Should you Changes Lyrics for a New Audience?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

I’m a pretty wholesome mom, inside and out. Except when I write songs. When I sit down with my guitar at night and start strumming, the first lyrics that come to mind aren’t about dinosaurs and eating vegetables. I drift to another place — my mind drawn to more salacious topics, like sex and politics or even gay rights and gun ownership. I’ve been known to drop more F bombs than your average mom singer (is there an “average mom singer,” though?).  

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with songs about dinosaurs — kindie-rock performers like Laurie Berkner write some killer dinosaur tunes. But it’s not the way I’m wired. For this reason, I use a stage name that’s separate from my real identity so my guitar students will have a harder time finding my music online.

Here’s the problem: Unlike my contemporaries who are famous, I don’t have the luxury of playing whatever gig at whatever venue I want whenever I want. While I believe moms should be proud to be themselves — whether they want to write about dinosaurs or sexual fantasies — club promoters and bar managers don’t aways see it that way. So unless I’m playing a dive bar or indie-rock show in Brooklyn, I feel pressured to alter my lyrics considerably. Sometimes, I’ll have to completely gut a song, lyrically — which inevitably leaves me feeling a little empty. 

This happened at First Night Delaware about 15 years ago, with my D.C. band Grandma’s Mini. We were given $400 to play a New Year’s Eve gig for four hours, only to learn last minute that we would be playing four back-to-back sets in a library. Yes, a LIBRARY! Children would be coming to see us!! If you’ve ever heard Grandma’s Mini — whose most famous song, “Learn to Love Your Sh*t Job” was featured in the indie flick Washington Interns Gone Bad — you know that most of our songs aren’t meant for the ears of innocent children. So it was a mad, 20-minute scramble for me and Ann (my music partner) to come up with alternate lyrics.

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Playing “not so innocent” music with my band Grandma’s Mini

While I don’t mind playing cute songs like “Baby Shark” or “Shiny” when I’m playing a library gig or for my sons’ preschool, I hate watering down content like this. Sometimes I wonder if it’s better to turn down gigs altogether than change in the slightest, which can feel inauthentic. When money’s involved, the decision gets a little harder. Ann and I weren’t about to let go of $400 after we’d booked hotels and arrived on site. 

There are other considerations too. I’m a super-busy mom who rocks — but also works. I barely have time to market my band, or any musical project I’m involved in. I can’t be picky. If I get asked to play at any event, it’s an honor.

On the other hand, life is short: People shouldn’t have to compromise who they are in their hearts. Cardi B doesn’t!

What would you do if you were in my shoes? Take the gigs that require a change in lyrical content, or just be grateful for what you get and adapt as needed? 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor of Rockmommy.

Rock Dad Mark Pires on Going Solo with The GigBox — and Why Timing is Everything

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Dressed in nice pants and a button-down shirt as he walks his kids to school, Mark Pires looks like your average working parent. But strip away the business frocks and hand him an acoustic guitar, and you realize Mark’s not so basic: In fact, he’s part of a rare breed of dads who can strum an axe like Dave Matthews. Listen a little longer, and he may start finger-picking a tune that will induce a state of musical bliss.

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Mark Pires, creator of The GigBox, with his family in Fairfield, Conn.

But while learning to play guitar was easy for Mark, now a dad of 3, there was one glaring challenge that used to stymie him when he tried to start his solo gigging career: a drummer, or rather, a lack thereof. 

While he’s a whiz with looper pedals and can make his guitar sound like practically any recognizable instrument, Mark spent much of his adult life dependent on drummers and percussionists to round out his rock n’ roll tunes, which tend to capture the mood of Matthews’ music, with clear Grateful Dead influences. And while anyone can play a song with just a guitar, having drums changes the entire vibe of a set, filling it out or making it more rock n’ roll. And a fuller sound can often make the difference when transitioning from the open mic scene to bigger stages and crowds.

But as Mark would tell you himself, everything happens for a reason. And one day in 2011, when his percussionist cancelled on Mark last minute to play a higher-profile gig, the idea of building a cajón tailored to the needs of a solo guitarist came to him in a vision. 

A few years later, The GigBox ™ was born. 

