It’s been quite a year — from my oldest son’s learning to do flips (and learning to read) to my baby boy entering kindergarten, we’ve hit so many parenting milestones. And personal milestones too. My husband sold his company and stepped up his baseball coaching game, while I stepped up my musical endeavors: I played the longest springtime “mommy and me” show at my kid’s preschool, started a rock band with two other parents (and one cool cat mama), and made good on my commitment to play guitar ten minutes a day (except when I was traveling — haven’t figured out how to do that yet!).
I learned to say “no” to having too many goals, and say “yes” to joy.
This is the most important thing I learned.
The world is a crazy place, and in many ways more terrifying than it was in my own childhood. Between the acceleration of global warming to the tensions in the Middle East exacerbated by our current Administration (sorry to get political, but it’s true), we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I find myself fraught with worry on many mornings like these, wondering if gun violence or terrorism will have a direct impact on those I love.
But while I can’t control tomorrow, I can try to make the most of today. Enjoying my sons and niece while they are young. Spending meaningful time with my husband. Enjoying my parents and in-laws. Appreciating my friendships.
On New Year’s Eve, we had kids ages 1 to 14 hanging out all over my house. Our basement is full of musical instruments, as I always hoped it would be — my husband’s drum kit, a keyboard, lots of shakers and percussion and several of my guitars. Sometime around 9 or 10 (I wasn’t looking), a band of highly sugared-up little ones hit the basement and started jamming out on all the gear. The cacophony of their playing was so perfect — and so right. It made my heart melt a bit.
So while we can’t always predict the outcomes of any year, or any action we take, we can change our attitude. We can accept wonderful things when they enter our lives. We can be present for the spontaneous moments that offer so much joy.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
Do you remember the last rock-and-roll show where you were completely gripped by the intensity — the noise, the energy, and the catharsis — of the moment? The best bands deliver that experience consistently — but few deliver it with the same intimacy as NYC’s Thrilldriver.
Escape the Holiday Doldrums: Thrilldriver delivers your metal fix this Sunday (12/15/19) at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall, 8 p.m.
I’ll never forget my first Thrilldriver show at a packed dive bar in the Lower East Side, shortly after the band formed in 2015. The moment the five-piece launched into “Vicious” — a roaring arena-rock-style anthem loaded with Motley-Crue guitar riffs, thunderous rhythms, and Zoe “Pypes” Friedman’s soaring vocals — I was transported.
It was all grit and goodness, hair metal and reckless fury anchored down by a powerful rhythm section. And as I watched Zoe wield her goddess power like a pro, one thing became absolutely clear: I wanted more.
This weekend, Thrilldriver (whose members also include guitarists Tony Calabro and Michelangelo “Moxxxie” Quirinale, plus bassist Jamie “Fingerz” Garamella) returns to the spotlight for an intimate show in NYC at the second stage of the red-velvet-draped Rockwood Music Hall (Sunday, 8 p.m.). We caught up with Zoe and Michelangelo earlier this week to find out what’s in store.
Rockmommy: You’re based in New York. A city where musicians are disciplined but prone to distraction. How did you guys come together?
Michelangelo Moxxxie: Our guitarist/songwriter/producer Tony approached me about starting a hair metal band. We had known each other from teaching at New York City Guitar School. We both love all things rock and metal, so it seemed like a fun idea! While the initial concept was more tongue in cheek, once we got Zoe on board, it turned into a full-fledged band!
While each of us has our own influences, I think we all see Thrilldriver as a band that represents what we all love about great rock acts: Searing guitar playing, powerhouse vocals, and most importantly, great songs!
Zoe Pypes: I’d only ever performed in cover bands and (mostly) rock musicals, and while I fantasized about being a part of an original project, I had never written a song in my life and didn’t think it was something I could do. My initial audition was just for [guitarist] Tony, who had already written “Madeline.” I sang it for him in a tiny room at the Queens Guitar School. For the second stage I was asked to write lyrics and a vocal line over a demo and come sing it w/the full band. I was absolutely petrified, but my first stab at songwriting/co-writing, “Vicious,” has been a staple ever since! This band completely hijacked and rerouted my life away from theatre, but I always bring that world’s high stakes, drama and urgency to our songwriting and performance.
