Passing Strange’s Anthony Paolucci on Raising a Piano Prodigy, Songwriting, and His Band’s New Baby — ‘Afterthought’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Connecticut indie-rock duo Passing Strange’s latest record is called Afterthought, but the 12-song collection is anything but. The album, which came out in October, encompasses an expansive sonic realm — impressively executed by just one vocalist/keyboardist (Kate Mirabella) and one drummer (Anthony Paolucci) — and feels wilder and more playful at times than The Water and The Woods, the band’s early pandemic full-length, though equally emotive.

On Afterthought (NeuroTronix Records), every song — from the low-key, intimate “Library Voice” and the punchy “Killing Spree” to the jazzy/upbeat “Ballroom Floor” — is thoughtfully crafted, the byproduct of two percussively minded songwriters who are as in tune with each other as a pair of longtime best friends.

Passing Strange ‘Afterthought’

It’s clear that in late 2021, Mirabella and Paolucci have become more comfortable as songwriters and performers, having played together since 2017. As a result, their ability to craft clever, imaginative lyrics that resonate with each song’s musical mood is evident in every verse, hook, and live show. 

The album’s cheeky first single, “Karen In The Daytime” — which I originally assumed was a nod to the phenomenon of Karens in our post-2020 society — is actually a clever ode to the show ‘Californication,’ with Mirabella’s breathy voice soaring atop a cool, breezy melody. And I love the way she belts out, ‘I Wish I could be your Karen in the daytime’ with equal parts angsty conviction and joy. 

And while I’ve enjoyed every track I’ve heard from Afterthought, my favorite is the stunning “Ivory & Blue.” When I heard this delightfully melancholy song for the first time, it totally captivated me. The chord changes and vocal turns are so beautifully unexpected, carrying a fantastical storyline, that I just had to keep listening. 

For hours, I wracked my brain trying to come up with the right analogy to describe the way the song impacted me, and the best I can offer is this: It’s like going to a party and expecting plain, but pleasant, vanilla-frosted cake, and then being presented with tiramisu encrusted in sparkling, 14-karat gold.

And the surprises keep on coming: Just when I thought the “Ivory & Blue” had mellowed into a comfortable cadence, Paolucci’s drums make their entrance, ecstatically driving the song to toward its final destination.

Anthony Paolucci’s daughter Eden with one of her first instruments.

Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised when Paolucci told me that he was a dad to a gifted, 17-year-old piano-playing daughter! Clearly, the good music genes run in the family. We recently caught up with him to talk more about fatherhood, the record, and what’s next for 2022.

[SEE RELATED: Passing Strange Share Their Journey to ‘The Water and the Woods’ and What They Want Most in the Post-Pandemic World

Rockmommy: How is your latest record, Afterthought, different from 2020’s The Water and the Woods

Anthony Paolucci: It’s a little-known fact that The Water and the Woods is technically our FIRST album. The first version was hastily written and recorded in two months, back in 2017. We wrote the songs, believed they were ready, and recorded them when we were offered a chance to do so by a personal friend with a studio. How wrong we were. The songs were given no time to mature and develop over time from playing them live, and we were eventually disappointed in our decision to record them when we did.

Our next batch of songs became “Come Whatever Storms,” which we wrote and recorded a year after writing them and playing them live. After that, we began writing songs for what would be our third album. 

However, in 2019, we were signed to NeuroTronix Records, and we hadn’t finished writing the new album yet. So Rick [Demko] decided to re-record The Water and the Woods, an opportunity we leaped at. After its official re-release, the country went into lockdown and other than our album release show, we never had a chance to promote it live anywhere. So we went back to working on the third album. 

Half the album was already written, but the rest of it was written in quarantine — and, in our opinion, it shows. The nature and tone of these songs is deeply personal and very intimate. Whereas many of the songs on the other two albums are fictional stories, most of the ones on Afterthought are about us and a lot of our life experiences. So when all is said and done, this third album technically took three years to write before we recorded it. In the meantime, the songs that were finished we played live many times. So as far as we’re concerned, it’s our best and proudest effort so far.

Passing Strange’s Anthony Paolucci and daughter Eden at a KISS concert.

