About rockmommyct

I am a mother, writer, rock and roll musician, and guitar teacher.

Starting School is That Much Harder in Houston

Like so many other parents around the country, I’ve been so busy and excited, preparing my kids for the start of their school year. So when I saw this article about Houston-area schools having to stay shuttered through the first part of September my heart sunk.

My heart truly goes out to everyone affected by Harvey. Especially the littlest ones, and those who can barely afford to keep food on the table as it is (who don’t get paid holidays and sick days).

 

Rockmommy Jess Penner’s First Kids Record Proves You’re Never Too Old for ‘Imagination’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Before many of us had kids, life centered on long jam sessions with bands, and writing songs in uninterrupted spurts.

But Singer-songwriter Jess Penner — a self-described cheerful and cheeky, creatively ADD artist from Los Angeles, who was raised on a banana farm in Hawaii — did things differently. She became a mom in her very early 20s, after doing the band-and-tour thing with her husband in her late teens. And while she struggled with the same music-life balance that many rockmommies struggle with, that didn’t stop her from having the biggest career success of her life, as an artist and a producer.

Jess Penner 1

Jess Penner

Today, Jess is the mom of a 16-year-old and a soon-to-be 1-year-old, and she’s still killing it, musically. In addition racking up thousands of TV and film credits, not to mention her string of gorgeous indie-pop records, she’s carving a space for herself as an artist for all listeners, big and small. Her first children’s record — a lovely collection classic covers and indie tunes, flows effortlessly, note after note, inspiring listeners to indulge their creative sprits. Songs like the title track “Imagination” transcend age, and remind us that you can be an old soul while possessing the passion of a young idealist.

In August, Jess made time to chat with Rockmommy about her first kids’ recording, making music, life in LA.

Rockmommy: Can you talk about the inspiration for “Imagination?” Why did you want to make this record?

Jess Penner: The original idea for doing a kid’s record came from my publisher! Up until that point, I hadn’t thought about it at all. But then I started thinking about all of these iconic songs of my childhood, and how much I loved them.

Rockmommy: Can you talk about the songs?

Jess Penner: There are two originals — “Imagination” and “Forever in my Heart”— and interestingly I wrote these songs before I had the idea of a kids’ record. But until now, I didn’t have a record these could go on. “Imagination” is about trying to inspire other kids about the power of dreaming.

Imagination CD

Jess Penner’s new kids album “Imagination” out Aug. 11, 2017

Rockmommy: How being a mom at such a young age affect your music career?

Jess Penner: My husband and I have been touring since I was 16, when we stated out, and did that for five years. We had one last tour booked when I found out I was pregnant. And so I toured when I was six and a half months pregnant. And then we moved back to Hawaii… and spent about two years adjusting to regular life, and my husband got a regular job and built a studio. So then we started learning how to make records. That was probably the best decision we made because we had an infant, so we could record during the day when he was sleeping, or at night after he went to bed.

My husband and I moved to Los Angeles when our older son was 4, and that was difficult because all his family is in Canada and all my family is in Hawaii. But we felt we needed to be in a musical hub city. My husband is a drummer and produces and mixes records full-time. Between the two of us, we pretty much do all of it.

I really think that having a child helps you focus on what your goals are, and it helps you prioritize your time. Because I had less time, the time that I had I took more seriously.

Rockmommy: So, when did you go back to touring?

Jess Penner: My late 20s, early 30s, I started to get more inquiries because of my decision to get into licensing. I had a residency in Singapore, and little regional tours here and there. But I’ve never gone back to touring 200 dates a year. It wasn’t until I was 28 until I started performing live again.’ I really spent my 20s writing songs, and trying to establish myself, while being a mom.

Rockmommy: Who are some of your current musical inspirations? Has that changed? 

Jess Penner: In my early 20s, I was definitely more into the ‘shoe gazer’ stuff… like Weezer, Foo Fighters, Radiohead. I’m a ’90s girl, so I love all of that stuff. As a result, some of the early stuff I wrote in my first few years of self-producing was very emo and dark. But then, when I was 26 or 27, I was approached by licensing agent who pitched artists to brands, and asked, ‘would you ever be interested in custom composition for ads?” My husband was recording other bands, and that’s how we were surviving but my own music wasn’t doing much, so he started sending me briefs, like, ‘Dove Soap is looking for a new song, and they wanted it to be brief, light and happy.’ So being in this new realm forced me to craft for a target. Through that, I was allowed to play a role, to be an actress, so to speak, and learned to express myself many different ways. I became a lot more experimental.

Rockmommy: What is life like for you in the day to day in LA, as a mom and a musician? 

