Patti Rothberg Comes Clean About Love, Art, Life Beyond ‘The 1 and the 9’ And Those ‘Alanis’ Comparisons

Intro by Marisa Torrieri Bloom; interview by Rew Starr

I don’t remember the moment I first heard singer-songwriter Patti Rothberg’s breakout hit “Inside” in the mid 90s, but I do remember watching Patti’s videos on MTV. 

She was a dead ringer for Beatlejuice-era Winona Ryder with the vibe of Courtney Love in “Doll Parts.” A woman hard to define — not quite a folkie, and definitely not Alanis — but hard to forget. And “Inside” encapsulated everything I was feeling in its first few verses: 

I haven't done a thing today … I’m just sittin' around, wastin' time away
... …. Think I'll write a letter home … tellin’ everybody that I'm happy alone … 

The tune embedded itself into my brain for decades, although my hands-down favorite on her debut major-label record Between the 1 and the 9 is the gritty ‘Treat me like Dirt.’ 

In fact, when I was invited to “open” for Patti on my friend Rew Starr’s live Internet show, ‘Rew & Who?’ in 2016, I considered asking Patti to belt it out for me in the kitschy, tiki-themed bathroom of Otto’s Shrunken Head. But I bailed at the last minute, choosing instead to introduce myself and listen to her newer material, which didn’t disappoint. 

Five years later, Patti’s still putting out eclectic musical works (with the best and most clever lyrics!) and cool art. And last year, I was lucky enough to catch one of her 2020 Facebook Live shows where, to my delight, she closed with “Treat me Like Dirt.”

Patti Rothberg

Today, the stories Patti tells, and the memories she shares, paint a glorious picture of Manhattan’s anti-folk and indie-art scene in the late ’90s and early ’00s. 

Rockmommy correspondent Rew Starr recently sat down to catch up with her, and chat about what’s next for this Renaissance woman. 

Rew Starr: How’s it going? What have you been doing these days? 

Patti Rothberg: My way of life has always echoed one of my better known lyrics from the song “Inside”: I could roll myself on down the line.” I operate on intuition and have barely made plans. It’s more like I’m wondering around an arcade looking at the pretty lights and wasting my quarters trying to figure out the games. 

Rew Starr: For those who don’t know, can you give us a bit of your story? 

Patti Rothberg: 1994 was one of the wildest times of my life! I lived on 23rd Street next to the Chelsea Hotel. A LOT of changes. It was my last year at Parsons School of design, and my major was Illustration. I had NO plan, just figured one thing would lead to another.

My friends were all street people: A slide player with white hair who claimed to be from Paul Butterfield’s band…”Andy” I think, Shah who would bum cigarettes, perched outside my apt. (I found out he was an ex con who killed someone and was out on parole) but to me he was my friend…I would flit around and hang out with homeless people and street characters all the time… my old guitarist then, Lukasz, lived a few blocks downtown…when he said, “I just hung out with Kid Rock. I need a name what do you think of “Dr. Luke”!!!!? 

I was meeting so many people that year and I invented an excuse to paint portraits which I liked to paint best: A book called “Math 4 Artists the Wonder of Genetics.” I went to Sidewalk Cafe (RIP) and waltzed right up to Lach (now famous for starting and running “Antifolk” for years) and showed him my portraits (manic much?) Asked him for a show. He gave it to me. 1994. My commute back and forth from Parsons was between the 1 and 9, F and L tunnel on 14th Street and 7th Ave (which was later shortened to “Between the One and the Nine. I incorporated many concepts…the artwork on the album is like a rubik’s cube with one oil painting in the middle and 8 surrounding making a 1 and 9.

Rew Starr: You got married in 2020. So was your husband a fan of your music?

Patti Rothberg: Another amazing story…… 25 years ago, RIGHT after my record came out, Micah was working as the assistant manager of a RECORD STORE, Sam Goody. He wasn’t even supposed to come in at all that day. A rep for EMI came in with my promo and asked if he would play my record ‘Between 1&9’….We’re pushing this girl.’ He asked ‘what does she sound like?’ and the rep dutifully replied ‘Alanis.’ Miraculously, he put on my CD in the store anyway…

Patti Rothberg

Track after track, he says he was waiting for it to sound like Alanis and it never did. He ended up liking the CD, and even selling 40 or so copies! The rep returned 4 days later to follow up… ‘I listened to Patti Rothberg…Micah said. ‘She’s pretty good!’ And he said, ‘Well she’s playing tonight, we have free tickets! Long story short, he asked his friend, Monique to accompany him to my show, and by his recount, judging from my underlit cover painting, he was expecting a “less than attractive troubadour”!!!!!! HAHAHAH. 

