Karmilla - Interview
published: 8 / 3 / 2016
Nick Dent-Robinson speaks to Henley-on-Thames singer-songwriter Camilla Jurasek about her musical project Karmilla's forthcoming debut album, 'Early Workings of an Open Mind'
Karmilla is the stage-name for Berkshire singer-songwriter Camilla Jurasek. She describes it as an “umbrella” name that she uses for solo projects, appearances with her band and for the new album, 'Early Workings of an Open Mind', which Camilla has just completed at Henwood Studios near Wallingford. When I met 31 year-old Camilla and her husband Tom at their home near Henley-on-Thames, we talked about her past fifteen years of writing and performing music. She explained how this has culminated in the creation of Karmilla and the recording of her album with top producer, Pete Brown. “I have always loved music,” Camilla began. “I am from a large family and, though nobody was especially musical, there was always a diverse range of music being played in different rooms in my childhood home near Wargrave. My dad loved jazz and classical. He was from Vienna, though the name Jurasek is Czech. My dad died about nine years ago and I've hung on to my maiden name Jurasek, partly as a tribute to his memory. My dad came to England as a businessman and subsequently met my mum in the late 1970s. She liked classic 1960s pop...the Beatles etc. And my sisters between them liked various different kinds of music - including heavy metal, grunge and indie. My sister Charlotte - she's ten years older – liked Oasis and it was she who first took me to see live bands at festivals and local gigs. I still remember seeing Travis at Reading University who were fantastic." “When my older twin sisters Alice and Melissa had guitar lessons at home I'd listen outside the door,” Camilla continued. “Eventually, when I was about eleven, Alice lost interest and dropped out and my parents let me take over her guitar lesson. So that's how I started learning electric guitar. I loved practising chords but was less keen on scales and never wanted to play lead guitar. The first song I learned was 'Wonderwall' by Oasis. I was so excited I immediately played it down the phone to my friend!” Camilla quietly persisted with her guitar playing and her interest in music evolved during her time at her private school – Cranford House in Moulsford, near Wallingford. “Cranford House is a lovely school and they were so encouraging,” Camilla recalled. “I learned to sight-read music in the choir there and had my first vocal tuition, too. I opted not to take formal music exams, though I started trying to write songs at that time." “Then, when I went on to Reading College of Arts and Design, I started to listen to a lot more music by 1990s artists. I also began appreciating the older bands like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC and others from the1960s and 1970s who had inspired people from the 1990s. The song-writing of many of those earlier artists impressed me and I enjoyed the sound of real live music. In fact people comment that my music now has rather a 1990s sound - which makes sense because I listened so much to music at that time. I also came to appreciate female vocalists like Elkie Brooks, Eva Cassidy, Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt and some of Janis Joplin's work. I admire the singer Liane Carroll - I could listen to her all day - as well as Paul Rodgers and Robert Plant who have both had an influence on me." “I met my future husband, Tom Farrelly, at Reading College,” Camilla continued. “We've been friends ever since but didn't get together as a couple until seven years after we met. We married three years ago. He is a drummer and singer-songwriter and we played in various bands over the years. I wrote lyrics for tunes the rest of the band composed. About ten years ago one of the bands was signed and we recorded a really professional, high quality EP at Metropolis Studios in Chiswick. But we were very young and it didn't quite work out. I gained a lot from the whole experience, though - and all the time my song-writing skills were gradually developing. I was learning how to observe more, take things in and develop little stories and themes.” Camilla continued writing, singing and playing music with a range of people at a variety of venues - large and small - whenever there was an opportunity. She also developed a second career as a professional gardener, working in the grounds of several beautiful homes in the Henley area. “I really enjoy my gardening work,” Camilla said. “I've always liked the outdoors and the work fits well with my musical life. There's something quite life-affirming and inspirational about being in a beautiful garden and working with plants and the soil....sometimes ideas for new