Indie rock queen — and fellow rockmommy — Liz Phairis one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time, and I’m so bummed that I didn’t get to see her last summer, in what would have been 2020’s most epic grunge reunion tour with Alanis Morisette and Garbage.
It would have marked the third or fourth time I’ve seen Phair since discoveringExile in Guyville eons ago, when her music spoke to everything I was feeling, coming of age. But while Guyville got me hooked on Phair, it’s Whip-Smart, whitechocolatespaceegg and other records that kept me coming back.
On April 17, Liz Phair turns 54.
Here are my top 10 favorite Liz Phair songs (and their respective albums). A few of them may surprise you!
#10 “Rock me” (Liz Phair)
“Just take off my dress/let’s mess with everybody’s mind” is probably the first thought that pops into my head when I’m crushing on someone. And the way Liz sings it, brash and unapologetic, on a record released when she was over 35, is so inspiring to us MILF rocker gals.
#9: “Flower” (Exile in Guyville)
I’ve fantasized about covering this sexually explicit, lyrically jaw-dropping song for years. The first time I heard it I felt alive in a way I had never felt before — I had no idea a woman could wield power with barely more than a whisper, and express her desires so openly. Of course, nowadays female artists say things much more graphic than Liz Phair did in this song, but in the 1990s and early 2000s, this track was something special.
It starts out as sweet and sappy, builds up to the chorus and then BOOM — we’re suddenly in the midst of Liz Phair’s relationship angst, with all of its glorious ebbs and flows.
Loaded with roaring guitars guitar hooks, Phair’s voice is clear and confident, transforming this rocking tune into a powerful anthem.
#6 “Polyester Bride” (whitechocolatespaceegg)
Beyond the addictive chorus and the catchy guitar hook, this song’s appeal lies in its thought-provoking question, repeated throughout: “Do you want to be a polyester bride?” In other words, do you want to surrender to the inevitable doldrums of wife life — or flee that fate to enjoy a life of adventure? Most of us chose the former at some point, perhaps by necessity, but still.
#5 “6’1” (Exile in Guyville)
This is the first track on Guyville and the first Liz Phair song I ever heard. And it kind of blew my mind. Here was this woman, whose voice wasn’t gravelly and raw like Courtney Love’s, or dramatic and bitter like Alanis Morisette’s. No, Phair’s vocals came out low, and almost monotone. Yet they still packed a punch, as she belted out, underneath the cascade of shimmery guitars, “I bet you fall in bed too easily… with the beautiful girls who are shyly brave.” You only get one chance to make a first impression. And after hearing ‘6’1,’ I became a Liz Phair fan for life.
#4 “Supernova” (Whip-Smart)
I love this bouncy, wah-pedal, pop-rock track, an ode to her ex. I especially love the part when she sings, “you f*ck like a volcano,” because when it comes to picking a mate, priorities matter.
#3 “Johnny Feelgood” (whitechocolatespaceegg)
I love a good bad boy, and “Johnny Feelgood” is dirty in the subtlest way, a homage to the ones we used to fall for but couldn’t hold down. It’s like she read my mind when she wrote this. Side note: it’s shocking that this isn’t everyone’s favorite whitechocolatespaceegg song, when Liz asks fans to share in Twitter polls. It’s most certainly my favorite on that album, and my third favorite Phair song of all time.
#2 “Mesmerizing” (Exile in Guyville)
OK, so this track, sandwiched in between the more popular “Canary” and “F*ck and Run” doesn’t make a lot of Liz Phair favorite-song lists. But I think it’s absolutely brilliant and I never skip over it when I’m listening to Guyville. The song is like sunlight on a foggy day, with breezy, lithe guitar strums, and a perfect lyrical hook, “I want to be… mesmerizing too.” It is so, so good.
#1 “F*ck and Run” (Exile in Guyville)
It’s no surprise that F&R is my favorite Liz Phair song, but can you blame me? It pretty much captures every emotion a woman feels after a one-night, intoxicated hookup, and the universal longing for something deeper, more meaningful, and even more traditional in the midst of it. It’s probably your favorite Liz Phair song too, or is it?
