Inside the ‘Kindie Rock’ Life of Rockmommies Jennie and Sarah of The Not-Its!

by Jennie Helman & Sarah Shannon

“Just one more bedtime story, then I’ve got to get to practice.” Good night family, hello “band family.”Cover for digital

That’s what we tell our kids on the one night a week we hang out for the purpose of working on old and new tunes and connecting with one another. We represent the girl power of The Not-Its! We’re tutu-wearing, 40-something rocker moms. We play what’s known as ‘kindie rock’ — if you’re not familiar, that’s independent rock for kids and their grown-ups.

And our bond in this band is so strong; we are lucky.

We’re raising pre-teen girls (Sarah with two and Jennie with three), maintain day jobs, and have our own start-up businesses on the side – Lugabag(Jennie), a travel seat for toddlers that attaches to a rolling suitcase, and Rockaboo (Sarah), a preschool music, movement and mindfulness program.

As we juggle year-round show schedules, travel, writing songs, recording albums, practicing, The Not-Its! is what we like to call our “jobby”— somewhere between a job and a hobby. It’s a job because we work really hard. It’s a hobby because it doesn’t pay the bills, but it brings us great joy.

We get to create music with dear friends, see new places, connect with incredible kids and families, and contribute to communities in a positive, soulful way. We’re often asked how the heck we have the energy to do what we do. And the thing that makes most sense is that we believe in and do what we love, and that keeps us young at heart.

Our bandmates are also parents: Danny, Michael and Tom also manage day jobs along with their “jobby” with the band. Our Not-Its! kids are a lucky bunch — they always get free snacks in the green room, stage access, studio play, and cool trips (we all went to India a few years back).

But as moms we’ve struggled. There are the daily worries of being spread too thin, vacations cut short, missed soccer games, the perennial “to do” lists stacking up. We know every mom can relate. Yet over the years we’ve been able to let it go, recognizing that we only get one shot at life — we have to do what we love knowing everyone around us will benefit. Our girls see us challenged, making mistakes, determined to get it right, working hard. We know they’re watching and learning.

It’s easier now than when the girls were toddlers and it was a constant balance of parenting while playing. Either the girls were rocking out or tugging at our tutus (“Can’t ya see I’m singing here, kid?”). There are too many sweet moments to count. Sarah had a song where she’d call her oldest to the stage, pull her in her lap and sing about a story they made up together. Sometimes the kids would cry the entire show because they should have been napping, or make their way on stage for more crackers. After one show we found Jennie’s daughter literally asleep in her open bass case backstage.

And as the girls have entered middle school, being engaged looks just a bit different. Being older and more independent, they share ideas that we eagerly mine as gems for content. Now and again they slide us a new lyric, brainstorm song content, grab the mic during sound check, act silly (but cool) with their friends at a show.

Our songs have to connect with both kids and parents – no matter what age. As an example, “Curriculum Night” (off our latest album, Ready or Not), evokes that feeling of parental excitement (tinged with a bit of anxiety) in meeting your kid’s teacher. The lyric about “grown-ups squeezing into tiny chairs,” is a memory we can all relate to… every year from Kindergarten on. Kids laugh, parents get it. Item number one in our band’s manifesto (even though we don’t really have one) is to make music that we want to hear with lyrics that are not dumbed down — and our kids are a good “first test” audience.

We see a toddler boldly walk on stage as if they were a part of the band, or a family dancing together. We hear from fans that they played one of our records over and over on a road trip and it didn’t drive them crazy (or secretly share that they play our tunes even when their kids are not around). Stories like these give us a great sense of lift and gratification. Rocking out family-style at a live event or to a favorite record builds stronger connections and inspires what we do. There’s nothing better than experiencing music together, no matter whose family it is.

