Catching Up With Karen Bernod
Brooklyn native Karen Bernod is definitely not a stranger to the stage. This phenomenal singer has toured with D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige and Chaka Khan. In addition to being featured on the jazz group Incognito’s album No Time Like The Future, Karen has released two albums of her own: Life @ 360 Degrees in 2006 and Some Othaness for U in 2001. Her third album, Planting Seeds, will be released next year and to introduce that album, Karen will be releasing a new song, or “seed” each season. The first of these seeds is Toe Rings ‘n’ Ankle Bracelets, which was just released this month. I was so impressed with this catchy song that I asked Karen if I could interview her to find out more about her music. She kindly agreed and here’s part of our conversation:
Mimi Soul: What’s one musical habit that has worked well for you throughout your musical career?
Karen: I would say being true to what it is I’m actually going to write about instead of listening to the radio and saying “That’s what’s hot. That’s what I should do to make money.” I kinda pride myself on being honest and true because I think the listeners will appreciate that more and it will come across in the music and lyrics. I guess that would also be part of my work ethic.
Mimi Soul: I read somewhere that you said “success without substance equals emptiness”. What are some of the ways that you try to add substance to your music?
Karen: Well, I would say that again it goes back to being true to my art and making sure that I hone my music. I do that by finding out the history of my artistry and learning about the artists that I like. One of my mottos is “to whom much is given, much is required” so I try to give back in ways that are honest and I try to be very humble and that adds substance to my art. I just find that everything I’m doing within my career adds substance.
Mimi Soul: That’s a very good point. To see everything you’re doing as a way to add substance to your own work is a very good way to approach it.
Karen: Exactly. And from every artist that I’ve worked with to everything that I’ve done in my career, it’s all relative and it kinda adds to the pot and spices it up a little bit.
Mimi Soul: In addition to your work in soul music, you’ve also recorded with the jazz group Incognito. How has that experience influenced the music that you’re making now?
Karen: Incognito is one of my favorite bands so when I got the gig it was like a dream come true; like when I sang with Chaka. It was just a nice experience. I loved it and I’m glad that it happened for me because it gave me more substance for my own projects. It was a really nice experience.
Mimi Soul: Have you ever considered doing a jazz album of your own?
Karen: Most definitely. I’m going to do a jazz album as well as an album of my favorite standards. After this cd is released in 2010, I’ll probably start working on those two projects. It takes time and money to be an independent artist. But, I like the free-spirited aspect of it because I’m not under the clock as far as release dates are concerned. The flip side is that you also don’t have the big money for distribution behind the projects. So, it’s a trade off.
Mimi Soul: But, you know, I think good music will eventually get out there and when it does, the content and quality of it will sell.
Karen: I totally agree with you.
Mimi Soul: Are there any artists that you’d like to work with in the future?
Karen: Yes, I would love to work with Jill Scott, India.Arie, Quincy Jones, and Michael Franks. And, I would’ve loved to do a duet with Luther Vandross. I’d also like to work with Lalah Hathaway. I like the texture and quality of her voice so much and I just think that she and I would work really well together. Oh yeah, and Stevie Wonder. We have the same birthday so I’d love to have a birthday party with him.
Mimi Soul: How did you come up with the idea for Toe Rings ‘n’ Ankle Bracelets?
Karen: I’m always coining little phrases and so in jest, I was talking to somebody and I was like, “Girl, I’m tired of wearing coats. I’m tired of wearing socks and shoes. It’s time for the toe rings and ankle bracelets.” I’m always wearing toe rings and ankle bracelets in the summertime because they look so sexy on the feet with sandals and stuff. So, I thought “I’m gonna sit down and write something.”
Sometimes when I sit down to write, my hand just starts doing something, or sometimes a melody will come into my head. At other times, a melody and lyric will come at the same time. But, for this particular song, the title just kept going like, “beep beep beep” so I wrote that down, and then I just started thinking and writing, and I came up with the hook. When I sang it for my manager, he was like “Karen, I like that! It’s kinda retro.” So, I decided to record it. And, then I performed it at the Blue Note last year and everyone came up to me after the show and said they liked it. So, that’s how it started. There’s a part of the song that mentions pedicures so I knew women would really appreciate it but even some guys have said that they get pedicures too. (laughing)
Mimi Soul: How did you decide to release one song, or “seed” from your upcoming album, Planting Seeds, each season?
Karen: Well, at first I had another title for the cd and I think I told my manager I was going to call it Planting the Seed or something like that and he said “Why don’t we just call it Planting Seeds?” and I said “ok, I like that.” We thought it would be a good idea to come out with a single for each season. That way, the songs can build up to the release of the cd in 2010. Seeing how the industry is changing and several music distributors are closing, it’s all about the download now. So, since I have two cds under my belt, I wanted to just build up another momentum now.
At the end of the day, it’s very rewarding, gratifying and empowering to know that I’m doing what I love to do. Everything is relative and planting seeds is exactly what I’m doing. I believe that you reap what you sow. And, I believe that I have to nourish everything I’m doing, just like you nourish a plant or seeds with water and sun and all that good stuff. So, I thought the concept of planting seeds was very apropos to my whole situation. We’re planting seeds and each seed I release each season is going to grow up to be something different. I like the concept.
Mimi Soul: Is there anything else you want us to know?
Karen: Yes, I have been crying all day about Michael Jackson. I will forever love Michael.
Mimi Soul: Me too. I’m glad you mentioned that because I wanted to do a post about it but I couldn’t write anything. He really will be missed.
Thanks for sharing with us Karen! Those of you on the west coast and in the Baltimore area can catch Karen on tour with Eric Roberson, Angela Johnson and Anthony David next month. Her next “seed” from the upcoming album will be released in September and I’ll be sure to let you all know when it’s available. You can read more about Karen’s music by visiting her website and MySpace page. And, you can listen to Toe Rings ‘n’ Ankle Bracelets here.