What is your favorite Liz Phair song? Comment, please!
The start of every new year is full of hope — I knew this the moment I watched creative renaissance dad Pierce Freelon’s ‘Daddy Daughter Day’ video (featuring J Gunn). We recently caught up with Freelon to talk about his biggest hopes for 2021, and what the perfect summer looks like.
Rockmommy: For those who might not be familiar with your music, how would you describe your sound?
Pierce Freelon: My sound is millennial Hip Hop head rapping at my home studio with two kids in my lap. Or electronic jazz and soul beats that sample voice memos from my iPhone. My sound is also family-friendly music about inspired by real situations that young Black parents have to deal with.
Rockmommy: What were the biggest challenges you encountered in the last 12 months?
Pierce Freelon: My biggest challenge in the last 12 months was adjusting my life so I can serve on Durham City Council. As a husband, father, musician and business person I already had my hands full. Taking on a new job virtually (during a Panny) was a heavy lift. But I’m still here!
Rockmommy: How did 2020 influence your music and creative process?
Pierce Freelon: 2020 was the year of virtual collaboration. I’ve worked with so many artists that I never see in person. I’m not used to that. Usually, we get together and vibe out in the studio. These days, I’m emailing tracks, and getting WeTransfer links back full of magic. I kind of dig it. It’s like opening a birthday present.
Rockmommy: What are you most hopeful for in 2021?
Pierce Freelon: In 2021 I hope to get better every day. I hope to learn from the silence and solitude and slowness of 2020 and make that part of my everyday, intentional practice. 2021 is the year of affirmations and speaking things into existence. What affirmations do you say to yourself every day?
Rockmommy: If you could plan the perfect summer for 2021, what would that look like?
Pierce Freelon: A perfect summer looks like no one running against me in my re-election bid for City Council! Let me go ahead and speak that into existence right quick 🙂 I was appointed back in August and I’ve been doing a great job (if I must say so myself, lol). Real talk, it would be nice to chill this summer after we approve the city budget and not be in full campaign mode.
Rockmommy: Any recent or upcoming projects you’d like to share?
Pierce Freelon: One project I’m really excited about is an educational television show for K-3rd graders I’m producing with PBS North Carolina in 2021 called Classroom Connection. This show will be a crucial lifeline for kids, especially in the rural part of our state where schools have been closed and internet is limited. There will be lessons from real public school teachers, music, puppetry, animation and conversations with kids!
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
Listening to Sara Watkins’ album Young in All the Wrong Ways (2016, New West Records) takes me back to the late ’90s, to the strains of ethereal vocals and pretty guitars — Belly, the Cranberries, Lush — with spirited folk and bluegrass woven throughout.
A lot has happened in the six years since she released that record, most notably, her journey into motherhood. And while songs on her upcoming family record give off a different vibe, they are equally beautiful and nostalgic. The first single, “Pure Imagination,” for example, reimagines the classic track from 1971’s Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory in a fresh, whimsical way.
Rockmommy: What’s it been like balancing parenthood, music, and life over the last year?
Sara Watkins: After a while I found myself in the groove of the pandemic lifestyle, anxiety would be a low hum, but when unexpected things happened, it felt immediately overwhelming because of the challenges the pandemic brings. There were some non-COVID related health issues in my family this year and not being able to just drop everything, go and be together was really, really hard and conflicting. I know I’m not alone in that of course. I have a 3-year-old and am so grateful I got to spend this year with her. The challenge of pandemic-era childcare is a big one, though, so with the exception of the couple weeks in which I was in the studio recording, I mostly just worked at nap time. Man, I am grateful for naps.
Rockmommy: How did the past year of spending more time at home influence your music and/or creative process?
Sara Watkins: I feel like most of my creativity has gone into playing with my toddler, and I haven’t had a lot to spare on writing music. Instead, I found myself learning and exploring other people’s songs, many of which I recorded. There is a whole world inside the arrangement and Gene Wilder’s vocal on the original recording of “Pure Imagination” (from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). Discovering the right way to approach that song on my record was a delightful challenge.