Rockmommy: How did you approach each track?

Anthony Paolucci: Each track was approached the same way we always write. Kate comes up with an idea or a series of parts and plays them for me. I “find the beat” in the song, and we ride out the groove, following the song wherever it takes us. Sometimes, in the end, it doesn’t sound anything like Kate originally intended, but it becomes a Passing Strange song, a creation that’s truly equal parts her and I. 

Since half the album was recorded in quarantine, however, many of these songs were quite finished when they finally came to me, and I didn’t want to deviate from their original arrangement or sound. My job was to add to their depth and give them a percussive layer, without taking anything away from the original idea: One example is “Coming Up Roses.” 

In the case of “Karen In The Daytime”, given the soft or subdued nature of many of our songs, I asked Kate to write a song, just for me, that I can rock out to on my drums. It took a while, but I couldn’t have been more pleased with the result, and I felt that I really got to flex my drumming arms on that one.

Rockmommy: What is the story behind the song ‘Karen In The Daytime’? 

Anthony Paolucci: This song was inspired by the show Californication and is written from the perspective of the character Mia — a young, unstable, extorting, mistress as she realizes she’ll never live up to the main character’s ex-wife Karen. Instead, she is stuck seeing him at night when he can get away, while Karen gets him in the daytime.

Rockmommy: What are your goals for 2022?

Anthony Paolucci: With three albums under our belt, our main goal at this point is to just play out. We’re finally crossing the border and playing a different state for the first time next year, but we’d like to play as many new places with as many new bands and artists as possible. So if you’re reading this, and you like what you hear, reach out to us! We want to share a stage with you.

Rockmommy: What are yours and Kate’s favorite tracks on the album (at the moment)? 

Anthony Paolucci: The first song completed for this album was “Library Voice,” and we both feel exactly the same way, in that this song best represents the essence of this album, and for that reason, is probably both our favorite song.

Rockmommy: How has your love of music rubbed off on your progeny? 

Anthony Paolucci: Before I had Eden, it was already decided that music would be a big part of her life. A part of her education, if you will, the importance of which would be as stressed as English or Math, whether she learned music at school or an outside teacher. When she was a toddler, we made certain she had musical toys, and there was always music playing somewhere in the apartment: classical, blues, music with substance. 

Eden never showed any interest in drums, but she liked the piano in the living room. When she was given an electric keyboard at five years old, she was already figuring out melodies from movies like “Spirited Away” and “Castle in the Sky.” At 6 years old, she took lessons from Pat Neznick, who used to play in the New Haven Symphony. Eden excelled quickly and she soon became a member of the piano guild — National level. 

What’s cool is she also has perfect pitch, so she can pretty much tell you the key of any sound — a duck’s quack, a leaf blower, it doesn’t matter. 

As far as where her and I connect musically, we had very similar taste in music for a while. We saw KISS together, H.I.M., Lindsay Sterling, and yes, the Wiggles. Her first concert was Yanni, and nowadays she mostly listens to the classic crooners, like Tony and Frank, and hip-hop. 

I ambush her playing sessions sometimes with a cajon and force her to play with me, but I know she hates it, so I’ve backed off for the most part. I told her you’ll never grow as a musician unless you play with other people, but she doesn’t want to hear it. Ah, well. I’m just happy that she still loves the piano and plays it every day. I even wrote a Young Adult novel about her and the piano called “Piano Lessons,” so she’s as much an inspiration to me artistically as I’d like to think I’ve been to her.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Turkey Vulture’s Metal Mom Jessie May on Making ‘Twist the Knife’ While Raising a Baby

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Few musical genres ares more potent and cathartic than hardcore, metal and old-school punk rock. Yet it is these genres that I felt internally pressured to abandon when I became a mom in suburbia (and it took me years to re-embrace them). 

That’s why it was so refreshing to immerse myself in the gutteral, sonic intensity of the band Turkey Vulture, comprising married duo Jessie May and Jim Clegg, who wrote some of the music for their forthcoming album Twist the Knife while cutting their teeth as parents of a baby boy born in late 2020.

