In early March, Karima Walker took to the road solo in a 1974 marina blue Volkswagen Beetle. Armed only with a couple of effects pedals, a looper, 4-track tape recorder and custom Telecaster she embarked on a tour that took her through the Midwest, into Canada, out to the East Coast and, in the next few days, back home to Tucson.
Performing close to 40 shows. Her first stop was Denton, Texas.
You could call Walker an experimental musician. Her music melds traditional folk-song structures with found-sound abstractions. There's earthiness conveyed in rich layered tones and through Walker's understated voice. Sampled sounds and field recordings of the desert—a place of solitude and timelessness in its every weather-beaten feature—and the cacophony of the city, provide strangely thrilling frameworks for her uncanny Americana. It gets manipulated on her four-track tape recorder, forming rich sonic layers that uphold narratives, vocal melodies and harmonies. It's creates a kind of dreamscape which may exist independently from anything you know.
More, Walker tends to eschew standard female archetypes, which frees her from pop-music constraints. She consciously takes less obvious roads. But it's all worth it because there's real emotional weight in her work. Her tune "Miner" (off her 2015 album, Take Your Time) tells of a man with bruises on his body and fire that once coursed through his veins. "They took your children to the river and every last one sank," she sings. Yes, there's a kind of mainstream-challenging gravity in the song, in its unusual beauty, as well a kind of narrative bravery.
Walker's latest album Hands In Our Names (Orindal Records)—a body of work that is at once hypnotically beautiful, disquieting and strange—was written in a little house, a couple hours from Tucson, near the Chiricahua Mountains, in the high desert of New Mexico. The location is pretty telling.
We tracked Walker down on the road to answer a few questions:
What compelled you to book a tour and drive off in your '74 VW Beetle across the country?It just made sense as the natural next step. One friend says, tour is God. I say, maybe something similar? At its best, it's where I expand my community, learn and listen from other people and places around the country. I leave the best shows feeling inspired. I took my Beetle because it's the car I have.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a musician?
As early as 2011.
How old are you?
How do you describe your music?
Experimental folk, experimental songwriting, droney, tapey, lo-fi.
What is your musical background?
I saw music happening around me in high school—mostly the hardcore scene in Tucson—but solely as an observer. I had an acoustic guitar [then.] I'm mostly self-taught, though I've taken lessons at different times.
What inspires and informs your art? Often concepts and ideas, playing with simple associations and experimentation. A lot of visual phenomena really gets my brain going, watching or hearing one thing turns into something else. Also, the work of other artists. I love immersive installation art, performance art, dance ... makes me cry all the time.
Do you write lyrics based on real life events? From personally experiences? Or is it fiction?
Yes and no. There aren't a lot of concrete narratives running through my songs, at least, not recently. They're often collages and snippets of emotional spaces, experiences, memories, but by the time they're in a finished song, they're pretty removed from an original experience.
The video for "Indigo" is lovely. What does that song mean to you?
Thank you! There is a part of a Rebecca Solnit book, where she talks about the end of a relationship. How it's like a mirror that has shattered and each piece is a possible direction or way of telling the story of that relationship. That end is the end of a unified story. So I wanted this song to hold a multitude of perspectives and voices. Poorly sung, good harmonies, ambient sound. I don't think I threw away any of those takes.
Where was the video shot? And who directed it?
We shot the video at the new Wooden Tooth Records location, right before they moved all the records in. I directed it, but it was shot by lots of friends.
You've re-released Hands In Our Names on Orindal Records in March. Congrats. Your initial release was on cassette. What format will the album be available on?
For now, it's available as vinyl. You can also get a digital-only version on the Orindal bandcamp page. [The album] was mastered, beautifully, by Matthew Barnhart.
Do you have a favorite song to perform live or that holds special meaning?
So far, "Lullaby." Just as much, though, for its role in the set as for any other reason.
You have been on the road since the beginning of March. What has the tour been like?
So far so good! I like touring a lot, meeting new people, the solitude, the rhythm of it. The shows have been swell.
Have you performed with any interesting artists?
Yes! A couple that come to mind: Auscultation [electronic, ambient noise, house] in Madison and Hope Chest [indie pop] in Fargo.
Have you identified any common threads that unite (or divide) people as you make your way across the country?
I can't really speak for the communities I pass through. I only spend a night in each town. I do hear snippets of opinions and ideas floating around about the state of things. One piece to which I can speak, is that I am constantly having my expectations and judgments challenged.
On a lighter note, how has the food that you've encountered been?
I had some good Ethiopian food in Kansas City, excellent cookies in Duluth!
Aside from shows, have you had the opportunity to do other things?
Catching up with friends along the way. Finding good coffee. Oh, and I visited the Natural History Museum at U of I.
What's on the horizon?
I'm finishing up some preparation for a short tour in France, Italy and Spain. Lots of tour and travel this year, I hope.