Micah was bored facing the other way from where I entered, and someone exclaimed, “There’s Patti.” He turned around, and confused said, ‘Where? Behind the hot chick (meaning ME!!!)? Micah ditched his date for who was to become his queen and bride.

Rew Starr: Did you always believe this would happen? 

Patti Rothberg: One of my earliest memories is walking in my plaid pants on my front lawn age 3 singing to myself. I wanted to be Olivia Newton John. I also wanted to be a muse…when you’re a kid, you’re not sure what goes into what you think you want to do or be. You don’t know the behind the scenes at all. So I pretty much decided I was a muse after seeing Xanadu!!! By my own definition (Inspiring myself by inspiring others…) I have actually done it quite a bit!

Rew Starr: What was being on a world tour like? 

Patti Rothberg: The day I chose EMI and Brian Koppelman in the bidding war between them and Sony, my manager sent me flowers with a note that said, “You did it, you deserve it, your manager for life…Alicia”. I remember all these conflicting emotions. I knew I wouldn’t be able to take my tall, androgynous metalhead rock boyfriend ‘Morgan’ with me on the tour bus, and we had a pretty good thing going. He was a poet, a gentle soul, and he loved drinking wine. But I had a mission to “Rock the world”. The band members that stuck for the tour I picked after just one or a few songs! Adrian Harpham just HAPPENED to go first. 

We jammed, and he knew every nuance of every song I liked to sing. Pretenders, Pat Benetar, classic rock. He was PERFECT. That decision was made in seconds. Same thing with James Elliott (Jamez Jimmy Riot). We auditioned a few bass players and any of them COULD HAVE played the parts I had written and then some (I’m playing all the instruments with a few exceptions on the album with Adrian!). James played ‘Looking For a Girl.’ He just seemed to get my “vibe”. That was enough and we hired him instantly. 

Rew Starr: What were the highlights?  

Patti Rothberg: It was pretty cool having every INCREDIBLE guitar player literally lined up to audition to play MY guitar parts that I wrote off the cuff on the album! I bought my guitar from one of the guys who auditioned. Let’s just say we had a ‘sleepover.’ He was probably in his early 30s at the time… All I really wanted was to be on the real NYC rock scene. The whole story is told in my video ‘Nightstand.’

Rew Starr: Do you have a favorite band you toured with? 

Patti Rothberg: Chris Isaak was the nicest, best tour. What a sweeet talented guy! I mean Garbage!!!!  

Rew Starr: ’Inside’ changed your life. Did you ever think that would be the song? 

Patti Rothberg: I wanted “This One’s Mine” to be the single. For one thing it showed off my electric guitar. I was Courtney Love or Joan Jett, Dale Bozzio or Pat Benetar, I was terrified to be lumped in with the Alanis clones. Believe it or not I sang to Janis Joplin with the windows rolled up when i was 16. I wanted to be Jim Morrison and/or Exene Cervenka… not Joan Baez. Now I think the closer to myself I can get the better off I am, if that makes sense. Just to be true, and DIP into my heroes. After 4 years of “Being” Joey Ramone in Rockaway Bitch……I know the difference. That was such a great experience. I was like studying for an acting role. My songs reveal me every single time. *blush* WHETHER I LIKE IT OR NOT.

Rew Starr: ’Treat Me like Dirt’ seems to be a real pleaser… are your songs autobiographical? Do you have a favorite?

Patti Rothberg: My favorite song at the moment is inspired by David Gates and Bread. I just like it because it’s really TRUE and pretty and it’s on the ONE “download only” album I have,”Ephemeral.” It’s called “Where Were You?” And it’s just perfect. It says exactly what I was trying to say — the best songs do. They practically write themselves. It’s like you enter another state of consciousness. That particular song is so universal too….It says ‘Hey, what relationship were YOU in!?”….