Hailing from Milford, Connecticut, Turkey Vulture combines punk, metal, and Americana influences, including the Misfits, Descendents, Guns N’ Roses, and “old timey stuff,” as Jessie puts it. Twist the Knife, to be released in January, incorporates all of these elements, with Jessie’s unique vocals front and center, fluctuating between growls and a more punk, Cherrie Currie Runaways vibe. 

Turkey Vulture’s Jessie May and Jim Clegg

So how did they manage to put together a record while raising a tiny person? We recently caught up with Jessie to find out. 

Rockmommy: Love the first few tracks of your upcoming record. You made it with a little baby in tow. How did that go? 

Jessie Mays: Well, we thought ‘recording an EP this summer’ would be a great idea in January, when the baby was a newborn and slept all day. And in the coming months, he became a little boy who hates naps! Luckily he sleeps at night lol…

Jim is the kind of person who is creative at all times, no matter what — but I’m the kind of person who needs a specific task or deadline. If we hadn’t decided to record this EP, I probably wouldn’t have picked up an instrument since the little guy was born. For instance — I’m a bass player “officially,” but I’ve only played bass this year to write the bass lines for these songs and record them. Jim plays my bass more than I do!

One funny “band parent” experience was taking the little guy with us to do band photos. We set up a tripod at a local park and tried to look really cool on some broken down bleachers. Our kid was in the stroller, wearing a Turkey Vulture T-shirt our friend had made for him. He was not impressed with this weird grownup adventure, but he liked getting strolled in the woods after. And he was definitely the coolest-looking one in the family!

Turkey Vulture’s ‘Twist the Knife’

Rockmommy: What sets ‘Twist the Knife’ apart from your other music?

Jessie May: I’d say one of the biggest differences for this EP is that Jim wrote more of the music and lyrics than in our previous releases. He’s the brains behind the tracks “Fiji” and “Where the Truth Dwells,” going for a heavy punk vibe, a la Fear/Discharge/GBH/Misfits’ American Psycho. We also followed the Misfits trend by writing songs about movies; “Fiji” is based on The Truman Show and “Livestock On Our Way to Slaughter” is about the movie They Live.  

Another difference is that I focused more on writing the second guitar parts this time around than the bass lines; that wasn’t really on purpose, but more a factor of preparing for recording while balancing work and a new baby. There was only so much nitpicking I could do!

Most of the EP was written before the pandemic, but we put the finishing touches on the songs over the past year. However, we do have a couple Garage Band-recorded singles that are directly about it: “The Quarantine Song” (April 2020) and “Christmas Apart” (December 2020). I’m especially proud of “Christmas Apart” and hope to make a pro recording of it one of these years. My little brother who lives in California was supposed to come out for the holiday last year, but tested positive for COVID the day before Christmas Eve. He recovered well and of course it was a good thing he got the test results before getting on a plane, but… That’s what the song is about.

Rockmommy: There aren’t a lot of doom metal or thrash metal/hardcore female singers. It’s so refreshing to hear you growl.

Jessie May: Thank you! I have a lot of fun singing in this band, and being a vocalist/frontperson is a new endeavor for me. I’m glad I took the plunge! By day I’m an elementary school librarian and of course mom of an infant, so I spend most of the time in “cute and cuddly” or patient, “let’s all be our best selves” mode. So getting on the mic and having this aggressive alter ego is a welcome change — and now that every show is a balancing act of arranging babysitting and being a functional parent the next day, we have to really make every set count. This is it! Right now!

Rockmommy: How do you squeeze in recording and rehearsal time, given your new parenting responsibilities? 

Jessie May: It was definitely a balancing act and would not have been possible without loving grandparents. Our parents have been a huge help in many ways, including babysitting so we can rehearse — the thing about being in a band with your partner is that we can’t be like, “You babysit and I’ll go to band practice, then we’ll switch!” My mother, God bless her, also took the baby while we went to the recording studio.

As far as day-to-day practicing, I’ve had to look at it in different ways than pre-baby life. If I can grab the acoustic guitar off the wall and play four or five songs after the baby goes to bed, it helps. The other day I even played a few songs for the baby in the morning, and he liked it!  He laughed at the harsh vocals.

