Kara Connolly has it all: charisma, a commanding stage presence, an emotive voice, and the ability to write songs that are heartfelt, sincere and undeniably infectious upon first listen. Given her ability to connect with an audience, it’s no surprise she sold-out the iconic Hotel Cafe in Hollywood, the venue where Katy Perry and Sara Bareilles got their start, before ever releasing a song. Now, with a full-length album on its way, Kara has the opportunity to reach an audience as universal as her songs.
Her debut music video for her first single, “Life in Rear View,” garnered more than 185,000 views and the song and its video both received high praise in a variety of publications such as Popdust and PopMatters. Connolly’s new LP of the same name, a unique, genre-bending blend of percussive pop, folk, and country begins with heartbreak yet ends in triumph as Kara reminds us, through personal experience, the importance of friendship, vulnerability, acknowledging our own self-worth, and never settling for less than the love and respect we deserve.
She delivers wisdom in a light-hearted and cheeky way. “They say man up, but I want a man who’s bold enough to cry when he’s sad. If you treat me right, you can spend the night. If you treat me wrong – well then … so long” she winks in “Nice Guy,” a song premiered by Parade Magazine that takes on our deep-rooted culture of toxic hyper-masculinity and encourages young women to demand respect, all while making you laugh and sing along. “My goal was to create something fun and honest that you could sing to, with hopes that after a second listen you may realize you’re singing something empowering,” she explained.
What began with then 6-year-old Kara singing, “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” at a summer cruise ship talent show, led to her writing fully formed relationship songs back when the only man in her life was a stuffed animal named Doodle Bear. Since then, the San Diego native continued to write what she considers “relationship songs with a twist,” although she now draws from her own life. Kara’s upbeat and colorful take on modern feminism, produced by Bill Lefler (Ingrid Michaelson) and mastered at Capitol Records, is sure to be playing on repeat.
Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this star on the rise to discuss her life in music, the challenges she faced along the way and the making of “Life In Rear View.” She also offers up an insightful look at what it takes to make it in the music industry, as well as where she may be headed in the future!
How did you get involved with the creative arts early on in life?
I grew up writing little film scripts and making up songs with my dad. I really wanted to be on camera and so I made my mom take me to audition for an agent at 6 years old, which led me to getting my very first agent and booking my first film role around the same time. That sort of just sent me down a lifelong creative path.
There is no doubt music is your true love and has had a huge impact on you. What are your memories of music first coming into your life?
Like I said above, my first memories of music are writing silly songs with my dad … one in particular was called the “Juicy Juice Parade” and we marched around with my little brother with juice boxes in the air. My mom and dad would play Madonna and disco music and I would jump on the bed and sing along. That said, both of my parents are in medicine so it wasn’t until later in life that I began to truly learn some of the more technical aspects of music or how to play an instrument.
Who played a role in your growth as an artist?
I would say that many people have played a role in my growth as an artist. I incorporate a lot of my acting background into my music from bringing emotion to what I’m singing while recording or to thinking of each song in my set during stage shows as a scene of sorts. My parents have always supported me being an artist so, in that way, they definitely played a role in my growth by being so open to me taking classes and encouraging of my pursuits as a whole. Therapy really gave me the confidence in myself as a person and calmed down some of the anxiety that was consuming me, which I think allowed me to take the first step forward and then the next step and then the next step. I also take a lot of inspiration from other artists as examples of how things can be done, especially from a branding and marketing perspective, but I also like to look at career growth and where artists start to where they end up artistically.
Dedicating yourself to your art is a big step. Did have reservations about taking the plunge?
I’ve always had a bit of blinders on in the sense that, for me, I’ve felt like it’s artist or nothing in many ways, whether that’s rational or not. That said, I feel like I’m constantly fighting to stay in this. Choosing a creative path is incredibly rewarding, but also incredibly challenging and exhausting at times. There are a lot of ups and downs. One day something absolutely amazing happens, and the next day it falls through. There always is that fear there but, for me, there really is no other choice.
Your drive and passion are inspiring. What has kept you inspired throughout the years as an artist and helped fuel your creative fire as a working artist?
Thank you! I think that being someone who needs to create in order to process my experiences and emotions is what initially fuels me but, on top of that, not being where I want to be, knowing that, and seeing it so close but so far, so-to-speak, is what really lights the fire to push through the harder times and keep moving. At the core, I’m very inspired by connecting with others and being able to be so transparent and honest.
Tell us about finding your creative voice as a young artist and finding your current creative direction.
