Featured Artist Rebecca Karpen
Rebecca Karpen is an up and coming 19-year-old singer-songwriter based in NYC. She plays a variety of ukuleles and has her own, personal style of music.
We asked Rebecca a few questions to find out more about her life and her experience of singing and playing the ukulele so far ....
When and how did you first become interested in playing the ukulele?
I started writing songs when I was in kindergarten and eventually decided I should pick up an instrument so that I could improve on my writing which was admittedly mediocre at that point in time. So the summer after my first year of high school I just went out and gathered up every coin in my house and bought a cheap Kohala soprano uke and I just fell in love with the instrument. It’s very low stress and extremely welcoming and enjoyable.
Where does the angst in your music come from?
Gosh, when I first saw this question I broke down laughing. I'm not really a dark person, I give off that vibe but like I love cats and colors and I wear a lot of florals and I'm ultimately really optimistic about everything although I coat that world view in layers upon layers of cynicism to keep everyone from finding out so shhhhhhh.
But I mean the difference between angst and anxiety is that angst has the component of hope within it, like no matter how dark the situation gets, there is always hope. Anxiety is no hope, anxiety is really only bent on darkness and the feeling of pure hopelessness. And I'm an extremely anxious person but I'm never hopeless so I think it stems from that.
Additionally, I hate how much social stigma we direct at angst. We treat it as something that is laughable and that you grow out of but it's very much a personal emotion and I think that to have angst within your songs is to really make them personal. "Hallelujah" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" seem to be undisputed masterpieces yet no one appears to denigrate them despite the fact they are almost entirely built on angst because they are deeply personal.
So yeah, sort of rambled there, but I think my angst primarily stems from how personal I make my music.
What or who has influenced you most?
I love singer-songwriters like Taylor Swift, who got me into writing when I was little because she was so young yet writing these incredible compositions that made you cry. I loved that feeling of connecting with an artist. Additionally, I love Laura Marling, Jill Sobule, Billy Joel, Regina Spektor, Joni Mitchell, and Marina & the Diamonds. I also LOVE teen tragedy songs. I will defend angst to the bitter end but I love melodrama. It's purely exhilarating to stretch things as far as they can go and like in my song "Cragfast" I took this image of me walking around and around the house of someone I had a massive crush on it middle school and waiting for them to come out in the snow and turned it into a ballad of dying in the cold which was so much fun to write and to inhabit this sort of character space. I listen to a lot of folk, but I can't stand Dylan, so basically everything else singer-songwriter-y and really weird alternative stuff.
Topically speaking I'm expanding my range of writing subjects now that I'm older and have the capacity to think beyond my own experiences but up until recently I've written primarily about my own experiences with love, growth, family, and spirituality.
What type of ukulele do you like to play the most?
I really love my Cordoba Baritone ukulele but I also have a Mitchell Concert uke, a Kohala soprano uke, and a Vorson electric tenor ukulele. But I primarily use my baritone, I love the deep timbre which is so much fuller and richer than the higher ukes.
What is your favourite style of music?
I really love folk and singer-songwriter music but I also love teen-tragedy which is so much fun. I love melodrama.
Which of your songs are you most proud of?
“My Little Legs Can’t Keep Up” was the product of essentially four years of thoughts and a lifetime of feelings and a good two years of labor. I went super hard on it. My goal was to create a song that was as depressing as possible because during that time I felt completely stuck and extremely stagnant and when you’re 17 years old, the worst possible thing to be is incapable of change.
I basically listed a whole bunch of minor chords along with several depressing metaphors and a massive load of fingerpicking (by the end of playing it for several days on end I did not have any feeling in my fingertips and barely any fingertips of which to speak). But despite how “angsty” I intended it to be, it ended up as something extremely sincere and very vulnerable and even has a sort of story arc to it over its sprawling 10 minutes. I’ve made a couple people cry with it and as a result, I’ve grown sort of protective over it. I started making music in order to connect with other people but this was a project that was extremely introspective yet in doing so so many people would come up to me and tell me that they really related to it. That feeling of being left behind, of endlessly running after others, of needing more time and space to grow that the world does not seem to wish to grant you. It’s something that is essentially universal, especially when you’re young.
Where have you travelled? Most memorable experience?
I haven’t traveled as much as I’d like to, but most of it has been tied to the United States and Canada. I recently went on a seminar to Greece, London, and Cyprus, which was incredible. But I’d have to say my most memorable experiences were going to Niagara Falls and the Acropolis. There’s just something about those spaces that was purely magnetic. There’s a sanctity and a quietude to seeing something or being somewhere that is so beautiful and so natural in a sense despite the manmade culture surrounding it that it feels surreal, “holy” I guess would be the right word. It’s like a forcefield has gone up between you and the rest of the world and it’s just this breathtakingly powerful force.
What are you currently working on? Plans for the future?
I’ve been working on an album for roughly four years now and I just finished up all the lyrics and am looking forward to finally hankering down and recording it. It’s going to be eleven tracks, so I’m all over the place in terms of knowing what type of arrangements the songs will have.
I’ve also been writing a lot on guitar recently just to expand my body of work and improve my versatility with stringed instruments.
In addition to introducing more instruments into my compositions, I’ve also been expanding my breadth of subject matters, like writing more story-based and political songs. For example, I recently read this book on King David and was extremely taken with it and am working on some songs that I eventually hope to turn into a concept album about his life and legacy.
In the future, I’d love to complete all of those projects and just keep writing and getting better. Some friends and I have been talking about starting a band so hopefully that moves forward as well as soon as we iron out the logistics and all that.
What advice do have for someone just starting out with the ukulele?
DO NOT QUIT! Like I got really frustrated the first day I had my ukulele and wanted to return it by nightfall. It gets much easier if you don't just let yourself be frustrated. Also, even if you don't really write songs or like words, it really does help to write songs with your instrument. It gives you a better grasp on fingering positions and the feeling of control which is nice especially if you're teaching yourself like I did, which can be pretty overwhelming at first.
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