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Karyn Ellis's website
Karyn Ellis's website
Karyn Ellis's website

About Karyn

If you're looking for the official biography, please scroll down the page or click here for a downloadable pdf of Karyn Ellis' biography. You'll find the details about my career: where I've played, who I've played with, charting information and all that formal stuff you may need to know. But for those of you who are perhaps curious about me as a person... how / why I do what I do, I thoughtI'd introduce myself by way of a first person autobiography. By no means is it complete, but off the top of my head...

Let's see. Hi, I'm Karyn. I have been singing and making music for as long as I can remember. I love it.

As a young girl faced with the chore of washing dinner dishes, I would make up tunes to pass the time. On long car rides, I'd hum. We had a family friend who used to be the official singer of the national anthem during the Canadiennes hockey games, and there is even a photograph of him and me singing "Oh Canada" together in the family room. Apparently after that I continued to belt the anthem out at the top of my lungs every time I used the facilities. But I will neither confirm nor deny that.

When I was nine I entered a singing contest while on a family vacation at one of those all-in deals in Guataloupe. I won first prize! I sang an acapella version of "Hey Little Bird" by Sandy Oppenheim, my favourite kid's singer at the time. Google it, it's cute. I remember the sensation of my voice in the microphone being thrown across the room, and the visual hush over the room caused by the bright lights shining on me. I thought to myself, "I like this!"

Incidentally around that same time, my sister and I made a super-8 movie called "The Magician" starring *me* (my sister, who is older, naturally wanted to be the director). We used the fancy feature of stop & start filming to create *magic* on film, you know... beds being made and doors opening by themself, that sort of stuff. I wish I knew where that film was because I'd love to post it.

My mother was self-professed tone deaf, whereas my father was a big audiophile, particularly for classical and jazz music. He was always playing Mozart and Peterson and going on about the fidelity of the recordings and so forth. There was a piano in the house, and he would play "Fur Elise" and songs by all the big B greats. Don't get me wrong, this music was excellent, but I confess I grew up a bit of a music snob having absorbed his attitude that "composers" were the stuff of true genius whereas "popular songwriters" were ...well.. popular. I even studied opera in University for a couple of years, until the disparity between what I was learning and what I truly loved... singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen... became too much for me and I quit.

I did squeak out a BA in music, but myreal musical education happened around the campfires of folk festivals, the streets where I busked for several years and in the pop-records I sang along with over and over again until I had every inflection down.

It was about the time that I quit University that I took up guitar. In fact, I bought my very first guitar - a classical - in a pawn shop in Athens, Greece while I was backpacking around Europe. (Later I traded it for a violin, an instrument I've yet to master.) I learned to sing a few songs on guitar and started busking to pay for hostels and trains. This is when I wrote my very first song, a tender tune about a butterfly. I think this set the tone for most of my future writing... which has tended to be somewhat poignant and sad.

Despite my early ambitions of being a super star (fed by my glorious first place in that singing contest), I didn't really think much about becoming a "professional musician". I figured you got discovered and famous and that was that. I didn't realize you had to, like, practise or anything. So, for many years I worked odd jobs cleaning, waiting tables, stocking a needle exchange, selling Christmas trees in New York City, writing and performing singing telegrams while waiting for the day my break would come. Occasionally I played shows, often for rooms full of friends, but mostly I ignored music while I attempted to sort out what I wanted to be when i grew up.

Fast forward a few years, of me slogging odd jobs and flirting with music and songwriting, and I found myself unemployed. Luckily I was able to get a grant to go to a music management school, where I learned that it was possible to both love music and make it your "profession" at the same time. I became an entrepreneur... opening my own label/managment company called "Mathilde's Home Productions", which I still operate today. I even started practising regularly.

