When I was little — well, like 11 or 12 — my dad Don Torrieri got me to watch “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” for the first time. I kind of knew what it was about (I mean, the title says it all), but I didn’t quite get the plot’s nuances (or Tuco’s relationship with Blondie, played by then-hunky, poncho-clad Clint Eastwood). But what stuck with me most wasn’t the scene of Tuco running through the graveyard (my dad liked to say this was me, in Italy, searching a cemetery for the grave of my great-great grandfather Pietro Torrieri I).
It was the soundtrack. Still one of the sexiest Western themes on the planet, Ennio Morricone‘s title track. Take a listen, and a look, and experience the awesomeness.
So today, I had a little free time. Hubby took the kids to my inlaws’ house to watch a football game. I broke my Gibson SG out of its hard case, and got to work, setting a goal to learn this riff. Perhaps so I can play it at an upcoming show.
The good news is that it wasn’t too hard to learn. However, the frets on my Gibson SG are still too far apart for me to stretch my hands in a five-fret span comfortably and pull off something sonically delightful. So I switched to the Fender Strat, and had no troubles. It sounds lovely and is super-fun to play. Learn it here, in this video.
My next goal: To set up my looper pedal so I can strum chords underneath this cool riff and sound like a badass next time I play out.
— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.
New Year’s Resolutions have become a bit of a cliche. Overly ambitious declarations destined to fail most of the time.
Still, I start every year thinking, “OK, this is it! This is the year I play guitar for an hour a day every single day no matter what. And if I don’t, then I’m lazy. Now GO!”
And then life happens. This week, two unexpected life events threw off my post-NYE ambitions:
1.) I cut my pinky finger while slicing vegetables for dinner, an event that led to lots of gushing blood, panicked cries of “Oh my God, Oh my God,” and a trip to my local urgent care center. By the end of the night, I was banned from washing my kids or doing anything that would get my now-surgically-glued-together pinky.
The finger I sliced open on Jan. 2. Two hours later, it was surgically glued back together. Yay!
2.) The weather decided to move up its plans to deliver four inches a foot of snow and an obnoxious amount of post-apocalyptic winds to New England. This led to school cancellations, which forced me to cancel my highlights appointment (my biggest, and very occasional, indulgence), and start to fret about spending a whole day at home (did I mention I didn’t exercise Wednesday? Now I’m missing two days of exercise this week! UGH! I hate that!).
Then I look at the broader picture. I’m a mom and a wife, a skilled musician and freelance writer who gets regular gigs. I teach guitar, I tutor writers, I help my older son with his homework. I’m also an aunt and a granddaughter, a sister-in-law. I have more friends than I can count.
In 2017, I played five original shows (including one with Grandma’s Mini, my band in DC, plus three solo shows and one cover-band gig). I got an article published in Guitar World magazine. I posed for a zillion photos, looking like a 20-something. We expanded our house. My family’s health is good. I have so much to be grateful for.
By setting goals that are reasonable, not forced like resolutions, we can accomplish so many things. Better than that, we can accomplish these things without feeling bad, like we failed.
So today as I sit in my house, and the blizzard whirls around outside, I’d like to try to make 2018 the year of patience: I’d like to be more patient with my children, more patient with circumstances I can’t control (like the weather), more patient with my spouse, and more patient with my progress — not just as a person, but as a musician, writer, runner and traveler. I’d like to think that things we are putting off this year (like a trip to Disney World) will come later, so I needn’t be envious of my peers.
Perhaps I can channel my energy into gratitude, instead.
Marisa Torrieri is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
Damn, it’s been a WHILE since I updated this blog. Since I interviewed a guitar-wielding goddess. Since I offered tips for parents trying to find time to balance music with motherhood. You know why? Because things got totally off balance for me these last few months — albeit, in a good way.
From my band Grandma’s Mini’s DC gig at The Pinch in September 2017
In a perfect storm of circumstances (no pun intended, especially considering the disastrous storms that have impacted Houston, Puerto Rico, The U.S. Virgin Islands and many, many other places since August), my oldest son started elementary school, I picked up a lot of freelance-writing work (like triple the amount I usually do, on a regular basis), and I started a new cover-band project. Made new friends. Volunteered for said elementary school. Decided to start a new novel.
I have so many things I’d like to write about — like my guilt over wearing provocative clothes instead of sensible ones (now that I am a mom of two sons), or whether I should tone down my lyrical content now that I am the room mom at my kids’ elementary school. I have interviews I’d love to do — of rockmommies like Pink!, Ann Wilson, Brody Dalle and countless others. I’d love to put the spark back into the mommy community again.
So here’s to doing all of that — once a week — in 2018. To making an editorial calendar, and creating content because content needs to be read. Because people are reading my journalism. Because this website is one of the few crafted with the rock n’ roll parent in mind. And because writing is both a privilege and a service. And the ability to do it decently is one of the biggest blessings of my life.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 & 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?
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 calledCity 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.