Rockmommy: Who are your favorite live performers and why?
MM: Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Ozzy (with any of his great guitar players), Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses. All these classic bands bring a certain “swagger” and larger than life persona to the stage. I also love super expressive guitar players such as Hendrix, Dave Gilmour, and Steve Lukather (Toto). Any type of sweet solo or riff will always pull me in haha.
ZP: This may mortify my bandmates, but I have three photographs of Steven Tyler on the wall at my piano where I warm up every day. He’s got this wild, frenetic energy I adore, and he doesn’t give a fuck. Not only is he still running around like a maniac, but he DELIVERS vocally to this day. If I could be Ursula the Sea Witch and steal anyone’s voice it would be Steven Tyler, Jack Black, or Dio’s.
There are also a few local artists that consistently inspire me with their live performances. Haley Bowery of The Manimals fills out her shows with drama, ritual, and community, which I really appreciate — each of her shows feels like a completely unique, cathartic experience. And the ladies of Mother Feather. They commit 100 percent to every second of every show, with so much attention to detail — using every inch of their bodies to communicate with their audiences, and using their platform to elevate and inspire their audiences.
Rockmommy: Can you describe the experience of playing music together — and/or the experience you hope to impart onto those who go to your live shows?
MM: I feel like we have such a great chemistry in this band, that our live performances sometimes feel nearly effortless (despite having to play some hard riffs and solos). Everyone goes out there and gives it 110% every show, so it’s easy to get pumped up every single time.
I hope that any of our audience members walk away feeling like they saw a true, raw, and powerful Rock n Roll show, played and sung by dedicated musicians who love to rock!
ZP: Currently a lot of my experience is wielding and harnessing energy. These songs and riffs amp me up so much and I love using my body in performance, but a lot of the vocal lines are challenging — sometimes I have to surrender to stillness and technique and focus in.
Something I think what separates us from a lot of bands and that I love is how much fun we’re having up there. When I’m busting my ass and one of the guys bangs out some insane solo it feels like a party i can’t believe I’ve been invited to.
My goal for the future is to focus more on the audience experience and what I want them to feel. I’ve been incredibly selfish so far and have just been hoping something sticks. Something for the next decade!
Rockmommy: The Sacha EP is brilliant — and features several of my favorite live Thrilldriver songs. What is the songwriting process like with you guys?
MM: Tony (Calabro) seems to the one the brings full-fleshed songs to the group (this was especially the case with the EP). I like to bring riffs and ideas that we can work on arranging into a full song. Zoe and Tony will work on the lyrics, and a few songs on our upcoming album are Zoe originals!
ZP: To this day, every time I introduce something to the group I’m nervous. Especially those on this upcoming record that I wrote from scratch. Tony came over to my apartment and I literally had to take a shot of whiskey at, like, noon to show even just him what I was working on. But Tony has this incredible ability to sift through all of our ideas and bring them together into a banger. A bridge for me here, a verse for Moxxxie there. But it is really a mix. Lyrically, most of the songs about love and rock n roll come from Tony. The songs about sex, drugs, fantasy, and people that suck come from me. Tony’s lyrics are always sincere and poetic and I tend to be more sarcastic and challenging.
Rockmommy: What kind of gear do you like and why?
MM: I like to use hot-rodded Fender Strats and Marshalls amps. No matter how polished and smooth the tone, the Fender Strat has a certain gritty sound that I love for all styles of playing, but especially rock n roll! I’ll usually throw in some kind of hot humbucker(s). In the case of my main Thrilldriver Strat, it’s a Suhr Aldrich. Also some of my favorite players (Hendrix, Gilmour, Clapton) used Strats.
