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New Music Monday Interview: Karen Jonas Talks New Album, The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams

"I started collecting songs for this record and saw themes emerging - a shared setting in the Southwest, and stories about ambition without any resulting action. Stories about dream worlds. A collection of bright, imaginative songs emerged. We have the Last Cowboy, a faded local hero still hanging around his old haunt. Pink Leather Boots, where a trucker driving through West Texas falls madly in love with a stripper and then drives away without so much as a hello."

Thank you for chatting with us and congratulations on your fifth album The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams! For newer fans, how did your passion for music and career come about? I had that “A-ha!” moment people talk about - my dad played a Joni Mitchell record (Miles of Aisles) for me when I was  16 and I thought “well I’m not sure what she’s doing but I want to do THAT.” So I bought a guitar, and just haven’t quit. That’s the main thing. Keep going.

How was it filming the video for the opening track, "The Last Cowboy (at the Bowling Alley)?" I was so inspired to film this one at a bowling alley, and bring a Last Cowboy along. I didn’t take into account the fact that if you call a bowling alley and tell them you want to film a music video in front of their lanes, they are most likely very busy and most likely you should call back some other time or never. So, after a lot of failed attempts, our local AMF Bowling graciously agreed to host us, and we found the best Last Cowboy, a fella in town here names Davy Jennings.  We met at the AMF one Monday morning at 8:30 with our longtime director and friend Ryan Poe, and had it done by noon. Turns out the bowling alley really is surprisingly busy on a Monday morning. I love how it turned out.

What’s the story behind your album’s title? I was missing a line in the song "Maybe You’d Hear Me Then," and I was also missing an album title. I realized I could solve both problems if the missing line became the album title, so a lot of pondering and list making ensued and I ended up with the verse/album title: “you’re working some nine to five/making plans for a better life/The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams you’ll never find.” Bingo.

When/where do you do your best writing? I like to write in my head while I’m doing other things, like driving or walking or cooking or folding laundry. Then I mull it over for an hour or a day or a month and write it down when it’s ready. Songs about myself are usually faster, story songs sometimes take longer.

What’s your advice for young artists trying to establish a name for themselves? Especially young females that may see you as a role model?

Rule 1: keep going. 

Rule 2: don’t let people change you. 

Rule 3: let people help you. 

This is all much harder than it sounds.

Do you have any pre-show rituals? Tim and I tried to have a handshake for a while but that seemed trite and hard to remember. So usually we just have a drink.

Finally, if you could share a meal with any four individuals, living or dead, who would they be? That feels like a lot of pressure and I’m not sure if I’d enjoy myself, plus the social anxiety after the meal would be outrageous. But heck, let’s get Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Paul Simon at a table together. I’ll just listen.

Karen Jonas’ fifth album The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams is a flashback-fueled fever dream of Americana songcraft and storytelling. Taking the vast desert expanses of the American Southwest as her backdrop, Jonas embroiders small-town snapshots into vivid explorations of our inner struggle between ambition and inaction.

The Virginia singer-songwriter’s most accomplished and evocative expression to date, The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams captures that aching space between romantic dreamstate and numb reality like few before.

“It’s amazing that our brains are capable of sustaining this whole existence of imagination … of these dreams and goals and ambitions,” mulled Jonas, chatting from her Fredericksburg home. “But sometimes that’s enough. Because sometimes the action isn’t really critical to get you through the day.”

Drawing from memories of love-struck travels around desert California in a converted Greyhound bus, and scribbled notes taken between tour stops in dusty West Texas, The Southwest Sky and Other Dreams overlays relatable characters and circumstances with the fathomless mystery of the human condition. Astonishingly articulate and atmospheric, it turns the desert’s dichotomous sense of endless space and counterintuitive claustrophobia – both actual and imagined – into a profoundly lucid metaphor that lingers long after its final notes.


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