Meet Unsigned 2023 music star Cara Knox

Music

Meet Cara Knox, another of our Unsigned 2023 singer-songwriters. Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, performing wasn’t something she always enjoyed. That’s changed, just don’t ask her to adjust a mic stand… 

The 25-year-old has been living in Norwich for about 13 years. A qualified occupational therapist, music has always been a huge part of her life. She picks up the story.

My first track was picked up by BBC Introducing in 2015. My earlier performances occurred while I was at the University of East Anglia. I was part of the Live Music Society.

It wasn’t until the pandemic lockdown that I really put my time and energy into my music. Afterwards, I decided to really give my music a go. This meant forming a band, having my songs professionally recorded, conducting my own PR campaigns and many, many performances – both local and further afield.

Flash forward a year and I’ve decided to pursue music on a full-time basis, having left my day job. I’ve written a novel which was published last year, called Unearthlies: The Keeper of the Chrysalis.

I’ve experimented with various musical styles in the past, but my roots lie within the folk genre. I perform my songs accompanied by my acoustic guitar/keys or instrumentation provided by the members of my band (drums, acoustic bass, harmonica).

My debut EP dropped on 26 May. In addition to this, I am exploring another dimension of my music through an electronic-pop duo that I am involved with called Prawns.

The process of writing is really where my passion for my craft lives. I aspire to tell a story through my music and enjoy incorporating metaphors and other interesting literary techniques that allow the listener to engage in an active process of drawing the meanings from the songs.

My earliest influences remain my primary influences today. Taylor Swift, Mumford and Sons and First Aid Kit are who I spend a lot of my time studying and dancing to in the living room.

In honesty, performing was not something I used to take enjoyment from. As a shy teenager with a funny accent, blending in was more of a goal for me, at least through senior school.

As a child this was different. My brother was in a rock band and at age seven I used to tell him I should be in it. He said no, which was no surprise reflecting back.

My best friend and I used to put on performances for our parents, singing songs we had written or heard on Disney Channel (no shame).

In my teens, it took me a while to regain some of that inner child confidence and get out onto the stage. Even so, I struggled with my anxiety for many years.

Only after the pandemic, where I spent a lot of time cheerleading myself, did I start performing more frequently and with other musicians. With that, I definitely caught the bug.

Interestingly, it was only when I started to consider my music as a career did my pre-gig anxiety kick in. While I still get nervous before every gig, getting me off the stage at the end of a set seems to be the difficulty now.

Being nervous used to hinder me to the point where I would finish a set early just to get off the stage, or not go on at all. Now, they help me focus and be very present in the moment, which can be uncomfortable but wonderful. You just have to remember to breathe and allow yourself to have fun.

I do this best when I am not as conscious about how I may be coming across to people. Such as when I’m getting lost in the emotion of the song. I make a conscious effort to enjoy the buzz I get after the performance and remind myself of the courage it took to get up there in the first place.

I’ve had no amp explosions, but [nerves aside] I’ve had my fair share of awkward moments on stage.

Nearly every gig I’ve done has seen me struggle with the same technical issues involving adjusting the mic stand. I don’t know what it is. I consistently need help from my band or the sound engineer to set it up.

That doesn’t sound too bad but trust me when a singer can’t position a mic it’s pretty embarrassing. I’m now thinking I should invest in a stand myself so I can practice.

Luckily, I haven’t broken anything (yet) and I generally get my words out correctly. One time I did start the same song three times before realising that we had already performed it earlier in the set. You can’t blag your way through that when there’s a full band relying on you to sing a different song. We got there eventually.

My very first performance was at the SU bar at UEA in 2015. It was a small but busy space, and I really had no idea what to expect. A few musicians had gone on before me, and they were incredible.

They also incorporated some cover songs which got the crowd going. I was painfully aware that no one would know the songs I would be singing (they were all my own). This threw me off a bit, initially.

I performed three of my songs, with very little to no speech in between, and I think because I framed music as a hobby at that time, I didn’t take myself too seriously and so it actually went alright.