Speaking of vocals, I started doing Melissa Cross’s Zen of Screaming exercises in the car every day on the way to work after my maternity leave ended. I wondered if it would make a difference — and it did! Turkey Vulture is the first band I’ve ever sang in, and I think this EP has the strongest vocals of any of our recordings.

Rockmommy: My favorite is possibly the song “She’s Married (But Not to Me).” What inspired that one? 

Jessie May: Jim and I were close friends for many years before we started dating — our first band together was all the way back in 2008! So being friends and also active in the local music scene, we used to go to a lot of shows together. An acquaintance of Jim’s asked where his “wife” was one night, and he told the guy, “She’s married, but not to me.” A perfect topic for a folk song!

So it started as an acoustic ballad and ended up the punk song you hear on the EP; the verse chord changes and some of the lyrics are inspired by the classic country song “Long Black Veil.”

Rockmommy: What are you most looking forward to in late 2021, band-wise — besides the record — now that the warm outdoor summer gigging season is over?

We’re planning to play December 11th at Cherry Street Station in Wallingford. We bring our own mic and mask when we’re not performing, and we are vaccinated. So we try to keep it as safe as possible while still doing what we enjoy.

Jessie May

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Discovering the Magic of my Ditto Looper Pedal Four Years After I Bought it

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

It’s not often that I break out of my comfort zone with guitar pedals. In fact, the only pedals I use right now, a Super Badass distortion pedal and a tuning pedal, were gifted to me by the lead guitarist in my band. Occasionally I’ll break out the stomp box that goes with my Fender Mustang amp, but when I can’t get the levels right, I get frustrated and give up.

Patience wasn’t a virtue in May 2017, either, when I heard about the magic of looper pedals and decided I needed to have one. After watching a sales guy demo a Ditto Looper pedal at the local music shop, I was sold. $250 later, it was mine.

But when I attempted to plug it into my amp and record a loop at home, things didn’t work. I watched a dozen YouTube tutorials, but I still couldn’t figure out how to start loops and stop them, let alone smoothly transition into a loop so I could solo over it. And so I put it back in a box and into my closet, where it stayed for a long, long time.

And then I wrote a blog about it — “The Ditto Looper Pedal Isn’t Made for Rocker Moms Like Me” — and moved on with my life.

So what happened this past week that caused me to finally break out this baby, four years later? I’m not really sure. But I was by myself, listening to Samantha Fish playing “Bulletproof” and launch into a solo when I decided to plug in my Gibson SG. I went into a closet to grab a pic and there it was, right in front of me.

And I unboxed it.

My beloved Ditto Looper pedal, as gorgeous as it was in 2017 when I bought it. Pictured with my Vox V05 mini five-watt amp.

Did I learn something a few years ago that gave me bravery? Or did the 3-month period of quarantine in Spring 2020 — when I forced myself to learn how to use a Scarlett 2i2 interface, Fender Event Passport PA, and other equipment — somehow embolden me with a new skillset and an open mind?

I’m not really sure. But I plugged in my 9V battery adapter, ran cables between the SG, pedal, and my Vox V05 mini amp, and bam! It worked. I just knew which buttons to press.

I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. She had access to Kansas all along — she just needed the right encouragement and the right time to tap into it.

Happy jamming! And if you want to play solos, buy one of these gems.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Courtney Seely, on Motherhood, Shifting Soundscapes and Creating ‘Future Self’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I already knew, having played a show with melodic Connecticut indie synth-rock trio Green Light, that their music is lyrically rich, sonically layered, and deeply cerebral. Yet I still made the amateur mistake of playing the song “Future Self” for the first time while running on a high school track.

Only a few seconds into the title track for the band’s current album, which came out in October, I felt compelled to slow down and listen. Green Light frontwoman Courtney Seely’s airy, emotive voice — which possesses a bit of a Stevie Nicks vibe — captured my attention and captivated me right from the start, as she launched into the song about the bittersweet process of moving forward.

