— by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
As any new parent will tell you, having a baby shifts your world in unimaginable ways.
Yet there are some new moms, between diapers and deadlines and sleepless nights, who seem truly unstoppable in continuing their life’s journey, babe on their hip, embracing motherhood while strengthening their purpose, motivated to find new meaning in their life, work, and service.
Katy Otto is one of these women.
When Otto, the drummer and singer of Trophy Wife, the band she shares with co-collaborator/musician friend Diane Foglizzo, isn’t busy raising her one-year-old son David with her partner, she’s busy creating art and continuing her activism for numerous issues — such as LGBT rights, gender equality, and a focus on parenting that is less about what you have and more about what you do and how you choose to live.
We interviewed Otto recently to learn more about her quest to balance working (at Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania!), music (she also has her own label, Exotic Fever), and motherhood.
Check out our full Q&A — especially if you’re a rocker mom looking for some good, gritty inspiration on getting your groove back.
Rockmommy: You’ve been a mom for a little more than a year and recently you played your first show in a while. What was the experience like?
Katy Otto: The first show I played post-birth was with my band Trophy Wife in Durham, N.C., at the Pinhook on December 11. My son David was just over six months old. The show was a bit of a drive from where my band lives in Philly, so we took David with us and dropped him off on the way at my parents’ house in Bowie, Maryland. He stayed with my folks overnight for the evening of the show.
The Pinhook was celebrating its seventh anniversary. The space is a queer punk club in the south, and it means a great deal to our band. We were honored that they invited us to play, and while we had thought about waiting a bit more to get out and play a show, this seemed like the right time to do it. I was still nursing at the time, so I pumped in the club (with a cover on) basically just in the middle of the room. It was pretty intense but felt like one of the most punk things I’ve ever done, actually. The sound guy looked a little surprised but rolled with it. Everyone was very accommodating — I stored my milk under the bar by a keg.
The show itself was incredible. We were overwhelmed by the amount of support people in Durham showed us, some even knowing our lyrics. I think it had been the longest stretch in my life I had gone not playing music in front of people since I started as a teenager. I was very nervous, but once our set started, that all evaporated. I felt very whole and like myself being able to be in my element like that, particularly with my bandmate Diane.
Rockmommy: Are you still creating new music with Trophy Wife, and Diane Foglizzo?
Katy Otto: Yup! Diane and I have written four songs since our last album: two while I was pregnant and two since David’s birth. We’ve been playing out and even traveling here and there for shows. It’s been great. I’ve also been grateful for the support of my partner, family, and friends in helping to provide childcare so I can rehearse and play out. I also play in a four-piece band in Philly called Callowhill that is finalizing songs for our first full length. We have a seven inch/digital EP out.
Rockmommy: Do you think it is more challenging to keep up with the Philly rock scene you were an active participant in now that you are a parent?
Katy Otto: I am not able to go out to shows I am not playing as much, but I still feel very connected to Philly’s underground music community. I moved to Philly six years ago after living in the D.C. metro area my whole life. I am so glad I made that decision. Philadelphia is extraordinary in terms of the music, art, and activism people are involved in. I also know a number of other creative parents and recently did a series of interviews while I was on maternity leave with people on balancing parenting and creative practice. If you are interested in reading them they are here: http://www.fvckthemedia.com/issue63/frontpage
Rockmommy: Do you think mom musicians, in general, have it harder than other musicians (e.g., single men, dads, etc.)? In what ways?
Katy Otto: I don’t think anything is that cut and dry. I don’t think gender is binary. I think there are many factors at play, including the support networks people have, as well as other resources such as money. I have been fortunate in weaving together a strong web of support to allow me to continue my musical practice. I also have very understanding band mates in both of my active bands. There are some aspects of societal gender roles that have meant that, in general, I think there are more challenges for a mother even just perceptually when she is away from her child and out in the world doing things. For example, I’ve had even “progressive” male friends ask me when I’ve been at a show I am about to play if my partner Chris is “babysitting.” It really is mind boggling. I think one time I said, “Who would he be babysitting?” Dads parent their children. They don’t babysit their own children. This is an annoying kind of question, but I also think any single parent is going to obviously have a host of different challenges that I don’t have as a co-parent managing childcare and an outside life, regardless of gender.