I think I’m constantly finding my creative voice. As a young artist, I spent a lot of time acting and playing other characters, but finding ways to bring myself to those roles. I loved that but was really craving being on the writing end. I think that additionally drew me to songwriting and singing because it incorporates what I’m most good at, which is storytelling, writing, and performing all in one. I think you have to try a lot of different creative avenues to find where you feel most at home. I would say to not close yourself off to possibility. That trusting your intuition and gut feeling is where it’s at. My current creative direction was a combination of setting the intention of making an album and letting the truth of what I was experiencing guide the music and letting the music guide what the world surrounding it looks and feels like. I think starting from the truth and working from there is never a bad idea. I don’t want to ever feel like I can’t keep up because I’ve established a career as someone I’m not.
You are released your new LP, “Life In Rear View,” on May 17. What made it the right time to bring it to the masses?
I think I just decided that now is as good a time as any. I’m writing a lot of new material and I wanted this to be out in the world so it could have a life of its own while I create. I was releasing singles for a while and felt like I wanted to leave at least 50% of the album as new tracks you hadn’t heard.
Did you have goals, aspirations or a specific vision for the album when starting the process?
My goal truly was to create an album that told my story over the last couple of years; to create a visual world around that record from the photos to the music videos to the live shows and to start to build a fanbase. I am excited to have accomplished those things with this project. This was my very first time in the recording studio and I learned so much that I feel I can use moving forward. My vision was to connect with others through words and music and to find a way to reach people. I think I’m in the process of doing those things. Truthfully, I have very big goals and aspirations that feel at times a bit out of reach with my current resources as an independent artist but, that said, I’ve been able to take many of those ideas and scale them down to something I could tackle while still saving the initial vision and for that I’m really proud.
What do you want to accomplish technically or narratively you might not have tried before?
This was my first time recording and finishing a musical project of any sort so I really just wanted to accomplish making a full-length record in general and telling a story through visuals and music. I know a lot of new artists start with just a single or an EP, but I wanted my first project to leave you with a sense of who I am as both a person and an artist. Each song contains a little piece of my soul and I hope when you piece them together you get more of the full picture.
Tell us about the songwriting process for your music.
The songwriting process is always different for each song. I tend to experience something then pick up the guitar and have lyric and melody come out at the same time. Sometimes it’ll be a gibberish melody that I then add words to, while keeping the same syllables and sounds. Other times, I’ll be out in public and sing into my voice memo app. Lately, it’s been more of intentional writing time though because I’ve been running around and busier than I was while writing this first album. I’ve also been doing some co-writing lately, which is fun for me because it’s a totally different process. I never know what we’re going to write about going in and the conversation usually informs the song that ensues.
What were the biggest challenges you faced with bringing this album to life and what did you learn about yourself in the process?
Oh man. There were several. One being that I discovered I have an autoimmune disease, which was leaving me feeling constantly fatigued, and I also had a vocal injury that I had to have surgery, which completely interrupted my initial recording process, delaying it about 2 years. I learned how to start from scratch and rebuild, the building blocks for how to take care of myself (which I’m admittedly still not always good at), and how to listen to my body better. I also discovered that I’m incredibly resilient. It felt like everything physical was trying to stop me from making this dream a reality and yet little by little, day by day I inched forward. The truth is that I still use many of the lessons I learned during that period and, while so many people would see it as a waste of a good chunk of time, I felt like I wouldn’t have been fully ready for what I am right now if it hadn’t have happened that way.
Since you’ve lived with the songs for a while now. Which ones resonate with you the most and have you most excited to bring to the fans?
My personal favorite on the album is “Other People” for whatever reason. I think it just reminds me of a feeling that is difficult to put into words, but is exactly what I wanted to say. That said, now that the album is out, it’s crazy to me how everyone tells me a different song is their favorite. I thought there would be more of a consensus. Even the two songs that I almost didn’t put on the record, I’ve been getting messages from supporters telling me that those are their favorite tracks. I think there’s hopefully something for everybody.
The majority of music fans don’t give much thought to the business side of the music industry. What are the biggest challenges you faced and overcome as an artist?
I think that it’s an incredibly exciting time to be an artist, while simultaneously an incredibly challenging time as more and more artists are expected to essentially do their own artist development and be their own label before gaining support. I think that it’s amazing because of the creative control we now have with the ability to put out whatever we want, whenever we want, but the biggest challenge at the moment (at least for myself) is having so much to oversee which leaves less time for the art itself. I am hoping there is more of a balance moving forward. I’m also hoping that we find ways to get songwriters and artists paid for the music they create. I think we are in a time where consumers expect music and visual content to be free and constantly flowing, without realizing the time, energy, and money that goes into creating that content. Self-doubt is a constant challenge, but I’m always facing it and moving forward regardless.
