Karyn White Talks 'Carpe Diem', Today's Music Industry, Being The First Toni Braxton, MoreMon, Oct 22, 2012 Interviews
Known for her 1988 hit “Superwoman,” the singer took a break from music after her third album, 1994's “Make Him Do Right.” Now at age 47, Karyn is looking better than ever and living everyday like it’s the last, trying new things and pursuing her heart’s desires; the video for her first single “Seize the Day” is a testament to that.
Per her convo with Singersroom, Karyn revealed so much, like how self-discovery led to opportunities and happiness. She also dished on the secrets to success, her new album “Carpe Diem,” how she feels about today’s music industry and artists, a potential Broadway debut, being “the first Toni Braxton,” and more!
Singersroom: You’ll be featured on TV One’s Life After series airing on October 22, the same day as your album release for Carpe Diem. How was that?
Karyn White: It’s been a journey! I’m just glad I’m doing “Life After” and not “Unsung” because I have my story and I’ve been away for over 17 years. I’m glad that I’m not letting anything stop me. I’m seizing the day, which is the new record that I’m releasing and my movement. And I’m just dreaming, and I’m encouraging all of us, especially when you get in your 40s, most people feel like the best of their lives were before them, or in the past. I feel like I’m a late bloomer in life. I got married when I was young and I was really focused and driven. I really do feel like I’m 30, so I feel like now is the time for me. I wanna encourage all my women, because that’s such a big part of my movement, to go after your dreams, to go back to school, go open up a business, cause now is the opportune time in life. We have to take things in our own hands and be in control of our destiny, especially in today’s economy.
Singersroom: You’re a successful entrepreneur and have both interior design and real estate businesses. You started your own independent record label Karyn White Enterprises (KWE), on which your new album Carpe Diem is the first project. What prompted you to start another business?
Karyn: There’s multiple streams of income in this economy, you gotta have lots of things going, not just relying on one stream, and real estate is one stream, publishing is another. That’s the world we live in today, so I think it’s important. And it’s what I wanted to do anyway. I raised my daughter, and the fact that I’ve rediscovered music, that I have a label and I’ll be working with other younger and hot artists. It’s just me doing all the things I really wanted to do that I kinda got off track when I was younger. I should've been doing this when I had the opportune time to do it, but for some reason God didn’t allow it. But right now I feel like I’ve grown, I’ve owned and operated businesses outside of being a recording artist and writer. To me it makes sense to only come back and have my own label that presents my music and my brand, me owning my own stuff. I think it’s important for me to be a trailblazer cause I think right now you don’t really need a label if you’re ready to do the hard work and you can communicate with your phone, reach your base and grow from there. I love the fact that there are so many talented musicians and singers and writers, but we just have to take the destination in our own hands. And I’m glad I’m getting to show my daughter that, [she’s] away at Howard and, to show her that with drive and focus and purpose, what you can achieve with hard work. And it’s not just cause her dad is a famous producer or her mom was a famous singer, you know, she can do it. If you wanna have a radio show, which she has; the forthcoming album Carpe Diem, scheduled to arrive in stores October 22nd. online. She wants to do broadcasting and I Iove the fact that she really can see that she can do it. You know, it’s not a thing where she has to wait for permission for CBS to show up, you know. This is the world we live in. Especially being in an industry where you have to get permission and you have to wait, and you have all these talented people waiting for a record deal instead on making it happen.
Singrsroom: You mentioned your daughter recently entered college. How does it feel being an empty nester?
Karyn: I know! That’s why I’m getting it in! That’s why I have three businesses because it’s kinda lonely. I’m used to having her around, she’s kinda my best friend, and she’s not here. But right now my focus is on building my brand. And I’m older, and I get it, you know? It’s like, I’m not trying to be what I’m not. A lot of times, people ask “how do you look like this?” You know what you’re not! You accept who you are, you magnify your strengths, and you just get who you are! To me, there’s a comfort when women can understand who they are, they shine so much brighter when they’re not trying to be what they’re not. I know what my look is. Before, I would look at pictures and I was like “Eeuuggh! Why did I let them pile all that make up on me?” Now, there’s certain things I know about my look. I’ll do my own makeup for videos, I’m not letting them do that to me anymore. I know who Karyn White is, and the kind of music I sing. It’s so much more swagged out for a woman to know who they are! Or for anyone to walk in their lane. I’m not Janet, I’m Karyn, and I think it’s such strength when you know who you are as a person and an artist. I can’t come back tryna do Beyonce and Rihanna, I’m Karyn White, you know? I was before them, so I just have to do me. I’ve always ben pro-women, overcoming, strength, unity. But now I’m back with a message: we gotta seize the day, cause there’s a season for everything. It’s not cool to live life without a dream because of your age. And feel like ‘Well I didn’t accomplish this, so therefore I’m just gonna accept that maybe it wasn’t supposed to happen. No! You make it happen! There’s a lot of success stories that happen for people at an older age, so you can’t let a dream die inside of you. And what is life if you’re not living your purpose? This whole movement is so important that I stress to people that they don’t have a moment to lose. You have to do it, cause you’re gonna be miserable if you don’t, so you might as well go after your dreams.
