For Kareen Lomax, Creating ‘Hard Feelings’ Was Therapy [Q&A]

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Photo: Shanté Jackson

The concept of an overnight success is a farce. From the eyes of a fan, it might seem as though some of the artists we know and love blew up in an instant, but behind the curtains include years of development, highs and lows, and ultimately enduring perseverance. 

For budding R&B artist, Kareen Lomax, the story of her career thus far has not been a straight trajectory but a winding road, filled with glimmers of hope but also dark moments of doubt, culminating in a series of painful lessons learned along the way. Hard Feelings delves into these lessons, both associated with her personal and professional life.

Your introduction to Lomax might be this very moment, but her debut to the music scene came in 2016 when she uploaded her debut EP Vendettas to SoundCloud. Following its release, she invested in a $50 targeted Facebook ad for the single "Melatonin" which went on to garner her thousands of followers instantaneously. Yet with that moment of success, difficulty followed, leading the young singer-songwriter to consider giving up music all together. Returning to her hometown near Atlanta, Georgia to be a dog groomer, she picked up her life where she had left it years before.

Two years later, from a songwriting session she coordinated on a whim, the lead single "Hard Feelings" was born. Following that life-altering session, a chance encounter with Diplo led to her rich vocals and stunning songwriting to be featured on Platinum breakout hit "Looking For Me" with Diplo and British producer Paul Woolford. The single peaked at #4 on the UK Singles Chart and #18 on Billboard's Dance Chart, representing a turning point for Lomax, a sort of cosmic nod from the universe that she was indeed on the correct path. 

With this rediscovery of confidence came the creation of the Hard Feelings EP, a highly emotive work of art, created through a series recording sessions in the city and a remote cabin in the mountains of Georgia. The seven-track compilation, features her incredible pen and ear-bending vocals, and is accompanied by a tongue-in-cheek visual for "GET RIGHT." 

Confronting her demons head on, Lomax toils with lessons learned through some of the toxic situations she found herself in. A breathtaking testament to the power of honesty and vulnerability, Lomax approaches these lessons from a sagacious point of view, covering themes of betrayal, forgiveness and perseverance.  

We had the opportunity to catch up with Lomax and discuss a series of topics, ranging from the frustrations she has faced in her career thus far, how she would change things within the industry for the better, and ultimately her journey of coping with the "Hard Feelings" she has relinquished throughout the creation of this project.

Your vocal tone is often described as unique and something that overwhelmingly draws people to you. Was your tone always something you considered a strength?

No, actually. I felt like my tone was always too masculine to speak from a woman's perspective and would be uncomfortable when my voice is compared to male artists. I now embrace that it stands out and have found confidence and acceptance in my own sound.

You are very open about the fact that your career has been filled with many ups and down. What was one low and one high that you can recall in your career thus far?  

Being in a better place has taught me to see the lows as turning points. So, I'll say every time I thought I was ready when I wasn't and had to go back to the drawing board, made it harder to get back up again and keep going.  

The success from "Looking for Me" is the highlight for me. Because of COVID, we weren't able to promote that record properly, but it still climbed the charts and was embraced in one of the biggest music markets. Vocally, I was given the opportunity to shine and introduce myself as a real recording artist, so it means a lot.

You experienced some version of overnight success with your single "Melatonin" back in 2016. What was the story behind that "overnight success"?

I had put out this EP on SoundCloud in late 2016 called Vendettas that barely got any plays in the first couple weeks, but I felt like the songs deserved better, so I decided I needed to get more creative with promotion. I uploaded it to Facebook as an audio video (just a picture and the track) and it organically got quite a few clicks so I put $50 behind a targeted ad campaign. The song had such a UK club energy (it felt like that waves song by Mr. Probz) so I used a UK target audience and some artists that I felt had a similar sound at the time. The plays on that video jumped from a few thousand to tens of thousands with hundreds of comments telling me to upload to Spotify. The first day I went from 4 monthly listeners to around 4,000 and it grew exponentially for an artist with no backing or team. Coincidentally, Diplo was one of the artists I used in that campaign.

In 2020, you secured your first major songwriter placement with the Maroon 5 single "Nobody's Love." How does your creative process differ from when you are writing for other artists versus yourself?

I write the same in terms of technique, but ideas for me I like to start off with feeling and from scratch (just a guitar or a piano and my vocal), and keep it low key until production is build out. However, in a pitch session I'll lean more towards ideas that have been started (loops, beats) or the direction of my collaborator. However the songs "Real Life" and "Big Facts," were written in pitch sessions, but ended up on my project. Most of the time, I just try to make a song, and if I have a gut feeling, I'll keep it. 

"Hard Feelings" was the first song you created back in 2018 when you thought you were going to leave music behind. What led you to confront those demons after being dormant in your creative process for some time?

At that time I was really lost and wasn't trying to work on music like that but I was still writing and recording here and there. One day I said why not, and booked a session at Parhelion Studios in Atlanta. I was in the booth at the studio recording a random song (that will never see the light of day) and the now producer of the song Sensei Bueno, who I didn't know at the time, was peaking through the window in the control room while he asked the engineer who I was. We were introduced and the first thing he played was the original beat of what is now "Hard Feelings." It just sounded exactly like what I was going through and how to get out  

"Hard Feelings" very honestly tackles some of your deep frustrations with the industry. How did you eventually learn to cope with some of the letdowns that the industry had presented you?  

With all the information that is available to us via the internet, none of the industry letdowns came as a surprise. They definitely didn't feel good but thankfully there are documentaries, YouTube channels and horror stories about the industry at our fingertips. I am also able to keep going by practicing not to take things so personal.  

If you could change one thing about this industry, what would it be?

The archaic business model. I would start with how under-appreciated songwriters and other creatives are.    

If you had to point out three themes present on Hard Feelings, what would they be?  

Betrayal ("Big Facts," "How Do You Sleep")

Forgiveness ("Let it Go")

Perseverance ("Hard Feelings," "No Regrets," "Real Life")

You've described writing the Hard Feelings EP as a series of "therapy sessions," other than music, what other aspects of life act as therapy for you?  

Creating other forms of art allow me to explore who I am and take my mind off of everything I have to do in music for a second. I also got  a puppy named Mocha during quarantine last year that keeps me busy and makes my heart smile .

Who are your Ones to Watch?  

Baby Rose, Yung Baby Tate, Chiiild, and BLXST.  

Listen to Hard Feelings below:

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