Emerging from the shadows

Matt Conner | Boulder Weekly

Karen Elson on being the musician who is Jack White’s wife

Karen Elson is not Jack White’s wife. Well, technically she is, but the famous model-turned-musician lives under a looming shadow of attachment to The White Stripes that seems a bit unfair. Perhaps it’s best said, then, that Karen Elson is more than Jack White’s wife.

After the initial media storm dies down, Elson’s debut album should begin to sing for itself. The Ghost Who Walks, taken from a childhood nickname for Elson’s tall, pale frame, beautifully haunts the hallways of country, rock and folk music, and the early reviews of the album give artistic credit where it is due.

But as Elson describes, her musical pipe dreams predate her recent move to Nashville or even her marriage to White in 2005.

They’re a childhood hope rooted in a true passion for music and creativity that could never materialize until the right elements were in place.

“I’m a big believer in fate and I think there’s a multitude of reasons why I never made a record before now,” Elson says. “The big one is that I simply wasn’t ready, but I was also incredibly busy as a model. It’s interesting now for whatever reason that I can actually manage the two. In my twenties, I wasn’t much busier, but I wasn’t in the right place to juggle everything.

“I also didn’t know exactly what type of music I wanted to make,” she continues. “I was still essentially sitting in my room with a four-track, and I didn’t quite have a clear idea. And I like to have a good idea about those things. I like to have confidence in myself, and it took me a while to feel confident about the songs that I was writing, before I wanted to share them. It took me a while, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with things taking their time. For me, that’s a process that works quite well.”

With two young children, Scarlett Teresa and Henry Lee, it’s amazing that the present moment became the ideal time to record. Yet Elson explains it’s her parental experience that allowed her to focus on utilizing her time well.

“Most people who have children realize the sense of time that they’ve never had before,” says Elson. “Everything with your children, you’re constantly reminded that you have to savor these fleeting moments while they come and go. Then also, it’s just the fact that as a parent, the free time mostly goes out of the window. So now I have this appreciation and know that with the free time I have, I better make the most of it by doing something I really love and not just wasting that time.”

After her husband built a studio in their backyard, Nashville’s nickname “Music City U.S.A.” took on a  new meaning for Elson. The close proximity to the constant act of creating removed the nervousness of having to go in herself.

“By living in Nashville and Jack having built a studio in our backyard, I’m surrounded by music and musicians,” Elson explains. “That also gave me the confidence to step out by myself as a musician.

I’ve been in the studio a few times with Jack while he was singing background vocals on other projects, or just hanging out while he’s recording himself.

“I think it demystified the process quite a bit. It made it real or a part of regular life as opposed to this gigantic task that I had to undertake. It was almost the way our life is in Nashville is that making music is a natural part of that life. It’s not an overly thought-out or analyzed or scrutinized process. I think being a part of that helped demystify it like that.”

After living in cities throughout Europe and several years in the Big Apple from her career as a model for everyone from Marc Jacobs and Yves Saint Laurent to Versace and Chanel, Elson now has the down time to properly tend to a family and a new musical chapter.

“I love New York,” she explains. “It’s one of my favorite cities in the whole world, but it’s such a busy city that it was hard for me to shut off. It was hard for me to be introverted and stay still long enough to actually get the songs out. Just being in the peace and quiet of Nashville really helped me get more into the songs and spend more time writing them. I wasn’t distracted by the city. In fact, Nashville being a musical city is so supportive and inspiring to write songs. It’s really magical.”

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On the Bill

Karen Elson plays at the Walnut Room on Sunday, June 13. Doors at 7:30.

Tickets are $15. 3131 Walnut St., Denver, 303-292-0529.