Karen & the Sorrows are back with a new full-length album, The Narrow Place, a collection that centers around singer-songwriter Karen Pittelman’s lilting vocals, Elana Redfield’s lonesome pedal steel, and Tami Johnson's firm backbeat, and eleven well-crafted songs.
The Sorrows are at the center of a growing queer country scene, creating a community for people who love country music even if country music doesn’t always love them back. For the last six years, they’ve run Brooklyn’s Gay Ole Opry Festival and the Queer Country Quarterly. “Now more than ever, we are grateful to be in community with so many amazing musicians,” Pittelman says. “Country music can tell compelling stories about family, love, heartbreak, and strength. Those stories should include all of our families, all of our love, and especially all of our heartbreak and our strength.” Here, front woman Pittelman answers the Essential 8.
When/where do you do your best writing?
This might sound kind of lazy, but I’ve dreamt a lot of my strongest songs. Usually, I'll realize in the dream that it’s a song I want to remember and then I’ll wake myself up and sing it into my phone. I’m a weird person to share a bed with, I guess. Otherwise going on long walks really helps me, especially with lyrics. And a lot of times I get ideas in the shower. That’s where I wrote, “Can’t Miss What You Never Had.” In the shower on my birthday!
Which song of yours gets the best crowd response?
Right now, it’s probably “Take Me For a Ride.” Especially if it’s the kind of crowd that wants to learn the hand gestures. We have some hand gestures for that one that get a little risqué and some people really made them their own on our last tour. Shout out to our new friends in Columbus, Ohio—they definitely won for most creative.
What’s your favorite food on the road?
Cheese eggs, raisin toast, and grits at Waffle House. I would eat that on the road every day if the band would let me. I wish someone would open up a Waffle House in New York.
What’s the story behind your album’s title?
The album’s title The Narrow Place is a translation of the Hebrew word mitzrayim, which is also the name for Egypt in the story of Passover. For me, that story is about how it isn’t so simple to get free. It’s a bitter struggle, and so much gets lost, forgotten, or left behind. But that struggle is also what makes you who you are.
Where do you draw inspiration from when writing? Books, Movies, personal experience, other musicians?
This album has a pretty weird set of influences, though not by design. It’s more like everything I’m thinking about and experiencing and listening to seeps into what I make. I was thinking a lot about Moses and Passover. About bro country and gender and sexuality in country music. About how Waylon Jennings gets his sound. About a memory of listening to my mom play Rosanne Cash’s “Seven Year Ache” on repeat for a whole night. About James Baldwin’s essay “The Price of the Ticket” and how my Jewish family became white, about the history that gets erased. And I was trying to come to terms with the end of a long-term relationship and my broken heart.
What’s the best advice you have ever gotten from another musician?
Sometimes my drummer Tami just yells “FEMINISM” at me when I’m feeling unsure of myself. It’s oddly effective.
How do you kill the long hours in the van?
The band likes to keep a running list of all the roadkill animals they see. I’m very slow at spotting them though, so I miss out on most of it. For example, on tour last month, the final tally for roadkill raccoons was 36. But of those, I only saw 1!
Current recent release you cannot stop listening to?
I really love The Pistol Annies' cover of "Tulsa Time" from the Don Williams tribute album Gentle Giant that came out earlier this year. (https://youtu.be/31MTzhe7W8A) I grew up on a lot of Don Williams and since he passed away last month, this song has been stuck in my head. And, of course, The Pistol Annies are the best.
The Narrow Place is out now
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