Music gives Karen Blackstone a way for her to vent her angst. “But it’s a folky angst,” said the 47-year-old mother of one, who is a familiar face on the live music scene.
However, Blackstone, who is of Portuguese, Sri Lankan and Chinese descent, has stepped away from regular gigs and does the occasional private function. Nevertheless, she still considers music an important part of her life.
She recalled being drawn to the darker side of music at the tender age of five, when her dad, Vincent Nunis, was singing songs by hard-rockers Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin in the family’s living room in Melaka.
“My dad didn’t understand why I wanted to sing bluesy music when I was young. He thought I should be something like Tiffany,” she said. Tiffany was a squeaky-clean teen idol from the mid-80s, who was known for her version of Tommy James and the Shondells’ 1960s hit I Think We’re Alone Now.
Blackstone reluctantly began singing Top 40 covers in the ’80s with a band called The Whispers. “I wanted to sing Janis Joplin and they told me she was dead,” she recalled before stating that Joplin stood for “ideas, integrity and ideals.”
Blackstone soon decided to follow her heart. She garnered some attention when she was a finalist in the talent competition, Top Of The Pubs 1989, where soulman/rocker Vijay David won.
“I was singing Janis Joplin stuff in a short skirt with backing music on tape,” she recalled. But she got to sing Joplin, which gained the singer her own following.
Blackstone continued to evolve, writing her own songs and singing them. The fiery talent went on to put out two albums independently – Give Me Sanity (in 2000) and Dark Sun Big Rain (in 2006). A re-release of the latter, earned her an Anugerah Industri Muzik nomination in 2009.
It’s not hard to see why. The album is dark and dense, fusing wistful sounding flute lines and tribal percussion with gutsy vocals.
Both albums featured legendary blues guitarist Julian Mokhtar of Blues Gang fame, whom she has performed with on occasion. She described her music as “self-absorbed” and “intrinsically flawed”.
Are there any more albums on the cards for Blackstone?
“I’ve got songs that could be recorded but it’s nothing I feel compelled to do. I should be living life, not documenting it. I may record again one day, but only when I meet musicians that I feel comfortable with,” said the lady who did cultural studies in Japan.
Blackstone spends most of her time painting these days. “I’ve been painting longer than doing music. I sold a painting of Mickey Mouse when I was 13 for RM10!”
To date she has had 18 solo art exhibitions.
She considers art to be a voyage of self-discovery. Again, painting was the influence of her dad, who was also an artist, and he sold every thing he painted. “When I was growing up, the house would be splattered in paint,” she recalled.
Blackstone currently has an art studio space at Publika.
“That’s where I have been spending most my time, working on larger pieces. Making hay while the sun shines,” she said.
Also, history seems to be repeating itself. Blackstone’s only child Billie, 19, is also a singer and an artist.
“Yes, it’s like someone pressed the repeat button when my daughter was born,” she laughed.