Courtney Seely, playing with her band Green Light, at The Cellar in Hamden, Connecticut

But it wasn’t simply the poetic depth of the “formidable shift to a new destination” that drew me in. It was the way Courtney simultaneously expressed fear and self-assuredness in her vocal delivery, within a melodic, moody backdrop of keyboards and fuzzy, synthesized beats, which gathered momentum as the song moved toward the chorus: 

“Cause I can’t let go without control/

This rope just holds me down/

And I can’t break free

From this version of me

When this rope, it holds me down”

I’m a professional writer — yet it’s a struggle to find the right words that can encapsulate the emotional catharsis within the song’s 5 minutes and 19 seconds — so you’ll have to just trust me on this one. And while you’re on Spotify (or iTunes, Amazon Music, or whatever), be sure to listen to the band’s entire catalogue. That’s the only way you’ll be able to truly absorb the genius of Green Light, the only band I’ve ever met that’s formed by mental health professionals — Seely (vocals, piano), Bill Cox (keyboards, synthesizer), and drummer Dan Coca-Ducach.

The 11-track Future Self also offers an abundance of light, joyful, and even flirty songs, including my personal favorite, “Comin’ for Ya,” the perfect accompaniment for that jog I eventually resumed. Another track, “Fireflies,” is delicate and pretty and the kind of song I’d share with my hopeful 10-year-old self (or my future self, to be fair!). There are others, too, like the minimalist piano ballad “Unspoken” that highlight the trio’s versatility.

By the time I reached the end of the 11-track album, “Heavy Like the Sand,” I couldn’t help but wonder, how does Courtney balance real-world demands — the grueling hustle of indie-band life (for two bands!), marriage, motherhood, and a challenging career — yet come into every song sounding refreshed and poised to deliver?

We recently caught up with Courtney to ask about this and more.

Rockmommy: Hi Courtney! For those who are unfamiliar with your music, how would you describe your style? 

Courtney Seely: My musical style is primarily in the alternative, indie, pop, electro pop arenas. That is where my interests lie and my writing style is heavily influenced by that. As a bandmate I am really open to many genres, ideas, and styles. I love trying new things and hearing what others bring in based on their influences. 

I started playing piano at 5. I picked up the guitar — with the help of my dad — in high school and began writing songs almost immediately. I never did a ton of collaborating in high school so it was just me and a guitar or me and a piano but I began playing at the school talent show and things like that. I played some with a friend in college as well but after that put down music for a long time. Throughout that time my now husband, Tyler, was playing in a local band so I spent a fair amount of time at local shows with him. It wasn’t until around 2014, 2015 or so that I began to get back into it.

Green Light

Rockmommy: Who are your inspirations in the sound world? 

Courtney Seely: Aside from my friends and family in the music scene who probably inspire me most of all, I am inspired by Lorde, Chvrches, Death Cab for Cutie, Radiohead, Brandi Carlisle, Phoebe Bridgers, and recently got into the band Dizzy. 

Rockmommy: Let’s talk about that new Green Light record. The title track ‘Future Self’ is intense and unforgettable. Can you tell us about this song, and how it set the tone as the title track for the rest of the record? 

Courtney Seely: Yes — that’s the exact sentiment the song brings for us so I am glad that translates so well to the listener. This song is about the discomfort that comes from seeing things change in your life, and finding the courage to trust yourself. It set the tone for the record in that this album deals with a lot of change, ultimately resulting in this letting go of control and a need to trust yourself in the process. It was one of the earlier songs written for the record and we felt the meaning allows the listener to embark on a process of letting go and seeing where the ride takes you. 

Rockmommy: Do you come up with the lyrics, or collaborate with Bill and Dan? 

Courtney Seely: Bill and I primarily collaborate on the lyrics and music for our songs. We don’t have one consistent format. There have been songs he writes all of the lyrics for, and vice versa. With music it’s similar. I’d say one of the most unique things on this record was that many of the songs that I wrote lyrics for (“Comin’ For Ya”, “Heads”, “Move You”, “Unspoken”) started with a melody and lyrics that I shared with Bill (without music) and he took those and added what he felt fit nicely on piano and they grew from there!

Rockmommy: How is this album an extension of — or different than — some of your past recordings?