My mom, who comes to 99% of my gigs, was there. Moms can sometimes be the best hype girls if they think you’re instantly great at everything.

My unofficial roadie is my boyfriend, who comes to the majority of my gigs and always manages to keep a smile on his face while we load him up with cymbals, guitars and cables. He’s probably internally crying.

My parents, aunty and some close friends also consistently come to my gigs, and cheer as if it is the first time they’ve ever seen me play live.

My dad is the guy who has his camera out the whole time and weaves his way in between people to get the best shots, so watch out for him if you come along to any of my gigs in future.

My brothers are an important part of my support network, and probably account for 80% of my streams on SpotifyYouTube etc. A shoutout also to my cousin who encouraged me to submit my very early works to BBC Introducing, and kickstarted me on this journey.

I also team up with local artist Laura T (who took these photos), and we help each other out with DIY music videos/photoshoots.

Having creative control over my releases is great but also comes with its own learning curves. Such as creating a timeline for a release and thinking of unique ways to promote it.

I’ve released seven tracks over the last year, but you won’t see them all on Spotify as I have been releasing a select few, while experimenting with my genre. Soundcloud is probably the best place to check them all out, under my full name.

If you’re interested in my electronic project, you can find Prawns on SpotifyYouTube and Soundcloud.

I think my biggest strength as a musician is my love of songwriting. I truly believe that if you take so much joy in something, you can succeed in it, whatever that means for you.

I am also naturally drawn to people, and this is something that helps me to engage the audience and seem approachable after performances.

My biggest weakness is probably my over-analysis of my performances. This can be a strength in the sense it encourages growth and self-development. But it can also impact on my confidence and desire to get back on stage again.

So it’s about finding a balance. My artist persona is also something I have struggled to grapple with, but I’ve come to a place where I am happy to just be who I am, both on and off stage, in all my bad jokes and awkward accent mishaps.

I heard about Unsigned through a Facebook post by one of the mentors. I immediately sent her a message requesting more information as I was already looking to become a self-employed musician. I knew I would benefit from all the advice and support I could get.

Taking part has come at the best time for me, as I am embarking on this new adventure of self-employment as a musician. I’ve already received extremely valuable guidance and networking opportunities.

I hope to continue exploring opportunities within the music industry with the mentors. I am also aiming to develop my marketing and social media platforms and will seek guidance and support in relation to this. As well as advice around the nature of performance and how to build a fanbase.

My highlight performance [so far] was playing the main stage at Staxtonbury Music Festival last summer. Joined by two other musicians, we made our way up to York and performed in front of our biggest crowd yet, which was probably around 400 people.

I also perform regularly at Banham BarrelBrickmakers, open mics across the city and live radio shows, including Peterborough Community Radio and West Norfolk Radio.

This summer, I have festivals lined up in Wales (How the Light Gets In) and Brighton (Good Vibrations Society), as well as my EP Launch at Voodoo Daddy’s, Norwich.

I would absolutely love to tour, that is definitely my next goal after the programme.

Ultimately, my dream is to continue creating my music and sharing it with people who may find enjoyment or comfort in listening to it. I plan to write many, many songs, collaborate with tons of creatives and immerse myself in the thriving music community in Norwich, and beyond.

You can follow Cara on InstagramFacebook, and TikTok.

The Unsigned project is funded by Youth Music and the Norfolk Music Hub. We launched it to give up-and-coming young band or solo artists aged 16-25 the chance to take their music, performance and professional skills to the next level with the help of experienced professionals.

It includes public performance opportunities, one-to-one rehearsal sessions, individual / band feedback, the opportunity to record demos, marketing and promotion sessions and more.

The programme is free but spaces are limited. To be considered for selection, please send links to your music, any performance footage, a bit about yourself and why you’d like to take part to info@thegarage.org.uk

Find out more about our creative classesGCSEs in Dance and Drama, our HNC Programme in Performing Arts, and our Introduction to the Creative Industries course.

Our friendly front of house team are happy to answer any questions. Give them a call on 01603 283382 or email info@thegarage.org.uk.

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