Unlike many who form garage bands, Laurie Berkner has managed to turn her hobby from Rutgers University into a nearly 20-year career of recording, touring, television appearances and more. Berkner is making a solo appearance at Music In The Zoo at the Minnesota Zoo on Sunday, July 31, and she chatted with TC Jewfolk about how she got started, juggling her career and family — she has an 11-year-old daughter — and how her recently-discovered Judaism fits with her music.
When did you start playing guitar?
I didn’t start playing guitar until my last year of high school. I had played violin, clarinet, piano. I was babysitting and one of the kids was learning and I would fool around on it after she went to bed. I bought a book and taught myself.
Have you played the Minnesota Zoo before?
I haven’t. I’ve played some weird settings, though. Everything is unique though, right? I’m excited to see this one.
How does playing a solo show differ for you compared to bringing the full band?
In the last few years I’ve been doing some solo shows, some duos, some with the whole band. It depends on what the venue can afford and the band’s schedule. “I always miss the band on a personal level. There are pros and cons for me. When I do the shows by myself, there’s a simplicity that makes it easy and enjoyable. I don’t have to worry about making sure everyone knows the set list. Those things just make it easier. I have a much shorter sound check.
I love playing with the rest of the band because there is a different energy that’s less intimate, a little more party-like. I try for both of those no matter on the show. It’s easier to be intimate when it’s just me. I love what each of them bring to the band.
You’ve got the new CD, “Superhero,” coming out in September; How do you keep finding the inspiration for new material?
Mostly it’s just life. One of my problems isn’t coming up with a new idea; it’s finishing it once I have it and making a good piece of work. I think a lot of times I listen to kids. I ask them things. I try to remember what I liked as a kid. There are lots of different ways.
You’ve done a wide variety of things in your career with books, TV, theater in addition to the music; what do you enjoy doing most?
I like most of it. I go back and forth. I know that I love the performing. I love writing the songs. I love the recording experience. Right now, I’m literally deciding the final mix notes on my new album. I’ll be glad when I’m done; I need a break. I’ve spent four months writing, mixing, arranging, recording. I’ve been living it for a while now. We’re filming videos. I’m love the process, but I’m done. I appreciate that I have a lot of different ways to express myself creatively. Also just meeting kids. If I do a meet and greet. Spending some time with the kids inspires me. It makes me feel lucky.
Where did the idea to start the “Music In Me Program” come from?
A lot of that came because I was getting feedback from people that they were wanting to use my songs in the classroom. I felt like I wrote a lot of these because I was a music teacher at the time. I want to share with people who listen to a CD and help teach people what I was thinking and how I used it, or how I think music affects kids. What’s important is that we share music with kids. I felt like if I didn’t do it now, it would get lost. It gets me back to my roots.
Do you think your Jewish identity comes out in your music?
I have no idea. I didn’t grow up identifying as Jewish. It was a real discovery as an adult. I still feel like I’m constantly navigating and finding out a little more about my own history. I didn’t realize how much Judaism my mom grew up with. I see it so clearly in her mother. It was one of those things that, when I think about it, how was it for so long that I didn’t understand that I was (part-Jewish). (My mom’s father) remarried but didn’t remarry Jewish. It’s a huge mush of cultures and beliefs. I’m not even sure what in me is the Jewish part. Expect for the desire to have connection and feelings to a culture.
How do you balance everything you do as a musician with being a parent?
Not very well. I try to do my best and not forget things. I feel like I’m always forgetting stuff for her. Babysitters will text me while I’m in the studio. There’s always something. Now she comes to shows and sells merchandise. If I’m working on song she’ll offer to help. If I need some kids voices, she’ll come and sing. If I need a silly idea, she’s got some. But I don’t think it’s balanceable. I love that I get to perform ad I hate that I have to leave my family to do it.
TC Jewfolk is giving away a family four-pack of tickets to Laurie Berkner’s show at the Weesner Family Amphitheater at the Minnesota Zoo. Concert tickets are good for admission to the zoo beginning at 2 p.m. on the day of the show, and the show starts at 7 p.m. To win the tickets, email us at [email protected] by July 20. Winner will be chosen at random.
[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” ]This article was made possible in part with support from the Howard B. & Ruth F. Brin Jewish Arts Endowment, a fund of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation’s Foundation, and Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council, an initiative of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.[/box]