awareness of how truly fragile and limited I am as a person. I can’t barrel through life anymore, I have inherited a limp I think and these songs were an opportunity to try out these buried skills and talents and see if the coals would light a fire again. The original song All Your Glory was a direct response to this season, a song proclaiming a kinship with He who grants the limp, I’ve been humbled!
AK: You’ve shared the stage with the likes of Patty Loveless, Cara Luft and Ray Boneville to name a few and you tour in folky duos. For people who will hear your music for the first time through Lingering, how would you describe yourself as an artist?
KA: I am a singer, a vocalist, a performer first, but through the drought of the last few years I have realized I am a writer too! Having played with those folks I believe I take little treasures and moments from each interaction and learn and grow as a creative person. Where I am headed now is an exploration of Soul music, I want to see where my voice can go, I want to push it even more and I want to challenge myself rhythmically as well! In fact, I played all the drum parts on this record, that is something I have dreamed of doing for sometime, so this is a good first step I’d say!
AK: Your fans have been asking you to put out Christmas music for a number of years, and here you are with a Christmas EP. On your blog you write that this was a “spontaneous” idea… so why now?
KA: Ha ha, yes it was totally spontaneous, I think meeting Heath in October and feeling very inspired by your room at The Space, I just knew it was the right time and Heath was up for a time challenge adventure. I do think that this EP is a nice bridge between my last project Honeycomb Tombs and the new album ideas I have brewing. I always want to carefully walk my tribe along the creative paths I am on, so this little album is a good linking project I think!
AK: The title comes from a reflective place, what does the word Lingering mean for you?
KA: Every New Years Day I take a walk along the river here in High River with my family and ask and pray for a word to help guide me through the upcoming year. This year Lingering was that word. I have found the word a challenge and bit of a frustration but I can see, looking back, how things have shifted for me and my family in the areas of lingering and resting. We are still tired, busy and working hard on fixing our home, jobs and raising kids, but there is a mist settling in our midst, that is lingering. It felt like a good fit and a gentle encouragement and the songs just worked!
AK: Four of the songs on the EP are well-known tunes and I’m interested how you launched from what you and audiences know about the tracks into the new things you bring. Was it intimidating to take on these classics? What drew you to these four particularly?
KA: Well two were my absolute favourite songs, We Three Kings and O Come O Come Emmanuel, I wanted to develop them into walking songs, songs that pilgrims or gypsies might sing on their journey to follow the star. I find that imagery inspiring and it is actually the mindset I am in when thinking of my next album, this sort of spiritual, torch song atmosphere!
I had great advice from Aaron Strumpel, he said keep the melodies and basic structure of the songs traditional, be creative with sounds, so thats what we did! As for Do You Hear What I hear, I just LOVE that tune and wanted to create a little lullaby feel for my kids, but this song too has the story of a pilgrimage, as well as In The Bleak Midwinter, which is an old hymn I stumbled across and fell in love with!
AK: The first track I heard was just a sample as Heath West was mixing We Three Kings in studio. I literally had chills run up my spine. I mean this in the best possible way: the track is like the love child of Lorde and Bing Crosby. How did you approach these songs as you sat down to record Lingering?
KA: Wow, I love that love child. Ha! As I previously said, I wanted to create an atmosphere of pilgrimage, almost like we were singing these songs outside or among a campfire. I love that idea, so we kept all the instruments fairly organic and unplugged and worked hard to capture the beautiful resonance of that room! As for singing the tracks, that is my favourite thing to do in the whole world, so that is just me having fun and enjoying the room as well!
AK: How did the original song you wrote for this EP – All Your Glory – come to be? How long has it been with you and how did it develop from the point of inspiration to laying it down in studio?
KA: I haven’t written an original song in over three years, pretty much since I moved to High River, so boy was it time! I sort of wrote it by accident while tooling around on the keys with my kids, but I knew I had soothing with that chorus! It developed a little more after I had some quiet time to think about how grief changes the holidays for us and how I wanted to speak hope and proclamation (a very Christmassy theme) over my listeners, this is what came of it!
AK: You’re one of the first artists to record in The Space in Red Deer, which as a co-owner of the unique partnership certainly thrills me. Now for the dangerous question: What was the in-studio experience like and how did you like working with Melodious Design Recording Co?
KA: SO GREAT! There really isn’t anything about the studio I would change except to have given Heath and I more time to enjoy it! I hope to return to record more for the next full length album I have planned! I really love the space, the live room sounds great, Heath is a kind and patient, and extremely talented engineer and there is generally a very lovely and peaceful vibe there! I’m so glad you are here!
AK: You’re known for connecting with audiences in intimate settings and on large stages. Will you perform these songs in concert and if so, where and when?
KA: YES! I am doing a few local Christmas concerts and a concert in The Space on Dec 21! Hopefully next year I can plan a month of shows in Alberta with a nice little band.
Read more interviews by Andrew with artists, activists and bold thinkers here.