Karin Park

Living the Highwire Life

Nov 18, 2014
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As a child, Swedish singer-songwriter Karin Park made herself a promise — to never take a “normal” job. Having used music as a way to cope while adjusting to a move back home after living in Japan for three years, Park says the idea of doing anything else with her life never occurred to her.

“When I said I was going to be an artist in school, all of my classmates were like, ‘What are you talking about?” Park recounts, rolling her eyes at the memory. “That’s the general attitude here, especially where I grew up in the countryside.”

With the blessing of her parents, Park left home at sixteen, and shortly after came into a record contract. Her first few albums were a commercial splash in neighboring Norway. But unschooled in the recording process, and too dazzled by the opportunity to release her work to weigh in on production, Park didn’t realize at first that something was missing. “After a couple of records it was like, ‘Hang on a minute, this actually sounds shit to me!’” she recalls.

Her tone isn’t one of frustration, but rather pride in having made the journey from country girl to savvy musician.  Shortly after the discovery that her music didn’t reflect her personal tastes, Park began to course correct, bringing in her brother as a drummer and experimenting with a denser, more dance and beat-driven sound. The darker vibe began with 2009’s Ashes to Gold, and blossomed into an aggressive/ethereal bend with 2012’s experimental opus, Highwire Poetry.

Park doesn’t balk at the word “goth” that many used to describe her music. After all, she does employ unexpected twists and turns, often pitching her Björk-like soprano into a ghostly whisper or a guttural groan. But she’s careful to note that there’s more to her work than a sense of oppression or sadness. “I listen to a lot of what people would call dark music,” she explains. “We actually have a lot of fucked up things in our lives. To embrace that and include that in the music rather than try to push it away, and pretend that it’s not there … I don’t want to write about everything being all ‘happy happy joy joy’ all the time. That’s not what I need to write.”

Her new single “Shine” (a taste of her forthcoming fifth album — although Park says she’s too deep in the writing process to predict how it will sound), comes from that same light/dark place. Dusted with light dance beats, the song also contains some of the musician’s most inspirational lyrics to date. “You can be as broke as you want/You can be as strong as you like/It can be the darkest night/I’ll never let you out of sight,” she sings, a note of desperation in her voice.

“My friend had a really difficult time at the time,” says Park of the inspiration behind the song. “I wrote it like a comfort track, to let him know that despite all the bad things going on in his life and how afraid of things that he is, I’ll always be around to help out or just be there. It’s a positive song.”

It’s a gift, Park has come to realize, that she can speak to her loved ones through music —and hopefully comfort a few others along the way. Conscious of the power in art, Park says she careful not to separate herself from her work. “My life as an artist isn’t like I go to work as an artist and when I go home I do something completely different,” she says. “Me and my boyfriend, we live and breathe it all the time. We like to show a little bit of those things. But in a more tasty way than people do it on Facebook, maybe.”

That sense of openness translates. Park admits that she actually enjoys the interview process, and answers every question in an unusually direct, thoughtful way that often supersedes the question. Filming the video for “Shine,” she even opted to use her home, a converted church in Djura, Sweden, allowing fans a look at the space where she lives and works. But there is one thing she doesn’t feel comfortable exposing—the actual songwriting process. When asked why, she pauses, momentarily stumped before finding the perfect analogy.

“There’s a lot of things that I can share, but it’s a very sensitive situation,” she laughs. “You really put yourself on the line. It’s like, I really enjoy sex, but I don’t want to be a porn star! You don’t want to have someone in your room watching while you’re having sex, but you still enjoy it. Anyone who doesn’t want to participate shouldn’t be around.”




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