The same goes for Marshalls. As a kid, I always lusted after the giant Marshalls stacks I saw in guitar magazines! So many of my favorite players used Marshalls, that I just always associated them with the sound of rock guitar! While I’m constantly trying other amps, there’s just this certain “Marshall roar” that I can’t seem to get away from. Plug into a cranked 100-watt head, strum a big fat open chord, and you’ll see what I mean haha.
For effects I use a Line 6 HX Effects. For years I was anti-digital and multifx, but they’ve come so far that I’d A/B’d the Line 6 unit with my favorite pedals, and couldn’t tell the difference! I also like the ability to save different settings and change around effects whenever I want.
Picks are Dunlop Ultex Sharps 1.14mm, and strings are D’Addario EXL110.
ZP: I couldn’t live without my JH Audio custom iems. They let the rest of the guys crank it up to 11 and I can still hear myself and do what I gotta do.
Rockmommy: You’ve been together for a few years. Has your music evolved or changed a bit with the second record?
MM: I feel like the EP is very “hair metal” in the best of ways haha. Now we’re more confident in our sound and identity, so I think that leads to branching out in terms of songwriting and guitar parts. Our second album exhibited a wider range of sounds, and I think our upcoming album is our biggest, most creative one yet!
ZP: I second that. God, I can’t wait to get this album out there. One, I feel like I’ve finally found my lyric “voice,” and the vocals in general have more style and point-of-view. And two, we’re starting to incorporate synth and more layers of production. To me, this album has more of an opinion and feels more specific and authentic to who we are as contemporary artists.
Rockmommy: Some of you are balancing a lot — bands, parenting, etc. — in addition to this band. What is your best advice on making it work? Please be specific, especially about the parenting stuff, which many of us are juggling!
MM: Coffee. Lots of coffee.
But seriously, I think that any discipline or passion in life it takes commitment and certain sacrifices. I watch my kids in the mornings and teach all afternoon into the evening. Sometimes this can be followed by a gig or rehearsal! That doesn’t leave a ton of time for practicing or writing, so I’ll try and pick up the guitar on any small breaks I have in between lessons. Or I just sacrifice a couple hours of sleep and practice with headphones after everyone in my apartment is in bed. Even though it can feel much harder these days, I think it’s really important that my kids see me doing something that I love and enjoy!
ZP: I don’t know how Jaime and Moxxxie do it. One second I think I’m busy as hell, thinking that there’s no way I’ll get it all done, and then I remember my two bandmates that have not one, but two children AND successful marriages. And then they show up to practice completely focused and seemingly serene. “Relationship goals” right there.
It is admittedly hard to get all 5 of us in a room at the same time with everyone’s schedules, which can be frustrating, but we tried something new last night which I loved — we came to practice with a super specific game plan and were able to really milk a lot out of just 2 hours. And surprisingly, having a super structured practice led to some creative developments and changes. I think that’s part of what makes it work for everyone who’s so busy. We don’t amble in late and dick around for 4 hours. We’re all respectful of each other’s precious time, do our homework, and work efficiently.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
In 1999, when I was an intern at a Maryland boating magazine, I’d crank WHFS as I cruised East on I-50, from College Park to Annapolis, singing along to whatever was playing. It was on one of those treks that I heard Mary Prankster for the first time, singing the chorus of “Mercyf*ck.” I was immediately gripped by the compulsion to pull over, so I could hear each and every lyric.
Later that day, I snatched up her CD, Blue Skies Over Dundalk, listened 50 times, and realized that Mary Prankster was my girl. My True North. My kind of songwriter. To this day, Blue Skies Over Dundalk, in its 20-minute brilliance, goes down as one of the best rock n’ roll albums ever created. (Roulette Girl and Tell Your Friends are also in my top 10, in no particular order.)
In 2005, when Mary announced she would retire after years of playing sold-out shows across the mid-Atlantic, Charm City fans were shocked, sad and baffled. But the timing was right. Mary Prankster (whose real name is different) believed the MP moniker would ride into the sunset, but the woman behind the persona would move onto other, more grown-up ventures — most notably, voiceover work.
