Krea, well known as Karen Cowley from Wyvern Lingo, told David Hennessy about her debut solo EP which was inspired by a sudden bereavement that made her realise how short life is and finding hope after such tragedy.
Bray singer-songwriter Karen Cowley is about to release her debut EP under the moniker Krea.
Following a hiatus from her band Wyvern Lingo, Krea announces herself as a solo artist with the release of her highly anticipated upcoming debut solo EP, The Callows, produced, engineered and mixed by James Smith of Gypsies on the Autobahn, as she embarks on her first Irish tour.
In late 2022, Krea embarked on her solo journey with the single, September Sun. She followed this with Last Day of the Year, a track that received high praise from Hot Press for its fusion of winter comforts and honey-like melodies.
Later, Krea showcased her unique style with a soulful rendition of the Madonna’s Don’t Tell Me.
Krea has enjoyed both critical acclaim and commercial success as part of Wyvern Lingo.
She has also shared the stage with renowned artists such as Hozier, Lisa Hannigan, Gemma Hayes, and Wallis Bird.
In addition to her skills as a vocalist and pianist, Krea has recently taken up the harp, adding yet another layer of musicality to her repertoire for this EP.
“It’s exciting,” Krea told The Irish World of going solo.
“It’s certainly at times a little bit scary.
“At the moment I’m putting together the set for my headline show in The Workman’s Cellar on 30 July.
“That’s very strange. To do that without the girls was weird.
“Now it’s just me calling the shots.
“It’s really freeing and it’s really fun and in some way, no pressure but everything’s down to me now so I have to get it right.
“So it’s a little bit frightening, but mostly it’s been really, really exciting.
“And I’ve gotten the chance to work with other people and really write songs that I feel represent me and that mean something really deeply to me.
“Collaborations are wonderful, but the maybe negative side is that you are on some level compromising or changing things that really came out of you naturally so it’s lovely to explore that.
“It’s quite liberating.”
Krea says she wrote the title track at a time when she was feeling unmoored and craving a stronger sense of identity and rootedness.
Her mother is from Shannonbridge in Co. Offaly and it was then that The Callows, a flat grasslands across the Shannon, came to mind.
Where did the ‘unmoored’ feeling come from? Was it to do with moving countries as you were in Berlin the last time we spoke to you and moved back to Ireland a year ago? “I think that was definitely part of it because I did write it around that time.
“It’s an old song and I sort of came back to it in recent years.
“But I initially wrote it when I was really on a low.
“I think when you’re working in the arts and you’re working in music, the lows can be really low.
“The highs can be really high and the lows can be really low.
“I certainly felt like I had lost a sense of myself and didn’t know who I was or what I was and I had lost a bit of my confidence.
“I’m generally a pretty happy person and a pretty confident person so when these moments come, I actually I find it really hard to process it all and to see the wood from the trees.
“That song came out of me at that time and I was really craving a sense of identity.
“I kept going back to the imagery of where my mom is from.
“I find that area really peaceful and really beautiful and I just love the landscape.
“There’s something really kind of ancient and calming about it that I miss.
“Back at the time my grandparents were still alive I used to visit them a lot, but when I wrote this song, they had gone many years and when that sort of connection is severed, you do feel very out on your own.
“The imagery in that song really just kind of came at me and I went with it.
“There was obviously something there that I wasn’t even aware of myself, a conscious connection to that part of the countryside as well.
“The reason why I came back to that song is because during lockdown, I really felt like that again.
“I remembered this song that I sort of wrote to comfort myself and I revisited it and I started to rearrange it.
“The rest of the EP is kind of informed by an experience of death.
“A friend of mine and my fiance passed away very suddenly and it really woke me up to how short life is.
“I was thinking about that a lot. Thinking about these things a lot.
“And I was obviously not in a very good place and I came back to that song.
“I thought it was time for me to kind of do something with it.
“Really coincidentally, at the exact same time, somebody loaned me a harp which was strange actually.
“Someone had loaned him the harp eight years before and had never come back for it, so it was just sitting in this guy’s parents’ house and he was trying to find it a home and he asked me would I take it.
“And I said, ‘I would love to’, so I took the harp and I kind of rewrote The Callows with the harp.
“And I started just playing it.
“And then I did an arts council application based on these songs I had been writing and to my absolute delight, I got the artist bursary which really, really helped me put this project together in the last year. I would be nowhere without it.”
We are not surprised to hear that there was a bereavement as the sense of loss is palpable in the song Grief. “
“Grief is about watching someone you love experience it.
“It’s very rare that grief is ever a solo adventure, you experience it more than likely with people.
“I’ve watched people very close to me lose people as well.
“And that song was an expression of that wish to comfort people and not really knowing how to which I think is something we can all relate to.”
Last Day of the Year sounds like a track written in lockdown, am I right? “Absolutely.
“I actually wrote it in July two years ago now.
“I had actually been in Ireland for the main lockdown, and it was all kicking off again.
“I realized I actually might not be able to get home this time or I might not be so lucky.
“I got this overwhelming feeling of homesickness.
“I hadn’t lived in Bray in a while. I really romanticise the Irish landscape on this record and that song is about Bray.
