Welcome, to my first installment of Over | Under which is a new feature on the blog that shines the spotlight each month on talented women from all walks of life. Style comes in many forms, and strikes at any age, so I thought it would be fun to connect you, the reader, to a brilliant new style-maven that I’ve had the distinct pleasure to cross paths with. So, without further adieu – let’s get on with my first interview!
As fate would have it, in August 2014 I was lucky enough to find myself seated in a chair at Mercer Street Salon. At the time, I was suffering from one of the worst haircuts of my life. Which says a lot considering I’ve been on the search for a new stylist more than a dozen times over the course of my marriage. Each time my household packed up and moved to our new destination it was it was an exercise in patience while we located doctors, dentists, even the local grocery or target (if they had one.) But finding a fabulous hairstylist is an arduous task that is not for the faint of heart. One false snip of the scissors and, well, disaster can strike. The good news is hair grows back. Even better news is that talented stylists do exist. So, it was with great pleasure (and a little relief my search was over) to meet the very talented Karmen Buttler all those months ago. It goes without saying that Karmen is at the top of her game at Mercer Street Salon, thrice named to Elle magazines Top 100 Salons in the country – she happens to be the Director of Leadership and Development. For those of you following my blog it’s obvious this girl knows how to wield a pair of scissors, and is more than competent with a blow dryer. I can’t tell you how many compliments I receive daily on how fab my hair looks! But there’s another side to Karmen that I wanted to share with my readers, and the minute I asked if she would consider being my debut artist for a new feature called Over | Under she didn’t hesitate for a minute with her answer. Drum roll please as I introduce my debut artist: the very talented singer, songwriter, guitarist – Karmen Buttler.
Karmen, first question for our reading audience. Are you over or under the age of forty?
Under. I’m thirty-five.
You work full time at Mercer Salon as a hairstylist. What does working on your music allows that a salaried job doesn’t?
For me, writing and creating music provides a pretty solitary experience, which allows a certain kind of connection to my own inspiration and energy. Once a song comes alive I’ll often play it, perform it, etc., in which case it becomes a thing that is a shared experience, but the writing process is a very quiet, alone kind of thing. In the early stages of the process I’m really just drawing on my own inspiration and instinct, verses bouncing ideas off someone else. Writing is a solo kind of collaboration… if that’s even possible!
What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?
There are always choices. You always have choices!
Which instruments do you play?
Guitar primarily. Many moons ago I was a clarinet and flute player…I was also the Assistant drum major of my high school marching band, which is hilarious.
Describe your family member’s musical interests and abilities?
My family is very musical and I grew up surrounded by instruments and players of all kinds. On both sides of my family my grandparents and great grandparents were musicians of varying abilities. my mom is lover of music and has a beautiful singing voice. She sang to me a lot when I was little, and loves to sing to this day. On my dad’s side of the family all of my uncles, my aunt, and most importantly my dad were, and still are, very experienced, talented players and songwriters. Our tastes and styles vary to some degree, but we’ve always shared a pretty strong blues thread and a deep appreciation for the craft of songwriting. I like to say that my dad could write a song about absolutely anything. And when I asked him recently before a show if he minded playing through someone else’s amplifier he said, “I could play an elephant trunk through a pineapple” which pretty much sums it up.
What would you tell your 20something self if you could?
You always, always have choices! And, you are not in a race. That one I need reminding of still. 😉
You perform before a live audience, how do you handle mistakes during a performance?
Making a mistake during a live show used to really disturb me. It would cause this permanent glitch in the experience that I wouldn’t be able to shake, and everything that followed would suffer. Eventually I learned that my job as a performer is to focus my attention on my guests- the audience- and to make it a truly genuine experience for them, spontaneity, mistakes, and all. This lesson is so applicable to everything- when we move through the world focused on and concerned with ourselves, we become very self-critical and worried about what others think of us. But when we extend ourselves outward and open up to our surroundings it’s much easier to forgive our flaws and even appreciate their value. Most importantly, when we forgive ourselves we clear the space for non-judgment of others. My wife always reminds me that mistakes during a live show can really endear the audience to you, and she’s so right. Witnessing someone be completely human and imperfect, AND not punish themselves for being so, gives us permission to be imperfect too.