Rew Starr: I know you also illustrate, write books, dress like a rock star and are totally awesome! Can you elaborate on these other passions and were any of these before the music or were they all together? 

Patti Rothberg: My mother was in the media and brought home really cool records for me to roller disco to at a very early age. I also had really cool babysitters who introduced me to things like The Rolling Stones …In 3rd grade we were supposed to put name tags on our desks. I wrote “Olivia Newton John.” I got laughed at A LOT. Some of my friends might remember in 7th grade I spelled my name “Paouxti’ in honor of Siouxsie. No one could pronounce it. Got laughed at. I found the tiny smattering of punk rock/skater types in my school and started dressing as “goth” as I knew how.. .going to places like “Le Chateau” and buying full-length robes/ black eyeliner. 

Kids would count to three as I walked down the hall and yell “WEAR WHITE”. We’re talking about Scarsdale High School. Home of the perfect smiles quarterbacks and cheerleaders. I saw the movie “Rock n Roll High School” and immediately gravitated to Joey Ramone. I painted skulls on my nails. I saw Rocky Horror Picture Show at 13, I went in to “the city” any chance I could and went to Manic Panic (today any CVS sells weird hair colors). I’m proud to say I had green and red hair by age 14……The soundtrack to the movie Times Square got me started with good music. I taught at School of Rock from Jimi Hendrix’s birthday to the first day of quarantine at Covid. That was the PERFECT job for me. I have ONE student left now because of having to do it remotely, but she’s really gonna be a star. I loved The Runaways, I loved Ottos, I loved Rew and Who and I’m so proud to have done the show w/ Alan Merrill, Mr. Rock n Roll. R.I.P. I miss u Rew! Also, I hope they bring back old school MTV!

[SEE RELATED: Laura Merrill on Art, Life and the Legacy of her Rock n’ Roll Dad Alan Merrill]

Rew Starr: Your mom played a role encouraging you right? What and how did she? 

Patti Rothberg: She’s a poet. Micah is too. They’re clever and FAST with the rhymes! 

My mom was on WYNY radio after Dr Ruth Westheimer!

Rew Starr: I love how you twist words, when did this start? Ever think of making a Patti dictionary?

Patti Rothberg: I Already started! It’s more like an encyclopedia…Extra Awesome. There are 2 so far…and counting.

Rew Starr: When people yell out to play a song is there anything you can’t play? I mean I even saw you do ‘Freebird’ when it was yelled at you!

Patti Rothberg: I say give the people what they want (especially if they don’t think I can). Surprise em! I’m a good faker.

Rew Starr: Are you making any new music?

Patti Rothberg: Yes! Dan Dubelman and I have formed “The Jersey Beatles” and done tons of covers and originals during Covid, going back and forth in Logic.

Rew Starr: Tell us something we don’t know about you? 

Patti Rothberg: I love nice hotels with a pool, a jacuzzi, a very puffy white comforter. Thank you Rew, I’m sure if I did this again there’d be some differences! c’est la vie!

Rew Starr is a musician, actor, and mother who lives in New York City.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

 

Alison Faith Levy’s Latest Record Raises Questions of Spirituality and Ethics for Young Listeners

Jazz-pop songwriter Alison Faith Levy— known for keyboard skills and smooth vocal chops — is a staple in San Francisco’s performing arts circuit, regularly releasing songs that fans of all ages enjoy.

Her latest release, You Are Magic, is perhaps the most meaningful yet, inspired by a turning point in her life, and a desire to rase awareness around the sometimes-difficult, but always important, topics of spirituality and ethics. The album still offers her signature blend of “sophisticated pop for little ears.” But underneath the upbeat tempo is a reflective intention, as listeners are called to contemplate community and purpose: Who are we, and why are we here? How do we connect with others?

Alison Faith Levy (Photo by Danny Plotnick)

For non-religious parents like me, who don’t ascribe to a particular faith, these are complex, and important questions.

We recently caught up with Alison to talk about the record and what’s next. 

Rockmommy: Hi Alison! For those of you not familiar with your music, how would you describe your sound?

Alison Faith Levy: My sound is sophisticated pop for little ears, steeped in the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I love that classic period of singer-songwriters like Elton John, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King, and bands like the Beatles, The Kinks, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and The Zombies. That time period is my sweet spot and you can definitely hear it in my songs.  