Our worlds are not perfect, but they sure are rewarding — and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jennie Helman (bassist) and Sarah Shannon (lead singer and former member of the Sub Pop group Velocity Girl) live and work in Seattle. The latest album by The Not-Its!, Ready Or Not,was chosen as one of the top albums of 2018 by the annual Fids & Kamily poll. Catch the latest news about The Not Its! and their upcoming concert dates at www.wearethenot-its.com and view their new video “Hide and Seek” on their video page.

Rockmommy Laurie Berkner’s New Book will Make Your Little Monsters Boogie on Halloween and Beyond

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Laurie Berkner is no fly-by-night children’s music artist. My sons, who have loved her since they were toddlers, still regularly sing along to her tunes, particularly “We Are Dinosaurs” and “Monster Boogie.” The latter may just be their favorite, as evidenced by their obsession with a.) watching the video over and over again, b.) making monster masks, per Laurie’s instructions at the end of said video, and c.) running around like monsters screaming “rawr!” after watching the video EVERY SINGLE TIME!! 

Recently, we caught up with busy rocker mom Laurie to chat about the new Monster Boogie book, music, and her new audible.com project! 

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Laurie Berkner (photo credit: Jayme Thornton)

Rockmommy: We LOVE the new Monster Boogie book. How did the idea to make a book come along? 

Laurie Berkner: I was originally thinking that I would like to turn some of my lullabies into books. When I pitched the idea to Simon and Schuster they suggested doing a series of three books, only one of which turned out to be a lullaby. Monster Boogie was the third title they chose, and I thought it was a great idea!

Rockmommy: How did you write the original “Monster Boogie?” Do you remember how that idea came up?

Laurie Berkner: I wrote it for a class I was taking on how to teach kids music using the Dalcroze Eurythmics method. (It’s a method that teaches music through movement.) I don’t remember what inspired it exactly, but I thought it would be fun to write a song about monsters that was NOT scary, since so many kids are afraid of monsters.

[RELATED: Superhero Mom Laurie Berkner: 20 Years of Making Cool Tunes in the Ever-Evolving Kids Music Soundscape]

Rockmommy: How old is your daughter now? Is she a music person, or does she help you out in any way with Laurie Berkner Band stuff?

Laurie Berkner: She is 14 now and sings, plays the drums, and writes songs on the ukulele. She is always happy to give me feedback on a song or anything else I’m working on, and she also sometimes works in my office. Right now she is officially in charge of taking pictures and video for my Instagram story!

Rockmommy: You have really great staying power — my kids always come back to you and your music. Why do you think they relate to your songs so well?

Laurie Berkner: That is a great question … I’m not really sure, other than that I really try to write a lot of my songs from a kids’ perspective. I think that creates a feeling of ownership, of the music really being theirs. I also try to make sure there is always at least one thing in each song that kids can really connect to, like a movement or an image or a rhythm.

Rockmommy: What other news is going on? What kind of shows are you playing?

Laurie Berkner: My big news is that I just created a new audio series for Audible.com! It’s called Laurie Berkner’s Song and Story Kitchen, and it’s ten different stories with music that I wrote and narrated, featuring characters from my songs like Oscar Beebee the Bumblebee and Victor Vito and Freddie Vasco who are ferret cousins. Each story starts and ends in my song and story kitchen where I make something yummy with my friend, Thelonius Pig (acted by Josiah Gaffney).

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Laurie Berkner’s Song and Story Kitchen

I also have a bunch of special themed shows coming up. Halloween shows in New York and California in October, and winter holiday shows with the whole band in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in December.

Rockmommy: Also, let’s say guitar-playing moms want to write songs for/with their own kids. Any suggestions on how to start that process?

Laurie Berkner: I think the best way to write a song for kids is to listen to what they are saying, watch what they’re doing, and think about what they enjoy. Then use those things as inspiration to develop songs that are relevant and interesting to them. And try singing the songs with them while you’re writing them!  You’ll see right away what works and what doesn’t.

