Artist Spotlight: Karen Kunkel

Karen 2Parental Advisory: Explicit Content

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Unkel (Karen) Kunkel.  I sing the songs the universe sends me.

Why does it matter?

Why does anything matter? It matters because it is.  Somewhere in a book it is written, a prophet heard a voice perceived as God’s.  The prophet asked who are you? And the voice said “I am. I am. I am.”  Some say God is where two are gathered in his name.  I am not trying to talk about what God is.  But I do know that I feel divine mystery when I hear music and songs unsung–And I know that I feel more and beyond myself and more myself when I am witnessed, when I have gathered with others and we share our stories–through our stories we complete each other and know that we are of and a part of each other.  I am.  My stories are.  Art is born, and we create ourselves how we want to be and need to be through art.  We heal each other and ourselves through art.  Whatever God is–that’s what we are, because I am and you are and we are all here altogether all at once.  Music is a thing I cannot help experiencing–I process all of my experience via music–and I think it’s my duty to give share my experience of this life, and share what I can–it is not my job to judge my own art nor the art of any other.  To judge someone’s art, is to judge their personal journey.  I am not in the business of judgment.  I am in the business of witnesses and testifying to the absurd beauty and beautiful absurdity of each others’ existence.

When did you realize performing was what you wanted to do?

I grew up singing with my three brothers at churches, ice cream socials, grand-openings of fruit stands–and I’ve been making up songs, singing to myself absent-mindedly my whole life.  When I was fifteen I had a sinus operation that changed my voice, robbing me of ability and making it painful to talk and sing.  I went on to study theater in college.  Though I took voice lessons and sang in college choir for a year–it was too mentally challenging for me to be around singers who found the activity with ease and pleasure.  So I was to be an actor–encouraged by my artsy family my whole life–it was the easy path really–go to college, study theater, move to a city, audition. . . Fortunately I got my heart extremely broken my last year in college and I found myself finishing original songs for the first time–such a transformative period for me following that heart break–I wish it’d happened years earlier (the heartbreak and the band)–and when I found myself sharing new songs with new friends, pretty soon we were a band!  Four Players we were.  And after that, I was like oh shit this is so much better than being an actor!  Well, I’ll try to wrap up the long story:  band broke up, then I broke up with my only long-term amorous partner, I broke up with my god, I broke up with theater. . . and then I started writing more songs. . . and I didn’t perform much of anything for a couple years. . . I think I needed to be without performing for a while to know what it meant to me after more life context.  I’d been performing my whole life, and I needed to go without it to rediscover it as an adult–all in all it was just over a year where I didn’t do any acting and only did open mics with my songs.  I lived in NYC off and on for a year and half.  I found tall ships–tried to be a sailor for a second–that was awesome–and all my experiences outside of performance showed me that I am an artist through and through–in every moment I feel music–every day I find myself dancing with strangers and trying to make them laugh–it sounds fucked up cheesy or something but it’s true.

And now I am running back into the arms of performance–trying to keep up with my own outpouring of bizarre-folk-opera works; getting into vaudeville; writing my own monologues for the first time; collaborating again on various projects; and aspiring to be a clown–music is an impulse I cannot stop, despite my vocal problems, and my history in theater is coming back around to serve me–it’s a wonderful feeling!

The short answer to this question:  about a year ago I knew with sincere deep certainty that my path is one of a traveling musician and variety performer.

Do you remember what it was like in the beginning?

See above, hee hee.

What is your dream performance?

Doing a vaudeville show for refugees and homeless people, raising money to get them shelter.  A show where I am one of many performers who brings their expression to a shared stage.  I’m all about communion and the more the merrier.  Does that make sense?  My dream show is simply the hugest variety show of the most magical people bringing focus to social change–and that can take many shapes with many different casts.

Another idea:  I’m hoping to produce dramatized musicals sowing together my songs in a through-line–probably ending up being pretty surreal and somewhat audience enveloping.

Which living person do you most admire?