Courtney Seely: I think it is definitely both. It’s different from The Days in that Future Self took a lot longer as we really wanted to spend time crafting and shaping these songs. Some were older songs we reworked to include with this collection, and many new. The Days was written very quickly, comparatively — within a couple of months — and was all created within that timeframe, mostly remotely! I’d record my parts at home and send to Bill and he’d magically put it all together. With Future Self we were happy to be able to get back together and record in person — it’s a completely different experience.

Rockmommy: I recall you and your Green Light bandmates telling me about you are all mental health professionals. Is this how you met?  

Courtney Seely: Yes! Bill and I are both therapists and Dan works with folks who have neurodevelopmental disabilities. We all met along the path of our careers — Dan and Bill first at a previous job, and Bill and I later at our job at a mental health agency.

Rockmommy: What influence does your work in the mental health world have on the music you create with Green Light? 

Courtney Seely: I think it has a large influence. We are a reflective bunch, always thinking about how we impact our world, how things impact us, so all of that reflection in our personal lives and in our work lives lead to a lot of great content for songs! It’s also such a needed outlet for us all. We all work hard and play hard — so this band is a great way for us to move through the stuckness of whatever is happening around us.

Rockmommy: I noticed you and embarked on another musical endeavor, The Sparkle and Fade (with husband Tyler, sister Lindsey Callahan and brother-in-law is Jeff Callahan). How did that band blossom? Are you recording soon?

Courtney Seely: Yes! This group formed about a year ago during the pandemic. My husband started writing some of his own songs and asked me and my sister and brother-in-law to join him in the process. We actually completed our album during that time, called “Find A Way” and released it in June 2021. I primarily wrote lyrics on that album and played some keys and synth. 

What started as just an album project turned into a whole group! In November 2020 we brought on a bass player, TJ Chalfant, and drummer, Joe Onofrio and we’ve played 3 shows so far.

Courtney Seely and her son.

Rockmommy: How do you balance a full-time career with music and motherhood? What have you had to let go of, or adjust to, to make it work? 

Courtney Seely: My son is now 8 ½ which is wild to think about! The balance is…hard. As I said in other places, the music outlet is almost essential to me in terms of keeping my sanity, so I work hard to make that happen! I have a weekly practice with Green Light where we get to work on new material, rehearse for shows, or just jam. The beautiful thing about playing around here is there are a bunch of places that my son can join in the fun. He often comes to see us at local farmers’ markets, outdoor venues, and it’s pretty much infused in his being now! 

I don’t think he remembers a time when I wasn’t playing in a band, so it’s just a part of our lives now, which is really nice.

All of that said, it means giving up some time — like weekend nights when we have gigs. We are lucky to have our parents close by so Griffin loves spending time with them and they are a huge support without which I don’t know this would work.  

I’m also fortunate to have a flexible job which makes it possible for me to join in the mom things at school and to be home with him in the mornings and evenings. Our families are very supportive as well — and mine even all play in a cover band together, Almost the Whole Damn Family. So they all understand!  

Rockmommy: Is it frustrating or hard at all being a woman with responsibilities, fully adulting, trying to create a fanbase and make music? I think it is! Just wondering if you can relate?

Courtney Seely: Yes! I agree! As a career woman, a mother, and musician, I always carry guilt! It’s hard to let go of that and not want to be everywhere and doing everything all at once or to feel the pressure that I should be doing that. 

I think women have a ton of pressure to be everything for their families, at work, and in their social lives. I’m a huge proponent of rest and making things manageable. As a group, I think we do a great job of not overbooking ourselves and respecting our personal schedules so that there is never a feeling of the group being burdensome. I also have a very supportive family who are essential in helping me get it all done.

Rockmommy: When can people see you play out live? (Tell us about your ‘future self’ gigs!)

Courtney Seely: Our future selves in Green Light will be playing on 12/10/21 at the Cellar with Private Language and Audio Jane! We actually collaborated with Ryan Sindler from Private Language on “Face the Sun,” a track on our album “The Days” so there could be some special treats at this show. You won’t want to miss this one…if you haven’t seen these other amazing bands you should come out! 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Musician Aly Sunshine, Founder of Kid Rock Outfit Funkytown Playground, Turns Handwashing Into a Fun, Musical Family Activity

by Meredith Kurz and Jessica Delfino

We all know to wash our hands all the time, right? Wrong! You’d think during a pandemic that we’d all have figured it out by now, but here we are, over a year into a full-blown pandemic and infection rates are still sky high. 

