Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Jul 9th 2010 12:45PM by Charley Rogulewski
For the supermodel-turned-musician, finding the true Karen Elson has been a work in progress. Her debut album 'The Ghost Who Walks,' a nod to the nickname given to her as a pale, long-legged seven-year-old growing up in a working class Northern English town, is one more step in the right direction.
Take, for example, the standout track 'Stolen Roses' that she performed during her Interface taping. "There once was a time when I was a girl/That darkness hung in my sky/I was old before I learned to be young/Stone cold 'til I learned how to cry," Elson sings on the track.
"The older I get, truthfully, the younger I feel," Elson said. "I can't wait to be 50 years old. I think I'll be the jolliest 50-year-old. But there's something that growing older has given me. I feel more comfortable in my skin. I left home when I was 16 and I'm 31 now -- it's taken me 15 years to come out of my shell and slowly feel like myself."
Elson's professional career began when she was cherry-picked as a teenager for a modeling career while walking down the street in Manchester, the closest urban outlet to her native Oldham. And while Elson, whose first concert was seeing Australian pop sensation Kylie Minogue at age five, had childish aspirations of entertaining on stage, the impassable opportunity to leave her humble upbringing for something bigger meant hitting the catwalk.
"I left home pretty much six months after that," she said, "and it was the best thing that ever happened. I didn't expect to become successful at all, but when I did I had to ride that wave. I had to make a name for myself, so to speak. And it really did lead me to New York and led me to meet some incredibly creative people."
Among those people are former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur and singer-songwriter Rachelle Garniez, who penned the track 'Lunasa' for Elson and helped encourage her to sing and play guitar.
"I'd go into studios and sing backing vocals -- that's how the thing with Robert Plant happened," she said of her contribution the Led Zeppelin singer's solo album, 'Dreamland.' "A friend needed a girl to sing backing vocals and they asked me to do it. These friends of mine really encouraged me."
Even with that opportunity, Elson calls joining New York City cabaret the Citizens Band the "biggest stepping stone" in her journey to becoming a devout musician. "It also made me a better performer and made me take my songs out of an introverted place and put them out on a stage," she said.
More encouragement followed from husband Jack White, who not only produced but released Elson's debut on his Third Man Records label. "You'd think Jack would've given me a million and one guitar lessons, but to be honest, he hasn't," Elson said of recording with her husband. "He's letting me find my own voice, be it musically and lyrically -- that is what I have to learn how to do myself. But what he did help me, massively, is me gaining confidence in myself, because I was very introverted with my songs. For a lot of reasons, I just didn't feel ready to share them with anybody."
Elson still distanced herself from the words "she" and "her" in the album's lyrics, creating a concept album of sorts. "I wanted to write a dark story about the ghost who walks, but really what it is is about heartbreak and feeling detached and feeling like an outsider. That's what I was back then, as a young girl. I was always on the outside, and that's really what 'The Ghost Who Walks' is about, minus the bloodshed. Other than writing a diary entry, I'd rather write a story which explains what I'm feeling because I don't feel comfortable laying myself so bare." One way or another, it's a step towards finding Elson's true calling.