Karen Lehner Biography
Last updated: 07/02/2001 01:16:58 AM
Writers trying to capture her essence have compared KAREN LEHNER* to singers as disparate as Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, Aimee Mann and Kate Bush. And she's sung, professionally, in styles ranging from musical theatre to commercial jingles to Top 40. Yet on her own, with her own songs and atmospheric musical tracks, the only person Karen Lehner sounds like on her new album, Two Feet Firmly Off the Ground, is Karen Lehner. And that, as happens with true and committed artists, continues to evolve.
"I didn't fall into singing accidentally," notes Karen, who as a youth was singing in an adult choir, and began studying voice at the age of fifteen. "People enjoyed my voice, which made them happy, which made me happy. I was a natural singer -- something you're born with -- but wanted to develop my instrument." An early introduction to jazz "...changed the world for me"; and when she was told by her teacher at the Aspen Music Festival "...that jazz and country were not valid forms of music for voice; only opera and oratorio were, I knew I had to move on…and broaden my musical horizons."
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Born in the suburban Boston community of Hingham, and currently a resident of the San Francisco Bay area, Karen has lived in Annapolis, Maryland; Colorado; and Los Angeles. She's held an eclectic mix of jobs, including Tour Guide at Universal Studios and G.O. (think of it as a camp counselor for vacationing adults) for Club Med.
The Heart of Us All, Karen's previous album on the Alycone label, was well received by those who were fortunate enough to hear it, and the subject of a feature article in the trade weekly Billboard, which sited her as "lyrically and sonically intriguing…she reels in listeners with a tender-but-tough soprano voice and songs that mix hooks with heart." Radio WMMO described the same release as "thinking women's music…with the voice of an angel." The album came out just as "alternative" radio was changing its focus to a harder sound, and the label went out of business at about the same time (leaving Karen as the owner of the master recordings). So, Two Feet Firmly Off the Ground stands as a virtual debut.
Her first album for her own Grey Mause Records, Two Feet Firmly Off the Ground is nationally distributed via Groove House Records. Produced by Ed Goldfarb and Joel Bell, the eleven original songs will, she hopes, help "...people who listen to me to find connections with their own life." "If you took the various things she's done in the past, add her collaborators and put it all in a blender, this album is what you'd get," says co-producer Goldfarb. "Her musical experience and diversity and her life experience all together is what equals this record."
"We both wanted to explore sound a lot," says Karen. "He has a terrific ear, is into harmonies, and his voicings are real interesting. It's almost painting with the music."
"The most exciting thing to me about Karen," Goldfarb says, "it that at her best she really has something to say -- she's very uncompromising in her vision; as a collaborator, I really respect that."
Karen also brought in producer, Joel Bell, a musician who "...I found real interesting, but more in an acoustic way than Ed was experimental." Bell plays most of the instruments on the tracks he produced; Gordfarb plays keyboards and guitars on his productions; additional musicians fill out the sound on guitars, keyboards, and orchestral instruments. Bell -- a veteran musician and producer best known for fronting a Los Angeles band called Mrs. God -- did all the final mixes, save one.
"She really can sing, and she's writing songs that are very personal and structured idiosyncratically," notes Bell, "and I wanted to make sure that the production served what she was wanting to do. It's also nice for music to put you on a kind of a journey."
"I think this album is a little harder edged and a little more rhythmic than The Heart of Us All," Karen allows. "I've developed the ability to work better in the studio, and developed a few more angles that I'm aware of. I'm proud the fact that I do lyrics well, and that they can apply to people who have gone through a bit more experience. The title, Two Feet Firmly Off the Ground, refers to being rooted in reality and still having hope -- being cynical won't get you anywhere.
"It's hard to think of Karen as cynical: not a woman who, in order to cope with a fear of heights, enrolled in trapeze class (some of her teachers are featured on the Two Feet Firmly... artwork). "I say there's nothing better than hanging 26 feet above a net -- you're holding onto something steady, and you're flying above the ground at the same time. "And," she adds with a wink, "can you think of another time when you have as complete attention from a man as you do from your catcher?"
* pronounced LAY-ner