What are your biggest creative milestones along the way?
Hmm … these are a few that come to mind … I think completing and putting out this album is a big milestone. My sold-out show at The Hotel Cafe in Hollywood was another. Having a song I wrote on top multiple Spotify Fresh Finds playlists. Signing a licensing deal for film, TV, and commercials for both that song and the album. Three of those just happened within the last month so I hope that there is more to come!
You have a great connection with your fans. How has that connection impacted or influenced what you do as an artist?
I’m grateful to have such a great connection with them. My supporters have called themselves the Karakeets and have a bird call and it’s the best thing of my life. I love that they’re so willing to participate in my quirky ideas. It’s amazing and allows me to incorporate fun social media elements like Nice Guy of the Week where they submit guys they think qualify, and #WTFWeds with WTF moments of their day/week, clues and quizzes, etc. I plan to allow them to participate further if they continue wanting to and chiming in like maybe they could vote on which song they want to see made into a music video. I don’t know! Possibilities are endless!
We get glimpses into your world through social media. What would people be most surprised to find out about you?
I think people may be surprised to find out that I’m not as easy going as I may appear (people reading this are like … but you don’t seem easy going? LOL). I am incredibly detail-oriented so even if I post a flier or video that looks fun and relaxed, best believe that I moved something over one millimeter or changed the shade of yellow ever-so-slightly. I’m not sure how surprising this is, but I’m a huge animal lover and will save bugs. I also have always struggled with anxiety, which I don’t think is as apparent at first glance.
You have a lot of irons in the fire, which is great! Was it difficult to find a balance personally and professionally? What are your secrets?
It’s definitely still difficult for me. My secret, if there is one, is truly to just take things one day, one task at a time. I’ve come to accept that it’s OK if not everything gets done in a day and to even anticipate it. I try to remember to allow things to happen in their own time. That said, the personal and professional balance can be tough because I tend to be a bit blinders-on, all-or-nothing so I think sometimes my boyfriend and friends can feel a tad neglected at times. The truth is that I’m actually more of an introvert so, when I do have a second, I tend to want to just be at home lounging because I can become drained from being out and about and always connecting on social media and what not … so basically, I hope others don’t take it personally when I say no to plans. I try to take chunks of time out for friends and family – like a weekend away or a dinner night. I could be better about it, honestly. I just really care about what I’m doing and a lot of work goes in to make it all happen at this stage.
What’s the best way for fans to support your project and keep it growing?
Truly just listening to the project and sharing it is invaluable. I think sometimes people think “Well, I don’t have followers so it doesn’t matter if I share it … ” but the truth is that even just one new fan discovering my music is incredibly helpful because that’s how it all builds. Following me on Spotify, saving the songs, and adding them to your personal playlists would be incredible. Sharing a song with your local radio station or your favorite playlist curator is also awesome. Really just engaging with the songs in any and all ways, telling your friends about the music, watching and sharing the music videos. All of that is more helpful than I can stress.
You have many productive years. Where are you headed musically — both short and long term?
You ask all the good questions! I see myself writing a lot more music, of course, for both myself and other artists. I think that a certain level of storytelling and energy will likely remain, but I envision the production and sonic qualities changing depending upon the project and song. In the short term, I would love to create an EP that picks more of a sonic direction. I loved this project because I feel it allowed me to showcase a body of my work that I’m really proud of, but I learned a lot that I hope can inform my next record. I have two songs that I’m really proud of that I can’t wait to start producing out. Long term is a bit harder to answer, but I see myself digging deeper and being more and more honest. Getting to the core of how I feel as opposed to writing more situationally if that makes sense. I think you can expect me to always incorporate a blend of genres even if there is an umbrella genre for certain projects.
We would love to spread the word on any causes or organizes you support. What is closest to your heart at this point in time that we can help shine a light on?
Another great question! I’m a member of Musicians On Call, which brings live music to the bedsides of patients in healthcare facilities. I also love Write Girl, which is a non-profit that matches girls with women writers who mentor them in creative writing. Outside of those two I am personally passionate about fighting for farm animal protection (anti-factory farming), animal rights as a whole, and women’s rights or gender equality.
You faced challenges and learned a few things along the way. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
I certainly have! Ha. I think the best lesson(s) would be to prioritize yourself, trust your intuition, and remain persistent, but let go a little on the results to leave room for some magic!
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Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.