Geez, this is where I embarrass myself, exhibiting my tendency to live in a wandering fantasy bubble.  Three peoples come to mind:  my friend Della Moustachella who is a multi-skilled clown and theater performer–for she is super intelligent and always kind and patient; Bernie Sanders because he’s the voice of what’s actually progressive in the US’s politics and I wish he was president; anyone who went to support Standing Rock–those guys are fighting the real fight–Standing Rock is what everyone’s future will be in fifty years.  They are the true warriors of our time–not the police, not the military–it’s activists who get frostbite and shot with rubber bullets for peacefully protesting, trying to retain clean drinking water–knowing that we are the earth, knowing that humans are already in the midst of polluting the earth at such a rate we WILL kill ourselves from it in the next 150 years if we don’t stop right now using fossil fuels.

Did you know the ocean’s pH level is changing at such a rapid rate that species are already dying off?  And marine biologists expect the ocean to cease all life in 150 years?  Because of humans creating so much carbon? From burning fossil fuels?  When the ocean goes, we all go, man.  I love humans.  I want us to go on for a lot longer than 150-200 years.

Which living person do you most despise?

Any person who treats me with hostility simply because I drive and live in a short, yellow beautiful magical bus named Hermes.  I’ve been feeling the brunt of classism more later–just the tip of the ice berg is pretty sharp.

Did you know last year folks voted to make it illegal to sleep in your car in L.A.?  Laws like that are awful–no excuse–to just make it illegal to be homeless, or poor, or to even sleep in your car–how dare I sleep in my car?  How dare I so brazenly exist in a different way than someone who can afford L.A. rent?

I think why I like my friend Della, and Bernie, and Standing Rock folks so much is that they are people I know who are rejecting capitalism, and acting out compassion–acting out communion through meditation, prayer, art, and connection to the earth and each other.

People who treat me like I’m out to steal their home simply because I parked nearby are people perpetuating a system based on appearances based on accumulation of goods and money.  I’d say fuck them, but I’m trying to just feel sorry for them.

What is the quality do you most like in a man?

How “feminine” he can be.

What is the quality do you most like in a woman?

How limitless she is.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

It’s a tie between changing my idea of gods and reality versus the fact that I keep singing even though it pains me and I push myself to follow my higher calling every day.  I hope my greatest achievement is far from achieved.  Though I am impatient with my pace, I do evolve over the years, and though sometimes I feel insane or lonely, I am so lucky to see that I am growing, that I am brave, and that I get a little better every year in doing what I aim to do:  bring joy and laughter and love and connection to people through traveling performance.

What is your favorite word?


What is your least favorite word?

Awkward.  The masses use this word frequently and wrought with negative connotation.  Why does something that isn’t unfolding with ease need to be a negative thing?  Awkward should mean something else entirely–it should be wrought with beauty and bravery.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?

Oh my god, what doesn’t?  People who sing or dance or feel rhythm without self-consciousness.  That’s sexy man.  People who are free enough to embody the joy floating around them and through them–people in motion and raising their voices and opening their arms. . .

What turns you off?

Sarcasm.  Humor that’s at the cost of others.

What is your favorite curse word?


What sound or noise do you love?

The crashing of ocean waves–it puts a spell on me and roots me and makes me feel limitless and still and strong and free.

What sound or noise do you hate?

The sound of white male ego defending itself at the cost of others.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Let’s see, if we admit–as I’m often reminded to do so–that I am indeed a traveling musician and multi-medium performer, and musical medium channeling all other personae. . . and if I wasn’t that. . . I think I’d like to become a horse woman; have a farm. . . and hold art festivals wherever I lived. . . operated a little hostel.

What profession would you not like to do?

Parking enforcement.  Fuck that.  I’d rather have a straightforward tax, and not an exchange that relies so heavily on bad luck.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

You did it, kid–you used your powers for good; you made a difference; you saved lives; you fought well on the side of love and creation; you’re music changed folks; and your bravery changed the world.

Karen will be performing at the next VaudVil Variety Show on March 11 at Geronimo Plaza @ Main Gate Square.  She spends her time traveling and performing around the country and we are excited that she could join us for our first showcase in 2017.

Karen 3 Karen 5

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