Steve Rodgers and the Art of Rebuilding a Music Scene

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

On a warm, overcast Friday in early June 2020, Steve Rodgers might have been strumming his guitar and thinking about set lists for a string of summer concerts. But instead, the indie rocker dad was hard at work building a new chicken coop out of the wood he salvaged from his daughter’s old toy chest. 

“It’s for five chickens, which is the legal limit in Hamden,” says Steve, who has already built an impressive array of wood- and recycled-materials projects over the last few years, in the home he shares with wife Jesse, daughter Fable, 16, and son River, 10.

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Steve Rodgers

The act of repurposing good materials into something new and needed is actually a fitting metaphor these days: In the summer of COVID-19, as Steve and other musicians have been blocked from playing indoor concerts, it’s become necessary to figure out new ways to get live music to the masses.

And he’s doing a pretty good job, so far. In May, Steve — who is still best known for his role as the singer from Mighty Purple, the band he co-founded as a teen — was one of the first artists tapped by the International Festival of Arts & Ideas to start playing live, acoustic outdoor “backyard” sets. It’s one of the few options at the moment for safe, live music right now as most nightclubs are closed and concerts have been postponed or cancelled.

“I played two gigs in one day — one in a two-acre backyard and another on Court Street in New Haven,” says Steve. “There were, literally, on every porch, a family or friends and their roommates. Every time I finished a song people were clapping … they hadn’t seen any live music for two months. It was a good day for me and my fiddle player.” 

And while it isn’t the summer he imagined, it’s an absolutely fitting experience for a guy who’s had to adapt and think outside of the box to survive. 

Humble Beginnings 

When I first met Steve Rodgers, he wasn’t a 40-something dad of two, a music director in a church, or a nightclub owner. He was just 20-year-old dude from Hamden who started a rock band with his younger brother Jonny. 

Mighty Purple officially formed in 1992, with Steve on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jonny on vocals and lead guitar, Adrian VandeGraff on bass and Will Mix on drums, and quickly grew into one of New England’s more popular regional acts, opening for the likes of Dave Matthews Band and Bare Naked Ladies. Their music spans multiple genres — folk rock, psychedelic rock, funk or even hard rock. The common through line is the Rodgers brothers’ earnest, powerful harmonies and the band’s high-energy performances. Even today, the band’s influence on the New Haven-area arts scene is still evident — nearly every musician I’ve met in Southeastern Connecticut has a Mighty Purple story. 

My first Mighty Purple experience, in Fall 1994, happened by accident, as some of the best experiences do: I was to be a freshman at University of Maryland in College Park, where I met Jason DaPonte, who was from Stratford, Connecticut, and lived in my co-ed dorm (Elkton Hall). He knew Mighty Purple from his high school days, and helped them secure a gig at Javaheads, an intimate little coffeehouse-bar hybrid in downtown College Park, which served bottomless coffee and $2 well drinks. It was one of the last places where patrons could smoke cigarettes while listening to alt-rock acts play in a makeshift space by the windows. 

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Mighty Purple

Deciding to go to the show was a no brainer. Forgive me, but at the time I was 18 and full of hormones. I took one look at the flier and saw two guys with long hair, holding instruments. It was like the grunge version of Nelson. I was in.

But it was the music — arpeggiated guitars, bass, and percussion infused with some of the warmest vocal harmonies I’d ever heard — that kept me there. The show was a stripped-down, acoustic set, and the moment Mighty Purple launched into “When Kingdoms Fall,” an epic anthem characterized by its atmospheric effects, addictive hooks, and a singalong chorus, I became a fan.

After the set, I bought their CD, Bohica, and we somehow ended up having an afterparty in my dorm room, where Jason and Steve swapped stories of their youthful antics. I have a vague recollection of drinking and bong hits, but neither Steve nor I can remember that night completely. I did remember that Steve was the chattier, more extroverted of the brothers, while Jonny was the quieter one. I also recall the hours I spent listening to that CD on my walkman for the next 12 months, enjoying the heavier, funkier tunes like “Wail” and “Circle,” and my favorite — “Rose for Caroline” — throughout my entire freshman year.

“My brother and I wrote some songs collectively, and many more individually,” says Steve. “Once a song had a basic framework we would bring it to each other and then to the band. Throughout the various seasons of the Mighty Purple journey, we had many different ways of writing songs. Sometimes we wrote as a full band. Adrian, our longtime bass player, wrote many parts and transitions alongside my brother.” 

Interestingly, it was during that year, within months after seeing and hanging out with Mighty Purple, that I would pick up a guitar for the first time, and learn how to play.

Building a Scene

Steve and I crossed paths again in 16 years later — in October 2010 — because I’d transplanted to Connecticut from Brooklyn by way of marriage, and managed to score a freelance-writing gig for NBC Universal. My assignment: to write mini profiles of the coolest bars, nightclubs, and hangouts in Connecticut — including the best venues for live, original music. 

Unfortunately, I lived in Stamford, a city which felt artistically void, oozing with pop-rock cover bands and dance nights with pre-recored boom-boom pop. Nothing against these diversions, but I pined for cute little coffeehouses, poetry slams, dive bars and the artist-enclave culture that reminded me of college.

“Remember that band Mighty Purple, you met during our freshman year?” said my old pal Jason, who’d since moved to London after we graduated from University of Maryland. “The singer, my friend Steve Rodgers, opened a nightclub called The Space. I think you should check it out.”

Oh yeah, I realized. I did remember Steve Rodgers! 