songs just come to me when I am gardening.” Then, having married Tom, Camilla started to focus on her ambition to record her own album as Karmilla. “I realised that, with all the changes happening in the music industry, the old way of getting signed and having a big record company invest in your album was becoming almost impossible. So I decided to use my savings and find a local studio to record my own album. I'd heard about the local young jazz saxophonist Joe Henwood's new Henwood Studios near Wallingford and went over to see him. By sheer chance Pete Brown just happened to be there that day. After Pete and I had talked for a short while, I knew we were both totally on the same wavelength and I really wanted him to produce my album. Luckily he agreed - and I could hardly believe how fortunate I'd been in finding him. He is a fantastic musician on such a range of instruments and was so quick to pick up on my ideas and make everything work so well. “Mind you, I have to confess that at first I didn't realise just how well-connected and experienced Pete was. One day I was listening to some of the material he had recorded previously and I said, 'That person playing the ukulele sounds really cool' and Pete said, 'Oh, yes, that's my dad'. It was only after that when it clicked that Pete was Joe Brown's son and Sam Brown's brother! Pete thought that was very funny! And of course it emerged that Pete has worked not just with his dad and Sam but with everyone from Sade to Mark Knopfler to Pink Floyd and George Harrison...quite amazing, really. No surprise he is so good at everything he does.” The new Karmilla album is an entertaining listen! Supporting Camilla's lead vocals and acoustic guitar is her husband Tom on percussion, Alex Kaupa on guitar with the talented Rob Jacques on bass guitar. Plus Pete Brown himself plays electric/slide guitar, mandolin, ukulele, acoustic and electric lapsteel guitar. He contributed backing vocals too. The production values are strong throughout whilst the instrumentation and arrangements are sophisticated providing the perfect complement to Camilla's clever lyrics and her sometimes poignant, sometimes powerful vocal delivery. There is what Camilla describes as “a fantastic drum influence” from her husband Tom through every track and, as Camilla stressed to me, every note on the record is played live, for real. There are no computerised drum beats or clever electronic short cuts here! The album cover's artwork by Chris Gibbs is particularly attractive. Camilla must be very happy with the whole package? “I am,” Camilla agreed. “I like artwork on albums. One of the beautiful things about the old vinyl LPs was that there was so much space on the cover for fine artwork - and the album cover was very important. Even on CDs the artwork matters to me and I do like Chris's design.” There is no title track for the album. In fact Camilla thought of the name for the album before many of the songs on it were written. But she might pen a song with that name eventually. “I do think 'Early Workings of an Open Mind' would be a good song title. Perhaps one day when I'm working in a garden the lyrics will come to me,” Camilla mused. Camilla is going to release a single from the album, though. That will be 'Leave Me To Me' - an attractive song and a perfect choice for separate release. Other highlights on her album are 'Roads of Old' which concludes with a beautiful piece of mandolin playing to lead into the album's final song, 'Alone with Dark'. And Camilla's Corpo Collapso track is her tongue in cheek comment on the power of 21st century global corporations. So what plans are there to promote 'Early Workings of an Open Mind'? “We are launching the album at RYND which is one of Reading's busier small music venues. There will be a separate launch a little earlier for the single, 'Leave Me to Me' and that will be at Reading's Sun Inn, one of the oldest pubs in the town. I am looking at possible distribution deals. There will be some gigs too and I hope to get some radio airplay. I may also go to Florida where I have a friend in music. Tom and I were in Philadelphia last year and the scale and quality of the music scene there was amazing. We are keen to return to America." “Mind you, I am very happy living here in the Thames Valley. It is the perfect area for us - beautiful countryside but convenient for travel to London, Oxford, Bath or Bristol and there are just so many valuable contacts in the music business around - especially in the Henley area. Tom and I are very content here...and that is the most important thing. The new Karmilla album, 'Early Workings of an Open Mind', is released in May by Oil Drum Records Ltd. Photographs by Bob Crockett.
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