Lilith Czar, and Deciding Whether to Change Your Artist Name 

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

I’ll never forget Season 2 of the Voice, and the moment Team CeeLo rock singer Juliet Simms stood onstage, tearfully waiting for Carson Daily to crown the winner. With her big voice and Janis Joplin swagger, Simms was a sure bet — or so I thought. Her loss to some other guy whose name I’ve forgotten was one of the most devastating moments in reality-TV history.

Juliet Simms

I hadn’t thought about her for a while, until the other day, when I learned that she’d changed her artist name — and her entire musician vibe — to Lilith Czar

Lilith Czar

But the name isn’t the only thing that’s different. Gone is the wild mane of dark blonde hair and the hippie chic attire. In its place, we have a Goth-metal starlet with a sexy, sinister Betty Page look. The voice, of course, is no less stunning — but getting used to the transformation took a minute.

[SEE RELATED: Why Rockin’ Mama — and Team Christina protégée — Alisan Porter Should Win The Voice]

The timing of this news, for me, couldn’t have been better: For close to a year, I’ve been toying with the idea (and seriously considering) changing my solo artist name. After more than 15 years as Marisa Mini — an identity that scored me two national tours, a Daisy Rock Guitar sponsorship, and two callbacks for a music reality show — I can no longer say I’m the same sexpot-in-a-vinyl-skirt that helped me launch that alter ego. 

There’s also the fact that I recorded music as Marisa Mini that sounds like crap (because I made it on home computers), or simply doesn’t reflect anything about my reality as a wife, mom, or musician. 

Marisa Mini (yep, this is me in 2009)

In other words, I’m still a bad girl who loves to roam. But I’ve already repurposed my best songs for my band Trashing Violet. What’s left, after this process, is just the new material — and new songs that feel more authentic, intentional, and well-executed. 

Me today, living the dream

I’m not the only person who’s considered changing their name. 

Lots of artists explore the name-change process. Sometimes they want a fresh start, other times, their sound has morphed into something different. Other times, they don’t want to be associated with the music under their old names. A handful of artists have changed names several times (Prince was notorious for changing his name to a symbol). 

There are several potential advantage: 

  • the new name feels like a musical makeover 
  • new fans will be less likely to find your old work
  • you will be primed to enter a new market, with different artists. 

But are You Ready for Making a Change? 

Tutorials like this one from Spotify help artists navigate the process of changing metadata and contacting your distributor.

But doing away with your older published work is a lot harder, and requires multiple “take down” requests for multiple outlets (e.g., YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Tidal, etc.). 

This raises an important questions: Are you truly ready to let go of your old name? And is the new name you have in mind “the one” that you want to spend the rest of your life with. Do you really know who you are? And is that persona really a different one than the one you originally loved? 

What I ended up doing

At the moment, I’ve quietly drifted away from Marisa Mini is on hold, and begun to create a new presence. Currently, my music is being recorded under Marisa Bloom. It feels like the right move, given the awful quality of the GarageBand CD I made in 2009. Also, I’m a mom and don’t want my kids easily stumbling upon the dirty, f-bomb-laced stuff I put out (which I am still proud of), before they turn 18. 

At the end of the day, I’m just the girl with the blonde hair and the guitar.

But there are moments I feel pangs of guilt or self doubt. After all, I created Marisa Mini as a cute, quirky, flirty version of myself without my “professional” given name (which I use for writing gigs). Also, Bloom is my married name, and a common one. I’m not the only Marisa Bloom on Spotify, or making music in the Internet-searchable world.

So stay tuned. For now, the advice I’ve heard is to sleep on it and meditate. Make a decision but be open to changing it. Until I have to release my first album as a solo artist with a new name, I’m keeping an open mind.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.  

Jessica Delfino, NYC’s ‘Dirty Folk Rock’ Comedy Gal, Embraces Life as a Mountain Mama

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I don’t remember the exact moment I met Jessica Delfino in the fall of 2005, but I remember being dazzled by her big personality and ballsy lyrics. I was an intern for Village Voice’s music department, trying to carve a name for myself both as a critic and a musician (yup, I still can’t choose!). And at some point we crossed paths (maybe at a rock show?), and she invited me to a club down the street from the Voice’s East Village offices to see her perform.