The next day I hopped on the Merritt Parkway and headed toward Hamden, Connecticut, a college town I’d never set foot in, to check out Steve’s new commercial digs. As I greeted Steve for the first time since the nineties, I almost didn’t recognize him. The person who stood in front of me was no longer the wide-eyed guy the on the cusp of 21, but a man halfway into his 30s, with much shorter hair — and a wife and two young children.

The Space itself was unlike any music establishment I’d seen. On the outside, it was gray-block building that looked like it was plopped down in the middle of an old parking lot, in the middle of nowhere. But inside, it was gloriously cool, with a ‘90s record-store vibe, teeming with knick-knacks and hanging lights, and band posters plastered to brightly painted walls. There was a spacious main floor with a stage, and a cozy little basement-bar area, intended for open-mic nights.

Over the course of two hours, Steve shared his plans to lease a second venue, to be called the Outer Space, which would be tailored to 21+ patrons who wanted to enjoy good beer with their music. He would go on to do this, and then in 2013, add a third, all-ages venue — The Spaceland Ballroom — with an ample, checkered floor space that was perfect for watching all kinds of performances, from bands to burlesque.  

But by mid-2017, after years and years of growth, things started getting complicated. Keeping up with the Spaces’ overhead costs and renovations was tough, and Steve occasionally needed to hold fundraisers to keep business afloat. Some health issues had developed, and he began to meet with a couple of parties who were interested in potentially purchasing the venue. Yet he was still working feverishly every day to keep the club vital.

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The Space in Hamden, Connecticut

The signs that something had to give kept coming. Steve’s doctor told him that his vocal cords were fried, and he’d need surgery for his nodules. He’d also need to quit smoking. In January 2018, Steve underwent throat surgery, which left him unable to speak much for months.

There was one “final straw” incident in particular that shook him. About six months before the Spaces would close, Steve was getting ready to lock up one night and was approached by a man in the parking lot who pulled a gun on him. This incident was traumatizing and was one of the signs that told Steve it was time to sell. 

What happened next, which led to Steve ultimately exiting the Spaces, is a long story involving landlords and lawyers — and you can read the New Haven Register’s detailed account here — but from Steve’s perspective, the timing, although bittersweet, all worked out as it was supposed to. The Space and The Outer Space/Ballroom closed in late December 2018. 

Re-Building a Life, Part 1

It would be remiss to write a profile of Steve Rodgers without acknowledging the role that his faith in God and the church have played in his life. 

The son of an Anglican minister, Steve’s earliest memories are of him sitting in the Cathedral at King’s College and listening to sacred hymns. This tied into his musical upbringing, as his parents — “church hippies” — were songwriters and guitarists who frequently played at services. But in his teens, his parents divorced, and Steve found himself struggling with his feelings about religion. 

“The church establishment has driven so many from the faith because of intolerance, judgmental rhetoric and divisive narrow thinking,” says Steve. “My heart breaks to see the divide the church has created. I embrace all humans no matter who they are and no matter what they believe in.” 

In his 20s, after a decade of constant touring with Mighty Purple, Steve rediscovered his faith and enrolled in a Christian missions training program. His re-involvement grew slowly from there, and soon, he began playing drums in a church band. For the last 15 years, he’s served as the church’s music director (even when he was working overtime at his nightclubs).

“My faith now is about my relationship with God and about the spiritual mindset, which helps me to seek and spread hope, love, joy and peace in my everyday life,” he says. 

Faith also proved crucial when it came to the tumultuous reentry into normal, post-nightclub-owner life in early 2019. In the aftermath of his departure from the Spaces, Steve grappled with lingering feelings of sadness.

“Even though I’ve always been a family guy, I was at work 60, 70 hours a week,” says Steve. “I had no idea what I was going to do after all that stuff went down. Financially, that was a very difficult time. In the six months following the Spaces, my true friends made themselves known.” 

What Steve did appreciate was having significantly more time with his family and friends — and himself. He spent the first three months after the Spaces closed building miniatures, including miniature train sets and fairy homes. And as his voice continued to heal, and he acclimated to a more balanced home life, inspiration struck again, and he started writing new songs.

In April 2019, Steve Rodgers released “Count it All Joy,” a full-length album that leans closer to country — and further from rock — than a Mighty Purple record, with mellow melodies and multiple stringed instruments. It’s clear the songs are the work of someone who’s faced incredible challenges and emerged a better person. My favorite, so far, is “Why Are You Here?”, a song about the way humans seek spiritual comfort in the wake of hardships. Even after the imprint of 27 years of smoking, Steve’s voice soars brightly in songs like “Love Will Conquer You.”

The album features Ben Dean on fiddle, Jonny Rodgers on acoustic guitar and Seth Adam on bass, and Fred Delione playing keys for a couple of song.

“‘Count it All Joy’ means ‘no matter what trials and tribulations … there’s always something you can find joy in,” Steve tells me. “Get excited about the things you do have and throw yourself into something.”

Re-building a Life, Part 2

Steve and Jesse chose to homeschool their own children years ago, because they wanted their kids to have a more personalized and nurturing learning environment. So the past three months of mandated “distance learning” are nothing new, except that his kids can’t gather with their friends.

However, their approach to homeschool may seem a little unorthodox by some parents’ standards. For example: While some parents try to educate their kids with a structured schedule, the Rodgers let the inspiration of the day guide learning. So if 10-year-old River would rather paint a mural at 9 a.m. before doing math, he paints a mural. There’s always time to do math later on.

“I know a lot of people are really struggling right now, but we’ve been really family closening,” says Steve. “This experience has helped us get a lot closer and understanding each other more.”  