From whom did you get those amazing lips and gorgeous brows?
Ha! It’s funny- some people say I look just like my Mom, and others say I look like my Dad. I’ve never seen a super strong likeness on either side. I’m more of a blend of them both. Thus, it will remain a mystery.
Ocean, lake, or pool?
For swimming I’m afraid I’d have to go with pool. But there is nothing more worth staring at than the Northern California ocean.
Do you have a motto?
Disclaimer: I love Oprah. “When you know better you do better” is truly a key to understanding, compassion, and forgiveness whether in expression towards others or towards oneself. And, everything is temporary. All the good and all the difficult.
As someone who styles/cuts hair you see and fulfill different renditions of beauty. What kind of person do you think is beautiful?
I do spend a lot of time (at work) focused on external beauty and style. But what’s always interested me about working with people in this realm is that when you truly connect with them; you often quickly begin to see what’s beneath their surface and all of a sudden the work is much more about their feelings, confidence, sense-of-self, and identity. And it’s that stuff- the variations and diversity amongst us that I find beautiful. And, kindness. Humor. A positive attitude. An attitude that says I believe I can change that which I find difficult. Optimism. And, taking responsibility for one’s experience. In my house we talk about being awake versus sleep-walking through the world. Aliveness to one’s power, choice and responsibility is extremely beautiful. Self-awareness. That’s it.
What makes you want to sing?
Gosh, I honestly don’t know. I just love to do it. But, I’m not someone who walks around the house just singing. And I’ve never done karaoke. I don’t really sing around others unless I’m working- practicing, recording or performing etc. For me singing, like guitar playing, is a vehicle to get the music across. The drive and desire is to make the music, write the songs, and through the voice is the way I get there. But I’ve never considered myself the kind of singer that can step up and do anything. Like Lisa Fischer. She can literally do anything with her voice. She’s true a vocalist.
What do you think of first impressions?
First impressions are complex. We’re all moving through the world guided in part by our instincts and intuition, which are important tools to be sure. But it takes a deep level of self-awareness to understand the difference between something we feel on a “gut” level, and something we make up in our mind about someone or something. As animalistic as human beings are, we are equally intellectual and cerebral. We’re incredibly advanced story tellers and are constantly telling ourselves things in order to try and make sense of what we don’t recognize or understand. When I experience what you might call a “first impression” I always try and cross check that impression with an honest look at the judgments and assumptions I may be bringing to the table.
Who are some of your favorite composers, musicians, bands from the past and present?
We listen to a lot of standards and crooners in my house. Cole Porter, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra. And I certainly consider songwriters like Joni Mitchell and McCartney/ Lennon to be classics worth listening to very closely. I think Nina Simone is a genius composer, and I adore pretty much everything Tori Amos and Bjork put out.
Is there a particular song or musical passage that never fails to move you emotionally?
The opening sequence to Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” is unmistakable and irreplaceable. I can be anywhere and hear the first two or three notes of that piece and be completely transfixed in a mood that says mix a martini, kick your feet up and browse the room with a Scorsese kind of skepticism. It’s so cinematic. It’s perfect. Also, “Little Martha” by The Allman Brothers. 99% of the time when my dad picks up a guitar to warm up before anything, or to just stretch his fingers, he plays Little Martha. Has done since I was tiny. That song is engrained so deeply in my consciousness it’s like a heart-string that won’t quit.
What 3 words describe your current life?
Satisfying, full, and challenging in the best way possible.
Thanks, Karmen, you are a darling for answering all of my questions! Ladies, you can read more about Karmen, or listen to a song or two at her website KarmenMusic. Please take a moment from your busy lives and check it out – you won’t be disappointed.