Rockmommy: What are you most hopeful for in 2021?
Sara Watkins: I’m hopeful that new life will begin to grow up in the ashes, and that I will remember the lessons I learned in 2020 and carry them with me.
Rockmommy: Can you tell us more about your upcoming record?
Sara Watkins: Yes! My albumUnder the Pepper Tree will be out in late March and it’s my first children’s record! It will be available digitally of course, but I think the songs and arrangements will really shine and capture kids’ imaginations when they listen to music on vinyl while holding the beautiful artwork by Adam Sniezek. As a parent, I have discovered decision fatigue and it’s so nice to be able to put on a record and know that all the songs will simply come in their order. I can enjoy the ride and when it’s done, it’s done. It’s beautiful. I am hopeful this record will be a calming transition from wild and energetic afternoons to peaceful evenings and bedtimes.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
Before he became a dad, musician or social artist, Fyütch was just a schoolboy with an open, impressionable mind. But while he learned plenty about the accomplishments of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, few other historical black women received more than a single, passing mention.
With his new song, ‘Black Women in History,’ Fyütch hopes to change that by educating a whole new generation of young learners about the accomplishments of everyone from Mississippi civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer to Shirley Chisholm. The song also features black female artists/singers Rissi Palmer and Snooknuk, and it’s clever as heck, dropping unexpected, fresh rhymes about dozens of inspiring ladies.
In fact, Fyütch and his co-artists drop so much history in ‘Black Women’ that anyone who listens to the song or engages with the video is bound to learn something.
See it for yourself on #MLKDay2021 — or better, share it with your family, as you honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s a struggle to think of a single word that captures the essence of Washington, D.C.-based musician and activist Erin Frisby.
She’s brave, and refuses to let her life be defined by heteronormative standards. She’s passionate, as evidenced by her round-the-clock efforts in promoting equal opportunities for female musicians through her grassroots non-profit This Could Go Boom! (TCGB!). And she’s curious. Every new guitar pedal is an opportunity for exploration, a path to a new riff.
Yet while it is seemingly impossible for me to think of the perfect word to describe a musician I’ve known half my life, Erin already has one.
The term, which rolls beautifully off the tongue, refers to the process of shedding old skin, like a reptile. It’s also, metaphorically speaking, the most fitting description of Erin’s current state of existence.
To that end, it is the most fitting title for her debut full-length solo record —an intimate collection of eight songs, which highlight the artist’s poignant songwriting, storytelling, and stunning, sunny vocals.
“With ecdysis, you’re retaining your shape, but at some point the space you’re living in has become cramped and unrecognizable,” says Erin, recalling the moment she discovered the term. “Over the course of creating this album over the last couple of years, I discovered that I was gay. But I was married to a man.”
Striking a Chord
The first time I met Erin Frisby, many moons ago at a party in College Park, Maryland, I was told I’d dig her. “She’s a singer, and she’s into punk and stuff,” my friend Greg told me beforehand.
Of course, he was right. The moment I met Erin I dug her, though admittedly I was a little intimidated by her angelic beauty and perky demeanor. We chatted like two old pals for at least an hour, beers in hand, as songs from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication record played in the background.
We ended up becoming roommates for a brief snap of time in a punk-rock group house at the tail end of our University of Maryland days. The house was a messy haven of artists and musicians nestled in the heart of Hyattsville, Maryland. But it was also a little clique-ish. I wasn’t turned away from the thriving vegan-tattooed-hardcore-hipster scene that bubbled up in our basement for house shows. But I wasn’t welcomed into it, either.
The silver lining of that brief experience was my growing friendship with Erin. She was the only one of my four roommates who took the time to get to know me, and ask me questions about my family and musical experiences. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t tattooed, or that I hadn’t heard of so-and-so’s band from Philly. I didn’t need to be part of some underground scene to impress her. Instead, we spent hours jamming — singing and playing guitar — when I wasn’t busy with my other bands.