“I’m retiring the character,” she told me over coffee in the Village Voice offices in New York, where I worked after relocating to Brooklyn that fall. “I’m not retiring from creative life.”
Later that day, Mary Prankster emailed me a photo of herself dressed like the Virgin Mary cradling a melting guitar. It was sad, but fitting.
Fast forward to 2019. Fourteen years is a lot of time — to contemplate life, make mistakes, settle down and look back and wonder if you left a crucial part of yourself behind when you turned 30. Around three or four years ago, Mary started hearing songs in her head that needed to get out into the open, as she told The Washington Post.
The result: Thickly Settled, Mary Prankster’s first album in more than a decade, is as beautiful, rich and complex as a bottle of good Cabernet.
The 10-track record blends multiple genres — often in the same song — like vintage rockabilly or bluegrass, frequently filled out by horns. “Local Honey” is bathed in smooth, trippy guitars and my favorite, “Sugar in the Raw,” is chock full of sex-bombshell-worthy, distortion-guitar riffs. While there are no pithy punk tracks in the vein of “Mac & Cheese” or “Tits and Whiskey,” there are cheeky moments throughout — little reminders that while you can take the girl out of rock n’ roll, you can’t take the rock n’ roll out of the girl.
Rockmommy recently caught up with Mary Prankster, who is playing her annual Pranksgiving Shows at The Ottobar on Friday, Nov. 29, and The Birchmere on Saturday, November 30.
Rockmommy: Thickly Settled is brilliant — and surprising. When you originally “retired” MP in 2005, did you think you had another record in you?
Mary Prankster: Thank you! And no, I didn’t. By the time I “retired” I hadn’t heard any new songs in my head for a few years. I was exhausted, and I figured, “Well, this is it — I’ve had a good run.” I’m delighted and grateful the songs came back and overjoyed with how the new album came out.
Rockmommy: Was there a moment when you decided you needed to get the songs onto an album?
Mary Prankster: I was living in Central Pennsylvania for a bit — one of my favorite regions of the country — and had an unexpected amount of unscheduled time crop up. I took the opportunity to make some audio sketches in GarageBand of what I was hearing in my head. Just doing that helped equalize the pressure a little bit — being able to hear the songs from the outside in — and then it became a matter of figuring out if it’d be possible to record them properly.
Rockmommy: I know you wanted a diverse group of musicians who were flexible with this record. How did you find your current roster?
Mary Prankster: Enter Steve Wright, genius producer/engineer and my bestie from way back. For the past 20 years he’s been honing his skills at Wright Way Studios in Baltimore, recording every genre of music with some seriously talented folks.We did an EXTENSIVE amount of preproduction together — demos, reference tracks, written descriptions of how I heard the tunes — strategizing what we’d need to pull it off.
From that, he had an idea of the depth of skill and versatility the musicians needed to have. Steve also has a really good sense of the psychology that goes into a session — how different personalities/approaches will interact.
Making an album is a terrifyingly intimate thing. You’ve got these songs that come out of intense feelings and you’re focused on making them the fullest expression of themselves so you’re just submerged in emotion for hours on end.
Added to that was how incredibly vulnerable I felt recording my first studio album in over a decade and a half. Whoever was going to make this record with me also had to be — just as a person — kind.
So Steve went through his roster of twenty years worth of crackerjack musicians and personally selected the most skilled, most versatile, and most kind. And here we are.
Rockmommy: What’s it like making music now, as opposed to your 20s, when you were recording and touring nonstop?
Mary Prankster: The technology available now is miraculous. Being able to do multi-track demos with a laptop and a midi-controller and emailing them with song notes — that right there is amazing. So is pulling reference tracks for different sound approaches from the infinite music library that’s available online. After the initial sessions I had another guitar idea and Bryan and I were able to work out a solo over FaceTime. Remote mixing in real time with an ethernet cable and SourceConnect. We took advantage of all these different digital tools and it was invaluable in terms of time and cost.
