Review Fix chats with singer/songwriter Karla Harris, who discusses her new album, “Certain Elements,” as well as her hopes for 2019.
Review Fix: What makes you different now than when you first got involved in music?
Kayla Harris: At this stage, singing feels more familiar and brand new all at the same time. Life experience has made me more grounded as a vocalist and intentional about the music I’m making, and that groundedness, conversely, makes things take flight. I’m taking more chances, opening up more in the music, tapping into new areas, expressing myself more deeply.
Review Fix: What was your creative process like for this album?
Harris: It came in stages over years. First came the seedlings of the original songs –phrases and melodies that came to me on walks, often, stuck with me and then grew into complete tunes as I sat down with them. The process was exhilarating because nothing felt forced – the songs came easily. I was in the middle of working on my 2015 CD, Karla Harris Sings the Dave and Iola Brubeck Songbook, at the time, so it actually was a few years before I started collaborating with co-producer Trammell Starks to put the Certain Elements project together. And once in the studio, we took our time with the development of each track. If there was an idea we wanted to try, we tried it. It was an organic approach over two years. This project really dictated its own pace as we worked around other commitments and circumstances that came up. I had deadlines, but they moved! When the point came that we felt we’d brought the very best we could to and from each song, that’s when the record was finished.
Review Fix: What inspires you?
Harris: Soulfulness – which to me is a state of mind, really, rather than a style. It’s being fully present in the moment. You can feel when an artist is in that place. It’s not trying too hard to make something of it. It’s connecting with whatever the essence of the emotion is that wants to be conveyed, and moving that out to the listener. It’s transcendent.
Review Fix: What’s the standout track on this new album?
Harris: The single “Cherish,” which is our contemporary jazz version of the 1960s hit by The Association, has gotten a lot of attention and radio play, so I’d definitely note it. But another track people who hear the album mention to me over and over is “Interlude,” one of the original compositions. It’s a bluesy tale that is stark, just a trio playing with me and some background vocals, builds in intensity, and includes an unexpected classically inspired piano solo at its center, played brilliantly by Kevin Bales. The impact of the song leaves people wowed.
Review Fix: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
Harris: Easier to use others’ words for this question… jazz-oriented, warm, emotive, textured, dynamic, diverse.
Review Fix: How are your live shows different from your studio work?
Harris: Being in the studio offers the chance to document where you are in your artistic journey and commit the sound of your music to a recording forever – and that’s wonderful. But a live show has the audience, and that tilts the experience in a vibrant relational way. It’s more impromptu, with an energetic give and take that starts onstage in the music making, moves out into the audience, then circles back, over and again. It’s why you can leave a live show feeling fed, enlivened, touched. Everyone is truly part of what’s happening. That’s what I hope to create in every performance … that circle of energy that moves people to feel.
Review Fix: What are your goals for 2019?
Harris: Add something positive to the atmosphere as often as possible, doing the above.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Harris: Most immediately, we’re working on a live performance of the Certain Elements material in Atlanta. I’m looking forward to performing these songs with a band onstage as the next leg of the journey. Also, I’ll be performing the album’s single, “Cherish,” live on television in NYC and Atlanta in February. And I’m back in the studio soon working on other people’s projects and new music, including tracking songs later this month with Bobby Torres, who did some work on this album. And, I’m continuing to teach the incredible vocal jazz students at Kennesaw State University as an artist-in-residence with the KSU Jazz Studies Department.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Harris: The Certain Elements album was a singular experience for me. I had such a strong desire to do this thing and sing these songs. In its content and its sonic stamp, it’s particularly true to me as a singer, highlighting most all my influences. I felt joy making this record, dug deep, and hope that comes through in the listening.