These days, we could all use a good stiff drink. And a good drinking song to match. Canadian country singer Karen Lee Batten is here to help with her appropriately titled (but unexpectedly upbeat) new breakup single and video Drinkin’ Song. And for a chaser to her elbow-bending anthem to cutting loose, hanging in there and moving on, she even made the rounds of my dumb questions. I’m sure she’s having sober second thoughts about that now. Hoist a glass and read on:
Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base and other details you’d like to share — height / weight / identifying marks / astrology sign / your choice.
Hi! My name is Karen Lee Batten — born in Vancouver and raised in Abbotsford and Kelowna. I moved to Toronto when I was 19, and moved back to B.C. at 21 — first to Vancouver, then White Rock, back to Abbotsford, and now I live in Langley. I’m 5.5 and a half and I will take that half all day long. I have 16 tattoos and 13 piercings, and my favourite sandwich is peanut butter mayonnaise and lettuce toasted on sourdough with salt and pepper. It’s my Dad’s fault, but don’t knock it till you try it!
What’s your latest project? Tell us everything we need to know.
My newest project is Drinkin’ Song, which is on Canadian country radio right now. It was inspired by a past relationship that brought a lot of hurt at the time, but with the help of Jeff Johnson and Mitch Merrett, we turned it into a party song about moving on. For the most part, I’ve shied away from bringing in past relationships into my songwriting, but it was empowering and truly a blast to put this one together! Not only that, but for official music video, we filmed it close to home with a bunch of my girlfriends, which really fit in with the spirit of the song. There is definitely more to come but for now, it’s time for you to press play. I hope you love the new song.
What truly sets you apart from other artists?
I am always told that my music has soul, and it’s different from other country music. Some is a little rock-country, some is a little blues-country, but all of it has a whole lot of country soul!
What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
I would like to believe that my music has depth. It has meaning. I get told that I am an old soul and that this is heard in my music, and I adore that compliment. When I am in studio, whether it was when I was cutting my first record in my early 20s or the songs I am recording now, I give my all to the music. I have loved working with every producer I have had so far, they have all pushed me and challenged me to go way farther than I ever believed I could. I believe my style of country is not only country. If you love rock, or jazz or blues, you will hear a little of all of that in my music, as well. It is what makes up all the kinds of music that I love so much.
What album / song / artist / show changed your life?
Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill got me through every breakup from ‘95 to ’98. Then that was passed on to Rage Against the Machine for the next few years. I wore out Amanda Marshall’s self-titled album, which definitely helped me learn to sing. Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces made me fall in love with country music, followed by Diamond Rio’s Greatest Hits. I guess I really love harmonies. Today, I am addicted to Brothers Osborne, I get ready to Brett Young or Caitlyn Smith and take a bath to Eva Cassidy, and forever will love Soundgarden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Seether, Tragically Hip and Alice in Chains.
Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
Well, when I was 18 or 19 years old, I was just learning country music and I was hired to sing 10 songs to tracks (five at a time with a 15 minute break in-between), standing by myself in the middle of a dance floor with basically no one listening. Sometimes I would get so bored that I would change the lyrics to the song (ie. complicated to constipated) just to see if anyone noticed … and … nope. I was paid $100 and if I didn’t know the lyrics, I had a little pencil case with all the lyrics written super small that I could hold in the palm of my hand and look at quickly if I was desperate. They ended up keeping me as a house gig for over a year! Hahaha — who knew?!
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you have given?
I remember the first time I was asked to play the Merritt Mountain Music Festival, a very well-known, large festival in the interior of B.C. I was given a mainstage spot between two headliners and told I had 15 minutes to sing three songs to tracks … by myself. I am not sure I have ever been so nervous on stage. I had never sang in front of a crowd that size and in those days you handed someone your burnt CD with the tracks on it and hoped for the best. Well, my first song was the iconic Crazy by Patsy Cline. Everything was going great, people were loving it until about 30 seconds till the end and my track stopped completely. It’s a feeling that I can only explain like in a cartoon — when the boulder falls on the dude and he gets flattened into the ground, but has to peel himself off the cement and come up with something funny to say on a rebound. I wanted to stay a part of the earth at the moment and I could literally hear the gasps from the crowd as they looked at me on my own in silence and shock. So, with not much time to think I looked up at the sky and said into the mic, “Patsy … I am so, so sorry.” The crowd burst into laughter, the DJ hit play on the next track and the show went on. It’s funny to think back now, because it’s a running joke now that the gigs that go off without a hitch are the strange ones. Normally, something somewhere isn’t perfect and needs fixing or finding, but, The Show Must Go On – a very true and real quote.
What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
Oh my goodness – I have honestly been to so many amazing concerts and learned so much from watching them. I can say that I took away so much from three specifically.
