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Karen Elson: From Model To Roots-Rock Musician

For 15 years, Karen Elson has graced magazine covers and runways as a top fashion model. But these days, it's her voice that's attracting attention.

Her debut album, The Ghost Who Walks, was produced by her husband, rock musician Jack White, whom she married in 2005. When Elson describes her home life, it's easy to imagine how she got into the act.

"Jack built an amazing studio in our back garden," she says. "So on any given day, there is a collection of rascals and musicians sort of traipsing in and out of our house."

In fact, Elson has been cultivating her music for several years. Modeling carried her from a gritty English factory town to New York, where she first started performing. There, she sang cabaret and performed backup vocals for the likes of Robert Plant. She started writing songs, too, but kept them private -- even after marrying White.

"I felt really anxious about sharing them with anybody -- not just Jack, because I felt a lot of insecurity about just people's perception of me writing songs," she says. "Maybe me being a model. Also, me being Jack's wife. But Jack overhead me quite a few times singing my songs and eventually ... said, 'Let's go into the studio and record them.' "

The couple headed to the back garden and went to work. The result was The Ghost Who Walks, a roots-rock album with a bit of a dark side.

"[The Ghost Who Walks] is a story about a woman who is madly in love with a young man and ultimately, he takes her for a drive to the lake," she says. "Under the moonlight, he kills her, which obviously isn't about my life. But, you know, I love a good Gothic tale."

Elson says she knows her music career is bound to raise eyebrows, but she plans to tour and continue recording, in addition to keeping up with her modeling career.

"I think there's room for both," she says. "I really do."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff