KAREN CORBIN

Karen Corbin’s life has gone through many changes since she first made a name for herself as a dance music artist in the late 1990s.

The singer grew up in Lyons Brook and had several hits back then, including ‘High On Love,’ which appeared on more than five national compilation CDs, and was her highest placing track on the Canadian dance music charts. ‘Gotta Have Your Love’ sold double platinum in Canada, appeared on another compilation CD – Pure Dance 4 – and received cross-Canada radio play.

Corbin received accolades from the music industry when she was nominated for two East Coast Music Awards in the dance-hip hop artist category for ‘Everybody (Have a Good Time)’ in 1997, and for ‘High On Love’ in 1998. And she performed on the 10th anniversary ECMA show, which was broadcast from Halifax in 1998.

Now, Corbin finds herself working full-time as country music star George Canyon’s executive assistant and getting back into recording herself.

Although she loved performing dance music and did that professionally for seven years, she closed that chapter of her life and hung up her microphone for a few years when she turned 29. “I thought it was time to grow up now… I couldn’t see making a career out of it.”

There were several reasons for her decision to change directions.

“I found the music business wasn’t for me. It took away the love and fun of music for me, and I realized if I’m not having fun anymore, it’s time to get out.”

While she admits it was a very tough decision, she explains that the industry is highly competitive and stressful, making it difficult to be creative and perform.

The other reason involved the type of music she was doing. “It’s a very quick rise to the top and a quick drop of what’s popular. There’s a high turnover in that type of music.”

Corbin’s music career began in Toronto, where she worked as a karaoke host. A DJ heard her singing, and they ended up recording ‘Dreams One Night’ and “Everybody (Have a Good Time).’ She had initially moved to Ontario to attend Ryerson University in 1990, receiving a degree in radio and television production in 1993.

In May 1995 she came back to Pictou County for the summer, intending to return to Toronto in the fall. However, she ended up staying here for three years after getting a job working as an information centre specialist at West Pictou High School.

In July 1998 she moved to Toronto to work for TSN, and then in 1999 landed a job as an advertising co-ordinator with grocery chain Sobeys, which had expanded into the national market and had offices in Ontario.

While she knew she ultimately wanted to move back to Pictou County, she says she wasn’t ready at that time, secretly hoping the job with the Stellarton-based company might someday bring her back home. As it turned out, she met her future husband, Brian Hughes, who was also from Pictou County, and they had the opportunity to transfer to Nova Scotia in 2001. They got married in 2003, and now live in Trenton.

“I wanted to eventually move home to be 'home' with family, including my husband. My mom, dad, sisters and their families all live here,” she says.

While working at Sobeys, Corbin switched from advertising to graphic design, and this propelled her into designing CDs and posters. She also volunteered to help out her old high school friend Canyon with his career. In 2008 that turned into a part-time job, and by 2010, it became so busy that she left her job at Sobeys to work for Canyon full time.

She admits this was a bit difficult at first with the difference in time zones since Canyon lives in Alberta, but says they’ve developed a system that works well for both of them.

Corbin is officially the country music vocalist’s executive assistant, but she also looks after his social media, as well as graphic design for his CDs.

“It’s a Jane of All Trades job,” she says. “I love it. I never thought I’d get back into the industry but... it’s fun.”

She says the job with Canyon has also allowed her to pursue her own music interests on the side. Corbin performs locally – recently at the Celtic Circle in New Glasgow – and was part of last season’s Rotary Club musical ‘Sweet Charity.’

“Being part of the community music scene keeps it fun and enjoyable,” she says. “Being away from it (the music industry) has allowed me to perform locally at benefits and fundraisers and enjoy it. I can go out and perform and love it again, which is great.”

She’s also working on a project that she’s talked about doing for the last five years – a Celtic folk CD – that she recorded in June on Canyon’s ranch. He’s producing the CD, which includes nine of her favourite Celtic tunes, along with a song she co-wrote with her mother Isabel and Canyon.

The song is a fictitious story about two people in love who are named after the ships Hector and Betsy, which brought the first significant number of Scottish settlers to the area in the 1700s. The idea for the song came from her mother, who wrote down her thoughts that Corbin turned into lyrics. She then wrote the music, while Canyon contributed the chorus.

A duet with her sister Cheryl will also be featured on the CD, which she expects to be released in April 2014. She plans to perform next summer in support of the project.

She’s enjoying working on her CD. “I’m not being stressed – (and wondering) am I going to make it as an artist. I’m really singing because I love music again. It’s fun. There’s no pressures of the industry to be someone I’m not. I can just be me,” she says.

“It’s a tough industry. It can eat you alive.”

Corbin’s friend JD Fortune knows all about the stresses of the music industry.

She recently appeared in a documentary about fellow Pictou County musician Fortune, which aired on the Super Channel. ‘Chasing Fortune’ looks at Fortune’s rise to fame when he won Mark Burnett’s Rock Star INXS in 2005 to become the lead singer for the Australian band, and the troubles he experienced working in the industry.

“Dave and myself were interviewed together with JD and the three of us reunite for an acoustic song in Dave’s backyard,” she says about the documentary.

Corbin, Fortune, Canyon and local folk singer Dave Gunning went to West Pictou High School together and have remained close friends. She says it’s funny that the four are all involved in different areas of music – rock for JD, folk for Dave, country for George, and dance and Celtic for her. “Coming from Pictou County, that’s quite an eclectic mix.”

Music & Video

  • 1
    Step It Out Mary

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  • 2
    A Sailor's Life

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  • 3
    Hector and Betsey

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  • 4
    Caledonia

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  • 5
    The Fields of Athenry

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  • 6
    High On Love (Single Mix)

    Video

             

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