Interestingly enough, the SPIRIT of the album — just the sheer joy in making it — reminded me of making Blue Skies Over Dundalk. When Steve and I made that one together, there were no preconceptions or expectations, we were just totally focused on the songs and getting them right and it was so much FUN. I felt very strongly then that if it was the only album I ever made — and there was no reason at the time to believe it wouldn’t be – that I wanted to make the absolute best album I could – hold nothing back and just go for it.
With Thickly Settled — again, there was no REASON to make it, aside from the overpowering desire to hear these songs out in the world, so we had the same kind of giddy joy of discovery and creation. There was a lightness and playfulness to the sessions — 16 hours would pass and the only way we knew it was time to call it a day was that we’d be physically trembling from exhaustion. It was glorious.
Rockmommy: OK, Thickly Settled. How’d you come up with that album title (which, from the perspective of a 40-ish rocker mom, feels so relevant).
Mary Prankster: In New England you’ll see road signs that read “THICKLY SETTLED” in residential neighborhoods — translated, it means “High Population Density — Drive With Caution.” Metaphorically, as a 44-year-old woman smack dab in the middle of midlife, I’m also “Thickly Settled.” By this age, you’re living your life (as opposed to preparing for it) and starting to see how some of your earlier plot lines have turned out.
Rockmommy: Any plans to tour again, besides the Baltimore-DC-NOVA shows every Thanksgiving?
Mary Prankster: None at the moment, though certainly open to it if there’s demand/it makes sense.
Rockmommy: Would you consider playing my 5-year-old’s birthday party? 😉
Mary Prankster: We can park the horn section by the bouncy house.
Last month three-quarters of my band decided, on a whim, that we needed a good dose of live music. High-energy music. Rebel girl music. Enter The Interrupters, an in-your-face ska/punk band out of Los Angeles, and a favorite of our punk rock bassist Doug. We found out they were playing in our hood, snapped up tickets, and bam! Off to the show.
Now, I’ve been to no less than a thousand live shows — and likely more. But there is something about seeing a live show after you’ve been starving for live music for months. It was insane. And inspiring. Exactly what I needed to get motivated to play more guitar and write more music.
So in 2020, I’m hoping to bring more live rock n’ roll back into my life. I deserve it — and it makes me a better parent, too.
As the editrix of a mommy blog, I hear a lot of peppy indie rock. And so much of it is (lyrically, at least) inspired by remarkable, fun ideas — say, songs about flying a rocket ship to Mars or songs about breakdancing with dinosaurs. Yet it’s the mundane stuff — the everyday activities — which parents and music partners Andrew & Polly believe are worthy of their own anthems.
Andrew & Polly
Thus, the musical duo’s latest record “Go for the Moon” is filled with songs about the silliness of normal life — from falling off chairs(“Chair School”) to watching scuba divers swim (“Aquarium”). Each track is interlaced with a special surprise, be that tinkling keys, booming choruses or slide guitars and trombone jokes.
Recently, Rockmommy caught up with Andrew & Polly, to talk about the Los Angeles kindie-rock scene, and the constant juggle of parenthood, music and everything else (like their Ear Snacks podcast).
Rockmommy:The world is full of so many would-be musical partners. How did you guys meet?
Andrew & Polly: Polly was making a record in college and rehearsing in a dorm room with one of Andrew’s friends. Andrew asked him to ask her, “Does she need any keys?” Seventeen years later, we’re still making music together!
Rockmommy: What was the inspiration behind ‘Go for the Moon?’
Andrew & Polly: Family life is magical, difficult, and ridiculous all at the same time — this collection of epic anthems is inspired directly from the absurdity and delight we find in our everyday lives. Childhood and parenthood alike take a good dose of aspiration and a whopping spoonful of humor, and we hope this record can be a soundtrack for many different kinds of little adventures.
Rockmommy: You’re proud parents of Izzy and Gertie — what’s it like balancing parenthood with a career in the arts?
