As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 5
Country music artist Karen Waldrup believes fully in “ask and you shall receive.” Whether asking comes in the form of inspiration from her Creator, or if it comes in the form of funding for her new album, Justified, Waldrup is receiving all the love. Recorded at the legendary Sound Emporium in Nashville with equally legendary producer Garth Fundis, Justified boasts a collection of songs woven together by a thread of positivity. Among them is “I Hope You Dance,” a Lee Ann Womack cover and late addition to the album that Waldrup performed on Facebook live to video viral success. Guitar Girl Magazine chatted with Waldrup to discuss her multimedia business strategy, her musical process, and, of course, the new album. To add to Waldrup’s accomplishments, she brought home four awards at the Nashville Industry Music Awards for Artist of the Year, Song of the Year for “Warm In Your Sunshine,” Best Live Country Performer, and Best Country Solo Artist Female.
Your new album, Justified, was released in July and was funded with an Indiegogo campaign. You have great fans! I sure do. When I launched the Indiegogo crowdfunding, we were not exactly sure how it was going to go – obviously, nobody is. I had a lot of fans at the time, but once the viral video started to happen, it went from having 20,000 fans to 500,000 fans, and that was indescribable. The difference in the amount of support, not only emotionally, financially, at shows – it’s just crazy. So, because of the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, it kind of kicked that whole thing off.
This was my dream record – it was the record I moved to Nashville to make. It was that record that I wrote songs my whole life for. I didn’t know it was going to be Justified.
The Lord sure did surprise me. I really wanted Justified to be a positive record. I wanted the theme to be about positivity. When someone listens to the record, I want it to make their energy better after they listen to it.
When Garth agreed to produce my record, we sat down with my whole catalog and went through all the songs that I had written during my whole career. We selected the songs that we felt added a good, positive energy to the world, and that was really fun because it allowed the record to feel very inspirational. The creation of it can feel really inspirational as well when you add the community aspect, which was the Indiegogo crowdfunding. I never imagined that the experience would be so rich and filled with love. It got a lot more love because of the people who were involved than it would have had we not had them.
Was this your first time working with Garth?
It was my first time working with him, and I’d love to work with him again. He was that “Dream Producer.” I wanted that person who was going to push me. I wanted to feel what it felt like to hurt in the studio. I wanted to feel like, when I walked out every day, it felt like I’d given it my all. Until that point, I had really just gone in and done little demo tapes here and there with little, low-budget recordings, and it never felt like I was giving my all.
How long did it take you to record the entire album?
It took all of 2017. Garth and I couldn’t be more opposite when it came to production. I was very “let’s go, let’s do it, let’s make it happen.” He was very much pulling back the reigns and making sure that the details were there, the horn parts were right, the players we selected were right, the tones of the background singers were right. He was behind me scrutinizing everything with a very detail-oriented comb. Now that the record’s done, I’m so glad he did because there are songs on that record that we hadn’t even written yet – some of my favorites ones like “Colorado Kiss.” If he hadn’t pulled me back, I would have a record of 11 songs that were all totally different.
On the songs that had co-writers, are those people you work with on a regular basis or was Garth instrumental in connecting you with them?
It was a mix. There were some opportunities that happened because of me and some that happened because of Garth. For instance, he would say, “Hey, I really like this writer you wrote with on this song. Can you write with her again?” Or he’d say, “Hey, I don’t really like this song for the record that much. Can you try to do something a little more upbeat?” He was guiding me based on songs that he knew we didn’t have in order to create the overall theme. Garth was very instrumental in pushing me in the writing process as well as in the production process. And honestly, he is just the freaking coolest guy.
As far as the instrumentation on the album and the musicians behind it, I read that you like to bring horns into your music so you can draw on your Louisiana influence. Tell us about the musicians on this album.
I have a horn player, Chris Schaffner. He’s my right-hand man and an incredible saxophone player. We play all my shows together, and we were able to use him on the record. He played on all the horn parts, which he and Garth coarranged. Garth is a horn player himself, so he was able to bring some of that knowledge to the table. Then when it came time to use horns, we were able to stack Chris’s parts. When it came time to do trumpets, we brought someone else in, but pretty much every single horn part on that record is Chris Schaffner.