Jessica Delfino

As she sauntered on stage and launched into her song “My Pussy is Magic,” I realized I had met a kindred spirit — a master lyricist and sex-positive feminist who didn’t take herself too seriously. Who is this enigmatic creature? I wondered. Jessica’s songs were smart, unapologetically funny, and so memorable. They still are, as evidenced by her Bandcamp page.

Many moons later, Jessica is still a “dirty folk rock” comic genius, whose side gig as a freelance writer lands her bylined articles in esteemed media outlets like The New York Times (as well as lots of under-the-radar ones). But having recently run for the “hills” — literally buying a home in the Poconos a couple of years ago with her long-term partner — she’s kind of transformed into the folkie Maria Von Trapp. 

I suddenly have recurring visions of her twirling on the hillside with her young son Wyatt and husband in tow, living her best post-pandemic life to the sound of music. 

In reality, she’s balancing a whole lot more, from a Monday Morning radio show to regular gigs at off-the-beaten-path locales (like a popular noodle bar near her new mountain digs). We recently caught up with her to find out what’s up — and what’s next.

ROCKMOMMY: For those who aren’t familiar with your music (or comedy), how would you describe yourself?

JESSICA DELFINO: I used to write a lot of “dirty folk rock” jokes and songs — youth-infused, blunt, outrageous, and angst-ridden bits and ditties (even that almost sounds dirty!) about womanhood, vaginas, and what not. Today, I still do this, but it’s a little less “on the nose” and encompasses the life and challenges of being a middle-aged mom, wife, and woman vs a 20-something wild spirit with a guitar and nothing to lose. I also play many covers and disseminate them, which is a lot of fun, and sadly, a little easier to book gigs doing than singing songs about vaginas.

Mountain mama Jessica Delfino, armed with guitar.

ROCKMOMMY: How long have you been a musician? Where did you grow up and who were your influences growing up?

JESSICA DELFINO: I’ve been surrounded by music in my life since I was a young child but I didn’t start taking music seriously until I was 15 when I took my first guitar lessons and committed to learning / teaching myself how to play all of Neil Young’s repertoire. So I’ve been playing for a few decades now. I grew up in Maine and influences were Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Jimmy Page, RUSH, Liz Phair, 2LiveCrew and all the 70s bro rock they played on WBLM the rock n roll blimp, my Maine childhood radio station.

ROCKMOMMY: I met you in the heyday of the ’00s Anti-folk scene, the Sidewalk Cafe era. What was life like for you back then? 

JESSICA DELFINO: Oh man, it was a totally crazy and fun scene. I moved to NYC after graduating from art school to work and pursue a life in comedy. Williamsburg was just becoming hot. Chinatown was still “closed” to whites, but I managed to get an apartment there. 

The city was safer, but still had a distinct edge. Downtown was still really cool. I spent a lot of time at the Bowery Poetry Club and hung out at this great show called Show N Tell run by two totally lovable art misfits “The Odebra Twins” along with a bunch of other comedians and musicians … that rolled through, many from Rev Jen’s Art Star scene, but a lot of people who were then famous or went on to become very famous. 

I would go out early, around 6 p.m., and do comedy sets anywhere I could literally all night until like 2 a.m. On nights I didn’t have a lot of sets, I’d hang out at The Cellar or other comedy clubs and watch more famous comedians and talk to my peers and then busk in the subway for an hour or so on my way home. I survived at the time on busking, on comedy gigs, and selling my CD. 

I got a piece of press early on in JANE magazine for one of my CDs and that kind of put me on the map nationally. I got fan mail from everywhere and sold a lot of CDs. Then I had a couple early viral videos on YouTube and that allowed me to tour and get bigger gigs. 

ROCKMOMMY: When you became a mom, how did your art change?

JESSICA DELFINO: I admit, I was like, shell shocked for the first couple years of being a mom. Though I was never officially diagnosed, I believe I was suffering from postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression following a C-section and I just got the funny knocked out of me! 

It took me awhile to remember who I was. I wanted to just chill until I was ready to get back on stage and it took me a good, long while. But in the meantime, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Tons of mom related stories and songs and jokes and features for national publications and worked that muscle, and that was how I survived financially and creatively, for a while.

This album cover is everything.

ROCKMOMMY: So you have recently been spending a lot more time in the Poconos. How did that come about? 

JESSICA DELFINO: My husband and I got on this kick watching Doomsday Preppers and we were like, “We have no plan” and decided to come up with one so we went camping on the Appalachian trail which was super scary and then we accidentally fell in love with the area and bought a house.

