Growing up in rural Wyoming, Karissa la Cour had no aspirations to become a musician until at the age of 18 she attended her first Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert, and found herself overwhelmed with the notion of performing music for a living.
After a few gigs singing in coffee shops and the odd college event, Karissa still lacked the confidence to go for it. But in her junior year at the University of Wyoming, she heard that one of her friends had headed to Nashville in an attempt to launch a music career, and realized that she might have the same option. With strong support from family and friends, Karissa left college with friend Bob Proffitt who steered his Jeep in a beeline for Music City USA.
With the help of Profitt’s father, she was offered a meeting with Academy Award Winning music industry veteran Robb Royer of the 70’s supergroup Bread. After hearing her powerhouse vocals, Robb agreed to go in the studio and see what happened. The resulting collaboration produced Karissa’s first EP entitled “Shades of Green”, an eclectic, often experimental collection of seven songs that highlight the dexterity and vocal ability of the diminutive chanteuse. It is nothing short of a clarion call of things to come from the amazing vocalist.
Dish caught up with Karissa and Robb Royer at Royer’s recording studio in Nashville to talk about the future of this monumental generational collaboration.
Dish: When you were first starting out, what did you have in mind to accomplish as a recording artist? Did you have any preconceived notions about what a collaboration with Robb Royer would be like?
Karissa: I just wanted to do any kind of music. Anything would have been great with me. I wasn’t familiar with Robb at first. We had a mutual friend who introduced us and he told me he was from the band Bread, which meant nothing to me. But when I told my mom she went crazy with excitement and started digging out her old albums for me to hear. Once I heard the songs I recognized the majority of them.
Dish: Robb, what was it about Karissa that most spoke to you and made you want to work with her?
Royer: She was a little tigress. She picked up her guitar and started singing and I couldn’t believe what I heard. Her voice was huge for such a small girl. When we started working together we knew we had the pieces between us. Her writing is highly inspirational in the sense that she goes on these streaks where she pulls from experience to write her songs, and I just build on what is already there. We got into it in stages. I wasn’t really looking at cutting a singer at the time because I was working on my screenplays, but I knew she had a huge voice. So when we went into the studio bit by bit, it got more and more interesting and we decided to go ahead and try it. The first thing she played me when we came back was “Shades of Green” and I thought it was extraordinary. I was hooked.
Dish: From those earliest days in the studio with Robb, what do you think has been the biggest evolution in your sound and the way that you work?
Karissa: I learned how to sing in a studio which was something I didn’t know much about. I had no clue about how to do that and he just kept directing me. In addition to that, I’ve gotten to perform in front of bigger audiences than I did back home. Being able to write with people like Robb is amazing. I remember the first day that we were in the studio together I was jumping up and down for joy. I just could not believe this was happening.
Royer: She’s advanced a lot in all areas since those first days. We are working on extending the EP into a full length album now and building up more and more awareness, so that when the album comes out it will be like a full-fledged new release. It is a real process of listening to her and what she has to say, and then distilling that down to something usable and marketable. She has a series of ideas that I try to work through and enhance, and then she will have a moment where she just breaks through all at once and we just hope to God the tape is rolling.
Dish: In today’s musical landscape where anyone can be a recording artist from their living room, what do you feel most makes you stand out from the pack?
Karissa: I have a very unique voice that sets me apart. I write most of my own songs and I’m a go-getter. If I want something then I will go after it with everything. I was doing a kind of folk-blues thing before, so when Robb asked me to rap it threw me for a loop. I wasn’t sure what to do. I kept asking “Do I have to?” and he would just keep telling me to just try it, so I did. I love all kinds of music but sometimes I’ll get an idea in my head and I can be kind of stubborn. But in the end I love being challenged and forced to expand myself beyond what I am doing.
Royer: She really is the complete package. Her writing is exemplary and she has an impressive ability to respond to a challenge. I’m from the era where all kinds of guys in the bands are coming up with all kinds of ideas and so this is really different. It’s just she and I and an engineer, and I just wanted to make sure we weren’t going to fall into this tiny niche, so I started throwing all kinds of things at her. She bitched and moaned but she fielded it all and she did it well!