For more on Laurie’s show dates, visit LaurieBerkner.com.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Rock Dad Zach Parkman on Juggling 2 Bands, Finding Inspiration and Becoming a New Dad

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

It’s not often that I’m surprisingly blown away by acoustic-guitar duos. I’ve seen so many bands, time and time again, and always enjoy live music. But it takes something special to get my attention. 

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Singer-guitarist Zach Parkland with his baby daughter.

Zach Parkman is something, or rather someone, special, I discovered a couple of Saturdays ago, when my band Grandma’s Mini played an intimate set with his band The Darkest Timeline at the Silver Spring, Md.-based Record Exchange. The band, which he started with the equally brilliant D.C.-area local Juels Bland, brings him into the Nation’s Capital every so often, to play melodic, passionate sets at little clubs. 

Shortly after The Darkest Timeline’s 9/22 set at the Record Exchange, I learned that the talented Zach is also a new dad, and plays for second band, Bad Robot Jones, in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife and baby. 

Here, Zach reflects on his musical projects and discusses how fatherhood’s changed his life. 

Rockmommy: Can you tell us about your musical evolution — how long have you been performing and playing? 

Zach Parkman: I started playing guitar in high school, around age 13 or 14. It was the early 1990s, so grunge was king and I was a skateboarder and was really into bands like Operation Ivy, Fugazi and NOFX. At the same time I was listening to my parents LPs from the 60s and 70s, so really being influenced by The Beatles, James Taylor, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, etc. These to competing dichotomies have followed me throughout the my musical evolution right up to today.

Rockmommy: We recently met when your band The Darkest Timeline played in Silver Spring. How did you and Juels meet? How did that band come to be? 

Zach Parkman: So, I’m in a couple of projects. The Darkest Timeline is an acoustic duo (sometimes electrified foursome) with DC area songwriter Juels Bland. While living in Takoma Park, Md., a suburb of Washington D.C., I found myself at one of Rob Hinkal’s many open mics and saw this dapper and dour songwriter get up and just blow everybody away. We briefly introduced ourselves to one another and nothing else was said, but we both kept running into each other at songwriter showcases and open mics and bonded over our shared taste in music and geeky pop culture. Fast forward a year, Juels was starting a band and I asked if he needed a guitar player and the rest is history. Needless to say our sound has evolved over the years from more of a blues-based electric band to a more brooding, melancholy acoustic sound with harmonies and themes about space and murder. My other project is a band called Bad Robot Jones, which is a sci-fi rock/indie-prog trio with bassist Doogie Whittaker and drummer Joey Jenkins (who was the original drummer for The Darkest Timeline and also drummer for ilyAIMY). This is a much heavier band, drawing influences from punk, prog and metal. 

Rockmommy: Is it hard to play when you both live in different cities in different states? 

Zach Parkman: Juels and I have been playing together so long that we can jump into a set without much practice. It is difficult adding new material to the set and of course traveling to gigs can be time consuming (and an added crunch to an already full schedule with a new baby). We usually try to book an equal number of shows in the NYC and DC areas to keep things egalitarian and fair. With Bad Robot Jones things are a little more complex. First off, it is an electric band, so equipment comes into play. Secondly, Doogie and I are both fathers so schedules can be tough to sink up. Third, Joey is a full-time musician in several bands, so that can be a challenging hurdle. I usually schedule as much into my weekend travels down to DC as I can (i.e., if I have a gig with The Darkest Timeline on Saturday, I will try to schedule a rehearsal with Bad Robot Jones for Sunday). All in all we make it work. I love making different kinds of music with different kinds of people.

Rockmommy: You recently became a dad. What’s that been like? 

Zach Parkman: I can’t even begin to describe the amount of joy or daughter has brought into our lives. The dividing line between life without children and life with is pretty drastic and severe. I think I was frightened for the longest time of having children (lack of sleep, no more “me” time, causing them irreparable harm), but at some point the desire to share in the upbringing of another human being with my wife outweighed that fear. I’m so glad that it did. When I saw my daughter for the first time I felt molecularly changed. Everything about my perspective shifted. I’m still the same jack-ass that I was before, but I’m an elevated jack-ass. I’ve leveled up. 