Andrew & Polly: Balance? Ha! We try and keep a little space between work and family, but for us there’s obviously a lot of cross-pollination between the two. “Chair School” is now a catch phrase in our home (where people fall out of chairs on the regular), and “Mom’s Name” (co-written by the incomparably hilarious Mike Phirman) was based on a real life preschool drop-off. Gertie, Izzy, and even Polly’s dad volunteered to be on this record, but they’re not part of our social media, and that’s probably the best way we keep a balance between work and family — by trying to keep our phones away when it’s time to play.
Rockmommy: Tell us about the Los Angeles music scene. How would you say your live show compares with that of others?
Andrew & Polly: LA has a rad kids music scene, and we’re honored to fill a little Westside niche of it. Two incredibly wonderful LA-based kids musicians are featured on “Go for the Moon” — our new music pal Mike Phirman and our longtime collaborator Mista Cookie Jar. Our shows range from intimate duo shows to large stage-rocking ensemble events, but we always make sure our concerts are interactive and tailored to the vibe of the space and the audience. We love taking a big stage with bass, drums and trombone, but more often than not we get to singalong right up close and personal with an acoustic set for curious young ears interested trying out Polly’s ukulele or Andrew’s glockenspiel.
Life in LA is a bit odd though — it’s a complicated and beautiful city, not just a place for fun celebrity-sightings. We even included a song about it on this record, “Circus by the Sea.”
Rockmommy: What is your favorite song on the new album and why?
Andrew & Polly: That’s like choosing your favorite child! No fair, we can’t do that! We’re super proud of this record and the “Go for it!” feelings each song elicits in a different way. But a couple songs worth mentioning… “Mom’s Name” a collaboration with Mike Phirman is about a real parenting milestone and based on a true story (like so many of our songs). Once you start toting your toddler all over town, you end up meeting a lot of great people — but you just don’t know their names. Instead it’s like this: “Oh, do you know what Ollie’s dad told me yesterday at the park?” And “When you see Frankie’s mom tomorrow, could you give her these pants back?” This song is a humorous deep-dive into that oof-ful truthful parenting rite of passage in which you find yourself asking, “But who is that lady? And who even am I?”
Another favorite on the record has to be “Chair School,” featuring Mista Cookie Jar. Actually, both of these songs were long-fought logical battles that required incredible teamwork to bring them into existence! Maybe that’s why they are faves. If you’ve ever seen a kid just… BAH! Fall out of a chair! You’ll understand this quirky tangent of a song about a fictitious place where everyone can learn to “Chair!”
Debbie Harry is not an open book. This came a surprise to me, not only because she wears bold, brightly colored outfits, but because of her huge persona as the singer of 1970s punk-pop band Blondie.
I’ve seen the band Blondie play once, about a decade ago in Brooklyn, and Harry was fun, friendly and not unlike her affable contemporaries Pat Benetar and Joan Jett. But it is the private Debbie Harry that I am most interested in: the woman who started a band with her lover (Blondie guitarist/songwriter Chris Stein), became an international music/fashion sensation in her 30s (at a time when women were artistically “finished” in their 30s), and remained an independent provocateur for her entire life.
During Monday night’s release party in NYC’s Town Hall for her memoir “Face It,” we got little glimpses into Harry’s life and legacy. But if she hadn’t been joined by Stein onstage — as well as DJ/rap legend Fab Five Freddie and Rob Roth — the 90-minute conversation wouldn’t have been so engaging.
It took prodding from all three guests, plus one well-worded audience question, for Harry to give any dirt on her rock n’ roll career. I had hoped for just one or two little anecdotes about Andy Warhol, or the moment when Harry and Stein knew their band had made it (though I loved FFF’s account of hearing “Rapture” for the first time”).
By the end of the night I felt a little baffled, yet intrigued: Why does Harry sometimes say she regrets writing a memoir? Why does she need Stein to animate the conversation? And why aren’t she and Stein together anymore?