Of course, it was a huge treat to have her sing harmonies with me on anything.
To this day, the only time I’ve ever won any kind of musical competition was at the Sunday open mic night in Adam’s Morgan (at Madam’s Organ), when Erin joined me onstage to belt out backing vocals for my song “I Left my Heart in New Orleans.”
After a standing ovation, the $50 bar tab prize was ours. We drank it in about 20 minutes.
Musical Road Trip
Born in Arkansas, and but mostly raised on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., Erin Frisby is a gypsy among artists, a journey woman whose music ebbs and flows as freely as her travels, from folksy to aggressive, East to West and back again. She’s as influenced by opera and classic Appalachian hymns as she is by hard rock n’ roll.
I’ve always known this about Erin, yet I could never have predicted the profound metamorphosis that would transpire not too long after the last time we played together, almost four years ago to this day.
In early November, 2016, I invited Erin to travel to Connecticut, and perform a paid gig with me at the now-defunct Georgetown Saloon, just outside of Redding. She brought her four-piece, garage-rock band Fuzzqueen, which she’d formed with her former spouse, after the two of them relocated to D.C. Before that, they’d spent nearly a decade in California, frequently hitting the road, and racking up hundreds of gigs under the musical moniker Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray.
“My former partner and I had been touring together and writing together for many, many years … and we actually kind of ended up moving back to D.C. because of that project,” she recalls. “We loved the music scene there and, with what was going on politically, wanted to have an impact.”
Fuzzqueen’s eclectic brand of folksy indie-rock was filled with trippy, melodic riffs and searing guitar solos, and an enticing balance of masculine and feminine energies.
After the show, I fell out of touch with Erin for a while, and was surprised when I learned, sometime in 2018, that Fuzzqueen had fizzled out.
Yet the painful and cathartic process of letting go of that project was essential for Erin make space for her new one: her “all-womxn” band The OSYX.
Shortly after the “election” of the 45th president of the United States, Erin was craving something new — a new musical endeavor, and a community that would elevate women and under-represented artists. During an anti-inauguration gathering in January 2017, Erin felt inspired as she watched the Baltimore hard-core feminist punk band War On Women play an acoustic set. At some point she struck up a conversation with a couple of musicians she’d kind of knew, who also played guitar: Ara Casey and Selena Benally. They decided to get together to jam.
“Sometimes you meet people, and you play with them but nothing more than that comes of it… but every once in a while it just clicks and it falls into place,” Erin recalls. “We ended up getting a bass player (Maya Renfro) and a drummer (Robzie Trulove) … and we started playing a lot and from there it grew into a sisterhood.”
The OSYX have been described as “raucous … with melodic tensions and chemistries,” which is fitting in more ways than one: Erin shares lead vocals with Ara and Selena, who is now her girlfriend. All three women play guitar, and Erin also plays keys, organ and other instruments. While each member’s sonic stylings are as distinct as their pedal preferences, the fusion of sound culminates in a high-energy, rock n’ roll experience.
Songs like the buoyant “Dog Fight,” make me want to jump and dance, while the darker, harder tunes like “Carry it With Me” make me want to crank of the volume and drown myself in the heavy intensity.
Forming The OSYX dovetailed nicely into Erin’s other endeavor: the creation of This Could Go Boom!, a nonprofit organization focused on helping women/womxn artists thrive in the competitive indie music scene, which — even in D.C. — is heavily male-dominated.
But while the two years pre-COVID were a time of joyful self-discovery and collaboration, what the promo photos don’t show is the pain Erin endured as she let go of the marriage that was no longer working.
“Creating this project helped me to navigate that and discover who I am,” says Erin. “I had to confront a lot of internal biases inside myself. All my life, when I’ve heard of people who had committed relationships and came out [as gay], I wasn’t particularly sympathetic to that. I had some resistance to that narrative. But as the truth unfolded and became clear to me, I realized I had choices to make.”
