OUT Music Awards nominee Karmen Buttler on her roots and loving the classics


One of the biggest nights in the queer music sphere is nigh upon us. The 9th annual Out Music Awards are being held Monday, January 19 in New York City at the Townhall Theater. Hosted by Orange Is The New Black darling Lea DeLaria and out artist Ari Gold, it promises to be quite the night.

I managed to get Album of the Year and Best Folk/Country Song nominee Karmen Buttler to answer a few of my questions about being nominated, her beginnings as a musician and how being a part of the queer community has influenced her music.

AfterEllen: How did you come to be a musician?

Karmen Butler: I grew up in a super musical family so it was pretty normal to pick up an instrument at a young age. I started in school band playing clarinet and flute at nine, and then finally picked up the guitar around 12 or 13. My dad has been my primary teacher, so I spent a few years learning chords and strumming along side him and the rest of the family. Eventually I started writing my own songs, with lyrics and vocal melodies, toward the end of high school. Which started taking off my first year of college.

AE: How would you describe your sound?

KB: I think it’s pretty mellow and easy, but with a darkness to it for sure. It’s always a challenge to objectively put ones own art into words, but it’s a good thing to be able to do and I’m starting to get better at it. I try to steer away from calling it folk. Not because I don’t love the genre but because I don’t think my songs accurately represent everything that’s unique about folk music. But, so far the songs have been acoustically based, and very vocally centered, so “singer/songwriter” or “alternative folk” are pretty good descriptions.

AE: I read that you are from Virginia and California. How have your found your surroundings to impact your music?

KB: I’m actually from California and live there now, but I started my music career in 1999, recording and touring in Virginia. The five plus years I spent in Virginia definitely impacted my sound, at least during that spell. Charlottesville has a vibrant local music scene that, although diverse and very interesting, by my estimate hinges on bluegrass and folk/country sounds. I picked up a lot of the tempos and strumming patterns that you’ll find in those genres and wrote a lot of tunes on their backs. I like to think that my music has evolved quite a bit since those days. I’m a far stronger singer now and the songs are more varied and unique in their structures and pulses. But don’t get me wrong, if I’m just playing around and strumming an acoustic guitar you can bet it’ll sound at least 50% rooted in the south.

Karmen Buttler
Photos by Claudine Gossett

AE:  How does it feel to be nominated for two awards at this years Out Music Awards? 

KB: I’m so happy and honored to be nominated for these OMAs! It was a real surprise to get the nod for best album of the year and, risking sounding super dorky, I feel like I’ve already won in being nominated at all.

AE: How does your sexuality influence your music?

KB: Well, I’ve been out forever, and like all artists my past loves and relationships have found their way into the songs, which means I’ve been singing about ladies for years! But seriously, I think being LGBTQ can free you up from a conformist way of moving through the world, especially as a young person, and can inspire a self-making point of view in life. One that says, you’re free to be whomever you want. I think there’s a lot of creative power in that.

AE: What does it mean to you to have a queer audience?

KB: It’s wonderful! I’ve always had dreams of reaching all kinds of people through my music so I can’t say I’m exclusively focused on the LGBTQ community but it means a whole lot to have my music embraced by them. I spent many years as a teenager listening to groups like the Indigo Girls and artists like Ani Difranco feeling especially connected to their music because they were out. If I’m able to reach young or struggling LGBTQ people with my music and make them feel hopeful the way those artists made me feel, then I’d consider my career a total success.

AE: Where do you draw inspiration from?

KB: I’m mostly inspired by people. The ways we love and lose, and move through the world. I think people in general are totally fascinating. Musically I’m very inspired by rhythms and beats and interesting syncopations. A killer voice doesn’t hurt either. I don’t necessarily create the “kind” of music that gets me excited, but I do listen to a lot of jazz, old standards, and contemporary artists who weave in and out of alternative, pop and even hip hop genres. I find a lot of sounds inspiring. Ultimately I’m moved and inspired to create music that makes people feel good, hopeful, and that the world is full of beauty. Because it is.

AE: After the release of Daze Of Love this past summer what’s next for you?

KB: Well now that the record is out we’re  working really hard on getting it into people’s iTunes libraries! I have an excellent, albeit small, team and an awesome publisher and we’re laser focused right now on promotion, and creating an increasingly memorable live show. I’m having a lot of fun collaborating with other creatives and am really looking forward to starting to dig into making the next record.

Karmen Buttler


AE: Who are you listening to these days?

KB: At home we listen to a lot of jazz and standards which I love. Billie Holiday and Miles Davis and Bill Evans. Classics all the way. In the past few years I’ve really loved records by Fleet Foxes, Feist, Lana Del Rey and Florence and the Machine. Chromeo‘s new record White Women is indulgent fun, and I’m also super fond of Allen Stone, Jesca Hoop and Bon Iver. Oh! And I can’t forget Lisa Fischer. She’s an incredible artist and singer. Just fantastic.

AE: One for the road, what’s one thing we wouldn’t be able to find out about you through internet searching (until now that is)?

KB: Ha! Umm, let’s see. Well, I was a flute player and assistant drum major in my high school marching band, which means I wore a powder blue matador uniform on a regular basis and flung my arms around in the air keeping time to tunes like “The Heat is On” and the theme song to Rocky. Also, I love food. There’s almost nothing I love more than cooking for my family and feeding friends.

You can find out more about Karmen on her website, or by following her on Facebook.

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