Writing by Kara Zosha
Thank you for taking the time to chat about music and life with me, Kara! I’m doing really well, thanks.
Your third full-length album Hiraeth comes out on November 17th, how do you feel about the upcoming release?
You know, it’s strange – I’m feeling really, really grounded, actually. This is my third album and it was a long journey to get it made. There was a point when I wasn’t sure if these songs would see the light of day. But the stars aligned; the right collaborators came on board and once the wheels were in motion, the whole process of making Hiraeth just felt like… it was “meant to be”. I know that’s superstitious and maybe a bit silly, but honestly – that’s how I feel! So while I’m nervous, and excited to finally share new music with the world … I feel like the album is arriving at just the right time. I’m so proud of what I’ve made with producer Josh Barber that it’s already a success because I love it. So in many ways, I feel released from the previous pressure I’ve felt, as a younger and less assured artist, when releasing new music. I feel ready.
Find Your Way Back, the first single off the album came out over a year ago. How long has this album been in the works?
Haha, yeah like I said – it’s been a journey! As an independent artist, I don’t have a record label loaning me the cash upfront to record. I rely on crowd-funding, saving up, and grants. At least for the time being (hello, Sony if you’re reading this * bats eyelid *)! So I had the songs written, and I had an ambitious vision for the album… But it took some time to find the right producer, and then of course to secure the funding (in the end I submitted 5 grant applications over a 3-year period). In 2021, I scored a really well-paying corporate gig – enough to record one song. I used that to record Find Your Way Back with Josh Barber: our first collaboration; a way to test the creative waters and see if we “fit”. Best decision I ever made. Josh has been instrumental (pun intended) in sculpting the sound of this record, and working with him has been a dream come true. Shortly after we released Find Your Way Back as the “first single” (having no idea how the rest of the album was going to be made!), Australia Council for the Arts and Creative Victoria confirmed their support. So that single was really the catalyst to find the producer, and secure the funding.
The record title Hiraeth is a Welsh word with no direct translation, referring to a profound longing for a home you can’t return to as it no longer exists, a sense of nostalgia or grief for the lost places of your past. How did you discover this word that perfectly sums up the album?
You know what, I think it was on Twitter. I subscribe to a few of those “words of the day” channels; I’m a bit of a word nerd. It piqued my interest, and then I went down a bit of a deep dive, researching hiraeth’s connection to English colonialism, displacement, and diaspora – and Welsh people’s profound connection to their lands and culture. What fascinates me most is how hiraeth encompasses both grief, sadness, loss… AND affection, love, nostalgia. By having a word to define the very specific “longing for a home you can’t return to”, Welsh people have created a place for that grief to land. And within that place, there is room for love; there is permission to remember fondly, and to collectively heal. When I became a mother, I found the transition very shocking, emotionally. I wanted to grieve the loss of my independence, and my old life that I’ll never get back… But I was worried that if I were to be fully present in that grief and longing, it was somehow an insult to my children. Hireath as a concept is so beautiful because it encompasses a bittersweetness; a longing for what was, abiding simultaneously with an acceptance of where we are now. Complex, blended and murky emotions are very interesting to me as a writer. As a survivor of childhood trauma, they’re also the kind of emotions that are most difficult to synergize and process.
Being a mother of two kids and married to a musical spouse, what’s the relationship between the household and music? Is it similar to how you were raised?
Yep, music is a huge part of our lives. It’s how we connect to each other and how we express ourselves! My husband is making an album at the moment too, so there’s just a LOT of rehearsing, listening to mixes, etc, etc. It’s been a delight to watch my son’s interest in drums; his innately tuneful delivery of the Spiderman theme song or Moon River. My daughter went through a songwriting phase, but is currently more focused on her storytelling and creative writing. She’s writing a novel! I think all children are innately creative though – it’s just whether the grown-ups in their life actively encourage it as a valid past-time, and/or a possible career choice. I definitely don’t want to put any pressure on my children to be professional artists. I just hope that they find a creative practice that enriches their life in some way or another.
Speaking of growing up, it’s said that you wrote your first song when you were eight years old! Were you ever in choir, band, or anything similar during your childhood?