While I was at school, I recorded some songs in their studio with some fellow students helming the board. I later got these tracks professionally mixed & mastered, and they became part of my first album "Bird". Okay, those of you who know me know that I actually recorded two other albums before that... "Inside and Back" and "Telling Stories". (Actually three if you include "Who Needs To Be Big", a live recording of a band called the Loud Sisters that I fronted while living in Peterborough.) I don't include those in my discography, though, because I think of them more like journal entries than actual records. That's just me.

I must say it was pretty AMAZING the first time I heard that my song had been played on CBC radio. I still have the phone message that my friend Heather left me excitedly telling me she'd just heard it on Richardson's Round Up, a CBC Radio 1 program that aired nationally. Suddenly I felt like I was a *real* recording artist, and I started touring Canada and also writing a new record called "Hearts Fall", which I put out two years later in 2006. I did even more touring across Canada.

At that point I started to think ahead to record number three. I decided that unlike previous albums, which were mostly live-off-the-floor sorts of recordings sans producer, that I would make a bonafide studio album for the next one. This explains the four year gap till the release of "Even Though The Sky Was Falling". I really wanted to take my time with and enjoy the studio and the production of it. I spent a year writing the songs and another 15 months arranging & recording it. And I'm glad I didn't rush, despite my inner critic urging me to oh-just-get-on-with-it-already. It took exactly the right amount of time, and I'm pleased with how it turned out.

So now this new year brings the exciting and nervewracking adventures of putting the album out into the world and seeing how people respond to it. Today I was totally touched to discover that someone had tweeted an excerpt of my lyrics on their twitter stream. To me that is the biggest honour, that something I write inspires others to share.

Hmm, that was my freely associated autobiography dated January 22, 2010 - time 6:45pm EST. I know it's missing some essential things... like how I was born in London England; I grew up in Toronto, Montreal, New Jersey and Kingston Ontario. That I love dagwood sandwiches and don't love olives, that most of my musical influences are friends of mine who are amazing Toronto musicians, and so forth. But I think I'm done for now. I gotta go grab supper. I will get back to you with more details later. Till then, go ahead and read my fancy "official" bio, if you like. I wrote that one too.

Hey... here are a couple of nice quotes about my singing. Feels good!

"[S]he shows the kind of vocal agility that only the greatest possess. Moreover, her eclectic approach to failed loves and her songs about burning desire offer the best imaginable play ground for this." CrtlAltCountry.be / Benny Metten
"[I]t is Karyn’s voice that carries the music to singular heights. Under the surface of her folky vocals, there hides a youthful playfulness and sensuality. It is this contrast that makes her music so pleasing. And how beautiful the phrasing! Karyn sings neither sentences nor words, but syllables. She carefully weighs and reweighs each one on her tongue, only then hesitantly lets them out: in this you see the true folk singer." Rootstime.be / Frank Celis

About Karyn: the "official" bio

Karyn Ellis is the name to watch for in the upcoming year in music. “Eloquent and original" (Kerry Doole, Tandem Magazine), the Toronto-based artist has emerged on the Canadian roots pop scene with her brand new full-length album Even Though The Sky Was Falling as her impressive calling card.

Released in November 2009, Even Though The Sky Was Falling is already garnering attention, appearing on CHARTattack Staff Top 10 Album Lists For 2009, campus charts in Ontario including CIUT Toronto’s top-30, and National CBC programs such as Radio 2 Morning and Deep Roots.

Even Though The Sky Was Falling features ten original songs rife with catchy melodies and smart lyrics that are at once deceptively whimsical and profoundly resonant. As Karyn describes it, her music “cracks open melancholy and infuses it with sweetness.”

Brought over as a babe-in-arms from the UK, Karyn Ellis grew up in Ontario in a household steeped in jazz and classical music. She studied two years of opera in University and through high school played trumpet in the marching band. She spent hours singing along to records by her favourite classic singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and she was also a devout fan of David Bowie and the Beatles. These influences gave her a solid, eclectic musical foundation and enriched her distinctive style.

