“If you take the burden off of yourself to be important, then that’s the moment that you start living God’s plan for your life.”
Karen Waldrup, who just released her debut full-length album last Friday, shared those words with me from her time at a Baptist church in Brentwood Tennessee, where the sermon from preacher Dr. Robert Smith, Jr., rang clear in both her ears and her heart and shaped the way she’d look at her career for the rest of her life. Humble, down to earth, and funny as can be, Waldrup sat down with Lula 1892 to chat about her music, her viral fame, and releasing her own music.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Karen Waldrup has been singing for as long as she can remember; music is the not only the fabric that has made up her career, but most of her life as well. “I started out singing when I was really, really young, like three years old and my family’s been really supportive of that. When I was in junior high and high school I was always in choir, and I just loved it. In college I sang in the orchestra choir at Southern Miss, the college I attended in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.” It was during her time in the orchestra choir in Hattiesburg that she realized she could take singing from a hobby to a career, and she hasn’t looked back since. “Hattiesburg had a music drought. There just wasn’t any music. It was crazy. I’ve never seen a town like it, so when I started playing around town, people wanted to hire me for the tailgate, hire me for the bar gig, hire me for the club gig. The next thing you know, I was playing all these shows around Hattiesburg. That was really when I realized that, well, this could be a job.”
From college, Waldrup made the natural decision to move to a music city, weighing Nashville over Los Angeles and New York for the fact that it was close to home in Louisiana and she appreciated that it had a scene for songwriters. On her first night in Nashville, Waldrup experienced the magic of the city first-hand. “I came here to Nashville after graduating college and the very first night that I was here, I met Taylor Swift. The first night I was ever in Nashville and had no idea what was going on, we ended up at Country Radio Seminar, meeting Taylor Swift. It felt like Nashville opened its arms to me. It felt like the right fit.”
After her chance encounter with Swift, Waldrup settled into the city and balanced music and a full time job for three years. One of many refreshing things about Karen Waldrup is that she is not afraid to pay her dues. After she had spent those three years working days at her desk job and nights in clubs, a schedule so many in Nashville know all too well, she was cast on a Bravo television show, Platinum HIt. “Being cast on the Bravo TV show was the moment that I was actually able to quit my day job because I had that exposure and that credibility on my resume. After I was on the show I could book clubs and gigs and Karen Waldrup wasn’t just this random girl with a guitar in her hand. It was the moment I felt like I could make it; I could quit my day job and go full time with music.”
Though Waldrup did go full time with music, she certainly didn’t do it in a traditional way. With over 25 million views and 8,000 plus subscribers on her Youtube channel, Waldrup’s path to fame was as unique and humble as she is. There were no bright studio lights, HD cameras, faders, or mixers when Waldrup first made her music available to her ever growing fan base. Instead, she’d often sit in the middle of her living room, her guitar and a microphone as her backdrop, to play and sing several songs – some original and some covers – to be released on Facebook, a platform everyone uses. Waldrup started this project with Country Rebel, who is still a partner today.
“I met Country Rebel at Key West Songwriter Festival. It’s sponsored by BMI, so I thought I ultimately can start at BMI because they’re the ones who booked me for the festival. I go down and play the BMI event and I meet the two guys from Country Rebel out of San Diego. Now I had no idea who they were. I thought maybe they were songwriters. Who knew? I asked one of the guys if he was a songwriter and he said “no, but I can make you famous on Facebook”, and he taught me how to make the videos I do now. You don’t have to make it complicated, just sing for people. That’s what they want. Make it free so everyone can be a part of it,” Waldrup remarked when asked how the partnership got started, “I thought that was cool, I’ll just do that. So I started making videos but it didn’t get real until probably seven, eight months later when I was at the Baptist church in Brentwood, Tennessee, and I heard the preacher, Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. speak and he said if you take the burden off of yourself to be important than that’s the moment that you start living God’s plan for your life and fulfilling your dreams. I was so affected by that, and I thought, well, my gosh, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’m going to stop trying so hard to be important. I’m going to sing music on the internet for people because that’s what my makes my heart happy.”
Waldrup has no plans to stop making her music available via video, but she has recently completed a new project: her first full-length album, available on Apple Music and Spotify. When asked why now for the new album, she responded with her usual charming, dry wit. “I’ve met with people in Nashville- I’ve toured, I’ve done those things. I have a fantastic fan base, I have good songs I want people to hear. The market for country music is always changing, too, so I don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. I can do what I want to do and not try to be important. Remember that? It’s a really freeing way to live. After I really got to thinking about it, I knew I wanted to do an album, and I don’t really care that these executives are telling me not to do that, that people don’t do it anymore, that it’s out of style. I’m making a record because that’s what I came to this town to do. And now it’s here.”
After listening from start to finish, I can say without a doubt that Waldrup did not make any mistake in her decision to release an album. With everything from a true honky tonk song with “What Goes on In This Bar” to a heartbreaking ballad penned by Lori McKenna (Waldrup’s favorite – “Sometimes He Does”), the new songs speak to the experiences we all have in humorous and heartfelt ways. The album reflects Waldrup’s own deep love for music and for connecting with her fans in so many different situations. “I’m thankful for all the people along the way who reminded me that this was worth it. Every single person along the way who’s been affected in any way, whether that’s a fun night with their friends, dancing in the front of a stage, or a woman who walks up and tells you that she was going to commit suicide but then heard your music. Music doesn’t pay out the way that people think it does. It pays out in an emotional ride and an experience of a lifetime. It has its hard times- really hard times – but it always comes back around full circle.”
Be sure to check out Karen Waldrup’s newest album, Justified, on iTunes and Spotify. For event schedules and more information, visit her website or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also visit her store for an autographed copy of Justified!