Jess Penner: My 16-year-old, I’m so proud of him. He’s one of the most compassionate, kind, and respectful kids. I think that’s because we’ve both been fortunate enough to be stay at home parents. We’ve been fortunate to have a really cool relationship with him. Even with the new baby, I thought, ‘how am I going to have time to be productive?’ But I’ve gotten more done in the last two years than I have in the previous four. I think it comes down to focus and drive. I have less time so I’m more focused on getting things done.

Rockmommy: What is your advice to other moms who play music? 

Jess Penner: Prioritize! I’m not good at letting people help me, but two weeks ago I hired someone to clean my house every other week, and it was so weird for me… I wondered ‘do I need this?’ and ‘Is this a reasonable expense?’ but as I get older and have more kids, I realize my time is worth more.

Rockmommy: This is your first kids’ record. Any plan to tour? 

Jess Penner: My plan is to see what the reaction is. It’s not my strategy to tour to build an audience. My desire is to tour to satiate a need — it’s not part of my business model to go out and make new fans touring. I’m really curious to see what happens with this! I would love to do some live streaming concerts. But yeah, we’ll just see!

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Singer-Songwriter Joanie Leeds on Motherhood, Her Summer Tour & ‘Brooklyn Baby’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

While Brooklyn is a place where dreams are made for so many creative types — rockmommies included! — Joanie Leeds didn’t ever intend to move to the borough when she began her music career more than a decade ago.

Joanie_Leeds_Nightlights

Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights

Or, as Joanie puts it, “I was a true Manhattanite — I never thought I’d leave!”

It took a cool man (then boyfriend/current husband Dan Barman), who plays the drums for her band, to convince her to leave the cozy upper West Side digs she called home.

The move to the eclectic ‘melting pot’ of Williamsburg turned out to be one of the best decisions of her life. Six years later, Joanie’s made a solid name for herself — with her band Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights — in a part of the country that is saturated with talented artists. But perhaps the best thing to come out of her big move is the birth of her daughter, affectionately known as “Baby B,” nearly two years ago.

Unsurprisingly, motherhood completely changed everything in Joanie’s world. Still, she managed to squeeze in the time, between parenting and teaching music during the day, to write, record, and release her eighth studio album, Brooklyn Baby (which you can stream here), in May 2017.

While I could talk endlessly about my favorite individual tracks on Brooklyn Baby, the whole record is awesome — and that means a lot coming from someone who listens to children’s music several hours each week. It’s silly, energetic, filled with clever lyrics, and totally relatable — especially to anyone who’s spent time living in New York (it also helps that her voice, on tracks like “Ferry Nice,” reminds me of ’90s rockers like Liz Phair).

At first listen, Brooklyn Baby doesn’t sound like what you might think a kids’ record should sounds like. Joanie’s rich, pretty vocals and musical style give it more of an alt-pop, coffeehouse vibe. Only when you listen closely to the lyrics about stuff like “rainbow bagels from outer space” or hear bubbles and other random effects interspersed into songs like “Pizza” do you realize this would be something you could play in the minivan or on a playdate.

Joanie, who kicks off her summer tour on June 11, sat down with Rockmommy to share about her unexpectedly awesome life in Brooklyn, how motherhood has impacted her craft, and what she’s most excited about these days.

Rockmommy: So, Brooklyn Baby — what can you tell us about this record? What was it like moving to Brooklyn? Brooklyn_Baby

Joanie Leeds: Moving here, while it was difficult for me, it was really inspiring because it was a whole different vibe. It was a cool place to live. It was definitely different from Manhattan, and the Upper West Side. Becoming a mom, that in and of itself was really challenging. But I did get a really wonderful community. I’ve been teaching kids and singing to kids for over a decade, but becoming a mom gave me a whole new look into Brooklyn.

Rockmommy: Do you have a set age in mind when you write children’s music?

Joanie Leeds: When I first started writing children’s music, my first CD was called City Kid. I had 2- to 3-year-olds in mind. But as I started growing as a writer, I’ve started expanding on the ages that I write to. The cool thing is that the younger siblings, like the 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds, can listen to a record, and grow into it, while the older kids [get it] too. I put in little humorous, witty jokes … A lot of parents say it inspires some creative conversations, like with ‘Hipster in the Making.’ I think there’s songs I write where I have the kids in mind, and the kids get it. And then there are songs that go toward the parents. How I write is I come up with a concept or title, and I go from there. Like I knew I wanted to write a song about pizza, and I literally got out my recorder, and thought, ‘maybe I’ll make a song about pizza, and make it about things a kid thinks are funny,’ and that’s how I came up with the idea to include sound effects.

Rockmommy: How long did it take to write? What was your creative process like?