After our conversation about homeschooling, I found myself questioning this approach. 

I’m a creative person, but I’m also a mom. When the urge comes on to write a song, I can’t just drop my income-generating work or childrearing to write it down. Without structure, how will my kids accomplish anything that isn’t fun? 

But over the course of several hours, I came around a bit in my thinking. I realized that it’s important to take inspiration when it comes. If my 6-year-old son feels like stapling papers together and “writing” a book, he’s still learning. Maybe that’s more important than forcing him to add numbers at a pre-designated time. 

Also, inspiration frequently comes at inopportune times — when we’re focused on other things, or when we’re experiencing pain or loss.

“My last show before coronavirus lockdown was March 6,” Steve recalls. “It was in this little coffeehouse in Vernon, Connecticut, and I sold 30 CDS, which is huge by today’s [streaming] music standards, and I had a lot of momentum building. But I can’t let this time discourage me. I had 20 gigs cancelled, and some really good ones, like a festival in Massachusetts. But instead of getting bummed out, I started spending 10 or 12 hours a week in my basement, learning recording software. Musically, I’ve just let any idea come out. If it feels right, I write something — I don’t let any genre or ideas about genre limit me. I’m not sitting down writing songs called ‘Coronavirus Shut In,’ but I’ve been writing stuff about coming together and healing.”  

In March, he channeled his despair and hope into the song, “Invisible Forces,” which is universally relatable to everyone suffering in the pandemic. The song is mixed by local producer Vic Steffens, and video is not for the faint of heart, with images of spiked COVID balls spinning aimlessly through space, masked pedestrians strolling briskly past one another, and a haunting scene filled with empty children’s chairs. But it’s a cathartic visual experience, and proof that music can bring us together, even when we’re apart.

On June 13, Steve will participate in his second round backyard concerts with the New Haven Arts & Ideas Festival (you can still book a slot here). 

“Really, this summer, what I’m looking forward to is doing some more shows, outdoors and stuff,” says Steve. “I’ve also taken up home recording, and am learning how to use software. Some of my music friends are busy with their own stuff, so you know what? I’m playing bass now. I’m playing lead guitar — which I’ve never really known. I’ve taken this time to learn.” 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Mary Prankster Debuts ‘Sweet Beet’ Video in Honor of Pride Month

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Today is June 1, so Happy Pride Month! With all of the insanity going on right now, it’s nice to have a reason to celebrate. And in near-perfect timing, my favorite mid-Atlantic-born rocker chick Mary Prankster has released the video for “Sweet Beet,” the second single off her album Thickly Settled. The tune features intoxicatingly sexy horns and a low-key jazz lounge vibe, paired with a simple, sweet message, “I love you the way you are!”

But if you listen closely, you’ll realize the song is actually much deeper than that —and for Mary, much more personal. “Sweet Beet” an anthem for the sister themes of love and acceptance — regardless of your gender identity, “stick or automatic, wedding gown or tux.”

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Mary Prankster

[RELATED: Mary Prankster on Creating ‘Thickly Settled’ & What Lured Her Back Into the Studio]
“I was thinking specifically about transition when the song bubbled up, but it applies to unconditional love across the board,” Mary tells Rockmommy. “It sounds exactly how I feel.”

Check out the video, animated by California trans artist Jacq Kirkman (@jacqets)— and download & stream the record here. “Sweet Beet” is a true mood lifter and adorably family friendly, so your 3-year-old can sing along, even if he or she doesn’t know what “Mx” means. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

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

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I have a love-hate relationship with pianos in rock n’ roll. Sure, I can acknowledge the greatness of Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel — and the power of their music — but growing up, I didn’t feel super-connected to any of these artists. Piano, even on its angriest days, isn’t an electric guitar. As I began to cultivate my musical tastes as an adolescent, I longed only for artists who could empathize with my budding angst. Anything that veered too closely to Broadway territory wasn’t for me.

But when I discovered Tori Amos, something awakened inside of me, and a brand new affection for piano-driven alternative pop-rock emerged.

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Passing Strange (Kate Mirabella and Anthony Paolucci)

So recently, when a friend of mine turned me onto Passing Strange, a Southern Connecticut piano-and-drums duo that delivers the power of a four-piece rock band, I fell in love with the keys all over again.

Listening to singer/pianist Kate Mirabella and drummer Anthony Paolucci’s latest full-length album, The Water and the Woods (available on Spotify and Apple Music and most digital platforms) feels more like listening to Halsey — but with keys — than Tori. This is a good thing, as the record encompasses all of the moody swings I need in my music — high-energy songs that make you want to bop along, and more melancholy tracks that make you want to sink into your own nostalgic headspace. It’s like riding a roller coaster of sonic landscapes, from the uptempo “Weather Cold” to the heart-wrenching “They All Do” — my personal favorite, with its minor chord progressions and lyrics about broken love and longing.

We recently caught up with Passing Strange to talk about their songwriting process, and how they’re biding their time until live music resumes in the Nutmeg State. 

Rockmommy: Your album The Water and The Woods is really great work. How did you come up with the songs and the concept for this particular body of work?

Kate Mirabella: It definitely wasn’t something I planned ahead of time. I was going through a very difficult time in my life and a painful breakup. Consequently, the songs seemed to all have a dark, gloomy sound and feel. That time in my life seemed like a maze of woods and fog, which inspired the album cover. The album title was inspired by a journal entry that I was looking back on. I was trying to describe the fundamental differences I was noticing in my current relationship. Despite having a deep level of love for each other, and years of making memories, we had different goals for the future and extremely different personalities. The line from my entry seemed to sum it up perfectly: “I liked the woods, he liked the water.”