I’m hoping some of these answers are in the book.
A signed copy of the memoir, Debbie Harry: Face It (Day Street)
Me with my friend Kendra, of Dey Street (which publishes memoirs like this one).
This past summer, as our country marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, many Americans marveled at how far we’ve come since the 1960s. From schools revamping their lesson plans to include the contributions of gay and transgender individuals to the legalization of same-sex marriage, we’re seeing true queer liberation on so many fronts.
But beyond cities like New York and the San Francisco Bay area, where Kaitlin McGaw calls home, many LGBTQ communities have experienced increased violence and intolerance — especially over the last few years.
“I don’t turn away from it, and don’t cringe when contextualizing it for my young nieces, nephews and child,” says McGaw, whose hip-hop collective Alphabet Rockers channeled their frustration and hope into their latest album, The LOVE. “Embracing that has helped me counter how dominant culture is at work in children’s media, in our implicit biases, in our shushing and half truths.”
Alphabet Rockers’ Kaitlin McGaw (she/her) and Tommy Shepherd (he/him)
The album — available for download everywhere — is loaded with uplifting, high-energy jams, tribal beats, lyrics about inclusion, gender identity and pride. It’s relatable to every listener, no matter who they are, how old they are or where they live.
We recently sat down with Kaitlin McGaw to chat about motherhood (her second child is due in October!), music, culture and more.
Rockmommy: As a dancer, educator, musician and podcaster, you’re really a Jane of All Trades! How’d you get your start as an artist?
Kaitlin McGaw: It had to be the start of high school, when I dove into poetry, voice and theater. Specifically, hearing the performances of poetry from Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou helped me see the power of these art forms to change culture, including my own. When I moved to the Bay Area after college, I found the bravery to really go deeper into every aspect of my artistry. I performed in a hip-hop dance troupe, acted in musical theater and then finally dove into songwriting and singing full-time. I loved how with music, I could let the songs and art change with me — with performances that could stretch over months and years instead of weekends of a theatrical run. Today there is no separating the art from the heart. It’s an authentic representation of myself and the community I perform with and for.
Rockmommy: Why is a record like The LOVE — which centers on gender identity and acceptance — needed so badly right now?
Kaitlin McGaw: Our kids deserve music that is rooted in our diverse identities — songs that they want to bump loud and proud, and process all their big ideas and feelings. Right now, our kids are absorbing all the pain of our country, including our silence and our resistance, whether we talk to them about it or not. Sometimes we hear folks say how grateful they are we do so much for the next generation. But we’re not done changing, either! The LOVE is for all of us — for parents who want to keep learning and evolving and for kids eager to be a part of love and change. There is incredible power in empathy, incredible impact in learning through another person’s narrative and lens. This is how we broaden our ‘blind spots,’ and we can’t do it by staying in a media space of tolerance that centers on dominant cultures. The LOVE allows us to hear from all ages, to center trans and non-binary voices, and to level up our love and understanding.
Rockmommy: Can you walk us through the process of creating the album, from concept to execution?
Kaitlin McGaw: For the past two albums, Tommy and I have used an inquiry process to create our songs; our goal is to have an authentic truth to each song that meets the real need of our audience. It’s almost like translation. We research, we listen, and we host individual and community conversations about the issues we are writing about. Then we create a web of lyrics and sounds — always pushing ourselves sonically to stay contemporary and on the top of our musical composition. The first track we created for this album was “Live Your Life” — written with a young trans member of our family — and he shared what he would want to tell the 5-year-old version of himself. For other songs on this album, we partnered with Our Family Coalition, the two spirit indigenous community of the Bay Area, and many individual families with gender diverse identities. What resulted was music that sounds, as Our Family Coalition reflected, “by us and for us” — and songs that translate from age 2 to 80 in our human evolution.
Rockmommy: Some of the best art comes from anger and frustration. Have any of those emotions fueled this record?