Since putting band life on hold, Erin’s channeled her creative energy into recording and mastering Ecdysis with help from a generous grant from the Prince George’s County Arts and Humanities Council (PGCAHC).
The result is a sonic slideshow of Erin’s life — an eight-track record that seems to leverage instrumentation — keys, guitars, bass, drums, and dulcimer — gently, so not to overpower the outpouring of confessional lyrics and coloratura-soprano vocals.
Ecdysis offers a glimpse into Erin’s earliest musical memories (“You are my Sunshine”), experiences in longing (“Waiting for my Love to Wake”) and the process of self-actualization (“Theia and Gaia”). As an added bonus, Erin simultaneously released a sister album, Second Skin, featuring covers of Ecdysis tracks performed by friends, as well as originals inspired the record (like Selena Benally’s “Punk-dysis”).
“Selena is a shredder,” says Erin of jamming with her girlfriend. “I’ve been learning a lot from her during quarantine as far as guitar technique. She’s pretty amazing — and she’s invested in a lot of different styles beyond rock like flat picking and blues. Selena also programmed the drums and played the bass on Ecdysis.”
For Selena Benally, the admiration is mutual.
“Erin’s performances and songwriting are heartfelt and genuine — sacred not saccharine,” Selena tells Rockmommy. “She employs a lifetime of dedication and hard work to her craft as she explores the seemingly boundless depths of who she is and it shows in every song and live set.”
As fall continues, Erin’s trying to play out play out whenever she can, albeit in limited and modified capacity due to safety concerns. So far, she’s played one drive-in performance and a few outdoor music jams. When she’s not doing that, she’s busy teaching virtual piano, guitar and vocal lessons, and planning other ways to help her community.
“I’ve been reflecting a lot on the power of art in the way that exposure to different views and immersion in different disciplines and voices really helps people to explore their own voice as well as empathy,” says Erin tells me over email, when I ask her what’s next for 2021. “Learning to think through what someone else’s vision was and think about their approach to creatively addressing a problem leads to a flexible and curious and intelligent approach to the world in general. With that in mind, I’m thinking more and more about how important it is that representation in the arts is diverse.
“It’s important for people to see themselves or hear themselves in a piece and it’s important for them to see or hear what it’s like to be a real human with deep emotions and beliefs who is different from them,” she continues. “That’s brought me back to the mission of This Could Go Boom!, which is that lesser heard narratives and underrepresented voices are potent. We are going to be putting out new music by the end of the year and I couldn’t be more excited!”
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
The first few months of pandemic life and quarantine may have been the most difficult in many ways, as we grappled with the unknown.
Yet this period of uncertainty spurred creativity among musicians, who found themselves writing new material for the first time in months.
Nashville singer-songwriter Elliott Parkis among them. Over the spring, Park and his three teen daughters Anna, 18, Autumn, 16, and April, 14, created an acoustic, 12-song collection — Songs With My Daughters — that is beautiful and compassionate, with the daughters’ gorgeous harmonies intertwined with jazzy pop-rock tunes, like “To the Moon and Back,” and nostalgic tributes (like “Blue Skies Over the Rainbow” — my favorite).
It’s like hearing Jack Johnson but better, because daughters make everything that much more awesome.
We caught up with Elliott in one of his rare free moments to talk about the new record, and life in this crazy new world.
Rockmommy: Talk to me about this album! When and how did the idea to do a quarantine album with your three daughters come about?
Elliott Park: Well it wasn’t really intended to be a quarantine album. I had been planning a new family album for several months but midway through recording process the pandemic hit and I started feeling like the songs I was producing didn’t quite fit the mood of the times. So I put my nose back on the grindstone and reworked it with a little different vibe. Still quirky but with a little more intimacy and organic feel.
Rockmommy: Who wrote the songs? Was there any teenage angst about lyrics (kidding, kind of) or musical direction?
Elliott Park: I wrote all the songs except one, Blue Skies Over the Rainbow… which is a mashup of two of my favorite classics; Blue Skies and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The girls and I collaborated on that one. It was a ton of fun coming up with the parts. There was not TOO much angst haha, but at times it was a little difficult to pull them away from what they were doing. I’m proud at how hard they worked.