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The GigBox

Fast forward to 2019, and Mark’s patented invention for solo artists has gained an impressive following. The GigBox has received media attention that would make a public relations pro swoon — like broadcast segments on Fox News and News 12, plus lots of clips in community magazines and newspapers — and is a popular diversion at conferences like NAMM. It’s available at a handful of retail locations too, although the bulk of GigBoxes are ordered online (and made to order). 

[RELATED: Inside the Loog Guitar: Not Your Typical Preschooler’s Instrument]

As expected, Mark can easily bang out tunes on The GigBox, using his heels to tap the sides of the hollow box in timed intervals to create high hat, snare, and bass drum beats. 

Of course, for the rest of us who aren’t used to playing our own percussion during solo gigs, it’s a little trickier to get a rhythm going. I also had a size issue. I’m 5’2, and in sneakers my heels didn’t touch the ground when I started kicking the box and playing a basic chord progression. But fortunately for me — and others 5’4 and under — Mark has created a smaller, more petite version of his signature model — the GigBox Junior (as well as even smaller GigBoxes for mommy-and-me or daddy-and-me jams). 

It’s a minor issue, because playing The GigBox is awesome. The first time I clicked the side of the box with my heel, I immediately wanted to start singing something new, rather than create a beat for an existing track. But if you want to play a classic tune, Mark offers tons of tutorials on The GigBox website. 

In July, we caught up with Mark to chat about his journey to The GigBox, and how he balances his business with family and other responsibilities.

Rockmommy: So, how did you get your start as a musician? 

Mark Pires: I didn’t even know I had a talent for music until I heard my friend playing ‘Warehouse’ [by Dave Matthews] and that’s the first time I realized it was possible to play someone else’s music. One of my best friends introduced me to Jethro Tull, the Grateful Dead, and then I and started listening to Pearl Jam, the Counting Crows, and other bands.

Six months into playing guitar, I got sick of playing Dave Matthews songs and started writing my own material. In college, I did a lot of theater — my first love was acting — and then when I started writing music, something clicked. Writing Songs that no one’s ever heard in the history of time, that’s unique!

I had a band in 2001 called The Reservoir— and in July 2001 won a big battle of the bands at Calf Pasture beach [in Norwalk, Connecticut] called IndieBob. We were promised two things. A college tour and distribution deal, and a recording session at Carriage House, a studio in Stamford.

So in July 2001 we recorded 11 songs in one day — 9 out of 11 songs were first takes — and then September 11th happened. So then, the record company that was giving us the distribution deal and tour went out of business. But they told us, ‘We just started a little company called CD Baby.’ We’ll give you a one-year membership for free [laughs]. We were supposed to get a college tour and a distribution deal — but instead we got a $35 membership to CD Baby.

 

 

Rockmommy: So what happened next? 

Mark Pires: So in 2004, The Reservoir broke up. We got to a point where we just weren’t going. For a year and a half, we were just a power trio — me, a drummer and a bassist. We weren’t gathering steam, so after that I started my solo tour, which I’ve done until now. I was one of the first guys in the area to use a loop sampler, a Boomerang. It’s like a looper pedal. But the one I was using, compared to the ones today, was a million times harder. If I didn’t have my timing exact, the whole song was off. So I started the process where I went on the Mark Pires Solo Tour, and to fill out my sound, I had all these pedals in front of me… and I also had a guitar synthesizer, a Roland GR-33 to play trumpets, steel drums, whatever I wanted, on the guitar. I ran everything through a PA at whatever venue I’d play. So that was the way it went. The one piece I was missing was percussion.

Rockmommy: When did it first occur to you to create The GigBox ?

Mark Pires: My first son, Oliver was 2, it was 2011… and I was playing Georgetown Saloon [in Georgetown, Conn.] and another musician was backing me up — José Feliciano’s drummer — with a cajón. I never would have thought of The GigBox if he didn’t call me up and said, ‘hey I can’t make it to the show, call someone else,’ and I thought, ‘hey, I need to build a cajón.’ But then I realized the cajón it isn’t built for [guitarists]. It sits underneath us, and I was confused. How do I kick it and play? And as soon as I realized how ridiculous that look, I saw the GigBox in my mind. I thought, ‘what about something that comes through your legs? What if it was wider in the back and more narrow in the front?’ The GigBox lets you sit and completely comfortable.

Rockmommy: So how did you have the skills to build this? 