Rockmommy: It’s amazing how you both sound so full — but you’re a duo. How do you write together? What’s the process like?

Anthony Paolucci: The song comes to me with piano and lyrics — finished, for the most part. Kate will play the song at band practice and I try to find the beat first, or the groove. After that, I play to the song, adjusting the tempo if necessary, complimenting what’s already there with as much or as little drums as possible — whatever it requires. My drumming style is actually a lot more aggressive, having played mostly in hard rock bands since I was a teenager. Back then, as a drummer playing with very technical guitarists and bassists, I always wanted to stand out. This band has been a wonderful challenge in that I only have one other instrument I need to accompany, and it’s a piano, something the drums can easily overpower if approached irresponsibly. Kate’s piano style is also very percussive, as she was originally a drummer too. So a lot of what she’s doing fills in what might be bass parts. It’s a delicate balance, but our chemistry is such that we’ve never had a problem doing the song justice.

Rockmommy: What are some of the topics that are near and dear to your heart as songwriters?

Kate Mirabella: I like when small, seemingly simple things invoke serious emotion. Some of my favorite writers and songwriters have a common theme of looking at something simple like a glove compartment in Death Cab for Cutie’s “Title and Registration,” or other observations in poems by Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Emily Dickinson. Something so small ends up creating existential questions. That’s something I definitely do in many of my songs.

Rockmommy: I’m digging the track ‘Weather Cold’ — is this a cautionary tale?

Kate Mirabella: This is as cautionary as it gets. “Weather Cold” is about the dangers of a young college girl who has nothing to lose and needs absolutely nothing from anyone. People think these types of girls can be tamed or just need a relationship to settle them down, but it will just leave you feeling like a train ran through your life.

Rockmommy: There’s something heart-wrenching about the song, “They All Do.” Can you tell me about that one? 

Kate Mirabella: This song still breaks my heart every time I hear it. There’s something tough about playing a song years later and thinking about how much you were hurting at the time. The first line isn’t poetic license, I really was up at 4 in the morning when I wrote it. I had just ended a long relationship and was reflecting on how hard it had been to let that person in, tell them the most vulnerable things about myself, having them be a part of the family for years, and I just had this crushing realization that I didn’t have the strength or energy to go through it again with someone else. So, as someone who grew up on emo music, I went all-out on this song.

Rockmommy: I think my other favorite one is “June.” It’s dark but alluring, and I love it when you sing “the wrong time … will you ever make it right?” Can you tell us about that one?

Kate Mirabella: I had experienced a lot of loss during this time in my life. Friends dying far too young can really affect your outlook on life. When I wrote that line in the chorus, I was picturing myself running through the woods, trying to grab the hand of those who I wish I hadn’t lost, but their fingers always slip away. It was such a helpless feeling.

Rockmommy: You were playing a lot in Connecticut before the world changed in February. What’s your favorite thing about live performances?

Anthony Paolucci: For me, this is what I’ve always wanted to do, ever since my parents gave me my first KISS album at 3 years old. So I’m basically living my childhood dream – just without the millions of dollars and stage explosions. On a more artistic note, however, there is something profoundly gratifying about performing an original creation in front of an audience. It’s a form of artistic expression that I’ve always found incredibly satisfying, especially when the music is something you’re really proud of. 

Kate Mirabella: I love mixing up the Connecticut music scene. There are a lot of genres reflected in the state, but I never felt like my music style was accurately reflected. I have extremely eclectic taste, and I’ve been to so many shows I can’t even count. I’ve been the girl moshing at a heavy metal concert, and the girl crowd-surfing up onto the stage. However, the shows that I hold closest to my heart are the quiet, lyric-driven artists who captivate the audience. While I had a blast at A Day to Remember and Blink-182 shows, Julien Baker, or City and Colour performances are life-changing for me. So, I love trying to change the minds of Connecticut concertgoers. There’s something so powerful about hearing the bar suddenly get quiet when we go into “Seven” and feeling their attentiveness to the lyrics.

Rockmommy: How are you making music during quarantine? Are you able to meet up and social distance, or using outlets like Zoom to jam?

Anthony Paolucci: All of this happened literally a week after we released our new album. Before that, we had mostly written our next album and had planned to work on that in between shows supporting the current album. So I’ve been sitting on my pad set at home, every night, with my headphones on, and playing along to both our albums, and band rehearsal recordings of our next album. 

Kate Mirabella: Since we can’t really get together, I’ve been doing “Quarantine Covers” as often as I can on Instagram. It’s helped me stay distracted, connect with musicians with similar music taste, and actually sit down and learn other people’s songs, something I haven’t done in years since I started writing my own music.

Rockmommy: What’s the first thing you hope to do once some of the restrictions are lifted?

Anthony Paolucci: Get back to hammering out the next album, and playing shows to support the current album — wherever we can, and as often as we can.

Kate Mirabella: I would love to do a mini-tour. After this is over, I’ll want to support local venues, travel and FINALLY play together. I think some road-tripping around New England would allow us to do all of that at once.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Ellen Starski: On Love, Motherhood and the Making of ‘Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Just in time for Mother’s Day, Nashville rockmommy Ellen Starksi has released one of the most beautiful, emotional records I’ve heard this year. ‘Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair’ gives me chills — from the eerie “Never Met a Ghost” to the pretty, uplifting “Pure Intention.” Her voice takes me back to the days of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, with a touch of Patsy Cline. I’m in heaven listening to this record.

