Healing Heartbreak Through Song: A conversation with Karlia - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

I first saw Karlia in a little kitchen in North Philly. The house was packed with a line out the door, people flooding in and out and crowding by the windows to get a glimpse of the lush R&B emanating from inside. By the time my friends and I were ushered in, she was wrapping up her set, but I’ll never forget that it was Karlia that introduced me to Philly’s vibrant DIY scene.

That concert was over two years ago now, and Karlia has only grown in that time. She’s headlined a showcase for Plaze and performed at World Cafe Live on multiple occasions, recorded a Key Studio Session at WXPN, worked with Philly-turned-LA band Rubber (a favorite of hers) on a live charity event, dropped three singles in the last year, and has now released her debut EP, In Time. 

Karlia draws from the deep roots of Philadelphia soul, adding jazz guitars, affable pop hooks, and an enduring indie mentality to the classic sounds of the city…only she has a voice that soars like Alicia Keys circa 2001. With just a brief foray into her discography it is immediately clear that she is a star in the making. Between her angelic voice and a mind that effortlessly derives the most sweetly surprising and ear-catching melodies, Karlia was born to sing.

She’s been writing songs since she was 15, but came to Philadelphia to study Biology; not to pursue a career in music. It was freshman year when she met her now co-songwriter, producer, and lead guitarist Nathaniel Lemisch. Flash forward six years, and Karlia has replaced her mCAT prep books with stage lights and microphones. Those early moments, though, are where our conversation about her journey and her new EP began.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Gavyn Green: What did life look like before music? Was there a catalyst event that started everything for you?

Karlia: Growing up, it was always a given that I was going to go into a bit more of a practical job field. My parents worked hard and that’s where they wanted me to go. I’m still working towards that. But music is really on my forefront right now. I started writing at 15, and at that time I didn’t really take it seriously. But when I got to school, I met my co-songwriter Nathaniel, and he had this whole demo ready that was going to have another singer on it. They didn’t end up doing it. I was like, “Hey, I’ll do it. Give it to me.”

I wrote “Violet” and we released it. That was the first song I had ever done. Now that I am out of school, I really have the time to work on music, and now is the time to double down and focus on it.

GG: Tell me more about Nathaniel, what roles does he take on as the other half of Karlia?

K: It’s been six years now of making music together. He is my producer, my engineer, he mixes and masters everything we put out, he’s my co-songwriter, and most importantly my friend. He’s somebody that I trust with my vulnerability when it comes to writing. I can’t do it without my band for sure, but I especially cannot do it without him.

Karlia - Waiting On You

GG: The lead single for the EP, “Crazy,” is already out. The latest single “Waiting on You” came out earlier this month. How did those songs come about? Was there any reason you picked those to represent the EP before its release?

K: With “Crazy” it was what I would call a more commercially appealing song. It was definitely giving Alicia Keys vocals. “Waiting on You” was more of an indie-bossa, R&B style tune. It reminds me a lot of a Hope Tala or Eloise song. I remember when I wrote that song; sometimes I will just have these blackout episodes and I will sit in my car and afterwards I won’t even remember what happened. I sang the melody all the way through with nothing behind it. Nathaniel hates when I do this…makes his life difficult. There’s another song on the EP, and that’s the same way that that song came about, and it’s my favorite song so I think it’s a good method.

GG: Do you find that those are the best songs; when you have those “a ha” moments?

K: Absolutely. Those are definitely some of my favorite songs we’ve made. Sometimes I’m just at my keyboard and I get into these really nice flow states where it’s like I’m conscious, but also I’m very disconnected from what feels to be the world. My emotions are there, but I’m not. It all comes flowing out and it’s just so great, and afterwards I feel so relieved.

GG: What does the EP represent to you as a whole? Are there any songs that stand out as a good overview of the emotions that went into creating the project?