Rockmommy: This album is really timely for parents like me. We’re not raising kids with any particular religion, and I’m struggling with how to teach my kids about some of the good stuff (values like compassion and empathy). Did you make this record with parents and kids like mine in mind? 

Alison Faith Levy: Absolutely! You are my target audience! One thing I have loved and been inspired by, throughout my recent experience as a Jewish educator, is that many of the preschool families I work with come from very diverse backgrounds but can still really connect with the values and ideas that are addressed in Jewish learning environments. My goal with this album was to take those core values and ideas and make them accessible to all, regardless of your faith background. There is no specific “Jewish-ness” about attributes like empathy, compassion, self-expression, caring for the earth, gratitude, and creativity — it’s all there to be shared! 

Rockmommy: What is the main message you hope to impart? What do you hope kids can glean from these songs? 

Alison Faith Levy: First of all, I want to honor that kids have a natural spirituality and ask really big questions. My goal is to help build and develop their heart muscle – the place where they ponder deep thoughts, create their own imaginary worlds, connect with other people, and learn how to engage with the wider world in an authentic way. Everyone is special, but what makes us special is the way our own uniqueness connects with, and reflects in, others. 

Rockmommy: Is there a particular age group you’re hoping your message resonates with?

Alison Faith Levy: I would say the preschool to early elementary ages would be the most receptive, and also their parents! This album is designed for the whole family — the musical references will be fun and recognizable to the adults, and the lyrics will (hopefully) be inspiring for the children. 

Rockmommy: Who are your musical inspirations? 

Alison Faith Levy: See question #1! I’m also currently inspired by so many of my Kindie and Jewish music peers. There are folks out there doing amazing work, especially strong women like Joanie Leeds, Ellen Allard, Lucy Kalantari, Nefesh Mountain, and Chava Mirel. 

[SEE RELATED: Joanie Leeds’ New Record and Message of Empowerment Celebrates All the Ladies]

Rockmommy: What’s your hope for the near future, amid all of the craziness in our world? 

Alison Faith Levy: Wow. Well, I would just hope that reason, truth, science, and empathy win the day. That the focus of our country’s leaders begins to move into a place where we look out for the safety of our fellow citizens, protect our earth from the ravages of climate change, protect women’s rights, and place a higher value on education and healthcare. What is happening now is just not sustainable, and it’s pretty scary. And get vaccinated, people! C’mon now. 

Rockmommy: What’s the best advice you’ve received for balancing creative life with all of the other demands?

Alison Faith Levy: I’m still working on that one! Knowing that each day has a set of tasks to be completed, and not to get too anxious about the future. Take a deep breath, show up, and do your best. Also, let go of perfection, it is not your friend. I remind myself every day to be grateful for the gift of being able to do all the work that I do in the community. It can be overwhelming sometimes, but it’s all good and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

Girls Girls Girls’ Nikita Seis and Tawny Lee on Reviving the ‘Crüe,’ Partying with Tommy Lee (and MGK), and Gigging in 2021

NYC-based Mötley Crüe tribute band Girls Girls Girls plays such a high-energy, awe-inspiring live show that phone calls and email requests to play private events are pretty much the norm (as are fangirls like me).

So when the band received a random email in late 2018 about playing a private party in Los Angeles, GGG bassist Nikita Seis was hesitant to celebrate. It just seemed like another fan request.

Girls Girls Girls, NYC’s Mötley Crüe tribute band, partying with Tommy Lee in 2019.

I just got the typical email that I always got about possibly ‘playing a private party in LA in March,’” Nikita tells Rockmommy. “I was on my way to see The Struts with a friend and told her about the email, and how nine times out of ten those are just some random person asking us to play their party and they never pan out.” 

But her mindset changed a few hours later as she pulled in to the driveway of the suburban Nashville home she shares with her husband and kids, and the host of SiriusXM’s Hair Nation confirmed the date for the release of Mötley Crüe’s biopic The Dirt, for March 22nd.

“At that point I realized there was a chance the two could have something to do with each other, and the next day, when I spoke to the woman in charge, it was confirmed,” Nikita tells Rockmommy. “She told me the filmmakers wanted us and it was contingent on all four members of Mötley Crüe signing off on us.”