You’re endorsed by Epiphone Guitars, which is a division of Gibson. What is your go-to guitar at the moment?
I have an HC835 Gibson and then my Epiphones. I have an Epiphone electric and an Epiphone acoustic, but I play a Gibson primarily. I really like their product a lot. The guitars are really reliable and stay in tune. Once, the band and I drove from Nashville, Tennessee, all the way to South Louisiana, and when we got onstage, my Gibson was still in tune.
What is your songwriting process?
God sends you ideas when you least expect it. Sometimes you’ll be in the shower or you’ll be running around town and you get an idea. It sounds like the Nuggets are coming out of the sky – the whole song idea – and you’re just grabbing them. Sometimes they’re not even that great, and you don’t even end up writing anything because it’s not even that good of an idea. But then sometimes, you end up writing an entire song just around one tiny nugget.
Right now, I’m working on one, and I just have the melody and the groove. I don’t even have the key yet, but I have a lot of lyrics because I can’t stop. They keep coming to me, but I don’t have time to sit down and craft the song right now. So, as the lyrics come to me, I just make notes on my iPhone. Then, whenever life slows down and I have an hour or two, I can sit down and go, “Okay I hear this song, it sounds like it’s probably in this key. Let me see, let me play around.” Usually, it’s how God sends it. I can hear it, but I have to get my guitar out to know what key it’s in. Then, I’m able to fuse the notes within that key to structure around the song. Then, I use the lyrics. It’s like a puzzle.
During your Indiegogo campaign, you heard a preacher say, “The moment you take the burden off of yourself to be important is the moment you start living your true potential.” What impact did that statement have on you?
It changed my whole life. Before I heard the preacher say that, I felt this burden. I think it’s easy as an artist to feel that burden to be great. I felt this need that everything had to be great – the music, the videos, everything. Really, all you have to do is just do what God tells you to do and play music. When I heard the preacher say that, it just hit me in my heart. I felt like I had received permission to just do what I do, and not feel so stressed about whether or not the radio stations were going to like what I was doing, or whether or not the industry was going to be on board.
I really do believe when you create music, you create music for the person who is listening. If the person who is listening connects and feels and is moved by a piece of art, then nothing else matters. When I took that burden off of myself, I was able to just go, “Okay, I’m gonna make a record based on who I am as a person and how I was born.” The preacher spoke the night of November 14, and then, on November 16, I went viral – less than 48 hours after I committed to that mindset.
I think when people receive, they’re more likely to give. I do a video every Wednesday called “Waldrup Wednesday.” It’s totally free, and I think that’s the secret. When the fans know there is a video coming every single week and they don’t have to pay for it, it’s like they become a part of the process. They commit, and I’m able to give, and then I’m also able to ask. At the end of Waldrup Wednesday, I always ask for something. I’m partnering with a charity called Mission of Hope Haiti, and I’ve asked for the fans to make a contribution because we’re trying to build a high school there.
Talk a little more about your charitable work.
The band and I went down to Haiti for five days, and we played music all throughout Haiti for different types of people – orphans, elderly, people in the community, children. I’ve never played more music in five days than I did in Haiti. There was also a guy behind me with a camera following me around, and he was able to create this Waldrup Wednesday video. I learned the problem is in the lack of education there. I believe that if there is a way we could educate some of these kids – these orphans who are being dropped off on the orphanage front porch by starving mothers… My mission is to help build them a place where they can go to high school. We’re using Facebook’s “Donation Button” platform for people to be able to make direct contributions to Mission of Hope Haiti. All I have to do is stand back and hope that a song moves people.
What advice would you offer a young artist who would want to pursue a career in music?
I think the most important thing to understand is that your career has to be about music. If the music is what you’re in it for, then you’re going be happy. You’re going to be able to accomplish anything you want to do because all you have to do is the music. If it’s about any other element of it – the fame or the parties – you just aren’t going to get paid enough to sustain yourself.
Photos by Evolution PR