COMING UP ROSES
With a new album seven yearsy in the making, model and musician Karen Elson explains why beingg true to herself has been difficult but necessary.
Model and musician Karen Elson explains why being true to herself has been difficult but necessary.
Ask Karen Elson to describe the theme of her new country-folk record Double Roses and her response is: “a woman looking inward”. Her manifesto? “Vulnerability.” For those unfamiliar with Elson’s music, up to this point her output has been tinged with heady mystery and femme fatale- isms, which, one could say, aligns with her most notable work as a model (her YSL Opium campaign and the majority of her 20-plus Vogue Italia covers, for example). Where her first album, The Ghost Who Walks, was a magical folk record of tall tales and murder ballads, almost seven years later we find the 38-year-old revealing the woman behind the frame.
“There is a Fleetwood Mac song, Storms,” she muses. “It’s such a beautiful song, you can feel Stevie Nicks’s vulnerability. They’re songs I connect to; songs that crack you open. We’ve all loved. We’ve all lost. We’ve all felt joy and sadness in equal measure.”
A mother of two, Elson has famously ticked all those boxes and has the tabloid column inches to prove it – notably her divorce from husband Jack White. “Jack and I are great friends and he is a phenomenal father,” says the Nashville local, defending her family. “Anyone who’s been through a divorce knows that even with all the good intentions in the world, sometimes shit can happen.” She sighs. “People who don’t know you can say things that really hurt, but you have to rise above it. The bigger picture has always been with me.” With Double Roses’s open-heart notes, the redhead is ready to roll eyes at the “Elson’s revenge against White” headlines likely to emerge. “To diminish my worth and say my record is just about one person or experience is to diminish my experience of my life. Because it’s definitely far more storied than that!” If anything, this album is proof Elson’s talent as a songwriter is not the sum of the male company she keeps.
Growing up in Manchester singing in choirs, Elson began modelling at 16, seeing it as an escape of sorts. “When the chance came to be a model, it was so out of the blue, I just felt: ‘This is my way out of this place’,” she says. “I jumped at the chance and never looked back. But when I got to New York, I was around a lot of people who played music and it just felt right. I started playing with friends. I did it very quietly for years because I was hyper-aware of the model-slash label … I didn’t want something I loved so much to be unfairly judged because of my day job.” She pauses. “But at this point, I really don’t care. It’s my life.”
Rising to fame in a time before models had platforms to express themselves was a double-edged sword, says Elson, that being the beauty of a private life vs public assumptions. “The only time I’ve ever had to reveal anything is when I’m making music,” she says. “It’s easy to see a picture of me in a magazine and think all kinds of things. I’ve been wrapped in smoke and mirrors for the past 20 years!” She laughs. “I love that it’s a bit of a safety blanket, but it is equally liberating to be myself. That’s the beauty of music. It’s those universal truths. Again, there is so much people don’t know about me … With this record, I wanted everything to feel like me … being vulnerable enough to hold the mirror up and write about when I sabotage my life, when I’ve been sad and when I’m feeling lonely and desperate. It’s actually such a huge relief.” Double Roses is out April 7.
“WE’VE ALL LOVED. WE’VE ALL LOST. WE’VE ALL FELT JOY AND SADNESS IN EQUAL MEASURE”