“If a feminist means someone who works actively for women’s decisions in society, then I am a feminist.”
My question to Swedish singer-songwriter, Karin Park, comes after ten minutes of discussing how she fails to conform to traditional female roles, her perceived lack of decent female musicians and how, even after 10 years of working as a musician, she still encounters sound engineers who think she’s incapable of putting up her own equipment. “That would never happen to a man.”
Our talk comes ahead of the release of her latest album, Highwire Poetry, on a gloriously sunny day that is entirely at odds with the melancholia that is recurrent in her industrial electro-pop. But then being raised by deeply religious parents in a remote Swedish village overshadowed by mountains, amidst miles of dense forest, in a climate that provided 350 days of rain a year doesn’t exactly inspire images of rainbows and piano playing jazz kittens. So it’s really no wonder that Park’s main inspiration comes from, “longing, sadness and frustration.” And that’s not even touching on her education in a Japanese missionary school, cut off from society and pop culture. “I think what I bring to the table is the result of that upbringing.”
This being Park’s fourth album, Highwire Poetry has been released to the roar of acclaim that is de rigueur for the musician, whose album Superworldunknown, won her a Grammy in Norway back in 2003, alongside a nomination for the ‘best Norwegian song of all time.’ And things are equally sunny on this side of the Atlantic with Dan Le Sac- who counts himself among her high profile fan base, alongside David Bowie- deeming one of her latest videos as simply ‘mind blowing’. Her arresting artwork and dark and atmospheric videos are all a fundamental part of her music, as she uses it to give people “a clearer picture of the music.” The importance of which, a realisation she was late in coming to. “I thought the music would stand by itself and it didn’t really matter what kind of imagery it was, or what kind of clothes I was wearing, or the hairdo or anything. But that’s something that I realised and I think that’s something I realised a bit later than other artists because of this upbringing that I had.”
But while she may have had a difficult transition back into society, her subsequent years in the industry have vanished any vestiges of wide-eyed, early career naïveté. Which ultimately brings us back round to the F word.
“I think it [image] is important for both sexes. It’s not so important for men to be good looking as it is for women, because men don’t need to be good looking in the same way; it’s ok to be good at something. But for women it’s not ok to be good at something: they have to be good looking as well.”
A part of the transition may well be attributable to Park finding her place as a musician in a culture that she feels lacks a history of strong female instrumentalists and, while we’re not exactly experiencing a drought of empowered women holding their own among their male counterparts in the charts right now (Sweden alone providing more than one of our favourite musical exports), it’s an absence Park still keenly feels.
“The culture for female instrumentalists hasn’t been around for long enough… The only real idols we have now is a lot of female singers and maybe some piano players and songwriters, but there are no real guitar heroes for us to look up to.” It’s this way of thinking that has led Park to believe she’s often perceived as a man rather than a woman, due to her refusal to conform to some stereotype.“The traditional view of women is still they should be beautiful, they shouldn’t say too much, they shouldn’t speak all the time, they shouldn’t take over the situation and do what other people say, which sounds very old fashioned but I find a lot of the time that it’s still like that.”
But while that may be the case, Karin Park looks set to change that.
Image: Sarah Ushurhe