ROCKMOMMY: Do you miss NYC? Or are you in mountain girl bliss? 

JESSICA DELFINO: I still spend a lot of time in NYC in my Chinatown apartment, but I try to spend as much time in the woods as I can. It’s a lot like where I grew up in Maine so it feels very familiar and comforting and secure.

ROCKMOMMY: How are you carving a name for yourself in the local music scene?

JESSICA DELFINO: I have been performing more and more in the Poconos, which happened during the pandemic. I started really performing regularly again only probably last summer. I am not performing as much as I was before but I’m older! I don’t want to be out til 2 a.m. anymore. I want to be home with a warm cup of tea, writing and then watching Alone or some other mindless whatever or a good movie I’ve seen 100 times.

ROCKMOMMY: Have any upcoming gigs, projects or news you want to share with us? 

JESSICA DELFINO: I am on social media @JessicaDelfino and TikTok @JustSomeMom. I wrote a book of jokes that was a bestseller in puns and wordplay on Amazon called Dumb Jokes For Smart Folks. I’m always working on a million projects and that is what keeps me feeling young. 

I have a couple of regular shows I do in the Poconos. One is at a noodle house called Sango Kura, PA’s only sake brewery, and one is a morning comedy show called Coffee and Comedy for moms and their babies at a play space called Bloom, which is inspired by a show I used to perform on in NYC and is one of my most favorite things I’ve ever done. 

I also host a weekly radio segment at 7 am on Mondays called The Mom Report on 96.7 FM which can be heard across NY/NJ/PA (or on pocono967.com) where I talk all about mom stuff. I’m also working on 40,000 screenplays and books and features and songs. And raising my son, who sometimes sings with me on stage, which is really the best. It’s so much fun. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

Happy 2022, a New Year to Rock Your Goals

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

I learned in my 20s that having resolutions is a recipe for failure — but having goals is totally doable. Of course, there are a few caveats: Goals must be reasonable and realistic, not just aspirational. 

That’s why, every year, I set goals but I keep it simple. 

For example, instead of setting a goal of being most perfect environmental person who composts everything and quits using plastic, start with bringing reusable bags to the grocery store. I did this a few years ago. At first, I’d occasionally forget to put my bags back in the car, but over time, the habit of bringing reusable shopping bags with me became ingrained in my psyche. Today, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t bring at least one reusable bag with me to the grocery store. In 2022, I’m ready to try composting, starting with coffee grounds and orange peels.

the cutest photo I could find on short notice

Last year I set several goals inspired by my life of creativity and motherhood — and I’m thrilled to say that I met most of them, or at least made some measurable progress:

2021 Goal: Read 1-2 rock memoirs, cover to cover

What happened: I cracked open exactly one rock memoir, Dave Grohl’s Storyteller. That’s OK, because my older son wanted me to read the Harry Potter series with him, and we made it through four books (and believe me, they’re LONG!).

2021 Goal: Practice guitar for 15 minutes per day (most days, with the exception of vacation)

What Happened: I did it! This was an easy goal to exceed on most days.

2021 Goal: Record a solo EP (3-5 songs) & record an EP with my band

What Happened: I recorded two singles with my band, and one solo single produced by my lead guitarist’s husband. But I wrote a ton of original music. 

2021 Goal: Learn to play 12 hair metal songs, solos included

What Happened: I actually learned to play TWO hair metal songs: Alice Cooper’s “Poison” and Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly.” Progress, right?

2021 Goal: Play 6 in-person club gigs

What Happened: I played 6 in-person club gigs with my band and solo, as well as six outdoor events in Connecticut and New York City, thanks to my trusty PA. These included Make Music New York (in Tomkins Square Park), Black Rock Porchfest, Lincoln Parkapalooza, and my drummer Nick’s garage (for a party). I probably had more fun playing most of these (and bigger audiences). 

2021 Goal: Record an album with my sons from my home studio

What Happened: I didn’t record an album, but a few days ago, we recorded an awesome version of ’12 Days of Christmas.’ My kids totally rocked it! 

One of the secrets of my success is setting my intentions. During my morning meditation (which is only a few minutes a day), I visualize my goals and progress. I also casually follow the principles of Feng Shui (which was trendy in the early ’00s), and situate my home environment to align with my goals (side note: It also helps that I keep my work areas clear and clean). 