Mark Pires: In life, we don’t know why we’re good at some things and bad at others. Some of the things I’ve had a knack for include songwriting. I just feel things. I’d say the same thing with The GigBox. I could say I have some experience because my dad is a builder so I’m used to tools. When I’d come back from the road, I’d be working for my dad, and be around carpenters and construction workers. The first GigBoxes were built in my father’s garage.

Rockmommy: How would someone get started playing The GigBox? 

Mark Pires: We have four different models you can choose from — the regular GigBox, the Mini, which is 12 inches tall, the Junior, which is 16 inches tall, and the percussion version is 10 inches wide instead of seven-and-a-half.

Rockmommy: What’s the Learning curve for The GigBox? 

Mark Pires: It’s like playing the guitar. Learning the guitar is a learning curve — when I first started playing guitar, I was having a hard time, and my fingers were killing me. It took me a lot of time to get past that. The GigBox was just the same. The best way to explain learning The GigBox is say you have to try to do it slowly. You get a bass going with your heel [taps heel on left side of GigBox], and then you get going.

Rockmommy: You’re a busy guy. How do you balance being a dad, husband, and entrepreneur? 

Mark Pires: My wife, Lara, is the greatest mom — she runs the GigBox business and its PR while taking care of the kids 24/7. This allows me to focus on both Real Estate — I’m a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway — and allows me to build GigBox orders and broadcast live for my Real Talk show every night. Having Lara’s support allows me to have a successful work/life balance. This is important because my work schedule is not normal. I work 358 days a year — I know this because I did the math, and calculated the number of hours I spend working. And I work every single day of the year, except for vacation. Now there are some busier days than others. I tend to work long hours every day, and at night, I eat, hang out with the kids, quickly shower… and do Real Talk, my talk show, where I talk and play some songs with The GigBox. The balance can be hard. It’s about discipline, it’s about consistency. It’s very difficult, because there are times when I get home and I just want to put my feet up. And you know, The GigBox can give you better life-work balance — because our focus is too much on work, not on the positivity of life. The GigBox is an energy builder, an energy soother. My kid can have a rough day and start kicking and playing and then he has a smile on his face. 

Rockmommy: What lessons have you learned over the years? 

Mark Pires: Twelve years ago, I had a record deal on the table with a subsidiary of Jive Records. And my wife and I were going to get married six months later. I brought it to the lawyer in Darien and he laughed, and said, ‘there’s nothing here for you — it’s like the deal Billy Joel signed, when he signed away ‘Piano Man’ and didn’t get a penny for it’ and we went back and forth and I said, ‘you know what? I’m going to get married. I’ll just hang up the guitar and get a real estate license.’ And thank God I did that. Because the first thing a record label will do is put a band around you. And if that happened, I never would have invented The GigBox. It’s nice to be 41 and know you made the right move at 30.

Use “Rockmommy” in the coupon code at checkout and get 10 percent off your next GigBox.

 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

How Meeting Dick Dale, my Favorite Guitarist of All Time, Changed my Life

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

In 2002, I met Dick Dale in kind of a weird way – at the CTIA Wireless trade show in Las Vegas. I had just begun my post-college journalism career and had the distinct advantage of being one of the few young women who wrote about technology. Someone mentioned he’d been hired to perform a few songs, so I decided to swing by the sponsoring company’s booth.

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Me and Dick Dale, his bassist, and some other girl (2002)

As I watched him perform, he noticed me right away – my eyes transfixed, my whole being completely spellbound by his masterful skills. I’d never heard of Dale before that day, but like anyone who’s seen and heard Dale shred, I was immediately taken with his insane, wild guitar-playing style that made me feel like I was on the craziest road trip in California. He played his big hit “Miserlou” – which I recognized not only from “Pulp Fiction,” but from a belly dancing class I’d taken in Washington, D.C.

I approached him after the performance and told him as much. I also mentioned that I played guitar, but he was more interested in my side gig as a belly dancer.

“You coming to dance at my next show?” He asked, as we strolled along one of the corridors at the Venetian.

“Sure,” I said. “I’d love that.”

I opted to skip the party at the Luxor his bassist invited me to that night, but I made a point to email Dale a day or two later. He responded right away – I still have that email in the recesses of my Yahoo! Account – with his phone number and told me to call him the next time he had a show on the East Coast.