One track in particular — “The Satellite that Changed its Tune” — is relatable on so many levels. I feel the song in my bones, as a wife and a mother, especially during these challenging times.

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Ellen Starski

This Mother’s Day, we’re all about listening to moms like Ellen Starski. In case you missed her guest essay for Rockmommy this month, read it here (it’s exactly what you need if you’re feeling blue during these pandemic times).

We recently caught up with Ellen to talk about the making of her album, being a mom and everything else.

Rockmommy: Your album is timeless and powerful — what is the common theme? Change? Describe in your own words the cathartic process that created this record.

Ellen Starski: This album is two years in the making from the songwriting to meeting with multiple producers to co-writing, production and so on. The waves of emotion and life changes throughout this process are perhaps the changes you’re referring to regarding the common theme, and I think you’re absolutely right on with the observation. When you’re working on a project for a long time with multiple humans there’s a ton of different energy, and each person walks in with their day to day experiences that show up along the path ultimately altering the projects destination.

Rockmmommy: What else can you tell us about this record?

Ellen Starski: A lot of personal emotions were addressed during the writing process. My relationship with myself and others was placed under a magnifying glass to be examined, and past experiences bubbled to the surface with nostalgic yearning and lessons learned. I have made a lot of different choices (some good, some bad) along the way that have naturally altered my path in this life, and I revisited some of those times with the hope of healing and helping others.

Half of the material on the record was co-written with my husband (Shawn Starski), father (Henry Deible) and fellow songwriter Michelle LeBlanc.

I had the pleasure of working with producers Lucas Morton, & Max Hoffman and handfuls of Nashville’s most talented musicians.

Lucas and Max played numerous instruments on the record, Will Sayles was on drums, and Andrew Brown handled the bass. We had a string quartet with Kristin Weber (Violin) Laura Epling (violin) Nicole Neely (viola) & Melodie Chase (cello) conducted by composer Raymond Joseph Bracchitta on four of the songs, & the icing was spread over the tracks by the talents of Justin Schipper on pedal steel.

Rockmommy: I love “Never met a ghost.” What’s that song about?

Ellen Starski: “Never Met a Ghost” was the first song I wrote for this record — revealing herself to me before my debut album (The Days When Peonies Prayed for the Ants) was even released in 2018. This song examines different apparitions I’ve experienced over the years that I blended in with a tale of a distressing break up.

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Ellen Starski, ‘Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair’

Rockmommy: How are things going, in the new world of Facebook live-streams and virtual connections?

Ellen Starski: My husband and I have been working on a video series for socials called ‘Raising Vibration’ that drops a weekly original or cover song, and also plan to stream a live acoustic set for the album release May 8th. This is definitely not how we had hoped to unveil the new material, but I’m finding solace in the idea that it will be a relief for others in this ‘new normal’ we’re all experiencing.

Rockmommy: I understand you are a new mother. How are you balancing motherhood and creative life?

Ellen Starski: Trying to balance motherhood and creativity is not an easy thing to do in Nashville, as our immediate families live states away. So, when we were in production, I had to spend weeks away from my little love while my family cared for her in PA. Even though I knew she was safe and sound with my parents and sisters it was still terribly difficult for me because that’s the longest amount of time we’ve ever spent apart from each other. I’m actually a very protective mother, and this is the first time I’ve even spoke of her in regards to my career. We have to keep them safe, and in a world where all of our lives are incredibly accessible through social media we have built certain walls for her protection.

Rockmommy: What advice do you have for other rock mommies, particularly on this Mother’s Day, in 2020?

Ellen Starski: Advice? Hmmmm, this is tough for me because I feel we all have to approach motherhood in a way that aligns with our personal belief systems. However, I feel the advice to take care of ourselves physically and spiritually is always good. Take time for yourself, stretch, breath, meditate, drink wine, love hard, and hold on to the people you adore with warmth and a nonjudgmental heart. Mother Earth resides in all of us.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Sara Lovell Explores Imagination — and Rediscovering Creativity — Through ‘Night Life’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Musicians tend to be nocturnal creatures, so it’s no surprise many of their children are fascinated by the hours associated with stars and sleep.

But for singer-songwriter Sara Lovell, and so many moms everywhere, night time is also associated with quite a few sleeping challenges. 

Her third family album Night Life explores some of these themes, from sleeping habits (“Night Life Listen”) to wanting to stay up all night (“I Don’t Want to Go to Bed”). Immersed in delicate strings, arpeggiated guitar riffs and folksy vocals, “Night Life” offers perfect end-of-day jams for the kiddos. You’ll also hear a handful of uptempo tunes — from fun, synth-infused tracks like “Nightlife,” to the percussive, playful “Leave the Monkey” — but the vibe is still pretty mellow (which is exactly what you need when you and/or your little ones are trying to get some shut-eye).

Night Life album

Sara Lovell’s “Night Life” is perfect for families and bedtimes.

We recently caught up with Sara, mom to 10-year-old son Gabe, to chat about the creative process around her latest record and making the best of life during the pandemic. 

Rockmommy: Hi Sara! I love the new record. How did you come up with the idea to create a record around bedtime? 

