When it comes to debut singles, few come bigger than Karen Harding’s ‘Say Something’. Released in 2014, it went on to make the top 10 and has racked up over 20 million streams. It was a hell of a way to introduce yourself to the music world. Since then a plethora of collaborations have followed, no doubt you’ll have heard Karen’s voice somewhere – whether it be a credited vocal, or under her solo releases. Forward wind to 2020 and the singer has just released ‘Undo My Heart’ a song packed with the same euphoric energy she’s became notorious for. Recently, we spoke to the artist about her latest single, the challenges she’s faced after setting the bar so high, so early in her career and what comes next.
The singer has carved a lane in the dance world, featuring on tracks from the likes of Paul Woolford and Wilkinson. Although, finding herself in such territory was a total accident. “It actually wasn’t my intention to go into a specific side of music! When we wrote ‘Say Something’, my first single, it just sat so well into electronic music and I just loved how a crowd reacted to it when I performed it. From then, I really started working on dance music and a lot of amazing artists and producers were reaching out to me to collab and I guess it all just kind of came together.”
‘Say Something’ was an amalgamation of years’ worth of time crafting her vocal abilities. From an early age, Karen’s family knew she had talent and pushed her to explore such unique traits – a relief for any creative wanting to carve such a career. “I started singing around the age of 7, my parents encouraged me to get up and perform whenever we had family round or at parties. I always loved performing and singing in the house and I guess I haven’t stopped.”
With such success on a debut release, comes great challenges. Will everything you ever make be compared to that? Is it all down here from there? For the artist, it was a case of handling the mental pressure so she could create freely again. “I think maybe straight after ‘Say Something’ came out I put pressure on myself and because of this, I think it affected my creative flow. I didn’t expect it to do as well as it did, I’d never felt that level of success before! When working on new material you really have to escape any worries as soon as you get into the studio. Once I accepted that I can do it, I can make music just as good as the first single, the creative juices flowed so much easier.”
Those creative juices certainly seem to be flowing freely again now, with the release of ‘Undo My Heart’ in June – Karen’s most powerful work of late. A powerful collaboration with Digital Farm Animals, who delivered the energetic production. Both artists compliment perfectly throughout, perhaps it’s the dream collaboration. “It’s definitely one of my favourite songs I’ve ever released. I was so excited to work on it with Digital Farm Animals because I’ve always been a big fan of their music. I wrote the first idea of it with Tim Powell who has worked on so many amazing records and we both knew that this one was gonna be a banger! I sent it off to Digital Farm Animals to work on and when I got it back, I didn’t stop playing it. They smashed it and I’m so glad it’s out in the world!”
One of the biggest challenges a singer/songwriter faces in the electronic music industry, is production. Not only in finding that right person to collaborate with, but how much input should you have in an area that isn’t your speciality? Sure, you have a vision when writing the song, but is that vision set in stone? For Karen, going into each song with an open mind is key: “I feel like with a lot of my music, the melody and lyric are normally written either on my own or working with other songwriters, then we try and find the right fit for the production. I do really enjoy having input on the production, but I also like to hear what a producer can come up with from scratch, it’s always so interesting to hear what someone else has in their mind! It’s not always like this though, a lot of times I’m in the studio with the producer and as a team, everybody in the room comes up with the whole concept and production direction. It’s different for every song and I guess that’s why it’s so amazing.”
Usually, when a singer’s solo career takes flight, the collaboration requests slow down – it’s hard to find the time to make your own material, whilst giving 100% on other people’s songs as well. It’s been quite the opposite for Karen. Since establishing her aesthetic, her voice has become synonymous across the dance world. Featuring on song from the likes of Tom Zanetti, Wilkinson and Giorgio Moroder, it got to the point where the artist had to carefully select what to say yes to. “I always try and approach everything with the same amount of time and love. I get asked to vocal a lot of material, but I have always stuck to the fact that I have to absolutely love it to vocal it! It has to be believable otherwise people won’t believe you. I learned this the hard way by doing things in the past that deep in my heart I knew didn’t feel right but now I know I have to follow that feeling. When it comes to my own material, songs are like little babies, you have to love them equally haha!”
Since bursting onto the scene six years ago, Karen has grown into an established artist, with a real identity in the dance world. However, as the artist said herself, sometimes to learn, you need to make mistakes, after all, hindsight is a wonderful thing. For any aspiring musicians, trying to break through, Karen has some advice: “If it feels like it’s what you’re supposed to do, keep pushing on! It will come. I remember feeling like it would be impossible at so many points, I was gigging with function bands and doing club PAs in the north east for around 4 years and I would always feel frustrated that it wasn’t enough so in my spare time I was learning how to use Logic, how to record vocals and writing songs. I fully believe in ‘if opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door’. You have to find your way and put yourself out there as much as possible!”
If ‘Undo my Heart’ sets the tone of what’s to come from the artist soon, then big things may well be on the horizon… they might even be in the works as we speak. “We have been working hard over the last couple of months to begin work on an EP which is so exciting, can’t believe it’s been this long! I would love to be in a great place for gigging main stages at festivals next year, I can build this year with releasing loads of ‘Karen Harding’ material and then hopefully I can tour next year! What I would give to perform ‘Undo my Heart’ out to a large festival crowd!” We can only dream of being in that festival crowd right now, until then, check Karen’s back catalogue out! You won’t be disappointed.