That’s how I became a Dick Dale groupie. He answered all my calls, and I followed him from show to show. He put me on every guest list I asked to be on, but after a while I stopped asking (because I wanted to support him). I belly danced here and there – a deal is a deal — but he didn’t care. He was more excited to see the look on my face – and the faces of his other devotees – when he launched into “Let’s Go Trippin.’”

I think I saw Dale play something like 10 or 12 times in my twenties, between Vegas and Baltimore and a few beaches along the Mid Atlantic. I became a better and more inspired guitarist simply by listening to him, my Surf Guitar God. Absolutely no one put on a better live music show.

And no one played the guitar like Dick Dale, either — not even the highly schooled, beloved guitar teachers who mentored me when I eventually moved to New York City and started teaching guitar. Who could keep pace with his absurdly fast tremolo picking? Very few. Dale wielded his Fender Stratocaster in unreal ways – upside down, hand sliding up and down necks. I wasn’t shocked when I heard that he would actually burn through multiple picks during shows.

His capabilities transcended traditional surf rock. One of my favorite moments of every show was when he launched into his rendition of “House of the Rising Sun,” his deep, dark voice giving the Animals classic a sinister spin, with his signature “heavy machine gun staccato” picking style working the upside-down fretboard.

I also loved it when he’d bring his young son onstage to play along with him. Those were the moments I felt like I had really glimpsed into his heart.

But as I settled into New York City life after graduate school, I let myself lose touch with Dale. I got sucked into the hustle of working and playing shows, of punk rock nights and deadline days. I wish I hadn’t forgotten the feeling I’d gotten when I met him, and I first saw him perform. I wish I had made the time to see a few more shows.

I heard he stumbled on hard times. He developed cancer at one point, and was continuing to tour to afford health insurance, playing shows like his life depended it. Because it did. But Dale didn’t let cancer or age stop him. He played every show as if it were his last.

Rest in peace, my surf guitar king.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

5 More Great Signature Guitars Inspired and Designed by Female Guitarists

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

From St. Vincent’s Ernie Ball Music Man guitar to Orianthi’s PRS, signature guitars by and for women are no longer an anomaly for the occasional, rogue female guitarist who shreds like she belongs in a headlining band. 

As a sequel to our first guide on female-inspired and designed guitars, we offer five more signature guitars from some of the best (female) musicians around.

Nita Strauss’ Ibanez JIVA10 Signature Electric Guitar. Unveiled in summer 2018 as Strauss embarked on another U.S. tour with Alice Cooper, this “deep space blonde” electric guitar is lightweight and ideal for the mobile rocker who likes to move around onstage. The guitar’s Edge Zero II bridge features a lower profile design for comfort, a stud lock function for superior tuning stability, signature DiMarzio pickups and more. Watch Strauss demo the guitar in this video. 

[RELATED: 5 Reasons Why I’m Swooning Over Guitarist Nita Strauss’ Signature Ibanez JIVA]

Courtney Cox Signature Caparison Guitars Horus-M3 CC. Like Strauss’ guitar, this baby — the first signature model for the Iron Maidens’ lead guitarist — is durable and made for a shredder. Features include a full 27-finger fretboard (for screaming solos), a custom-wound Caparison hum buckers, and maple center section so you can play high-pitched solos or warmer tones. 

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Courtney Cox Signature Caparison Guitars Horus-M3 CC

B.C. Rich Lita Ford Signature Warlock Electric Guitar. The wicked-looking 2012 guitar played by the mother of metal features an “onyx-colored beveled mahogany” body, mahogany neck, and ebony fretboard. We’re digging the “black widow” design on the lower bout. It also features two dual humbucker pickups: a Seymour Duncan SH-4 (neck) and a Seymour Duncan SH-6 (bridge). 

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B.C. Rich Lita Ford Signature Warlock Electric Guitar

Ovation Kaki King Signature Artist Elite Acoustic Electric Guitar. This guitar, a collaboration between King collaborated with the Ovation R&D team, is a high-performance instrument with single cutaway body with a AAA Solid Spruce top with quarter-swan scalloped “X” bracing. The satin-finished, five-piece mahogany/maple neck has an ebony fretboard with 20 fully accessible frets (but 24 frets on the high-E string). 

1996 Bonnie Raitt Signature Stratocaster. Blues rocker Raitt was one of the first women to get her own signature guitar from Fender. This baby — which is no longer in production — features a slim “C” shaped neck, clean tone and a gorgeous finish. 

