QSC Aspiring Interview: Karin Ann’s ‘for a moment’ insists time isn’t a healer

Slovakian alt-pop artist Karin Ann (aka Eastern Europe’s answer to Billie Eilish) is fast becoming a Gen-Z icon, is the first ever Slovak artist to feature on a giant billboard in New York’s Times Square, and she’s not shy about standing up for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. She explains why it was very difficult for her to be herself in her conservative hometown, and why being tired of people saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” inspired her new emotive pop-ballad, for a moment.

What were your musical influences as a child that have shaped your sound?

I listened to so many things growing up because I used to do figure skating, dance and ballet, and there were certain guidelines about what type of music you were allowed. It was mostly instrumental and classical music, so mainly instrumental soundtracks. 

But also my mum is really big on musicals, so I grew up listening to a lot of Czech musicals, because my mum is Czech. She also really loved Queen, so I grew up on Queen and The Beatles. 

I grew up on the Disney Channel too, so since I was five I was like, ‘This is what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna sing an act. It's my thing’. Everybody was like, ‘No, you won't’. So I put it aside until later. Then I started having my own mind and own taste, and that's when I branched out a little bit.

You started writing music when you were just 14. Can you remember your early songs?

I actually wrote a poem first when I was in third grade, and it was horrible! Then I ended up writing a full song with music and melodies and everything when I was 14 – I never want to hear it again! [laughs]. But it's like a cool part of my life, you know? 

It's kind of like having a diary. You look back on it and you're like, ‘Jesus Christ, this is horrible!’ But it's a chapter in your life.

I have anxiety and mental health issues so if I think of something as a big deal, I freak myself out about it.

How have you evolved into the artist you are today?

I think it's still evolving – it's always going to be evolving. As long as it comes from you and your authentic self, I think that's going to show no matter what genre or no matter what kind of pattern in music you choose – no matter the structure of the song, or no matter if it's pop, rock or whatever. 

As long as it comes from you and you’re being authentic to yourself, I think there is a signature to your sound no matter what. Genre-wise, it's always going to be changing. I don't think I'm going to ever stick to just one thing.

Which song are you most proud of writing?

I have this song that I just filmed the music video for that’s going to be coming out in a couple of months that I'm really proud of and that I really really love. I'm very self critical and usually whenever I have a song out I'm like, ‘Oh my God, this could have been better; I could have done this better, I could have said this better.’ But with this song I was like, ‘I actually like this’. So I'm really proud of that song.

You have opened for YUNGBLUD, Imagine Dragons, My Chemical Romance and Alfie Templeman, and have received support from BBC Radio 1 in a relatively short space of time. How have you adapted to this sudden success?

It's been nonstop since I put out my first song… it's been very gradual, but somehow very fast! I put out my first song in English in the summer of 2020, which obviously was during the pandemic, and I think thanks to that people picked up on it a lot faster because people were at home. 

Everything has been snowballing since and I honestly have not really had a break, so I had to take a little bit of a step back to reevaluate a lot of things because of my health. 

I think I'm still finding the balance, to be honest. I'm still learning how to navigate this and how to make sure that my health is a priority – mental and physical.

You were featured in Spotify’s 2021 EQUAL campaign for women in music, which saw you become the first ever Slovak artist to feature on a giant billboard in New York’s Times Square! Has that sunk in yet?

When I found out it was very surreal. They were like, ‘Yeah, you're gonna be on a billboard,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, sure. Definitely, I believe you,’ and they were sending me pictures and videos. Some part of me thought it was photoshopped, like fake news. It was very surreal and hard to believe. 

I think I'm still a little bit like, ‘No, it didn't happen!’ Because I don't think your brain can compute that. But obviously, I'm very grateful and it was a big honour. It's just that I don't like to think of things as being big because otherwise they stress me out. 

I have anxiety and mental health issues so if I think of something as a big deal, I freak myself out about it. So I'm always like, ‘It's just another Tuesday.’ Literally, that's how I had to look at it because otherwise I would be stressing out about it.

I grew up in a very conservative, closed minded place; if I didn't see the outside perspective, I don't think I would be here.

You’re an outspoken advocate of the LGBTQ+ community and minority rights, and your lyrics tackle themes of gender equality, mental health and human rights. What led you to take such a stance here?

I think it's because I grew up in a very conservative place, a very closed minded place. I think it could have gone either one of two ways: either I would become like that and be very against anything like equality and would be like, ‘The world doesn't need changing’. Or it could have gone the way it did go, which is the opposite. It could be either extreme – it could not be a middle ground when you grow up in a very closed-minded place like that. It also helped that I have two sisters that are both very much the same as me – they're both very caring and very outspoken about these things. One of the few upsides of social media is that it puts a lot of things into perspective. I was like, ‘If people in the world can function differently and it works, why should I stay here and feel so alone and closed off?’ Honestly, if I didn't have that influence from social media and didn't see the outside perspective, I don't think I would be here; I don't think I would be able to handle it. It's sad and kind of dark but I'm really grateful that I live in a generation that cares about these things and is open to talking about these things, and that we as artists can start talking about it. I try to do my part.

Let’s talk about your brand new pop ballad, for a moment. When did this song start to take shape?

It's been in the works for a while. I really like this song – it's one of my favourites. I really like what I talk about in it. It was very interesting how it came up as well, because I had a session and I didn't know what to write about. It actually was supposed to be called something else, but I won't say the name because I think I might use it for a different project. So that's a little easter egg…

People look at it like: The more trauma you have on your plate, the stronger you are – which is just not the truth.

With lyrics like, ‘What didn’t kill me never made me stronger, time doesn't heal anything, it just makes you forget’ – can you tell us about the inspiration behind the lyrics?

I didn't know what to write about – nothing was really coming to my head. In my phone I always have my notes app that I fill with random sentences that I come back to at some point, especially in the moments where I don't feel inspired at all.

I looked at it and I had written down those words, and I was like, ‘That's true’. I don't like that people put this pressure on if you go through something terrible that you're supposed to forget about it because it just makes you stronger. Like no, it didn't! It gives you so many issues and you would have been so much better off otherwise! 

I'm not saying it doesn't make you who you are, but I'm saying it gives you trauma, it gives you issues, it gives you things that you have to work through and deal with.

It's not something that you can just be like, ‘Yeah, guys, I'm so much cooler now because I went through this.’ People look at it like, The more trauma you're able to have on your plate, the stronger you are,’ which is just not the truth at all. The song is about taking the pressure off of having to feel strong if something hurts. It's about taking steps towards healing and being conscious of the fact that you've been through something bad and that you want to get better.

So you take conscious steps towards healing because healing doesn't just happen because a year has passed. Healing happens because you are able to look back on it and reevaluate. 

Think about how you feel and feel how you feel, you know? If you need to cry, cry. If you need to break something, go to a rage room and break something and deal with it head on. Don't put it on the back burner, because that never ends well.

Are you releasing any other music this year you can tell us about?

I am working on a lot of things…I'm working on new songs, music videos and some exciting things. I'm working on a bigger project as well, but I don't think that's going to come out just yet. 

But it might be called what the song I’ve got coming out was supposed to be called originally, which is somewhere in the lyrics. So if people are bored and want to try and figure it out, they can! [laughs]. I'm just working on a lot of things but I'm mostly working on trying to balance my life right now.