Singersroom: Cause you only have one life.
Karyn: Yeah, you’re playing yourself! Cause eventually you’re gonna be mad, say ‘I wish I would have.’ You just don’t wanna have any regrets. You’re probably almost there and people don’t realize it. Cause they think success comes in like boom bam! Success! No! It’s the little things. It’s if you can be consistent when you think nothing is happening, that’s the key. Can you do it without looking for the reward? Then you look back and be like “wow! I never knew having a conversation with this person” would lead to this happening. It’s not this giant thing that says “I’m success!” It’s just, you’re doing the work, and eventually, you open doors. I just tell people to stay on course.
Singersroom: You actually touched on the next question. Why did you choose the title “Carpe Diem?”
Karyn: Carpe Diem in the Latin phrase for “seize the day.” I had started working on this project, and I had to have surgery, female stuff. And I’ve always been healthy. I had surgery, then something happened and went wrong that was the doctor’s fault. So I end up having three surgeries in a month. When I was in the hospital, that’s when one of the producers was like “You’re seizing the day, you’re carpe diem.” I never heard of that term, but I was like “Yes I love that!” And so I started writing a book with Tony Haynes, poems about seizing the day and a song, so that’s how the whole movement got started. And then it became my reality, because it seemed like every time I kept trying to move forward, something would happen. It just shows you that you can’t let anything stop you. When I was younger, that’s why I was able to have success. But when you have success the second time around, you know what it takes. Before, you kinda have a blind faith and you’re like “it’s gotta happen.” And then when it happens, it’s like oh my god, all these things had to happen, to make it happen. You just have to have faith and it’s so important to walk in that, and you just gotta believe it’s gonna happen because you say “I’m gonna do the work, and I’m not gonna stop.” And it’s been really cool cause I’ve been doing active projects, although it’s been out a year to the public, we just picked up distribution. I’ve been out a year connecting with my fans cause I had been gone for so long. Putting out videos, letting people know what I look like. I’m singing, I’m back, I’ve risen from the dead (laughs). It’s just been small successes. We just came back from Japan, the States are starting to know I’m back. I’m looking at it as a starting over, but I’m grateful that I’m singing again and I discovered who I am, and at this age, I just feel like wow, I hope I can have success, cause I really do get it now.
Singersroom: Surely you won’t have any problem with having success! Who did you work with on this album?
Karyn: I worked with Derek Allen, he produced the whole album. Bobby G, these are people that haven’t had big success, but I knew they understood where I was going. Actually, Derek has a No. 1 record with Anita Baker who wrote the single with Tyrese [Lately]. He’s having a great year, too, so I believe in their talent. I’ve worked with new credible people. My personality is for the underdog anyway. When I got with Babyface and LA [Reid], they were the underdogs. I like whatever that challenge is.
Singersroom: We’ll probably hear more about his on your episode of “Life After,” but you collaborated with Babyface and L.A. Reid for your first album. How did that meeting/collaboration come about?
Karyn: They produced my first album, and they were to produce the second album, but they got their own label and a lot of those songs that were written for Toni Braxton, really should have been for Karyn White. But the fact they they had their own label and I was signed to Warner Bros., thus Toni Braxton was born (laughs). But it was an incredible relationship. I talk about all this stuff, some little drama stuff, behind the scenes stuff that you’ll hear when you watch the show (laughs).
Singersroom: How do you feel about today’s music/industry?