Rockmommy: How long have you been playing music? How has that influenced your girls?
Elliott Park: I was raised in a musical family but never learned an instrument. I was always too shy to sing. But when I went to college something clicked. Almost every evening after basketball practice I would sneak over to the music department and tinker on the piano. That went on into my twenties and then I started singing and writing music at around age 30. I found I had a knack for songwriting and it sort of developed into a career. My girls have grown up with it as well. We have an old Magnivox record player we call Maggie. She’s sung us all to sleep a few thousand times and still does to this day. I’d like to think they’ve developed their musical interests from listening to all those old records. Sweet Maggie.
Rockmommy: These songs are so sweet — do your daughters and you have similar music tastes?
Elliott Park: Thanks! Well I think we have overlapping sets of musical interests. But I really dig a lot of the stuff they listen to. I think it surprised them one day when I was singing along to a Billie Eilish… It kind of crossed their wires there for a few seconds haha!. Likewise they REALLY love the old classics, and I don’t just mean rock. If you look at their personal playlists you’ll see Sinatra, Billie Holliday, The Carpenters, some Gershwin tunes… a lot of different genres. I think those overlapping interests shape this album and I love it to pieces. They can mimic the elevator voices on a Percy Faith track or knock off the Andrews sisters like nobody’s business.
Rockmommy: What was the recording process like? Did you do this DIY with a good DAW, or with an engineer?
Elliott Park: I had a lot of it remotely recorded, but it all came together in my bedroom using Logic Pro X on my old iMac. Towards the end of the project it would crash about three times an hour no lie. We did all the vocals in my bedroom. I had to yell through the walls for silence many, many, times.
Rockmommy: Obviously the pandemic sucks. But is there some level of gratitude for the time with your daughters that you had BECAUSE of the pandemic?
Elliott Par: Definitely! We made the best of it. I’m proud of us all for staying at it all the way through.
Rockmommy: Are you planning a social distance concert or parking lot shows?
Elliott Park: Not at this time. I’m not huge on performing and honestly I’ve used this pandemic as an excuse not to perform. It’s awful and I need to change that about myself. That’s some bare bones honesty right there haha.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
It’s been quite a year, and if you’re a mom, dad, or kid, you’ve likely experienced a level of family bonding you never thought possible. Frances England, mom of two teenage sons, gets it. Her latest tune, ‘Glue,’ out today is inspired by the intimacy of living in a coronavirus pod, for better and worse.
But the song is also a welcome respite from the severity of the pandemic in our everyday lives.
We recently caught up with her to talk about the new tune, the first single off her forthcoming album, ‘Honey,’ out November 16.
Rockmommy: What inspired the song, “Glue?”
Frances England: The idea for “Glue” came from the CoronaCoaster we’ve all been riding since March of this year. I was just thinking about how our worlds got so small when we were suddenly only allowed to be with a very limited group of people — our immediate families, our partners, our pets. “Glue” is a song about appreciating the people you’ve been stuck with 🙂
Rockmommy: What messages do you hope to impart in your music?
Frances England: For kids, I try and subtly weave in messages about being compassionate, empathetic, a curious observer, animal protectors, good stewards of the earth. For parents, I try to create songs that speak to how wondrous and magical the ordinary is when you have young children. My kids are older now, but I remember how stressful and exhausting it can be to parent young kids. It’s also the most special space in time and I hope my songs capture a little bit of that.
Rockmommy: What are you most looking forward to, over the next few weeks, during these crazy times?
Frances England: COVID + the California fires + our country’s political reality have made for a hyper stressful time, and to be honest, I have been feeling anxious about pretty much everything. During the next few weeks I’m hoping to balance all those externals with some quiet things that calm me down and fill me up: songwriting, family bike rides, experimenting with a new camera. I also manage a community park in my neighborhood so that keeps me busy in all sorts of interesting ways.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor in chief of Rockmommy.