I’ve got a cassette recording somewhere of me and my Dad performing my now-legendary and only attempt at writing a country song: “I’m a Cowgirl”. I was 8 years old. It’s got strong Tammy Wynette vibes. And yeah, I loved choir growing up! Singing harmonies with a huge group of people is very, very cathartic. Choir was a safe place for musically-inclined girls, and the harmonic discipline involved with learning to sing parts has absolutely informed my string and vocal arranging to this day. I really *wanted* to be in a band as a teenager, but I lacked courage in my guitar playing. I remember being told “girls don’t play guitar; girls don’t play in bands”. It’s so great to see that narrative shifting in recent years. I still had to push through a lot of internalized sexism and “fear of tech” to start working with pedals and gear, and to get my live-looping solo show off the ground – even in my mid-30s.
You’ve mentioned that you don’t have a “typical day” and every day looks different for you. How do you produce projects like Hiraeth with a schedule like this?
As any creative person with small children will tell you: it’s a mother-flipping JUGGLE. My diary looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. So does my loungeroom. But also – it’s all seasons, right? With big-scale projects like making an album, there’s an insular season of writing the songs… There’s the recording season, which requires a lot of logistical support (babysitting; shared car arrangements; batch cooking)… Then there’s the release season, which is more taxing on the emotional/energy side of things… Then there’s the touring season, which is a lot of logistical organizing again! As a parent and a creative person, my biggest struggle is with transitions between my identity/roles. Lockdown taught me that trying to be present with my kids while working on a creative project is literal hell for me. Neither the child nor the project will get tended to properly, and I get stressed out of my mind. I’ve learned to compartmentalise my roles as much as possible. I use the “focus” setting on my phone to block work notifications when I’m with the kids.
Each song on the album has a weighty and emotional story behind it, but is there one that sticks out for you?
Phwoar… Probably the two songs that I wrote on a creative residency at Jacky Winter Gardens. I was lucky to be gifted 4 precious days in the Jacky Winter cottage to write new songs. At the time I was recovering from a pregnancy loss, and searching for a way to document that experience and turn my grief into something tangible: a song. Water to Water was inspired by Mizuko Kuyo, a Japanese Buddhist ceremony to mourn deceased foetuses. When translated directly, it means “ritual for the water child”.
During the same residency, I wrote Write It On The Sky. I was in a deep spiral of self-loathing. Their bookshelf had a “creative prompt” colouring book, and I remember flicking it open, looking for inspiration. There was an outline of a plane trailing a cloud bubble, and the words: “if you could write a message in the sky for yourself, what would you say?”. I took the prompt to sing all the things I couldn’t bring myself to say aloud or even think: that I am enough, just as I am – with my hemorrhaging womb, my mental health challenges, my anxiety, all my perceived failings. You know, maybe I’m actually okay? Just as I am? I often feel quite shy singing Write It On The Sky live because it’s SO DANG personal! But every time I play it, someone tells me it’s the self-compassion anthem they needed. So it’s on the album. And it’s one of my favourites.
Saturday, November 19th your national tour starts. What’s touring like while having a family, and are there any thoughts for an international tour?
Touring is the most restful time for me! I get to sleep more than 4 consecutive hours. I get to think my own thoughts for hours at a time!
My kids are still quite young and I do miss them while I’m away, and feel terribly guilty for being all the things mothers are told they shouldn’t be: “absent”, “career-focused”, and “ambitious”. But in all honesty, my husband is the most amazing dad, and the kids are fine without me for a few days. I try to remember that it’s positive for them to see their mother has a life beyond the home, and their dad is a caring, nurturing father.
I’ve been talking with my booking agent (hi, Emma!) about overseas markets, in particular Canada and the UK. I would LOVE to tour internationally – and I’ve got a few contacts over there… But right now that feels like a bit of a logistical riddle that I’m not quite ready to embark on. After a few years away from music to make babies, and then the pandemic? I’m really excited about reconnecting with my beautiful Australian audience and playing cities I haven’t visited in a few years: Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide! Having said that, if Sharon van Etten asked me to support them on a US tour next week, I’d be packed in about 8 minutes flat.
Lastly, where can people find you and how can they support you?
My website has all the tour dates + merch goodies!