Rockmommy: How do you find time to practice? Any tips? 

Zach Parkman: Every other year, starting in 2013, I write a song a week (so 2013, 2015, 2017 and next year 2019). This has really helped me to break out of the “only writing when I felt inspired” habit. It’s forced me to sit down and focus on being creative, which was alien to me. Now, regardless of how I am feeling, I can sit down and start the writing process and get myself into that creative space without having to wait for it to appear magically. It’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised. That has really helped with my musical and creative discipline. I find it very easy to write or practice in the small increments of time that a busy life in NYC allows or the small increments of time that a baby allows. I highly recommend finding some kind or ritual or regimen like that. It may seem daunting at first, but stick with it and after time it becomes second nature.

For more information on Zach’s upcoming gigs, visit The Darkest Timeline’s web page (or go here for info about Bad Robot Jones if prog-rock with sci-fi themes is your thing). To hear more of Zach’s solo stuff, visit his personal bandcamp page. 

Family-friendly Pirate Band Reminds us it’s ‘Talk Like a Pirate Day’ on September 19

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

There’s a day for everything these days — from ‘Donut Day’ to ‘Polar Bear Plunge Day’ to (I kid you not) ‘Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day.’ And apparently, on Wednesday, it’s ‘Talk Like a Pirate Day.’

I can think of a few days I’d like to experience, like ‘Have Your Spouse Wash the Kids Day’ or ‘Play Guitar as Loudly as You Want While Your Kids Sleep Day’ but alas, that’s not in the cards for 2018. But talking like a pirate on Wednesday? That could be pretty fun … at least for your kids.

And now, courtesy of Tom Mason & The Blue Buccaneers, who recently released their fifth family-friendly pirate album, is this handy little cheat sheet/guide for pirate speaking.

 

Tom Mason TLAP Poem

P.S.: Digital editions of If You Want To Be a Pirate: Songs for Young Buccaneers are available now for a few doubloons, from Amazon, iTunes, and direct from the captain’s quarters. Physical CDs are available on September 7th, in time for the band’s fall performances.

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Tom Mason and The Blue Buccaneers

Getting Emotional Over Rockstar Dave Grohl’s Daddy Moment

David Grohl is a rockstar in every sense of the word. I learned this firsthand when I finally got to see the Foo Fighters last night at a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden. He growls, yelps, roars and plays guitar like a motherf*cker — he also drops plenty of F-bombs, which is OK for him because, you know, he gets paid to drop them. It’s part of being Dave Grohl (I’ll try to remember that next time I feel guilty for cursing at my son’s daycare).

I could write a prolific review of his band’s sensational performance last night, a set that spanned the band’s 23 years of making music. But you can fetch a well-written review on plenty of other sites like this one.

[RELATED: Johnny Clay of Ants Ants Ants Discusses Making Music and ‘Soaking it All In’]

Instead, I’ll touch on what I found to be the most heartwarming part of the Foo Fighters’ performance: Daddy Grohl inviting his 12-year-old daughter Violet Grohl onstage to sing backup for several new songs: My favorite, by far, “The Sky is a Neighborhood”:

It is abundantly clear that Grohl is over the moon for his oldest little girl — between the hugs and his constant praise of her performance (he called her “the shining light and love of my life” during Monday’s set at MSG!). And it’s also pretty clear that she looks up to him, curse words and adult reminiscing of stoner days be damned. They had this funny exchange in the second half of the 2.5-hour set, where she was rolling her eyes at him, and he was embarrassing her with praise.

Here she is on the big screen:

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Violet Grohl, singing backup for the Foo Fighters on 7/17/2018

As a mom, I can only hope things are this great when my kids are 12!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Cheri Magill’s ‘Tour Guide’ Chronicles Day-to-Day Adventures in Motherhood

Cheri Magill and I have nothing in common.

