Artist Feature: Karen Eubanks / by Tess Cagle

This podcast was originally created in the spring of 2014 for my digital storytelling basics class at the University of Texas, and the story was originally published in ORANGE Magazine. For more recent news about Karen Eubanks, look for her new stage name, Aurora Wilde. 

Perhaps she has delivered Tiff's Treats to you. Or maybe you have caught sight of her at various events around town as a part of Google Experts. There is even a chance you have seen her volunteering at the Keep Austin Weird Fest. One thing is for certain: If you are not yet familiar with aspiring pop star Karen Eubanks, you will be soon. 

Eubanks cannot remember when she first began to sing. “It’s just kind of a thing. And I think that’s kind of cool. People should always do that — just sing,” she explains. Now, at the age of 20, the pop-rock artist from McAllen, Texas is hard at work on her first EP.

After getting a guitar for her tenth birthday, Eubanks began to fall in love with playing and writing music. “I started writing songs at 13, and then, by 15, I was just listening to the radio and being like, ‘I could sing that song,’” she says. With the persuasion of her mom and brother, Eubanks began to perform covers of popular songs in coffee shops around her hometown. With a heavy background in theatre, Eubanks already had a love for performing in front of a large crowd. Every other weekend, all of her friends and family came together to watch her cover anything from Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning” to T.I.’s “Whatever You Like.”

Eubanks can pinpoint the exact moment when she knew she wanted to pursue a music career for the rest of her life. “I remember that at the time I was really into big pop artists like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, and all the stupid stuff they used to wear,” she says. “I really loved following their careers. I mean, yeah, I was into the stuff they did that was shocking, but I was even more interested in their journey,” Eubanks adds.

Inspired by the likes of these superstars, Eubanks decided that for her next show she wanted to look really ugly to reflect her newest song, “Laughing Ugly.” With the help of her high school theatre director, she brainstormed an unforgettable outfit:  a huge, red balloon skirt, hair teasted to infinity and beyond and outrageous eye makeup. “So I go to this art walk show huge, and I’m just playing the acoustic guitar. I’m not even doing anything outrageous,” Eubanks says with a laugh. “Then, I guess somebody took my picture and decided to put me in the local newspaper. It was a terrible photo of myself but I was like, ‘Oh, this is so embarrassing, but so cool.’”

While Eubanks no longer dresses in balloon skirts and teases her hair, she acknowledges that time as a period where she was truly allowed to be herself onstage, saying, “I’ve really come into my own. That was a really important stage for me.” Now, she dons only a black shirt and black pants onstage, so as not to distract from her actual music. “I really just want to focus on my music because I feel like it’s really getting there,” she says.

Eubanks refers to her upcoming EP as “chapter one,” and says it will feature music she wrote more than a year ago. “I have new music that is way different, but I want to release chapter one and then chapter two, in order,” she explains. Eubanks has a hard time putting her finger on how to exactly describe her sound: “It’s pop-rock/singer-songwriter kind of stuff. I don’t really know how to use words for it, not that it’s super intricate. It’s just Karen.” She admits it has been a long journey of experimentation to reach this point and to find herself as an artist.

Eubanks plans for the EP to consist of eight tracks, split into four acoustic and four with full arrangements. Eubanks says that rather than being a wholly cohesive body of work, it will instead serve as a sample of everything she can do. “It’s going to be kind of all over the place but it’s going to be a good representation of me,” she adds. Listeners can expect everything from punchy pop-rock, to more punk-edged material, and even a bombastic ballad.

Apart from working on her EP, Eubanks also sings backup vocals for another local band, Frantic and the Fixers. “I’ve just been trying to surround myself with more and more music, not just my own, but others, and it’s been really fun,” she says. Although she is not currently getting a formal education, Eubanks says she learns from plenty of other sources of knowledge, including lead vocalist of Frantic and the Fixers, Cinco Barnes. “I may not be in college and paying somebody to teach me, but I’m definitely learning a lot on my own,” she says.

Eubanks finds inspiration from a myriad of musicians. “I’ve never been selective about what I listen to or embarrassed to listen to a certain genre because I think that is really silly,” she says. Eubanks enjoys plenty of pop music, because that is what she plays herself, as well as artists like Tegan & Sarah and the Shins. On the other hand, she has drawn inspiration from Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Whitney Houston lately. “I don’t think that all really comes out a lot in my music, but I get really inspired by all that kind of stuff,” she admits.

After recently encountering some serious roadblocks with the personnel involved in her recording, Eubanks is currently in the process of rescheduling, redirecting and restarting her EP. Still, this is only one setback in a career path characterized by bad luck, and this aspiring superstar remains undeterred. “I don’t know exactly what my future plans are, but I know that once I have [my music] on that disc, I will be able to do something important with it,” Eubanks says.

Like Karen Eubanks on Facebook and check her Bandcamp for updates on the singer's career.