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.

VOGUE Australia - - News - By Noelle Faulkner.

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”

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