That was my first impression when I encountered the songstress mama of three with the sunniest disposition and pretty retro dresses. Sure, we’re both breeders who write our own music. But I’m the blonde bad girl in a miniskirt — not the wholesome angel-in-a-coffeehouse with a voice that takes me back to Sarah McLachlan’s “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” days. There’s no way her new album about moms is going to relate to my me, right? 

As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Cheri Magill’s latest record “Tour Guide” — which she wrote to fill the void of songs about moms — is insanely on point. And while I’m a work-at-home mom with just two kids in tow who doesn’t go to church, this album resonates with my mother experience in so many unexpected ways. 

Literally every lyric on this album had me going “yes, yes!” My favorites included “Crazy” — I slave away to make a meal that you refuse to eat/When I put it all away you tell me you’re starving — and “Still,” which reminds me that even though I’m imperfect and say the worst things to my kids once in a while, I’m still human and my little ones love me. 

Cheri Magill_3_ photo credit Brianne Heiner

Cheri Magill (Photo credit: Brianne Heiner)

Lesson learned? Don’t judge a book by its cover (or a mom of three by her headshot). 

Rockmommy recently sat down to chat with Cheri about her new album, which drops May 4 — just in time for Mother’s Day. 

Rockmommy: You’ve been a musician all your life and a mom for 12 years! How did this album come about? 

Cheri Magill: Once I had my first baby I took him to a gig, but I didn’t feel like I could do a lot of performing and gigs when he was little, so I stopped doing music. I just pulled away for a while. It was kind of sad, and when I went to a concert it would make me a little sad that I’m not doing it anymore. But after I had my third child and she got a little older, I started having more windows of time. So when I started writing again, I wanted to write about motherhood — there are 50 billion songs about love, but there are so few songs about mothers and their kids.

Rockmommy: How old are they? Boys? Girls? 

Cheri Magill: I have two boys and a girl —10, 8, and 4. The no-diaper thing is incredible.


Rockmommy: How do you find the time to make music now? 

Cheri Magill: For a while I would try to squeeze things in, but really nothing was happening. So I really had to say, ‘OK I’m going to get a sitter for a couple of hours a week. This is a real thing and important to me and I’m going to do it.’

Rockmommy: But do you still play in your house? 

Cheri Magill: If the sitter is at my house, I’ll go to the library or go to our church even. 

Rockmommy: Can you tell me about your music time with your kids? Do you jam with them? 

Cheri Magill: I’m just starting to get into that. My kids — my sons — aren’t super into music — my second kind of is. But my daughter, she loves it. She’s always like, ‘mom, can you teach me some piano?’

Rockmommy: Any plans to tour with this album? 

Cheri Magill: I just did a big concert for everyone in my church and that was fun. I really love house concerts. I’d much rather play to 20 or 30 people in a home and talk more and share more personal things. 

Rockmommy: What’s your favorite track on this album? 

Cheri Magill: My favorite is probably ‘Tour Guide’ itself — I love the idea that I get to show my kids the world. When I get down about something, I think about how I get to show them what cookie dough tastes like, show them a place they’ve never been.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy. 

Learning The Imperial March for my Little Sith Lord

One of the coolest things about being a mom is sharing parts of yourself with your kid. For me, that’s a love of writing, music, and running. I take my kids to the track, let them play my instruments and tell them stories I make up in my head every night.

Every year, I get to play a cool gig for my sons’ preschool. Now that Nathan’s in elementary, I only played one set for Logan’s school this year, but it was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had.

I handed out shakers and kicked off my set with “The Wheels on the Bus,” followed by the theme song for “Paw Patrol.” But the best part had to be putting on a stormtrooper mask and rocking out to the “Imperial March” with Logan wearing his Darth Vadar mask and sitting right beside me.

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A true mommy & me moment, if I may say so myself .

I can’t take complete credit for this idea, however. I learned how to play this song from Andy at the Andy Guitar YouTube Channel. Rock on, Andy! And thanks for the great lesson.