The color green is often linked to balance and harmony and also signifies a renewal of life or resurrection. Set around this hue, Karen Elson began rekindling her love of music again and wrote a collection of songs for her third album Green.
Following Elson’s previous album Double Roses in 2017 Elson says there was a moment when she considered leaving music-making behind. Locked down back home in Nashville during the pandemic, Elson was able to find some silver linings. “I fell in love with music again,” says the singer, songwriter, and model. “As we were all locked down, I was picking up my guitar and being a teenager again, learning how to play a song I liked or just going on long walks with my kids or going on long walks by myself and listening to music.”
She adds, “I fell in love with the essence of what I love about music, which is I’m just a big music fan at the end of the day. Music has always felt like you’ve got a secret imaginary friend. Music keeps you company and has through the good times and the bad times and everything in between. I fell in love with that feeling again.”
Less brooding than the 2021 debut The Ghost Who Walks and follow-up Double Roses in 2017, on Green Elson felt she had less to prove and instead wanted to capture a moment of “sunshine” and “respite” on Green. “I needed to feel the sense of warmth around me versus talking about the monsters under my bed again,” shares Elson. “Falling in love with music again helped me tap into this innocence. Integral to this record is preserving the almost like childlike wonder of what making music feels like, which feels damn good.”
Green also marked the first Elson co-wrote on one of her albums, working over the course of a few weeks with producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, who have worked with Kacey Musgraves. “It sort of takes me out of my head,” says Elson of working with the production duo. “When I get stuck in my head, I will nickel and dime and overanalyze everything. What Ian and Daniel taught me is you can obsess over that, but when it comes to the song it’s really about the feeling.”
Green is wishful thinking from the softer bossa nova rustle of opener “My Sparrow” and “Broken Shadow,” a song Elson says centers around “loving the broken parts of yourself”—And we don’t know, where we’re going / And we don’t know, about tomorrow / In your eyes, a light is showing. The sultrier moving color spectrum of “Green,” the disco-pop of “Modern Love,” the folkier “Wishing Well,” and ’50s rocker “Lightning Strikes” are concentrated around restoration and love. Elson revisits “Green” singing the track in French on “Vert,” along with a Portuguese rendition of “My Sparrow” on “Passarinho.” Written with the help of lyrical translation from Brazilian artist Nicole Della Costa, and an homage to some of her most loyal fans. “Music is a big part of Brazilian culture,” says Elson, “and it was a nice pay it forward for all the sweet messages I get from people in Brazil.”
Sequenced in chronological order of when the songs were written, sitting at the kitchen table of her home, writing with Tashian and Fitchuk felt effortless. “Before I was a little tortured, so it was a really different mindset,” she shares. “I’d love to say it was this great, elaborate philosophical record, but it’s just a feel-good record, and I’m okay with that.”
Still balanced between her continued modeling—currently, the face of the Moschino Resort 2022 campaign— and music, art doesn’t necessarily imitate life for Elson where Green is concerned. “I live this life that seems very extroverted,” says Elson. “I’m a model but music is much more where I am, and it’s much more introverted and quieter.”
Thematically, Elson pushed away the darker undercurrent of previous songs on Green. “There’s enough heaviness and there’s enough pain everyone’s going through that I needed a silver lining,” says Elson, who struggled to emerge from a quieter existence locked down around COVID, and find a way back into what she calls “conscious life” prior to the pandemic.
“I just had this desire to make music that feels a little happier than this time,” says Elson. “I wanted a mellow, happy, poignant record that feels like a warm blanket. I wanted to push myself in a different direction. This time, I wanted to go towards the light.”
Photo: Emily Dorio