Here I am with my band, making my own happiness with a gig at Tomkins Square Park (Make Music New York 2021, with three of my musician friends’ bands).

Another secret is plain old hard work. You won’t make progress in anything, whether it’s getting in shape or learning a new skill, without working towards it. On nights I felt tired, I’d still set a timer and run my scales so I could clock in 15 minutes of guitar-playing time. 

But an even bigger determinant of my success was whether the goal is easy to achieve. As a mom of young children, I know I don’t have four hours a day to play guitar and sing, unless I give up exercise. But by setting a more sustainable goal, I’m more likely to succeed. Most busy parents can spare 10 to 20 minutes a day to improve a skill — even if remote learning returns.

So for 2022, I’m leveling up my goals just a little. Here are seven of them: 

  1. play 15 minutes of guitar and/or vocal practice a day
  2. Interview 2-3 artists per month for this blog; 
  3. Launch a podcast; 
  4. Play 6 shows with my band;
  5. produce a 6-song EP by spring AND at least one music video; 
  6. Edit 5,000 words per month and finish editing my novel (which I’ve been editing for at least two years);
  7. Prioritize quality over quantity, and faith over fear.

So there you have it! Those are my goals and intentions, set with loving positivity, for the next 12 months. I’m so eager to get started. What are your goals for 2022?

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.  

My Year in Rock n’ Roll Motherhood (Plus, I’m a Dog Mom Now, Too!)

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

If I make one recommendation to close out 2021, it’s this: Don’t get a Covid booster shot on the same day you bring home a new puppy. I spent the better half of November 26 shivering in bed while my husband and kids chased this wee little yellow lab around our yard. It was so cute watching her leap around, her gait like a baby horse’s … jumping at everyone and everything. 

This is Callie, our little, (then) 9-pound wonder. 

Callie, on the day we picked her up and brought her home

I’ll skip the part where I felt overwhelmed — after all, this is the time of year where we should be focusing on gratitude and joy. Also, any new bundle of joy is tons of work, right?

So for now, in this super-busy month of December, I’d like to share a few annual highlights in my life as a mom, musician and journalist: 

  • In 2021, I interviewed more than 40 independent and major label artists, who shared their innermost thoughts on balancing work, music, and mental health, as well as their amazing new releases and projects. Some of my favorites included my Q&As with Rissi Palmer, a black country singer and host of Color Me Country, Hartford surfer dad Earl Henrichon, cofounder of Hartbeat Festival, “Mother Mother’ singer Tracy Bonham, who released a children’s record in March, my cousin Anna Wilson and her producer hubby Monty Powell of Troubadour77, and August’s ‘Back to School’ feature with Divinity Roxx, who also plays bass for Beyonce. 
We caught Cal-girl at just the right moment for this pic.
  • I penned a fun guest blog/show review about blues-rock guitarist Samantha Fish for the Connecticut-based MyAmpMusic blog. 
  • I took an abundance of music-business courses — including a livestream songwriting class from New York City Guitar School (which completely changed my outlook and knowledge of putting together sequences of chords), as well as Tom Morello’s guitar Masterclass. 
  • I took about a dozen bass lessons. I still don’t play like Flea, but that’s OK. My younger son Logan fell in love with piano (and ninja), while my older son Nathan decided to give cello a try.
  • I performed a ton with my rock band Trashing Violet and acoustics cover duo Hot Moms. This included amazing gigs like Make Music New York (June 30, at Tomkins Square Park), plus spots at Black Rock Porchfest, Lincoln Parkapalooza, The Cellar, 10Selden, Cafe Nine, Black Rock Social, and the Fairfield Community Theatre.Despite massive challenges — from communications to timing — my band managed to release two singles: Roam” and “Eggs.”
  • I wrote the lyrics (and did the vocals) for a fun Halloween song, ‘Skeleton Crew’ with my guitar partner Anna Lee and her producer/musician hubby Drew.
  • I supported my friends in bands. I went to more live shows this year than the first three years of motherhood.
Callie and me, easy like Sunday morning.

This is only the beginning, a rebirth of my artistry that had hibernated during my toddler mom years. While I don’t know what the future holds, I’m grateful and excited for the possibilities. Here’s to a happy, safe and — as always — a totally rockin’ New Year! 

Marisa Torrieri is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

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.