Karen Harding is one of dance music’s best known and best loved singer / songwriters. She crashed into the top 10 with her debut single ‘Say Something’ (co-written with MNEK) which was certified platinum and has enjoyed a series of hits, featuring and co-writing with the likes of Blonde, Tujamo, Wilkinson, Tom Zanetti, Example and Purple Disco Machine to name a few. She ended 2020 with her huge track ‘Undo My Heart’ with ‘Digital Farm Animals’ which received heavy support across Radio 1 and has been streamed over 10 million times to date. Karen kicked off 2021 by smashing through 400 million streams of her music on Spotify with over 2 million loyal monthly listeners. She is an undeniably talented performer with a voice to match and her new collaboration ‘Morning’ with uber producer, Shift K3Y, looks set to see her cross over into mainstream consciousness once again. We thought now was a perfect time to catch up with Karen and find out a bit more for DMCWORLD…
Hello Karen and welcome to DMC! What can you tell us about your new single ‘Morning’ with Shift K3Y?
Hey everybody! So I wrote the demo with two other amazing songwriters Nick Sheldon and Cameron Warren. We actually wrote the song over a completely different vibe, it was definitely more pop, slower and had more of a country vibe to it. We started off the day with another idea but we couldn’t quite nail it so went for some lunch, listened back to the first idea, didn’t think it was popping off enough so started a new idea. That came in the shape of ‘Morning’! It came very quickly and I think we had the whole thing mapped out in 2 hours! The label then had the idea to send the vocal accapella to Shift K3Y, which I was buzzing about because I’m a huge fan anyway. He sent back a version and we knew it was a match, he smashed it. I love the way that he had a completely different perspective of the record and definitely brought something else to it that no one else could.
You’ve done a fair bit of collaboration in your career to date. Do you prefer writing to a track you’ve been sent or physically being in a studio working with someone? What makes a collaboration work?
I don’t actually have a preference really. Each song comes about in its own little way. I like being able to go up to my home studio and jam about on my own, coming up with different ideas that are completely free flowing. Sometimes I like to do this as well over tracks that I’ve been sent, just depends on the mood! However, getting in the studio with other people to write is also awesome. It’s so great to be able to bounce ideas and listen to what other writers are coming up with, it can inspire something entirely different that you would never get without that interaction. I think what makes a collab work is honesty; I think you’ve got to tell people how you feel about things, about ideas, because song writing is such a honest form of art we have to be honest in the creative process too. For example, it happened with ‘Morning’ – we were all on the same page when it came to passing on the first idea, so therefore we were able to come up with something truly honest for the next idea. You were approached by MNEK after he saw a video of yours on YouTube, you wrote ’Say Something’ together and ended up with a debut top 10 hit. What do you remember about that whole experience?
I remember the day MNEK approached me on Facebook and I was so excited to be going down to London to work with him. I’d heard a few of the songs that he’d worked on and couldn’t believe that I was getting this opportunity. It’s funny because we wrote the song in about 2 hours because he almost cancelled on me when I was en route down to London, but we persevered! Once the song structure was out and we were about to start recording, I asked if he would sing it as I didn’t think I could nail it and thought it would be easier for him to vocal it but he refused and said it was my song, so I gave it my best shot and that’s the vocal that we used for the released version! I remember feeling shy about getting up in front of someone and getting it wrong but I’m glad that he pushed me to go out of my comfort zone and we are good friends now!
What do you like to do when you’re not making music?
I like getting out and about on walks, I think it’s important for my mental health to get out and away from music sometimes. Being an artist in the industry can really have it’s up and downs so you have to find a way to get it out of your mind for some parts of the day/week. During lockdown I was trying to spend a week on music, non-stop recording and writing, then a week off, going out an exploring some new spots with my dogs.
You can put together a girlband with any female artists, living or dead. Who do you pick to sing alongside you and why?
This is such a tough one! I would love to sing alongside Jazmine Sullivan, I’m a huge fan and to be honest, I’d probably just let her do all the singing while I sat and enjoyed it! I’d then have Jennifer Lopez, she’d be the dancer and proper grafter. She’s definitely an inspiration, to have had a career that’s spanned decades, it’s an artist’s dream! I would usually always go for Whitney Houston but she wouldn’t ever fit in a girlband because she’s too next level. Finally, I’m gonna go with Rihanna, purely because of her sass and artistry. I think the 4 of us would definitely take over the world, haha!
You’re also a pretty tidy DJ with a guest mix on Diplo’s Radio 1 show last year. How important is club music and the club scene to you? Has it been a big influence and do you see it playing a part in your future?
I would say I dabble! I wanted to get involved with the DJ side of the music as I thought it was important to learn something new in lockdown and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the process. I really can respect DJ’s and the amount of preparation and hard work they put into sets as it takes a lot more time and and effort than you would think! I guess I like what I like and I try to just keep up to date with up and coming music as well as knowing which classics I can’t live without. I always loved to go on a good night out in Newcastle but also loved a good house party too! I hope that I can use DJing for my sets in future for sure! I’d love to be able to perform live vocals alongside my sets as I really enjoyed doing that on live streams I’ve been doing too.
What does success look like for you?
Success to me is happiness in what I wake up to do each day. I feel very lucky that I ‘work’ (use that term very loosely) in music and do what I love. It’s crazy to think of all those times I’d run back from school to practise singing, dreaming one day that I would be a ‘famous popstar’ and now I guess that’s my full-time job! Success to me is achieving your goals and then being able to live off of them, that’s a huge dream achieved for me.
We couldn’t let the interview go by without a lockdown question! Have you found lockdown difficult? What have you missed the most and what’s the first thing you’re going to do once we’re back to ’normal’?
Lockdown has been okay. I’ve been trying to keep myself busy and with a run of releases it’s definitely helped me work towards something which I think is what I need a lot of the time. I think everyone has had to deal with their own difficulties but it’s nice to know we are all in this together and when it finally comes to an end, we will be stronger together! I’ve definitely missed gigging the most, I miss the travelling, meeting different people and just the crowd response to new music. I haven’t been able to perform any new material live for so long so I’m excited to get back to that and hopefully it’s one of the first things I can do!
Lastly, what’s up next? Is there more music ready to go?
Well, I’ve been working on an EP which will be my first ever body of work released. Really excited for it, there’s some gems in there I think fans will really be able to vibe to. You’ll be hearing all the new music in its entirety before summer so get your cossy and cocktails ready! We have a few collaborations on there that I’m really looking forward to everyone hearing as well as something that’s a little bit different to what I’ve released before.