“It’s about the person that I used to be.
“It’s kind of an internal conversation there, ‘What would happen if I never went back? Or didn’t make it home?’
That was a very real fear in that moment.
“But it was odd because I was imagining all this winter landscape but it was actually 35 degrees.
“I actually brought that song to Wyvern Lingo in Germany, and I remember the girls sort of saying, ‘I think this is a solo project song for you. We shouldn’t do it as the band’, so we didn’t. It was definitely the right thing.”
So was doing your own thing always on the cards? Or was it a case of having material that wasn’t suited for the band and so wanting to do something with them? “A bit of both.
“For years we’ve had material that hasn’t really suited the band.
“In the early days, we really tried to make it work no matter what but as time went on and we were writing so many songs, once we got comfortable sort of saying, ‘Look, I think this is a song for you, Caoimhe’ or ‘You Saoirse, not for the band’, it became quite liberating actually.
“Initially, it was Caoimhe that really wanted to do the solo thing.
“And then I started to kind of think about it and realised I did too.
“I think as you get older as well, you have a more defined sense of identity and maybe you’re less inclined to chase what is cool and trendy.
“You care less and I think I definitely kind of sunk back into the music that I really love, that really informed my musicality growing up.
“We had said even before we went to Berlin which is way before lockdown we were gonna take a break after the album, do our own thing for a while because we’ve never done that before.
“And then of course lockdown really dragged all of that out so then suddenly I had this chunk of time in the middle of all that away from the girls and working on the band but also writing other songs.
“Then it just became clear that I really did want to do a solo project and how exciting that would be to do that.”
The band is just on hiatus though and you will be back doing stuff again soon? “I hope so,” Karen says although it is the soon part that is really in any doubt.
“It’s funny, it’s now two years since we’ve gigged.
“And it has flown, feels like nothing.
“I can’t see us doing anything in the next six months, maybe a year but I do believe that we’ll get back into the studio and do something.
“But I think at the moment everyone’s really enjoying their time and their freedom and exploration of different things.”
September Sun was the first single. What did it mean to you for you to make it the first taste of the project? “That one is really special to me actually because I wrote it after a little trip in the West of France.
“It was actually very soon after our friend had passed away and it was a really, really hard time.
“I noticed on that trip that there was a little glimmer of our old selves somewhere.
“After that experience, I really felt hope for the first time in a while.
“I felt like, ‘You can overcome bad things that happen and you can even overcome grief and you can overcome trauma’, that it would just take time.
“So that song is about holding on to the good, the good days, and remembering them and kind of bracing yourself for the bad days ahead, I suppose.
“But it’s a hopeful song,” she laughs.
“I’m worried it sounds really bleak but that’s a hopeful song.”
There’s only one song on the EP we haven’t talked about and that is Don’t Tell Me, what made you want to rework a Madonna hit? “There’s nothing deep about this one.
“I just love that song.
“I can’t even pretend I’m the biggest Madonna fan, I’m not.
“I think it’s a really well written song.
“It was written by Joe Henry and to my absolute delight when I released it, Lisa Hannigan tagged him in my comments and he said that I had made his day so that was really great.
“That was a really nice pat on the back.”
You’ve been in Wyvern Lingo since your school days, will it be strange to be on your own? “It will be strange.
“I’ll be rocking up to venues completely alone for the first time really and playing my songs for hopefully nice people.
“If you’re reading this come and support me and help me through.”
Krea will have the support of both her bandmates on the tour as she plays a Wexford venue that is actually managed by Saoirse while on 17 August she plays a double headliner show in Bray with Caoimhe.
“We’re very excited about that because that (The Harbour)’s our local or was our local when we both lived in Bray.
“I can’t wait.”
You live in Dublin but do you get home to Bray much? “No, I don’t. I’m in North Dublin and I’ve been playing keys with Gemma Hayes and Saint Sister and Roisin O and people like that and I haven’t been home in a few weeks, which is really strange. I’m going home tonight.
“But it’s really sad because pretty much all my friends have left Bray.
“I don’t really have many friends still living in Bray.
“That is quite sad to me.
“I love Bray.
“I absolutely love it.
“I’m sure I’ll find my way back there eventually.”
You duetted with Hozier, another well known Bray native, on In A Week, how’s he getting on? “I went to his gig on Friday and it was amazing.
“He’s on another whirlwind adventure.
“Just incredible to see it and wonderful to have been part of it.”
Finally why did you go with the name Krea? Does that mean something? “Well you know it’s probably not a great time to be Karen on the internet.
“That’s a joke.
“It’s that actually everyone spells my surname wrong.
“Consider yourself warned.
“They call me Crowley all the time.
“It drives me up the wall.
“Even Revenue made a mistake one time.
“They told me my PPS number was wrong, I said, ‘No, it’s not. Is it possible someone has put an R in my name?’
“Happens all the time.
“Wyvern Lingo was a very complicated name that we loved but it was difficult at times to be honest.
“So I just wanted something with no misspellings, no issues: Four letters.”
The Callow is out on 13 July.
Krea tours Ireland from 14 July.
For more information, click here.