As a performer, she exudes an energy and presence reminiscent of Sam Phillips, Regina Spektor, Sarah Slean, while her voice has drawn comparisons to Feist and Norah Jones. Comparisons aside, Karyn Ellis is immediately and recognizably her own artist. Voted “Most Original New Voice” in 2007 by Humber College songwriting faculty that included artists Danny Michel, Dahmnait Doyle and US songwriter, Jules Shear, Karyn Ellis was shortlisted in 2009 and 2010 for the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award, administered by the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals and Ontario Arts Council. Additionally, she was one of five finalists from Ontario in the David Suzuki Playlist for the Planet Songwriting Contest through CBC Radio 3 and also received an Honourable Mention in the 2010 IMA Songwriting Contest.

The arrangements on Even Though The Sky Was Falling offer many inventive delights for the ear including performances by a dozen and a half top Toronto musicians and singers who add acoustic and electric guitars, piano, vocal harmonies, finger snaps, hand claps, banjo, glockenspiel, a trio of strings as well as orchestral horns arranged by Creaking Tree String Quartet’s Brian Kobayakawa. The album stays cohesive under the creative watch of Karyn Ellis and award-winning co-producer Don Kerr, known for his work with Ron Sexsmith, Peter Elkas and the Rheostatics.

ETSWF is galvanizing not only the music community’s interest in Karyn, but also fan support for this determined indie artist. She raised over six thousand dollars in the first few weeks of her “Fundraisin’ the Roof” campaign for the record. To do this, she invited people to “sponsor” the record in increments of fifty dollars and / or pre-order the CD to help cover costs of tracking the record. Over six months before its scheduled release, people from across North America and as far away as Germany responded to the request, expressing keen desire to make sure the record got made.

In November 2009, Karyn played a series CD release concerts to full houses across southern Ontario to release Even Though The Sky Was Falling, starting the groundswell for her new album; she follows up late spring 2010 with a second launch tour. Karyn has toured across Canada several times with her previous album Hearts Fall, which saw substantial CBC playlisting both nationally and regionally on programs such as The Vinyl Café, Bandwidth, Here and Now, and Radio International. Her roosty live off-the-floor album charted nationally on campus Top-50 and folk/roots/blues Top-20 charts and spent six months on campus radio charts across Canada including five weeks on CIUT Toronto top-30 topping at #3 and reaching #18 on CKUA radio Network (Alberta).

Her music has appeared on playlists as a far as Australia and across Europe, receiving high praise in several of Europe's online music magazines as well as a Top-Ten DJ pick for album of the year from a prominent alt-country website 3voor12 webradio in the Netherlands. Here in Canada Karyn has shared stages with Hawksley Workman, Jill Barber, Geoff Berner, Little Miss Higgins, Annabelle Chvostek, Justin Rutledge, Luke Doucet and Madison Violet, to name a few, and she has lent her voice to a number of recording projects including those by Treasa Levasseur, Rob Szabo, Evalyn Parry and Kerri Ough of The Good Lovelies. Karyn has appeared at the New Waves Festival in conjunction with Luminato, Edmonton’s NextFest, Waynefest and The Peterborough Music Festival Main Stage.

Several of her songs have been placed in TV and films including “Robson Arms”  (Omni Productions) aired on CTV, Bravo and the Comedy Network; UK filmmaker Gareth Griffith’s “Happy Fridays”, which appeared at Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner in 2008; and Stand Alone’s “What is Indie” by filmmaker Dave Cool distributed by the National Film Board of Canada.

Fans of roots music are already embracing Karyn Ellis’ previous two recordings, and this new album will continue to please those listeners. Packed with strong, memorable songs such as “Bittergrasses”, “Be My Girl”, “Little Grey Sparrow” and the title track, “Even Though the Sky Was Falling (One Beautiful Day)”, Even Though The Sky Was Falling promises to crossover to a wide audience, engaging old and new fans alike. Expect big things from this album, and from this emerging artist as the new record circulates in 2010.