Sara Lovell: Hi Marisa! Thanks so much for listening and so glad you love the album! I was making music for grown-ups in the singer/songwriter genre before starting my family. Then when I adopted my son Gabe, I just started making up songs that came directly from my everyday life with him. Night Life is the third album I’ve created for children and families, and the themes of bedtime came out of a new stage for my son that started about a year or so ago with challenges he was having at bedtime. He started having nightmares, and other kids began telling scary stories to each other, and there was a lot of waking up and a lot of resistance. He’s 10 now and is doing much better with going to sleep, though there have been a few more times with wake ups and I’ve heard from other parents that their kids are also having some sleep challenges with the extra stress from our current situation.

Rockmommy: Why are kids so reluctant to go to sleep? 

Sara Lovell: I’m sure different kids have different reasons for their resistance to going to sleep, but I think the primary reason is not wanting to be separated from the grown-ups they love. Also not wanting to stop doing fun things, not wanting to miss out. Add to that fear of the dark, nightmares or other worries, and I think that about covers it.

Rockmommy: I hear so many different sounds, from 80s synth pop to modern-day folk rock. Who are your musical inspirations? 

Sara Lovell: I’d say that the music I was exposed to when I was growing up and coming-of-age just became a part of me. My parents played a wide variety of music – classical, bossa nova, Dixieland jazz, Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter, Harry Belafonte, some early folk… and my older brother and sister listened to The Beatles and Motown. When I started singing along with playing piano, I learned to play Elton John and Stevie Wonder songs. You mention 80s synth pop – Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush are still favorites of mine. I love so many different kinds of music, which makes the children’s music genre such a great playground because I get to create in the style that’s right for each song. It’s so fun and satisfying to come up with all these varied grooves and arrangements and to sing in that wide range too.

Rockmommy: How can parents rediscover their own powers of creativity by encouraging creativity in their children?  

Sara Lovell: I think this would be an interesting question to ask parents who wouldn’t initially think of themselves as creative. I’ve always wanted to create — art, music, building things. I developed new avenues of creativity when I started making music for kids and families, even began writing separate kids stories in rhyming couplet. I think when parents put out art supplies or instruments for their smaller kids to play with they end up playing with those supplies too, and maybe that helps them to remember when they were younger and felt more free to play, and experiment, and make beautiful messes.

Another amazing adventure in being creative with my son has been making music videos with him! We have eleven videos to date, seven with Gabe starring. It’s been a whole new art form to explore and I’ve had a blast collaborating on concept, design, set-building, editing and producing these individual little movies. I’m so grateful for my incredible creative partners as well. Monica Pasqual is producer and co-writer, BZ Lewis – guitarist/engineer, Josh McClain – cellist and filmmaker (we’ve done eight videos together). I also want to thank Anna Silivonchik whose magical artwork graces the album covers, and her paintings were beautifully animated by Maxim Korol for one video. And Jessica Poon and Sylwia Szkiladz created stunning animation for two other music videos.

Sara playing piano - photo by Andrea Scher

Sara Lovell plays the piano. 

Rockmommy: How are you managing as a mom and a children’s artist in this challenging time?

Sara Lovell: Well let’s just say that it took a lot of resources for me to be consistently writing and producing music, while raising my child as a solo parent before this global pandemic. Now it feels like it requires 10 times more resources when there seem to be 10 times less available. I’ve been letting go of expectations — of distance learning, of screen time, of wanting things to seem more normal when they’re anything but. I’m finding and doing the things that can bring any measure of happiness and connectionto keep emotions as healthy as possible. My child is very relational and physical and having to be so far away from other people he loves is super hard on him so we’ve both been having to learn how to cope. For me, I want to do more creating than managing, to make new music and art, to find beauty wherever I can. Lately that has me spending a lot of time cleaning and clearing up all my spaces, or taking late afternoon camera walks. For Gabe it might be riding his scooter, drawing, baking something, making silly videos, or watching a show or cartoon that makes him laugh. We’re having to find our rhythm of just the right connection time and just the right independent time. I’m also very aware that my challenges are not the same as so many out there and so I am wishing support and more ease for all children and families.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Dustin Sclafani on Fatherhood, Freedom and the Making of Shame Penguin’s New Single ‘Live In Technicolor’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Everyone’s talking about what they can’t wait to do once the great quarantine is over. I have my own list, and one thing is certain: I need to see Shame Penguin play live!

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Shame Penguin, “Live In Technicolor”

I live in Connecticut, in a part of the state that’s dominated by rock n’ roll cover bands. So when Dustin Sclafani, lead singer of the New Haven, Conn., indie-punk quartet, reached out to send me the band’s single “Live In Technicolor” I was absolutely blown away. I listened once, then again, letting the funky, jam-rock vibe fill my head, while Sclafani’s soulful, bellowing vocals commanded my attention. But it was the lyrics I loved the most:  

So I throw my hands up 

And I’ll put my hood up 

And I’ll resist till I can’t breathe 

So we’ll stand up 

And we’ll rise up 

Till we’re truly free

Having grown up in DC, with bands like Black Flag and Bikini Kill setting the tone for my love of activist and resistance rock, I felt at home listening to Shame Penguin’s single. “Live In Technicolor” filled me with nostalgia for my ’90s favorites, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers — music interspersed with prominent baselines and twinkling guitar riffs and beautiful vocals. But while Shame Penguin’s music flows like old-school RHCP — mixed with a pinch of Misfits-era Glenn Danzig, and a dash of Dispatch’s folksiness (minus the bro harmonies) — the lyrics call out to more urgent, pre- and post-2016 social issues, like racism, homophobia, and nationalism.

“This song started while walking thru the streets of New Haven as the tensions over Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner continued to grow and I started seeing the rifts that have now almost cemented them back into American culture,” Sclafani tells Rockmommy. 

