Interviews Music

Karen Zoid living in the present

“It was the best time in my life – I was so carefree,” remembers Karen Zoid of busking on Melville’s streets as a teenager. It certainly beat her grade 10 weekend job as a Mr Delivery call centre phone operator, earning R3.20 an hour towards an amplifier (“Nobody ever knows what they want, they always change their mind!”).

Out on the pavements she could perform to an audience, playing Rolling Stones tunes to 50-somethings, Smashing Pumpkins hits to students, sad Tracy Chapman ballads to loners.

“I just loved it – I was very poor but very happy.”

Judging from her frequent laughter, Zoid is still very happy. And she has reason to be: a new record deal (with Just Music), a new baby (Ben), and a solid new album (‘Post Modern World’) that takes stock of her new life.

“Thematically all the songs are linked to one another – for me anyway – with sometimes very prominent, sometimes very subtle themes of the post-modern era that we’re living in, how life has changed, what it’s like to live right now.”

Universal themes yes, but Zoid explores them through highly personal lyrics informed by her recent experiences.

“It’s quite difficult to balance your family life with the life on the road, and as a parent, suddenly your eyes open up to the world in a different way,” explains Zoid.

“If you’ve got a kid you don’t have the luxury of moaning – you have to be positive and you have to fight and you have to provide and create stability and security. It’s quite daunting,” she says.

It’s a feeling that shines through in ode to working moms ‘Aeroplane Jane’ – written in a Sun City hotel room after having to leave six-week-old Ben in Cape Town (“It’s really soul destroying, but it’s part of life”) – and ‘Mama’s Gonna Sort You Out’ (sample lyric: “Mama feelin’ kinda weak/ Mama be Captain Kirk”).

“One day I feel like I’ve got it down and I know what I’m doing, and the next day you’re phoning all your girlfriends and crying,” she giggles.

“Whatever you’re going through and whatever you’re dealing with comes through in the music.”

So ‘As We Go’ was written while she dealt with the feelings brought on by her pregnancy.

“In those nine months the process you go through – spiritually, emotionally, mentally – from being very elated to being very scared to almost being paranoid and the very next minute thinking it’s going to be wonderful, that’s basically what the song is about.

“You try and do everything you can – you go to the doctor, you read all the books, you speak to other parents – but every one of us, when you become a parent, you’re the first one. You almost have to go through it alone and you learn as you go.

“I realised that when I was pregnant. I’m a bit of a control freak and I just realised this is the one thing I’ve got no control over. I’m going to teach my son and try lead him on the right path and give him a good life, but he’s going to make choices and someone’s going to break his heart one day, he’s going to smoke cigarettes behind the school wall one day, he’s going to rebel against me at some point. You realise his life truly is in God’s hands.

“And we’re all learning as we go.”

That includes learning to tour with babies in tow – although, says Zoid, it proved easier than you might think.

“We all have babies,” she says of her band. “Last year was the year to have babies. So we’re all in the same boat, and we’re kind of a travelling family. I think it would have been difficult if the band members were 20-year-old kids, who were drinking a case of beers after every show. But we’re all family people and our band is an extension of our individual families. Their children are like my children, and my child is like their child – we collectively raise our kids.”

But her life definitely isn’t all about nappies and dummies.

“When I had my baby I just wrote and wrote and wrote all these lyrics about babies. When you have a baby and you’re a musician, you just want to write about your child and you kind of get into a one-way street. That happened to so many female artists – some of my favourite artists like Sinead O’Connor, Emmylou Harris, Tori Amos.

“And I just thought it would be fun to say that I still wear mascara and I still do my hair.” So she wrote the song ‘Silly Town’, which features Springbok Nude Girl Arno Carstens on backing vocals.

“It’s a song about sex, and immediately I thought about Arno,” she laughs.

“We’ve been meaning to do something together for a while – we’ve been friends forever, we live a couple of blocks apart, and we’ve performed together quite a lot.” But they hadn’t collaborated in the studio before and Zoid is happy that’s now changed.

“It’s cool that we’ve done this together, it’s a memory I’ll always have.”

“I like working with people that I like and have a personal relationship with – and obviously who are good at what they do,” Zoid explains.

“For me recording is such a straining and stressful process that you actually can’t afford to work with people who aren’t nice. I like people who come in and do their job and help relieve your stress,” she says of her other collaborators on the album, Martin Rocka and Salaelo Selota.

“There are so many people in the entertainment industry who are constantly trying to break each other down, they skinder about each other. And I’m really blessed in a way that I have many, many friends who truly support me and I truly support,” she adds.

“There’s just a whole lot of love on this album,” Zoid grins.

  • This article originally appeared on

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