After dusting off their instruments and scrambling over the next six weeks to bring on a new singer, rehearse like crazy, and try to stay sane while balancing job responsibilities and parenting, the band pulled off a visually and musically epic rock set at LA’s legendary club Whisky a Go Go — to the delight of an audience that included none other than Tommy Lee and Machine Gun Kelly (who plays Lee in the movie), front and center.

Girls Girls Girls rocking out. (Photo: Drew Osborne)

It’s a moment and a memory bassist and rock-n-roll mom continues to savor, especially now, as the excitement around live music’s return is being tempered by the delta variant, and the summer 2021 window for worry-free gigging is starting to close.

But she — and the rest of her Crüe-playing bandmates, including lead singer Trixxx Neill, guitarist Denise Mercedes Mars and the drummer better known to GGG fans as Tawny Lee — remain hopeful, even in the midst of uncertainty.

We recently caught up with Nikita and Tawny to talk about the tribute band’s 15-year legacy, and how they balance rock aspirations with work pressures, motherhood (Nikita’s kids are 11 and 9), and life on life’s terms. 

Rockmommy: I’m so psyched to interview Girls Girls Girls! What’s the coolest thing you’ve done in the last two years?

Nikita Seis: This is probably obvious, but getting to play the afterparty for the ‘Dirt’ premiere at the Whisky [in Los Angeles] was probably the coolest thing we’ve done in the last 15 years!

The show itself was very surreal, playing ‘Kickstart my Heart’ and then watching Tommy Lee and Machine Gun Kelly walk down the stairs and come over to the side of the stage and start rocking out. I felt like the whole thing happened in slow motion and I’m not sure how I even hit the right notes. It was like I was just sort of out of my body, because I did spot them when they started coming down the stairs.

That’s the side of the stage I usually play on, and we’ve had several fans over the years tell us we’re “wrong” because our Nikki [Sixx] and Mick [Mars] are reversed, but we decided to switch for that show. If we hadn’t, I’d have been right next to Tommy. Denise [our guitarist], as always, was so engrossed in her playing she didn’t even notice him! 

Tawny: OK, obviously playing at the Whisky afterparty with Tommy Lee air-drumming up front was the coolest thing we did in the last two years/ever. The second-coolest thing, on a personal note, was playing Toronto in January 2020. 

My sister, GGG backup singer Hurricane Yoshi, had just moved to settle in Toronto the month before, after over 10 years of living in NYC, so being able to perform with her in her new hometown was pretty sweet and helped dull the pain of the slap in the face that is losing your sister to Canada (or any other country, to be clear).

Rockmommy: How did the Motley Crüe movie experience come about, when you went to LA?

Nikita: I’m not sure how they found us, but I just got the typical email that I always got about possibly ‘playing a private party in LA in March.’ I was on my way to see the band The Struts with a friend and told her about the email, and how nine times out of ten those are just some random person asking us to play their party and they never pan out. 

But when I got home from the concert and pulled in to my driveway, I heard on SiriusXM’s Hair Nation ‘Mötley Crüe has announced ‘The Dirt’ will finally be released on March 22nd.’ 

At that point I realized there was a chance the two could have something to do with each other, and the next day, when I spoke to the woman in charge, it was confirmed. She told me the filmmakers wanted us and it was contingent on all four members of Mötley Crüe signing off on us. This was right before Christmas, so she said we might not have an answer immediately.

This was okay for us because we hadn’t played in three years at that point and didn’t really have a permanent singer, so it bought us some time to find one. We auditioned Trixxx Neil and one other girl via video. The show confirmed right around February 1st and we had about six weeks to prepare for the show of our lives, with a singer we’d never performed with and with a band member (me) living in a different state. To have pulled it all off felt like a huge achievement!

Rockmommy: What was the last gig you did in the “before times” in early 2020? 

Nikita: We were so fortunate to have played a couple of gigs in Canada in January/February 2020. COVID was just hitting the news, and we had to answer some questions on whether we’d traveled to China recently while going through customs. I remember seeing that a few cases had been reported in Atlanta, and I was flying through there, but it still felt like it was just hype. We got to play a club in Toronto and a casino in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Rockmommy: When the pandemic happened, what did you do? So many people played acoustic shows on FB Live, but that’s hard to do with a full band! 