As it turns out, Sclafani, who writes the band’s music with guitarist Tristan Powell (and bassist Jon Ozaksut and drummer Kenny Maraczi), has a lot more in common with me than a love for inspiring punk lyrics and cool melodies.

When he’s not making music, he’s a busy dad raising three sons — 10-year-old twins Milez and Joey, and 13-year-old Cash. What’s more, he’s a single parent, a job that’s become even more challenging in early 2020’s homeschool-quarantine period. Yet he still manages to pop onto my social media feed, belting out soulful, heartfelt originals and covers, armed with only an acoustic guitar and a desire to break through the noise. 

We recently caught up with Dustin Sclafani about Shame Penguin’s forthcoming album, (produced by Vic Stevens of Horizon Studios), songwriting, recording ‘Live In Technicolor’ and more.

Rockmommy: So how did you get into music?

Dustin Sclafani: I was born to a single mother in suburban Long Island. Because she had me at a young age, I grew up more [alongside] my mom, which made our relationship more then just a child-parent relationship. 

I started singing with my mom at a young age. I remember as far back as kindergarten doing harmony lines with my mom to House Of Pooh Corner and Teach Your Children before I knew the ABC song. 

The only constant in my extremely colorful and chaotic life has been and will always be music. I started writing and playing shows acoustically when I was 16 even did an original song at my senior variety show. Performing music on stage is the most I ever truly free and truly myself. I tell people all the time “you never really knew me till you see me live.

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New Haven indie-punk quartet Shame Penguin (photo courtesy of Dustin Sclafani)

Rockmommy: What inspired you to write “Live In Technicolor?”

Dustin Sclafani: This song started while walking thru the streets of New Haven as the tensions over Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner continued to grow and I started seeing the rifts that have now almost cemented them back into American culture. We have lost all of our cultural heroes — The Marvins, The Malcoms, The Lennon-Onos … our music wasn’t saying anything in a time where I felt we needed it the most, so change comes from within and I penned the verses and never feel on a hook I liked. Until Shame Penguin started in my living room last March (2019). Tristan, my guitarist, has this amazing way to understand my meaning without ever hearing my words. The driving chorus brought the anthem out of me.

Rockmommy: What’s it like balancing kids and music — especially now?

Dustin Sclafani: I don’t balance kids and music, but I am a different case — I am raising my three sons in this lifestyle. It makes for late nights and early mornings. But the weirdest things are giving my sons the freedom to develop their own likes, even if it is generic pop music. It’s a constant, “really you literally call people ‘uncle’ who are better artists than that crap.’” But I try and let them discover themselves. It’s also interesting because my sons think our life is like other people’s. When the younger guys were in 3rd grade they would be surprised that their friends’ dads didn’t take them to the studio or do Instagram music clips.

Rockmommy: Do any of them love a certain kind of music because of your influence, you know, taking them to the studio and stuff like that?

Dustin Sclafani: It’s interesting because, especially with Milez and Joey, since I got custody of them, music has been part of their everyday life. Ray Charles “Shake your tail feather” from the Blues Brothers movie helped teach Milez how to talk — he was born with two congenital heart defects, and during surgery at 2 weeks old one of his vocal chords got nicked and it now moves slower than the others. So at 3 and a half his speech was only 33% recognizable to the average ear. So I started playing Ray Charles and Tom Waits and showed him sounding different is OK. But Milez’s favorite band is New Haven’s own Phat A$tronaut — he sat in on Djembe with them when he was 7. Joey loves musicals and is big ‘Greatest Showman’ fan. Cash is 13 so he actually is really into Shame Penguin and loves showing it off to his friends. But Cash really respects Tristan, our guitar player, who is an aspiring visual artist with anime influence — just like him. Tristan is also a big Red Hot Chili Peppers fan and Cash made sure his mom got him a RHCPs T-shirt in this year’s new school clothes shopping trip.

Rockmommy: Why is music so important now?

Dustin Sclafani: I love music and culture, thru out history when the arts thrived civilization thrived. But besides now we are at the most polarizing time in my life, echoes of our hate filled history ripple thru us daily. It is our job as the Troubadours and Heralds to deliver substance and feeling. To take all the darkness in the world and put all thru our individual kaleidoscope and project it back into the hearts and minds of the masses. We are the voices of the voiceless whether the bitterness of reality or the spoonful of sugar needed to swallow it.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Andrew & Polly’s High-Energy Family Album Celebrates the Little Everyday Things

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

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.

A&P_2019-Wall_web_photo credit Missi Hostrup

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?

A&P_Go for the Moon-cover(web)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!”

Go to The Moon is available for download now. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Alphabet Rockers’ Kaitlin McGaw on Motherhood, Music and Celebrating Diversity with The LOVE

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

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.”

AlphabetRockers-TheLove-Promo_Photo_byNinoFernandez_PLEASECROP

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.

The Love Cover smallRockmommy: 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. 

Want to Hear Songs Inspired by STEM? Download Turtle Dance Music’s Latest Album

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Does your little one love to dance with her friends? Or is he or she literally shell shocked with shyness? If you answered the latter, Turtle Dance Music wants to schedule a performance in your town.  

The New York City-based musical performance troupe recently reached out to Rockmommy with the news that its live show, which emphasizes — yes! — science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), is coming to town. And honestly, as someone who reviews kindie music all the time, I can definitely say this is the first time I’ve encountered a STEM kindie music act. It’s kinda neat! 