Joanie Leeds: I’m not one of those people who sits down every night and strums and writes music. I’m a little more regimented. I really need to be alone. In the past, I’ve gone to North Carolina to a cabin to write. Now with a daughter, I couldn’t go that far. The way that I have to work, now that I’m a mom, is that I have a very small amount of time where I can get things done, so I have to be really focused. I’m always struggling to find the hours to get things done. Writing songs for me is challenging. To get that creative time to do it is difficult.

Rockmommy: The song “Hipster in the making” caught my eye and ear right away, and it’s really funny. What kind of reception are you getting?

Joanie Leeds: Parents are very well acquainted with what a hipster is, but I’m hearing that the kids are listening to this song and they’ll ask their parents, ‘mom, can I be a hipster?’ [laughs]

Rockmommy: You’re a first-time mom, as of two years ago. How has that affected your songwriting or other aspects of musicianship?

Joanie Leeds: I’m always completely amazed when I hear parents say, ‘I did this today’ or ‘I did that today.’ It’s absolutely a work in progress. My husband and I play in the band together, and we have our own creative endeavors. I teach music at a nursery school every day to have some steady income. We have a babysitter who comes a few days a week. And whenever we are out of town, we find ourselves searching for babysitters on the road. For now, since our daughter is so young, it’s hard. My favorite time with our daughter is when we’re on the road. Because all we have to do is the show, and the rest of the time is ‘fun with the hotel’ or ‘fun on the road.’

Rockmommy: What’s cool about being a parent in Brooklyn, or a kid in Brooklyn, today?

Joanie Leeds: Brooklyn really is a melting pot. I think it’s really important to have exposure to every single type of race and religion, so kids can grow up with acceptance and compassion.

Visit Joanie Leeds’ website for summer tour dates near you, or check out her YouTube channel to watch videos with your kids. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

The Joy of Practicing for Solo Gigs (in Heels)

I’m so stoked to be playing a solo gig with special guest Noelle Dicarlo — a little tattooed girl with a BIG voice! — that I spent a small portion of Mother’s Day practicing in front of the mirror.

Compared to my millennial peers, I’m not super-narcisstic (kidding!). But I still like to make sure that my stage presence is positive and energetic. I know my looks aren’t as important as the content and delivery of my message, but sometimes it’s nice to know that I’m performing in a way that draws the viewer in and engages them, without overwhelming them.

I’m debating a backbend-style move I used to do with my old punk-rock-inspired band Marisa Mini & The Underage Hotties. But while it looks super cool when I do it with Morgan during “SIT” (see video below), it might be a little much for the slow refrain of “Eggs.” Thoughts?

Either way, if you’re in Connecticut, please come out to my show! I’m performing with some amazing acts — jazz/blues guitarist Robert Tyler, full-throttle rock band Catalina Shortwave, New Haven indie rockers Super Scenics, and, of course, my favorite rockmommy Rew (who will be playing with her band The Rewd Onez).

The Ditto Looper Pedal Isn’t Made for Rocker Moms Like Me

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

For years, I’ve wondered what my life would  be like with a looper pedal — but until recently, it didn’t occur to me to go out and buy one. I usually play with bandmates, and a second guitarist takes care of the solos (when I’m the singer) or the melodic rhythm parts (when I’m the lead guitarist).

Unknown

The Ditto Looper pedal is beautiful, and looks easy to use. But for time-pressed moms? Maybe not so much. 

But as I’ve found myself far north of Brooklyn, N.Y., with far less time and fewer resources to take a train into the city to practice with my beloved bass-playing pal Morgan and various others, I’ve found myself playing solo much more often. Because I’m a mom, time is more precious than ever — and free, creative “me” time is 1,000 times harder to get (without sacrificing time with my kids).

But a few weeks ago, as I was listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s take on “I Put a Spell on You,” I found myself imagining what it would be like to rip out a bluesy solo over chords that played in the background, like a second guitarist.

So I took the plunge — the $187 plunge, to be exact. I headed to the local Music & Arts Center in my town and purchased the Ditto Looper pedal. The thing is supposed to be so easy to use that the company that makes them doesn’t even bother including instructions.

Challenge #1: Getting Started

I thought I prepared adequately to incorporate a looper pedal into my life. I planned to get a tutorial at the store by one of the Music & Arts Center’s managers, and carved some time into my schedule for practice.

The tutorial went pretty well — except that I kept mistaking how many times I’d have to stomp on each of the knobs to start and stop recording my “loops” — sequences of chord progressions. Because there are only a couple of big knobs, a lot of stomping combinations is required to do various things — and it’s easy to over-stomp.

My instructor, a nice guy named Charlie, even let me film him setting up the looper pedal. Then he watched over me as I practiced. So far, so good.

I was convinced I was about to change my life.

