Interview with Award-Winning Canadian Country Artist Karen Lee Batten

Today on What On What’s Good with Host Jovin Tardif, I am here with Canadian Country Karen Lee Batten. Karen is a 7-time winner for Female Artist of the Year at the BC Country Music Association Awards. She’s also newly nominated for four 2020 BCCMA Awards. In our interview, topics include her experience on Canadian Idol, looking back at her first album “Every Moment”, creating the album “Under the Covers in Muscle Shoals”, her latest song “Too Strong” and much more.


1. Describe how your father influenced your singing career.

My Dad used to play bass and sing in a Christian Band called Assurance, which also included Ed Fast on piano, who went on to become a member of Parliament.

They cut a cassette tape back in the ‘80s! I was a proud little 4-year-old girl and would sit in the front row at church with every song memorized, singing at the top of my lungs. I’m pretty sure there was a 6-foot radius that thought, “Can someone quiet this redhead curly-haired girl up?”

Clearly, that didn’t work too well. I then joined every choir and every band I could all the way up to college.

After “Canadian Idol”, I asked my Dad if he wanted to open for me at my homecoming concert. They made it happen, came back together, and played that night before me at Rotary Stadium in Abbotsford BC. Talk about a 180 moment! 🙂

2. Can you tell us about your experience on “Canadian Idol”? Any fun behind-the-scenes stories?

“Canadian Idol” was so fun. It was super hard at times too, early mornings and late nights, flights daily, a lot of singing, group songs, choreography, TV interviews, radio interviews, and a lot of learning! But I loved it all.

To this day, I am still in contact and friends with almost all the contestants in the top 10 and some in the top 30. We still root each other on, get excited for new singles, new releases, and to think we came together on a show that was now 17 years ago, wow! My two best friends on Idol were Gary Beals and Toya Alexis. On Oct. 25th, Gary released his new record “Bleed My Truth,” and Toya is still lending her fierce vocals to the world, as well as being a rock star strong wife and mother of 4 – yup, 4!

They are amazing and we had a blast on that show together. I’m not sure I have ever laughed so hard in my life than the 6 months I had with the “Idol” crew. I do remember all rehearsing one afternoon when someone had to leave to go use the washroom, the only problem was she left her mic on… which no one left a secret on her return. Haha. We have all had rookie mistakes and this was just her moment!

3. Looking back at your first album “Every Moment” and your first music video, how did it feel to see your 1st music video on Canadian Country Music Television?

I still remember where I was and who I was with when I heard my first single – “A Bitter End” – on radio, and saw my first video – “Hearts On The Run” – play on CMT. The feeling of nervousness mixed with excitement kind of made me feel a bit sick for a moment!

It’s hard to explain – you hope everyone loves it, but there is nothing you can do. You just have to run with it. You are so proud of the accomplishment, and grateful to everyone involved that made it happen and at the same time also know that this new single or video is out in the world, open to opinions. People will say, “Who cares? It’s out! It’s awesome!”

To this day, this is way easier said than done! But I think that’s a good thing. It keeps you on your toes and always makes you strive to be better and better in your craft.

4. “Under the Covers in Muscle Shoals” (2018) focuses on cover songs. What was it like creating this album?

This was unlike anything I have ever done before and probably will ever do again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that happened from the perfect chain of events coming together.

I am SO thankful we just went with it and didn’t put up any roadblocks in the creative process. I feel extremely lucky to have been a part of this project. There is no way to explain the feeling I had standing in the same exact place that Aretha, Etta, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson (to name a few) stood – looking out to a floor full of master players, some of whom had literally played on the original version with these artists. Clayton Ivey (Original Swamper) was sitting right there, playing on the same organ he played when he recorded “Never Loved A Man” with Aretha. Now I am singing it. Never in a million years would I have believed that this was going to happen had you told me 15 years ago.

5. Any fun stories?

I think the funniest moment for me was when we had just finished listening to one of our tracks in the control room, pumped at what we were hearing. Someone asked, “Ok, what’s next?”

That’s when Mitch Merrett and I looked at each other knowing that we were going to have to say this next track out loud at some point but a little scared at what the reaction might be. So… here we go.

Mitch said, “Alright, next up is ‘Sweet Home Alabama’,” while looking at a room full of guys that played on the original track with Skynyrd and have since heard it a couple of zillion times done by every bar band everywhere.

The reaction was basically what we feared. It went something like…. “Ahhhhhh sh**, are you serious?”

I wanted to sink into the carpet that I was pretty sure had never been replaced in 40 years. Mitch – always his cool chill self – calmly replied, “Yeah, it’s going to be cool. It’s going to go something like this.”

He picked up his guitar, played a few chords, and sold the whole room on the new vibe.

We played it 3 times until we loved the last take, and walked back into the control room. Listening….. listening…. Crossing my fingers. That’s when Clayton looks over at me, and in his thick southern accent says, “Well, that just might be better than the Skynyrd version, I gotta say.”

Holy what? Never thought I would hear those words from someone like this. That is a moment I will never forget. I love the original but dang…. I will pocket that comment forever.

6. What is it like working with Jeff Johnson, Mitch Merrett, and Chad Kroeger on Too Strong (2020)?

These guys are ridiculous, they truly blow me away. They are so unbelievably talented in their own way. They are all so different, and that’s what I love the most about this project. To have all these of these minds in the same room was some of the best times I have had recording to date. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard but it’s supposed to be. They are perfectionists, and that’s exactly what I wanted. Challenge me, pull the best that I can do from me. And that’s what they did. I love them all and am so glad to call them my friends. I’m just glad they think I’m cool enough to hang out with them – haha! We had a blast recording this project.

7. What can we expect from the next singles and EP coming out in the summer of 2021?

I’m so excited to have this single out and just as excited to get the next batch out. They are all completely different from each other and the messages behind them are so different too. Having new music out and new music coming out makes the new normal not so ‘hard to handle’ (which I recorded on my last album – haha).

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Tags: Karen Lee Batten, Too Strong

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Jovin Tardif
Jovin Tardif is a freelance writer, storyteller, interviewer, reviewer and conversation starter.