K: The EP itself represents an entire portion of my life. It reminds me of my college experience. And so all of the songs I feel extremely connected to. I can imagine that in the future I will write songs like that again, but this project in particular just feels so personal. It feels like I dug into my chest and dug out a little piece of my heart and put it on a plate.

The project talks a lot about my first heartbreak and how I dealt with it over a year or so. The words came so naturally because I was going through phases of “This is how I feel at this point. This is how I feel at this point. I’m angry, I’m upset, or I’m happy that this has ended. I’m accepting that it’s over.” Every song, every emotion that accompanied each song, I remember hitting me like a wave. And then after that the songs were just there. I don’t know what happened.

GG: Are there any concurrent themes that are running through the EP?

K: The EP in a more personal sense was really just a way of me learning to heal my own heartbreak. So each song represents just the ebb and flow of accepting and processing not just romantic relationships, but any kind of relationship that has ended and that has hit me in the heart. It’s closing past chapters and being open to new beginnings.

It’s why I made “Save Room’ the final track on the EP. That song was when I decided to let go and allow myself to move on, accept what it was, and realize the pain is just a sting. It dulls away. You don’t feel it until something brings it up, but that’s okay. And then with “I Feel It” being the opening track…I thought that was a really powerful track because of all of these sparkling bells and big noises in the beginning, but that song is quite literally about how this is done, this is over. In Time is the culmination of everything and the beginning of something else.

GG:So with the EP marking the beginning of something new, what does the future look like for Karlia?

K: After this EP is out, I want to work on new music and build up a batch of songs that I’m truly proud of; then release a single every so often in a consistent schedule. The marketing for these things is such a pain in the butt. So I want to take some time and  dedicate myself to writing because, I mean, really, it can be draining. You don’t want to work on the music as much, and you have to remind yourself that this is what you’re truly passionate about, so I’m really excited to let go of this EP and pump some new music out. I also want to work on building a solid image of who I am. I think that’s something I’ve struggled with in the past, and this EP is the start of building that up.

Karlia | photo by Delaney Hardekopf | courtesy of the artist

GG: With it being so difficult to get your music heard as an independent artist these days, how did you go about marketing the EP to ensure a strong release?

K: I had the chance to work with a really talented videographer, his name is Thomas, and my photographer friend Delaney [Hardekopf]. What we did for the EP was three separate photoshoots all themed about flowers. I really was into this idea of having each shoot be connected in some way, yet feel different. So the first shoot, we did red flowers. For the second shoot I thought, ‘Oh, this song sounds really pink and orange to me, and so on.’ For the album art itself, I wanted to emphasize that idea of new beginnings and growth so we combined all the flowers and did a color bomb. I think it came out really great. I’ve been trying to put out content with each release, staying consistent on social media…I hate social media, It’s the bane of my life. It’s so draining but you have to do it. Nature of the beast.

I used to think that I needed to look and present myself in a certain way to follow trends and make sure that I appeal more to a general audience, but somewhere in the EP process I realized I just want to make the music I want to make. I’m going to be genuine and true to who I am regardless of what the trend is at the time. All I really want to do is have my niche little audience that I write music for; that they resonate with, and that’s it. That’s all I need in this life. So I only do the things that feel real to myself and whoever is attracted to it is attracted to it, and I hope that will create a good picture of who I am.

GG: If you could send one message to your audience, what would it be?

K: If I could send one message to my audience I would say that music sometimes doesn’t come easy to me. Sometimes it’s difficult to feel confident putting how I’m feeling out there for anyone to listen. So to anybody that listens, supports, resonates, anything of that nature, it literally means the world to know that there is somebody that is like, “Oh I like that song,” or “Oh, I feel that.” So thanks, guys. Love you.

Karlia’s In Time is out today. Listen below, and check out Karlia’s Key Studio Session. For more information on her upcoming live shows and releases, follow her at @karliamusic.

Karlia - The Key Studio Sessions (Full Set)
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