Karen Willough - 10 Questions Music Interview
Classically trained, Willough completed her undergraduate education at the College of New Rochelle She then went to New York University for graduate studies in Psychology. She quickly discovered that Psychology was not for her. After living on another continent and traveling to over 25 countries, Willough finally returned to where she belongs - the world of music.
In the Netherlands, Willough sang with Capella Sint Jan for several years before returning to the U.S. Since 2012, Willough has been singing with Chicago’s prestigious Mount Carmel Morning Choir under the direction of Paul French. She also studies and works with the incomparable Beckie Menzie, who introduced her to the world of cabaret. Willough made her solo debut with “Tra le tue Braccia.” It was followed by the duet "World Without You" with Chicago jazz musician Michael Jones who plays trumpet on the song. Willough's first EP, Scrumptious, includes a swing version of “Whispering,” a tune most notably recorded by Paul Whiteman in 1920, as well as a sultry rendition of the 1975 Orleans song “Dance with Me.” The title track, “Truly Scrumptious” comes from the enchanting film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” The song also features a flugelhorn solo by Caleb Mitchell, a graduate of the prestigious music program at DePaul University.
Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.
I was eight when I "wrote" my first song. I was in the school play and couldn't memorize my lines, but I found if I sang them to myself I could remember them. After that I never stopped singing.
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?
A friend of mine, Doreen Montalvo, was an actress in "In the Heights" on Broadway. After a performance, I went backstage. When the theater emptied I got to sing on the stage. HOWEVER, it was only this year I realized, I got to sing on the stage with Lin-Manuel Miranda!
What has been the high point of your music path?
The high point on my music path was becoming a true cabaret artist. For people that have never seen a real cabaret performance, or don't know what it is, you really need, as a performer, to leave your heart on the stage. It's not just getting up and singing song after song.
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?
When I write a song, it usually starts with music, and a feeling, maybe a few words. Usually there's story I want to tell. I know what I want to say, and I just have to gradually figure out how. If it's going well I'll be crying.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
I wish they'd kill the reality shows. It's awful that (1) everyone who ends up on the radio sounds exactly the same (I can't tell them apart) and (2) audiences seem to think screeching up to a high note is singing. Doris Day or Sarah Vaughn would never make it through American Idol. I think SoundCloud and Spotify have come to the rescue of Indie music. So many younger people I know stream music exclusively from these sources.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
Billy Joel. I've love to sing with Billy joel. He's been my songwriting idol since I was about 12. EVERYONE knows at lease one Billy Joel song. He's brilliant.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?
For a new show, preparation starts about 9 months out, selecting songs, finding the right key. Rehearsals start about six months out; first twice per month with my accompanist, but three times per week on my own. By two months out, we're rehearsing once per week together and I'm practicing almost daily. During this time I've probably made changes to the set. By a couple days before I start losing my mind--I forget lyrics, patter, music--everything. I start questioning why I was put on the earth, why I'm doing the show, etc. Then first day of the show, about 20 things go wrong, so I don't get a chance to practice. Next thing you know I hear,"...Karen Willough!" My intro music is playing, I'm heading to the stage and singing. And everything's fine.
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
Probably the song I'm working on now is the most challenging, and by "now" I mean three years. But It took James Taylor three years to write "Fire & Rain" so I don't feel too bad. It's for my best friend Christopher that passed away. It'll get done one of these days.
What's coming up in the future? I was hoping to get back into the studio this year but I was very busy with the Chicago Cabaret Professionals--I'm on the board of directors. I'm hoping to get into the studio next year. My last show,"So This Is Love?" is still touring and I'm hoping to start touring my new show, "Mooning" next year, also.
Tell us where fans can access your music?
Karen Willough “You Know I Have Angels" will be airing on National Indie Radio (WNIR) commencing December 1st through December 31st as part of BWH Music Group’s Holiday Radio Special. WNIR features the best independent artists in the world and is part of the highly selective and nationally renowned BWH Music Group platform. The Holiday Radio Special will feature original holiday songs as well as covers by exceptional independent artists. Station information can be found at National Indie Radio’s website.