The Louisiana-born country music singer-songwriter and viral sensation joins forces with legendary producer Garth Fundis.
You could say up-and-coming country singer-songwriter Karen Waldrup got third-time lucky with the title cut on Justified, the new album she recorded with legendary producer Garth Fundis.
During an interview between her performances last June at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Waldrup revealed that she originally was inspired to write a song with that title in the wake of a romantic misadventure.
“I was in a relationship, like, five years ago,” said the vivacious Louisiana native, “and the guy I was dating actually was a music teacher — and he was in love with a teacher in the dance department where they were. She was married, and they were having some sort of weird thing going on. Well, when I found out, I was able to break up with him and move on — because I don’t want to be with someone who’s in love with someone else. That’s no fun.
“And then,” Waldrup continued, “months later, she felt so guilty that she reached out to me and brought me to the Cheesecake Factory. So I sit down with this girl at the Cheesecake Factory, and we’re face to face. And she’s ordering wine, and she’s apologizing, she’s crying, she’s telling me how it affected her family, and blah, blah, blah. And she said, ‘I thought it was just texting. I thought we were just friends. But it was justified.’
“And when she said the word, I knew it was the title of my record. I just knew it. I knew that that situation happened for some reason. So I walked out of that dinner with the title track of my record.”
Mind you, she hadn’t actually written the song yet. But it didn’t take long for her to collaborate with two friends, and compose a sad ballad about three people in a situation not dissimilar to the one from which Waldrup had recently extricated herself.
Then she played it for Garth Fundis. He was not impressed.
“This is not what you’re doing,” the producer told her. “This is not who you are. You need to write a power song with the word ‘justified.’”
“So we went back in,” Waldrup said, “and changed the lyrics, and did the same song. And he liked that one. But I didn’t like it.”
“So, flash forward,” Waldrup said. “Brian Kolb is a writer that I had met in Key West. And he said, ‘Well, let’s write together.’ And so I bring my guitar and I go in and I sit down and I say, ‘Well, what ideas do you have?’ And he goes, ‘Well I've had this idea called ‘Justified.’”
Laughing heartily, Waldrup admitted she was initially incredulous — “Are you joking? Have you been looking at my website?” — and then richly amused when Kolb explained: “No, I was thinking about it the other day when I was in this laundry room doing my laundry. I just thought ‘Justified’ would be a great [title for a] song.”
So they went to work, veering far away from a ballad about heartbreak and lamentations. “We started toward something with this kind of grooving feel,” Waldrup said. “And now it has more like a party feel. Like a celebratory feel. ‘Justified, every mile. All the blood, sweat, and prayers are legitimized.’ Like, bam! We did it.”
“Garth was right. It needed to say what the record collectively is. And for me, that’s saying you can do anything you put your heart to — and we’re a testimony to that. I’ve built half a million fans across the globe with no record deal, just by playing a bunch of music. Imagine that.”
Indeed, even before she made her CMA Fest performance debut in June, Waldrup had achieved the status of a genuine social media phenomenon. She spent the last few years touring the world, performing thousands of shows everywhere from Memphis to Dublin, Ireland, and connecting with country music aficionados through the Internet. Call her a viral sensation, and you won’t be off the mark: Her social media videos have attracted more than 200 million views. But wait, there’s more: She recently won three Nashville Independent Music Awards for Best Live Country Performer, Best Video and Best Solo Female Country Artist.
Justified, which was released in July, debuted at No. 26 on Billboard’s Country Album Sales chart, No. 14 on Billboard Heatseekers, No. 7 on Billboard Heatseekers South Central, and No. 44 on Billboard Independent Albums.
“I’ve been waiting to make this album my whole life,” Waldrup said. “This music sounds like I walk, it sounds like I talk, and it sounds like the Louisiana girl I am.”
Waldrup — who hails from Mandeville, a small city just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans — wrote or co-wrote nine of the 11 Justified tracks with Nashville friends and fellow songwriters, including Julia Cole, Anthony Smith, Donnie Skaggs, Ed Hill, Brian Kolb and others. In addition to the title track, the song list includes the party-hearty anthem “What Goes On In This Bar (Stays In This Bar),” Waldrup’s viral version of “I Hope You Dance,” the Lori McKenna-written love song “Sometimes He Does,” and the sultry “Slow and Easy.”
“Getting to work with uniquely talented artists is truly a joy,” says producer Garth Fundis, “and Karen Waldrup is definitely one of those. It’s a rare occasion you meet someone who also possesses the charm, work ethic and sheer determination necessary to see her dreams come true. She is one of those people, too. Don’t tell her something can’t be done, she’ll prove you wrong every time.”
Here is Karen Waldrup talking about Justified on one of her favorite social media platforms, YouTube.