At this point, any other musician dude who bought this pedal would have taken it home and jammed out for hours. For me, this wasn’t possible. It was a Friday afternoon, I had to pick up my kids from school and do mommy stuff, like make dinner, bathe my kids, and hang out with them (and my husband) for family movie night. And by the time said kids went down for bed, I was too exhausted to plug and play.

When I finally got an hour to myself on Sunday, my momentum was killed when the 9-volt batteries I planned to use were out of juice. Why hadn’t someone recommended I buy the adaptor? Fortunately, my adorable preschoolers were more than delighted to go with mommy to the music store to buy one. However, I couldn’t just go home and use it because my 3-year-old would have wanted to pretend my guitar cables were snakes (and it is not fun to take them away from him!).

Challenge #2: Finding Time to Practice

One week after purchasing my Ditto looper pedal, I FINALLY carved an hour out of my life to play with the damn thing. I had to watch my homemade video several times to configure my setup correctly, and I made several mistakes (stomping the wrong amount of time, etc.) before successfully recording my first loops.

When I finally recorded one, the levels were so soft that I couldn’t hear it (this shouldn’t have surprised me, because my second amp is just a Vox mini 5-watt amp, but still: it annoyed me. I want to sound like two guitars NOW … not in three months when I can finally save enough money to buy a decent-size second amplifier!!

Challenge #3: Feeling Kind of Regretful — but Hopeful? 

I’ve come to realize, sadly, that the Ditto looper’s customer isn’t a guitar-playing mom. It may possibly be a weekend warrior dad, but it definitely isn’t me.

It’s for the dude who has plenty of extra time to fool around with pedals and pedal boards, without worrying about who will watch the kids.

Unsurprisingly, there are no demos of women playing the Ditto looper pedal on the company’s websites. Most of the reviews (like this one) and video demos are super positive, and sing the praises of this “low key” piece of equipment. They’re all written by men, too, from what I can tell.

I would love it if a soccer mom — or at least a woman! — would demo this pedal and how hard it is to use. Until that happens, I’ll be the token soccer mom and — hopefully soon! — post a video that helps another rocker mom feel bold and empowered.

Throughout spring and summer, I’m going to try to practice as much as I can with it — which at this point, means I’ll get to play with it about once a week. Hopefully, I’ll be proficient by the time football season rolls around (and my kids will want to watch football with their dad so I can play it).

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

How Life and Motherhood — Plus Sickness, Snow, and Paid Work — Can Dampen Guitar Practice Goals

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

So had this whole vision of making March a true “Rockmommy month.” Time-strapped as I am, I would play two to three hours of guitar every week NO MATTER WHAT.

I started off with a bang, playing guitar at every possible free moment, and then some. After my kids went to bed, I’d strum. In the middle of a busy day, I’d strum. When talking on the phone to my spouse, I’d strum.

This worked well for a few days.

Most of you know that my main paid gigs are teaching guitar and freelance writing. My work is second only to motherhood and marriage. On March 3, I scored an insanely good opportunity to go out of town (to D.C.!) to cover a show. The same day, I got called up to do several other assignments. Life got suddenly busy again, but I was still determined to stick to my “two hours no matter what” promise.

Then my younger kid got sick with pinkeye, which wiped out a whole day. After the insanely D.C. show, it snowed on my birthday (which wiped out another day). Then, I got sick with the mother of all colds, complete with a sore throat and ear infection (my first in a decade or so).

By mid-March, I subconsciously shelved my disciplined guitar-playing resolve so I could focus on caring for my sick kids, working, cleaning, recovering, and building snowmen in the unexpectedly frosty March weather.

By the end of March, I was finally able to pick up my beloved instruments again, which I’d only played while teaching.

I alternated between feeling guilty for abandoning my guitar-player goals and feeling OK about it. On the one hand, I truly believe that setting goals is the way to achieve productivity and happiness. On the other hand, I’m a mom of two little boys! Feeding healthy meals to my kids, playing with Legos and pirate ships, and ensuring everyone’s clothes are clean is what I do. It’s my job. I don’t have help 24/7 — my husband is super busy in his own career and we don’t have a nanny to do all of my housework while entertaining my little guys. That, and I value the quality of my freelance writing! I can’t submit an article that’s half-assed and uninspired.

Now that it’s April, I’m back on track with my guitar-playing goals. I’m going to do my absolute freaking best to play 20 minutes to 30 minutes a day, gradually increasing the time I spend practicing as I get closer to my next gig, scheduled for May 20th.

Having goals keeps us motivated and driven. But when life happens, staying on track with goals isn’t easy — and it’s alright if progress slows a bit. This is true whether you’re trying to stay in shape, lose weight, knit a sweater, finish a novel, or play guitar for half an hour a day.

And should life get insane again, I hope I can do a better job of cutting myself some slack.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.