︎ INTERVIEW: KAREN HARDING
Singer/songwriter Karen Harding, best known for her hit single 'Say Something', is the most sought after dance singer in the game right now. Previously working with the likes of Example, Wilkinson, Giorgio Moroder, Le Youth and more, the 28-year-old has just released her newest track 'I Don't Need Love', another belting dance anthem in collaboration with WHØ. Harding is more motivated than ever and is set to create even more timeless music since her move to Ultra Music earlier this year.
Cortex sat down with Karen to talk the success of 'Say Something', her goals and the music industry.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your background.
So, I am originally from Durham, in the North East. I moved down to London about five years ago. I got signed when I was 21 and released my first single 'Say Something'. And then had a few singles since then and did some features. But basically, I've been writing and gigging for the last like five years.
How do you feel about the success of 'Say Something'?
As soon as we did it, I knew it had something special about it but I didn't know how the hell I was going to get that to where it did go because I literally wrote it with MNEK and then I was like 'right, I got this song now, I don't know what to do.' I tried a few different options but I still had the song and then he gave it to someone for Mini Mix on Radio 1 and that's how it got heard. I owe my career to it and I'm so happy that I got the chance, as well, for a breakthrough because that's essentially what it was. I was really surprised when it did so well. When I went to a club and I performed it and people knew the words to it, it properly blew my mind. And that's exactly why I started doing it for, so I'm so happy that it gave a chance for that.
Do you feel pressure to match the success of it?
I did for the year after because I was with a major record label. I thought I wasn't but I was actually putting pressure on myself to achieve that again and be as big as that again. In fact, it shouldn't be like that. It should just be whatever feels right for you and I think it took me a while to get over that. I think you just put pressure on yourself because you just want to be great. But the more pressure you put on, the worse your creativity gets. I think anyway.
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How did you get into dance music and electronic music specifically?
I was brought up on big power ballads and rock ballads and stuff like that... I don't know how the hell I got into dance music but 'Say Something' just kinda happened, and from that point on I was known as like a house, female artist. It wasn't a bad thing because I love house music anyway. I love it even more so than I did back then. But when I think about it, my Mum had a lot of garage albums so I listened to a lot of that with female vocals. So, I guess it is a bit of a blend between the two of the dance music with these souls, female vocals.
It's an interesting juxtaposition. What attracts you to dance music and that genre?
I guess it's just that everyone needs to dance and everyone loves to dance even if you can't. So, to get people to feel a certain way to your music is a really good feeling, especially at gigs when I see people just enjoying themselves and singing along, it's just one of the best feelings in the world. So, if dance music is going to get people off their seats, then I'm happy to be that person who's pulled them up.
So you signed to Ultra Music this year, why this particular label?
They specialise in dance music anyway and they've got such an amazing catalogue of artists. I felt like I would be able to work with different people that I haven't worked with before like European DJs and American musicians and stuff like that. I felt like the horizon would be broader. And it's been good so far.
You've also dropped your lastest single 'I Don't Need Love', what was it like working with WHØ?
It was really good. I still haven't met then because they are WHØ and they are so unknown... *laughs* We had a good chat about what we wanted the song to be about because originally, I did a really like transy sort of topline on it and they were like 'no this isn't the right vibe, you need to go a bit more old school'. Then, 'I don't need love' just came out, it was completely natural. We wrote it in like 30 minutes and then finished off the lyrics afterward and recorded it. It's just one of those things that just happen. I still love it when it drops and I just go a bit mad on stage.
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What is your creative process in general?
It's different every time. I've been spending a lot of time writing with artists which I quite like because then you can take yourself out of your own head and then you don't really think about it too much because it's for somebody else. It just depends on who you're in a room with because some people might start with some chords or the melody. In the music industry at the minute, collaboration is a key thing, obviously for numbers and stuff like that but also just to explore different styles of music. I think it's very important when different people are in a room together who aren't necessarily in the same things as you but who can bring entirely different ideas.
I think it’s the best way because you can learn from them as well.
Exactly. If you work with the same people and in the same sort of style that they have, how else will you make it bigger and wider?
You've worked with the likes of Example and Wilkinson. What was it like working with them?
Really good. Example is a hoot! He's a bit mad but kind, you know? Wilkinson, I've had two singles with him and I've been on a lot of shows with him as well and in the studio as well. He's so calm, he's just so chill and relaxed all the time. We get on really well. Everyone is so nice and I can never answer when people asked me 'who's the worst person you've worked with'. I'm always like 'nobody really.'
But also why would you ask that?
Exactly. Unless I want to close some like beef or whatever. But I'm not that kind of person.
Who are your biggest influences?
There's so many. I listen to so much music. I listen to a lot of jazz or neo-soul but also a lot of tech, house music, a lot of classic funk music and soul music. I just love music and I think if I love all that music and put it all in my songs, hopefully, it's a recipe for success. I just like to listen to stuff that is inspiring.
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What are your goals for the future then?
To release a few more singles and over the next year, to release an EP. There will be a lot of collaborations, quite a few things in the pipeline, which I'm really excited about actually. Hopefully, also write some songs for other artists which I have been doing too. And get a music video on 'I Don't Need Love', there are some remixes coming soon which are pretty hard. So yeah, should have some singles soon.
So that's for the near future but what about the bigger picture?
Well, I'd like to get a bigger house than what I've got. I've got two dogs, so would love an agility course in the back garden... Just kidding. I don't know, that's always so hard because when I was younger, I used to imagine all those crazy things but now I just want people to enjoy it for the time that it comes. I guess I just want to write classic songs that will stand the test of time forever and still be bangers in 20 or 30 years time. I hope 'Say Something' is potentially one of those songs. I just want to make classic music that people can listen to and will still be played at people's weddings and whatnot.
Do you think someone could sample 'Say Something' and make it into another smash?
There's a lot of House music at the minute which has samples of old songs. So maybe 'Say Something' will be in the next batch of that in the next 10-15 years time, which is great because I will be older then but I'll still be making more music and being a singer. I'd love to perform some more festivals, I'd love to have headline at some point in the next five years. Yeah, just all these things.
What is your definition of creativity?
Oh, I might need to think about this. My definition of creativity ... I really don't know.
What does creativity mean to you?
It's whatever comes naturally, don't force it. Let it flow, I think that's what it means to me. A definition of creativity would be a flowing conscious into music. Credits:
Photography by PHOEBE COWLEY
Produced & interviewed by BENJI REEVES
Styling by AURELIE MASON-PEREZ
Makeup by ERIN WHEATLAND