Kaitlin McGaw: One of the kernels of love on this album, advised by one of our gender non-binary parents, was the importance of honesty even if it counters the child media of ‘love is love’ and ‘sunshine after the rain.’ Telling kids that everything would get better, in the parent’s perspective, was neither true nor fair. You will hear that freedom to name the pain and the self love in so many songs on this album — and I hope listeners will join us in that spaciousness.
For myself as an artist and privileged cisgendered white woman, I have been in conversation with anger, oppression, humanity and justice for many years, even if it is not in my lived body. I don’t turn away from it, and don’t cringe when contextualizing it for my young nieces, nephews and child. Embracing that has helped me counter how dominant culture is at work in children’s media, in our implicit biases, in our shushing and half truths.
All that being said, the album The Love feels at once contemporary — speaking our current truth — and of service to our child selves, both music for our future legacy and healing of our past. None of the violence and oppression we are witnessing today is new, nor is our bravery or truth speaking new. But it all is still a revolution and revelation of expansive consciousness, connection and willingness to create positive change.
Rockmommy: Were there logistical challenges in making the record?
Kaitlin McGaw: We coordinated more than 60 artists and collaborators to make this album, which was a huge undertaking! The logistics of coordinating recording sessions, meetings and rehearsals continues to be a huge part of our job in presenting The LOVE — and yet this challenge is so necessary to undertake. One thing I’ve learned about equity and creating equitable frameworks is that what may feel convenient is not always equitable. It takes time, trust and stretching to find that common ground.
Having said that, we’ve got an amazing home base — Zoo Labs — a studio and business development space right here in Oakland that has facilitated every public creation for the album. From artistic brainstorms to business models, listening sessions with families to final recordings, we had a safe and nurturing environment to create. We are also fortunate to have a deep and diverse community of creative minds — families that really opened up to us, and artists who came on board to share their truths.
Oh, and being in my first and second trimester of pregnancy throughout the recording meant a few bumpy days as well! This baby is going to have music in their heart from the very beginning.
Rockmommy: You have lots of other projects and work commitments, in addition to motherhood. How do you balance everything?
Kaitlin McGaw: Balance is huge. Having an active toddler with 12-hour recording sessions, 7 a.m. departures for school concerts, and coordinating a team of performing artists, documentarians, booking agents for tours and shipping/product management means my brain has to be large and in charge. And full of patience. My main thing I have been working on is letting go — knowing I won’t get to everything, that’s it’s OK to not be the perfect meal planner, that my life and art will be OK even if I have to do one more than the other. It’s not always easy. My self care routine is to stop working after I pick up my little one from day care — no projects or logging in. Same for weekends, when we are not performing, I give my family 100 percent attention. Of course the work day, inspiration and upkeep doesn’t ever stop for entrepreneurs, so it’s not easy!
My husband and I are both very passionate about our life’s work (he works in building affordable housing for the Bay Area) so we also feel a ton of support for one another’s time, heart and balance. He thrives on the mornings with our toddler when I race to a school show, or their time on weekends when I’m out at a concert. And I love sitting on the carpet to play with cars to start or unwind the day. But the best part has been watching my toddler grow up in the studio, at rehearsals and looking up to the 10- and 11-year-old Alphabet Rockers.
Rockmommy: On the other hand, how has parenthood influenced your artistry?
Kaitlin McGaw: Becoming a parent has given me so much more compassion for each parent’s journey. Now at shows, when I see parents with little ones, I feel extremely thankful and aware that they have gone the distance to do something of value for their children. I feel even more responsibility and honor to be a source of culture in their family story.
And every story that is shared with me becomes a part of my artistic fabric. The mom who told me her family was targeted with racist harassment on the street on vacation — she said they went back to their hotel and listened to/sang ‘I’m Proud’ on repeat. This is the why. And it brings it all full circle. That song was rooted in the need for healing and self empowerment for diverse individuals — and it continues to do just that. I am eager to hear the stories of how The LOVE changes lives, moments, and after-school processing, and builds a community of empowered change makers.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.