Now more than ever, there’s a need to encourage the habit of handwashing.

Aly Sunshine, founder of Funkytown Playground, a music and movement program designed for kids, offers up a solution: a simple-yet-compelling song and animated video to explain when and how to wash hands using language children will understand and enjoy.

Aly Sunshine of Funkytown Playground

The song, “Keep Your Hands Clean” was created pre-COVID, after an especially nasty flu season. Co-written by Aly’s previous bandmate, “Johnny Wheels” who is now an essential worker in a hospital, this catchy tune and animated adventure walks us through the whens and whys of handwashing: When do you wash your hands? How do you wash your hands? (Hint: There is a proper way to do this!) These questions are answered in Funkytown Playground’s easy to remember melody. The song’s accompanying animated video, created by DUST (@BitterestBuggy on Instagram), features animals, children from all around the globe (shown washing their hands) and live video footage. The song was recently updated and remixed by producer and frequent collaborator Steve Jabas.   

“Keep Your Hands Clean” (by Aly Sunshine of Funkytown Playground)

We recently caught up with Aly Sunshine, a singer, songwriter, the founder of Funkytown Playground and an NYC Board of Education vendor, who loves working with children and teaching yoga and movement along with her music. She’s also an aunt to four children, and recently co-wrote the track “Let’s Be One” for Bakithi Kumalo’s album “What You Hear Is What You See” (highlighted in Rolling Stone India).

Rockmommy: What inspired you to write this handwashing song?

Aly Sunshine: There was a really bad flu season and kids kept being out of school, and Johnny and I saw a handwashing poster in the school bathroom but it was so boring and not fun. So we decided to write a song that would be educational and fun. Also, I don’t know if I was ever properly taught how to wash my hands. There are a lot of things we just have to figure out later for ourselves! 

Rockmommy: As a teacher, why do you think it’s important for kids to wash their hands? 

Aly Sunshine: So germs don’t get passed and to keep things sanitary! 

Rockmommy: Doesn’t everyone already know to wash their hands? 

Aly Sunshine: They do! But there is a right and a wrong way to do it. My song explores best practices so that you aren’t just wasting time and water. Plus, a little reminder never hurt anybody. 

Rockmommy: Do you find that all parents and teachers encourage kids to wash their hands when coming in and out of your classes?

Aly Sunshine: Not all of them, but I think people mostly do it after they eat. In my song, I mention that it’s also great to wash hands before and after using the bathroom, after you clean up a boo boo, after touching an animal, before you eat, as well as after you eat, after playing with friends and really any time they feel like it! I also remind them to please use a cloth to turn the water off, and to sneeze into their sleeves, things that aren’t necessarily immediately intuitive. 

Rockmommy: How are kids reacting to this song? What about parents? 

Aly Sunshine: Kids love it! They love the video. They dance and sing to it while they’re washing their hands at the end of my class. Parents too, they think it’s super cute. They love the characters and think that it’s catchy, and they love that it entertains their kids while they’re washing their hands. 

Rockmommy: Can you tell us your favorite line in the song and why? 

Aly Sunshine: Probably, “You won’t get in trouble for the big pile of bubbles in the sink; you’ll even get some time to think,” because I want kids to have fun. It makes washing your hands playful as well as educational. It gives them something to think about; how suds and foam make it a fun thing instead of it being a boring activity. 

Rockmommy: What’s coming up? 

Aly Sunshine: I just did a “Hooray For Fall” video which can be seen on my YouTube channel — it’s a video shot with a drone, and has lyrics displayed, and the video features pretty fall colors, trees and pumpkins. It’s about carving jack-o-lanterns and fall activities. It’s very interactive. I get kids to howl like the wind, look out the window and see the branches, do the yoga tree pose and more. People have been giving me really good feedback about it. 

Watch the handwashing video here to learn more about how Funkytown Playground is making handwashing a more pleasant experience for all.

Meredith Kurz and Jessica Delfino are contributing writers for Rockmommy.