Nikita: I never really felt a need to put GGG out there during the lockdown. We’re best as a live band, with the makeup and the outfits and the energy of the crowd. Personally, my bass stayed in its case from when we got back from Canada until we booked our most recent show that we just played. 

Tawny: On account of unfortunate timing, I moved to a new apartment during the height of the NYC pandemic, and I’ll admit I went into full lockdown mode and put my drums into various storage spaces — under the bed, on closet shelves, in ceiling storage, down in the basement — and didn’t dig them out until our Maryland show [in summer 2021] was booked.

Rockmommy: Speaking of Maryland, what was that like? Was there a renewed appreciation for what you’re doing? 

Nikita: It was great to be out there again, but there was also sort of a weird cloud hanging over things, with delta sort of starting to emerge. Like the first “welcome back” thing that happened was showing up to the grounds and finding out we had a different sound man because the person I’d been talking to all week was now in the ICU with COVID. And the day before I was supposed to leave, both my husband and son got sick. They tested negative for COVID, but I had the stress of possibly having to cancel the show. I was grateful that it was an outdoor show. We all want to return to normal but it still doesn’t feel totally within reach. But the bikers and fans at the show were awesome and it did feel good to be on stage again!

Tawny: The members of the Hell’s Angels we met were among the sweetest, most respectful guys we’ve met on the road. It had been so long since we played that it felt brand new again, meeting the other bands on the bill, doing sound check, meeting people from the audience… It was great.

Girls Girls Girls! (From left to right: Denise Mercedes Mars, Tawny Lee, Nikita Seis, Trixxx Neil)

Rockmommy: So all-girl tribute bands have grown, but good ones are rare. Do you get compared with Mötley Crüe a lot? Are people shocked (or not surprised at all) that girls can KICK ASS playing like the pros?

Nikita: We’ve been together almost 15 years now. I do kind of feel like back in those days we got a lot of surprise at the fact we were girls kicking ass, but thankfully we’re hearing that part less these days.

Rockmommy: GGG’s members have tons of personal responsibilities. Like kids, spouses, and jobs. How do you make time for music?

Nikita: It’s got progressively harder for me at least. My kids are 11 and 9 now. It’s easier now than when they were younger, but it is still hard to find the time to practice. Thankfully, since I’ve been playing these songs for so long, it’s really just minimal upkeep. I have a very supportive husband who steps up when I have to fly out a few days for rehearsals or gigs. 

The last gig that I played in the same city as my family was in 2016, and my son was 5. At that time I didn’t want to have him at the gig because I felt like I’d have a hard time being Nikita and not being Mom. Now I’d like for my kids to see me play at least once, so I’m waiting for the right show so they can see me. They’re getting to the age where I’m not cool anymore, so hopefully I can change their minds!

Tawny Lee: I have zero kids, and it’s still hard making time! So big props to Nikita and all the other musician parents out there. My career has always been pretty demanding, but GGG is important enough to me that I will always make time, even if that means working in the van with no internet or plugging in at a hotel “business center.” Which has been tricky at times, given that historically my work has had no idea about my side gig. It can be tricky to reasonably explain why I’m driving to PA and then OH and then upstate NY in a three-day stretch, or why I’m visiting Alaska in January.

Rockmommy: Any upcoming shows for the fall, or tour dates?

Nikita: We have a few upcoming shows we’re scheduling that we haven’t announced yet! Hopefully with the pandemic they all go off without a hitch!

 Rockmommy: What is your favorite Motley Crüe song?

Nikita: This is like asking who your favorite child is. But ‘Live Wire’ is sort of the song that kicked off the first album, first video, etc., and it really set the tone for their whole career. Just a kickass piece of music, with a little bit of cowbell!  And ‘Girls Girls Girls’ will always be one of my favorite songs, not just because it’s our namesake. 

I remember being a sixth grade girl watching that video for the first time  There’s a part at the end where Nikki Sixx is summoning a brunette to come to him, and I remember wanting to be that brunette. As inappropriate as that is, that’s the girl who steps on stage now with her bass, even if at home I’m a mom who drops her kids off at sports before going to book club.