Karyn: I embrace it cause I’m that young spirit. I love a lot of hip hop, I love Frank Ocean, I love Kanye, T.I., but I don’t like the fact that everybody’s trying to be like one artist, sound like one artist, the subject matters are kinda that. And I grew up on Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and these songs affect your life. When I hear these songs, they change my whole perspective, that’s what I’m missing, music soul food. It should make you change. When you hear the O’Jays, it used to change your whole spirit and sometimes I just feel like this pop/rock style’s cookie cutter, you know? It’s a long way from songs in the key of life. And I feel like labels financially, are going for what’s hot. When I heard Frank Ocean, I was like “Yes!” Something unique and his lyrics and his artistry, I just appreciate that, I’m excited for him. That’s why I think it’s important to have other alternatives. I’ve heard from young artists, and they’re like, “We wanna put out great music.” My daughter and them, they know what great music is. Things are gonna have to change cause people are sick of this. Especially black people, I mean, it’s in our soul. It speaks about where we are in life. There’s a few artists, I like Alicia Keys, but I don’t like what she’s doing with this Girl on Fire, but I love Unthinkable (I’m Ready). She would be giving me songs and that production, and there a few artists that were giving that whole feel in the music. I know we can only go so far. Usher, too, with this last album. I was like “Ohh I love Usher!” cause he was just so great at telling a story and his vocals were amazing, and he still had songs, but he still had young swag. But this album, he came very pop, and I’m like “Euugghh, god, Usheerr!” But I think he’s gonna realize, too, that “I better go back to songs.”
Singersroom: What advice would you give new artists for them to have longevity?
Karyn: Do their research and songs! Connect! I tell artists, don’t just write just cause it’s a trendy thing. Think about how this could affect somebody’s life, and that’s the kind of songs that are timeless. “Superwoman” was a movement of women, gave them a voice, changed a whole generation. So, you just wanna have songs that are timeless and everyone can relate to. Don’t just look at today when you’re writing songs. Like Stevie Wonder, his songs are just timeless. Every generation can sing these melodies and lyrics. Don’t buy into the quick, I call it, the hamburger. You can be a steak, or you can be a hamburger. You wanna be a steak, cause a hamburger’s only good while it’s hot. So you wanna be a steak, you wanna be an icon. The only way to do that is with songs and catalogs. And we’re so talented, especially, you know, musicians, black people, we get it. Just love what you do and do it for the right reasons. We gotta be accountable for the words that we say and what we sing about. Be an entrepreneur and help somebody. I just say support real music and help even these unsigned artists that are doing it themselves and support real music.
Singersroom: What was it like getting back into the studio after 17 years?
Karyn: Sometimes you gotta get out of your own way. I had to take voice lessons because I hadn’t been singing, it’s a muscle, if you don’t use it, you know. And it’s good for me to feel confident so I trained with the teacher on American Idol, she’s a voice coach, her name is Peisha McPhee, and I trained with her for like five months. That’s one thing about me, I definitely will do the work, so I just wanted to feel confident. My voice has gotten warmer which is great, cause I used to sing so high. And I like my tone cause it’s warmer and soulful. And actually, it was fun, cause I hated voice lessons before, but I’m a grown woman now so it became fun to learn. I was like a child, like “just teach me.” And it was cool cause before I used to have an attitude like “I don’t wanna take voice lessons. You’re gonna change my sound and make me sound proper.” But this time around, I approached like a craft and it really helped me. It helps with your [vocal] strength and helps you sing any kind of song, we all need it. And I’m going to be doing some stuff on Broadway and I wanna be able to show diversity so it helps with that.
Singersroom: So you’re auditioning or do you have something lined up already?
Karyn: Yeah! I’m gonna be auditioning. I hope to be doing that. You know how this industry is, you gotta wait until the deal closes. I learned that! I had a reality show on the table, a bunch of stuff, but until it happens, I’ll be like “Ok we’ll see!” (laughs).
Singersroom: Are you planning to tour?
Karyn: Yeah! In the States hopefully soon. Outside of the States, I’m going to South Africa and London. And I’ll be hitting some things in the States as the record grows. I’ll be doing small things, which I love, cause I love to connect. I think it’s cool to do a 200-seater and just connect with the people. I like the more intimate, so yup, I’ll be doing stuff. Whatever I’m doing, music downloads, rehearsals, videos, pictures, you can find it on my website at www.karynsworld.me. And I’m looking forward to seizing the day!
Karyn's new album Carpe Diem, is now in available.