1) Sarah McLachlan (2005) — I listened to every Sarah song a million times back in the day and was such a huge fan that I bought a ticket to her Seattle show and then bought another one to her Vancouver show two days later. It was at her Vancouver show that I realized just how much a concert is actually a rehearsed show. Having just seen her concert two days earlier, I watched her again come out in the exact same outfit, sing all the songs in the same order, hear the same jokes, same intros to the songs. I watched the band move the same way at the same time in each song, costume changes were the exact same. It was that moment I thought, “I get it. This is like a play, and I need to come up with my own show.”
2) Michael Bublé (2014) — I wanted to see this concert so bad, and my husband wanted to surprise me with the best tickets he could get, so what did he do? At the pre-sale, he kept buying two tickets at a time on the computer as it gave him seats closer and closer to the front, as people let their tickets go. We ended up with four sets of tickets all over the floor in different areas, so we then extended the invite to our buddies, rented a limo and made a night out of it. All the ladies were so excited and all the guys were making fun of me. One even said “Well, we better dance in the limo now because this concert is going to put us all to sleep.” Haha — I didn’t care what they thought because I knew Michael would prove them wrong. Best part, we were not sitting together so it wasn’t until I got back into the limo when everyone burst out with, “OMG, that was one of the best, funniest and most entertaining concerts I have ever been to.” Bam… oh ya!! I have never seen an entertainer hold a crowd so well, make every single person laugh till it hurt, and sing so damn good all at the same time. He won everyone over! Not to mention, he walked by me on the floor… stopped, walked over to me and put his forehead onto my forehead right in the middle of singing a song, yup … that also happened!!
3) Aerosmith (2019) in Las Vegas — Plainly put, a 70-year-old man that can perform like that and belt his lungs out at that age is just truly remarkable. He is a legend.
What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
The same thing I am doing now, minus the pandemic of course. I just want to be making music, performing at live events, and every now and then dipping my feet into the waters in Mexico and being able to call it a writing trip! Haha!
What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
Willie Nelson or Aretha Franklin. Their stories, lives, perseverance, the ups and downs, and the talent in the bones. Just to be able sit down with them would be a dream.
What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
Old rap!! Like Snoop, oh my word, I used to know every lyric — haha. Cypress Hill, Tupac, Eminem as well as Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine. So Good!!
What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
I am currently addicted to Caitlyn Smith and Brothers Osborn. Love the Teskey Brothers too, and was just introduced to the Marcus King Band!
Tell us a joke.
What did Mr. & Mrs. Hamburger name their child? Patty.
What do you drive and why? What do you want to drive and why?
A 2018 Black Jeep Wrangler Jk Unlimited. Why? Because in 2019, when we were in the middle of a one-month trip, we came home to do the walk-through on our new home and realized that my 2018 Ford F150 was not going to fit in the garage because they had made it three inches shorter. My husband looked at me and said, “Don’t you like Jeeps?” After I had been driving trucks all my life, I said, “Sure, I will try that out for a bit.” So here I am, 100% a truck girl, driving a Jeep. But a Jeep still says truck on my insurance, so phew!
What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
Useful: I hand make over 100 organic household and beauty products
Useless: I can roll my tongue around in circles.
What do you collect?
I used to collect everything under the sun when I was a kid. Stamps, erasers, stuffed toys, pencils, pennies from every year I could. Now I collected (putting hands over face) purses, shoes, and music stuff: Microphones, cables … lots of cables.
If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
Dessert and wine. I would probably make you my Score Bar Trifle, chocolate cake, whipped cream chocolate pudding and score crumble, so easy… sooooooo good!! And of course, a beautiful full body Cab/Sav.
What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
At this point not much shocks me. I don’t know that I will ever understand music where you can’t hear a single lyric to or a song that pretty much stays in the pocket of three notes in total. But that’s why we have lots of music to choose from right. Thank goodness for that!!
Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
I had a hamster named Cotton when I was a kid, and at the same time, a Golden Retriever named Shelby. Then after Shelby was Tannis, another Golden retriever. Then when I moved out of the house, I got Bailey, a beautiful female chocolate lab and Kuda, a very smart American Eskimo that could do so many tricks! Now we have the sweetest Lulu girl, an eight-year-old Black Lab, and we just got Whiskey, who we currently call “sh*thead” as he is a little rascal. We love him so much, he is 75% Greyhound, 15% Rottweiler 5% Siberian Husky and 5% Boston Terrier. (Who knows how all that happened?) We rescued him at four months old. He was found in a ditch in Manitoba with five of his siblings, all with parvo. They were quarantined then brought to Vancouver once the were healthy. All were adopted and I even tracked down two of his brothers. Once the world opens up, I can’t wait to have a little reunion and hope they remember each other in a good way!
If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
I also have an organics company!! It’s a hobby that I love. I make bar soaps, lip balm, lip gloss, foam soaps, beauty products and home cleaning products. Safe, organic and handmade with pure essential oils. Can you tell I love it? So, I would continue doing that!
What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were ever given?
Best advice would be that no one is going to care about your career more than you. You have to go get it; don’t sit and think it’s going to come to you.