Tawny Lee: Yeesh, Sophie’s Choice. ‘Live Wire’ overall, ‘Primal Scream’ for the beat, ‘Ten Seconds to Love’ for the ridiculous lyrics, and…’Public Enemy #1’ because it makes me happy. And ‘Take Me to the Top.’ And…OK I’ll stop.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

Blues Guitarist Rafe Klein of the Name Droppers Talks Music, Dad Life, and Gigs in ’21

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Connecticut-based blues rocker and guitar-wielding dad Rafe Klein first caught my attention when I watched a virtual livestream of his solo set in mid 2020. But it wasn’t just his cool guitar chops (he studied with the legendary Charlie Karp in his 30s) and singing that impressed me. He had a presence — an unmistakable confidence and earnestness in his delivery — that piqued my interest and kept me listening. 

So I was particularly excited about his latest project — a musical collaboration between his band the Name Droppers and international recording artist Carole Sylvan, which culminated in the record ‘Love’ that dropped earlier this summer. The record, produced by Vic Steffens, is loaded with funky guitar riffs, rich, soaring vocals, and danceable beats. 

Rafe Klein (far left) and the Name Droppers with Carole Sylvan (center). Photo courtesy of Rafe Klein.

We recently caught up with Rafe to talk about what’s next, including his September 2nd show at Café Nine (New Haven) with Frank Viele.

Rockmommy: Hi Rafe! How would you describe your music for those who haven’t heard you? 

Rafe Klein: The Name Droppers play blues rock. I really like the idea of using traditional blues riffs, but using them differently, maybe less frequently, or perhaps as a reprise. Then turning them into a non-traditional blues song, which could be, but is not limited to, the standard 1-4-5 progression, but still recognized as a blues.  

Rockmommy: So when did you start playing guitar?

Rafe Klein: I started taking lessons about 13 years ago. At first just playing chords, mostly on acoustic. Then I started playing electric, and began to learn how to solo, started working my way around the neck. I’m still learning, and always looking for ways to improve my playing.  

Rockmommy: How have you been making the most of gigging and playing out this summer?

Rafe Klein: We’ve had a decent amount of shows this summer, and fortunately, most of them were well attended. I think because of the pandemic, certain venues now have twice the budget, since most of last year’s budget is still available to them. 

But now, because of the new Delta variant, bands, and booking agents are both thinking twice about booking gigs into the fall or winter. It’s a complete unknown, and it may be something we’re all just going to have to deal with for a while, or maybe even longer.  

Rafe Klein (Photo: Kvon Photography)

Rockmommy: You made a record with international recording artist Carole Sylvan (‘Love’). Is there anything more you can tell us about the music?

Rafe Klein: This record, produced by Vic Steffens, has been a work in progress for over two years. Besides the Name Droppers, we’ve got a great lineup of additional musicians, including soul man Bobby Harden, who is a guest vocalist on a song he wrote called ‘What Do You Call It.’ 

Carole’s ability to put together vocal arrangements and do all the parts and background vocals herself has really impressed me. I’m proud of the record, and think its collection of original songs, plus a few covers like ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ — one of my favorite songs — make it stand out, and hopefully make some noise.

Rockmommy: What are your hopes (and plans) for making music this fall? 

Rafe Klein: Fortunately, ‘Love’ is being played on over 100 college radio stations in the United States, and we will be supporting the album. Carole Sylvan & The Name Droppers have two shows lined up this Fall: Cafe Nine in New Haven on September 2nd, and a return Triad Theatre in New York City on November 11th.  

Rockmommy: What’s your advice for balancing parenthood with being a musician or creative person?

Rafe Klein: If you try to make your kids part of your creation, it can be rewarding. This is not easy, however. I have made a few funny videos where my kids are the main characters. Working with your kids in a creative environment is not the same as working with your musical peers. 

There is a lack of attention, as well as the fact that you are their dad, and not their dance instructor or creative instructor. It can be frustrating, but really cool and rewarding when it works. Encourage your kids to play instruments. Especially the drums if you can handle the noise. Playing drums can open up all kinds of talent or curiosity. The ability to keep time can lead to learning other instruments, or better musicianship.  

I also think if you over-encourage them it could be a problem too. Let them want to do it. If it comes from you, it’s probably not cool. But if a friend from class starts playing violin, for example, and then your kids come home and want to take up violin. Letting it happen organically is more productive then forcing them to learn or practice something that they may not value. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.