The group, which offers “45- to 60-minute long sensory-friendly performances” geared for Pre-K, grades K-5 and students on the Autism spectrum,” kicks of its 2019 summer tour — “Space: The Cosmos for Kids” — on July 21 in Hartford, Conn.

The group is also releasing its sixth studio album — Add to the World  — this weekend. 

I’ve listened once and already have a few favorites: “One Note,” a math song that kinda reminds me of early Daft Punk. There’s also a super-cutesy song about colds called “I only Sneeze in Threes” and the guitar-laced “Jump and Count” — which is literally a math-inspired remake of “Twist and Shout.”

Want more? 

Check out a video of the group’s performance (for viewers of all ages!) or visit their website for more info. 

If you’re in Connecticut, see them in late July or August at one of these gigs:

Space: The Cosmos for Kids
7/25: Milford library, 57 New Haven Ave.; 6:30 p.m.
8/2 Cheshire library, 104 Main Street; 10 a.m.
8/2: Meriden library, 105 Miller St.;11:30 a.m.
8/14: Weston library, 56 Norfield Road; 3:30 p.m.
8/14: Harwinton library, 80 Bentley Road, 6:30 p.m.
 
Autism Friendly Music, Bubble and Comedy Show 
8/21: New London library, 63 Huntington Street; 1 p.m.
 
Songs That Count
8/21: New Canaan library, 151 Main Street, 10 a.m.

From Backstreet Boy to Musical Dad: Howie D. on Love, Fatherhood and New Record ‘Which One Am I?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The Backstreet Boys are all dads in their 30s and 40s — which proves you’re never too old to be a pop star, and churn out hits infused with killer vocal harmonies and choreographed dance moves. 

And as the experience of founding member Howie D. proves, you’re never too old to try something completely different and unexpected. 

The vocalist’s first family album ‘Which One am I?’ — which draws on his sometimes-awkward adolescence as the son of a Puerto Rican mom and Irish-American Dad — drops July 12. Judging by the catchy first single, “No Hablo Español” — a Santana-meets-Sesame-Street tune — the record will show us a side of Howie we’ve only glimpsed in interviews and news stories.

Howie D

Backstreet Boys vocalist Howie D. will release first family album, Which One Am I?, on July 12.

In the video for “No Hablo Español” Howie’s real-life, 10-year-old son James plays a young boy trying to explain to kids and grown-ups in his community that he doesn’t speak Spanish, isn’t accustomed to spicy foods, and has had few cultural experiences that exemplify his presumed upbringing. It’s a powerful song that encapsulates the struggle experienced by many kids from mixed family backgrounds — especially today.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t taught Spanish at a young age,” Howie D. — whose full name is Howie Dorough — tells Rockmommy. “My response was always ‘No Hablo Español.’”

The album is also inspired by Howie’s perspective as a father of two, who — just like the rest of us — works hard to balance creative career endeavors with the demands of parenting, like shuttling kids to and from school every day (raise your hand if you can relate!). 

So how does he do it all? 

We caught up with Howie D., who is currently on the Backstreet Boys DNA World Tour, to find out more. 

Rockmommy: I just finished watching the video for “No Hablo Español” — it’s like Sesame Street meets a Broadway musical! How did the song (and the album Which One Am I?) come about?

Howie D: Thank you, that’s such a compliment and exactly what I was looking to achieve. The idea for the song “No Hablo Español” came from my experiences as a child and people assuming I spoke Spanish by the way I look. Unfortunately, I wasn’t taught Spanish at a young age. My response was always: “No Hablo Español.” The album is based off different childhood experiences and challenges I faced.

Rockmommy: When did it occur to you that you wanted to create a family album? Was there a moment? Or did the idea sort of percolate over time?

Howie D: This idea started when my eldest was about 5 years old. I wanted to find a way to connect with him on a musical level. I had a hard time relating to music that was out there at the time. It made me wonder why there wasn’t more music that kids and parents could enjoy together. Also, as I looked into the audience at a Backstreet Boys show one day, I noticed a lot of kids coming to the shows with their BSB fan parents. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back… and I began working on what is now Which One Am I?

Rockmommy: You became a husband and then a dad after decades of musical success with the Backstreet Boys. How has parenthood changed you, personally?

Howie D.: Parenthood has taught me to be selfless. Having a family has really balanced me out in life. Now, I am able to truly understand the meaning of working hard, but also the meaning of being a family man too.

Rockmommy: How has parenthood influenced your music (or even your tour schedule)?

Howie D.: Parenthood has influenced my music by making me think about different subjects. I am inspired by different things nowadays. All 5 of us in the Backstreet Boys are now parents. We try to work together on a schedule that allows us to work hard and put in quality time with our families, even if it is on the road.

Rockmommy: Do your boys enjoy playing music or sing with you?

Howie D.: My kids LOVE singing with me. On the way to school — I am the bus driver when I am home — we are always singing along and rewriting songs we hear on the radio. James definitely has the entertainer bug! He loves singing and dancing. He even takes voice lessons from my sister, Pollyanna [Dorough].

Rockmommy: Do you go to “daddy and me” toddler music classes or anything like that? Or just jam at home?

Howie D.: When my kids were younger, I would go to Gymboree with them. This also inspired me to want to make something more entertaining for families!

Rockmommy: Having a busy work life and kids can be hard on marriage. How do you make it work?

Howie D.: I try to put in quality time for both. When me and my wife are back home, we have a date night once a week. It brings us back to a time when it was just the two of us! Marriage is something you always work on. As I mentioned, I am the bus driver when I’m at home. I love that quality time with the kids in the morning and afternoons.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor of Rockmommy.