I will say that I know a number of cis men in hetero relationships who are musicians who I have seen have a very different experience than I have. They have said to me that becoming a parent didn’t vastly impact their ability to tour, etc., or the activity of their band, but in a lot of these cases I’ve seen that that is because their female partner bears the brunt of child rearing duties. When I did my interview series, I did interview men who play in bands, but I specifically chose to speak with men who I knew where playing a very active role in their children’s lives — including some single fathers. I think the question you pose is complex and I don’t think there is a clearcut answer.
Rockmommy: How has motherhood influenced your music, or creativity in general?
Katy Otto: I view the time I have to play music now as more precious than ever, and I value it as sacred. I feel drive to be out and present in the world, doing the thing that has meant the most to me since I was a teen. I want to have both – motherhood and a creative life. I think there are also all kinds of ways to be a mother, and we can challenge that definition all the time. My bandmate recently got me an awesome book called Revolutionary Mothering. It provides a lot of excellent conversations on motherhood as experienced by queer women, women of color, and low income women. It really has challenged a lot of stereotypes I’ve seen and absorbed in the dominant culture about motherhood since I was a child. I am incredibly grateful for this book and can’t recommend it enough.
I am also only just learning how motherhood will affect my creativity, since I am new to this. It’s been hard to eke out the same space and time to create, but again I feel so grateful when I have it that I think I pour a lot into it. I am interested in building networks and relationships with other mothers and parents so we can pitch in and help each other out with child care and support as we all continue to create in the world. I want my child to be part of a beloved community of mutuality, and working towards that also seems like its own kind of creative practice. I have always felt like community organizing and social justice work, indeed political imagination in general, were urgent forms of creative practice.
I also think my interest in heavy, dissonant music has only continued to grow the older I get. So far I think motherhood has only added to that.
Rockmommy: We always like to ask rockmommies about balance — have you found a way to balance your motherhood, work, and other endeavors? Or is it something you’re still working toward?
Katy Otto: This is a constant work in progress, and I know many other mothers know much more than I do. I have not been afraid to reach out and ask for support, and I’ve been humbled and lucky to receive it. I have a partner who is very committed to an equitable sharing of childcare and other domestic work. We both work full time too, so we’re continuing to negotiate what that looks like. He is very dedicated to jiu jitsu practice, and I try to make sure he has enough time out of the house for that, too. We check in about scheduling regularly. It’s a lot to balance work, creative life, parenting, and time for our relationship with each other. A key has been the help of friends and family. David, my son, has a beautiful array of other people in his life. This feels really positive to me and right for our family.
Recently Trophy Wife played a benefit show for Decarcerate PA in Pittsburgh that offered childcare on site, in a room with sound protection. That was an incredible experience — David’s first trip as a roadie. Part of how it worked was the combination of a supportive partner who understands my need to drive across the state and play music in DIY venues, a bandmate who is incredibly accommodating to a person with a child, and a community that actively supports and welcomes parents. The show was a release for the second edition of the zine “Women in Sound” by Madeleine Campbell. She is a phenomenal human being and you should definitely check her zine out here.
Rockmommy: What is the best motherhood advice you’ve received, which is worthy of being passed along?
Katy Otto: I hold on to something that Ian MacKaye of all people told me, when I had a lengthy conversation with him while pregnant. He basically shared the idea that the single best way for me to parent was to continue being my authentic self. It’s been important for me to know that when I am living in the world as the person I’ve worked hard to be, that will help me be who my child needs. The instinct to parent is in our bones. We can make the roads by walking, as the book I mentioned Revolutionary Mothering emphasizes. We can reject blueprints and paradigms that aren’t right for us, some of which reinforce dangerous binaries and stereotypes. I continue to be inspired by so many of my friends who parent and create with beauty, imagination, and courage — and I’m particularly grateful for all the folks who allowed me to interview them for the series I mentioned before. I hope to keep adding to it, and I hope it can be part of ongoing conversations.
— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a writer, guitar teacher, mom, and the founder of Rockmommy