Want to try one out? Be sure to call your local guitar or music store first (or check an online retailer’s return policy ). Happy jam time! 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

New Year’s Guitar Goals: 10 Minutes Per Day

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I’m not really one for New Year’s Resolutions, but I do start off every January 1 with the intention to be a better person and a better parent and spouse. But I’m also feeling a little bummed that most nights, I’m too exhausted to practice music, and most days, I’m too busy parenting or working to make like Nita Strauss and bust out solos left and right.

And so goes the life of the busy parent!


I wouldn’t have it any other way — I love my kids and they are everything to me. But I needed to do something to motivate myself just a little more on the nights I don’t have band practice, because unless I have a show coming up, it’s sometimes hard to motivate myself to play.

A wise person once told me, “pick up your guitar every single day, even if it’s only for five minutes.” That got me thinking, “if I can pick up my guitar for five minutes, then why not 10 minutes?” Sure, it would be nice to play guitar for three hours per day (outside of teaching), but the way my life is right now, that’s impossible. But 10 minutes? I can handle that!

With my busy life, 10 minutes every single day is harder than I thought it would be. Still, I’m happy to say that on Day 7, I’ve managed to fit in 10 minutes every single day — even when it means I have to sneak off into another room and play quietly while my kids are watching Ninjago. Even when it means I’m going to bed super late because it takes 10 minutes to motivate myself not to skip a day.

And as a result, I feel much better about life. I’m doing something small every day to nurture my skills and bring music into my life.

So now, I’m going to throw this question to the readers: What can you do for 10 minutes every day that feeds your soul? Post in the comments below.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Inside the Loog Guitar: Not Your Typical Preschooler’s Instrument

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Most kids these days learn how to play “guitar” by playing their parents’ ukuleles, or strumming off-key notes on a cheap plastic instrument featuring animated characters. But while wielding these would-be guitars makes for cute Instagram videos, much of the time, kids playing with them aren’t actually learning how to play guitar.

I would know. I have two sons ages 4 and 6, and about one zillion videos of them aimlessly strumming my ukulele. And does either one of them know how to play guitar? Unfortunately, the answer is a big, fat “no.” They both think it’s too hard.

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Loog Guitar (shown here in red)

What I’m describing is actually a common scenario in the households of musician parents with the best intentions for their offspring, according to Rafael Atijas, founder and CEO of Loog Guitars. 

“There are ukuleles, and they’re great but they’re not guitars,” Atijas told Rockmommy. “And then there are other guitars that are cheaply made and come apart.” 

In creating Loog Guitars just three years ago, Atijas’ intention was to design something that would be fun, stimulating, simple to play and easy to learn. The result is a bold, cool-looking three-string guitar that’s easy to play. Strings are made of nylon, not metal, and are easy to push down. Designed for ages 3 and up, the Loog is the ideal, personalized “starter” axe. And it’s so fun to play that even adults like it. 

We recently caught up with Atijas, who is now a father of two, to talk about why the Loog line of guitars — which start at about $60 — are a solid investment for burgeoning rockers. 

Rockmommy: So how and why did Loog get started? 

Rafael Atijas: I saw the same gap that you saw. There are ukuleles, and they’re great but they’re not guitars. And then there are other guitars that are cheaply made and come apart. So I thought, you know, what if there were a guitar that was fun to play, easy and stimulating? So we made a guitar with three notes in its most basic form (GBE strings). At first [the guitar] had open tuning, with more of the lower strings. But then we decided that for [kids] to learn, it was good to have standard tuning. 

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Loog Guitar Founder & CEO Rafael Atijas

Rockmommy: Can you tell us about your background? 

Rafael Atijas: I’m a musician – I was in a band when I was younger. I created Loog guitars when I was working on my master’s at NYU, because I wanted to do something related to music. It’s a business, but it’s inspired by the fact that I play guitar and am a musician. When I came up with the guitar idea, I didn’t have kids yet but I had a niece. It was up to me to teach her the basics. And I realized then, because she was 6 at the time, that you can’t teach kids on these [bad] guitars, or even 3/4 size guitars. The six strings is too overwhelming when they’re that young. 

Rockmommy: What was the response from music teachers and the parents? 

Rafael Atijas: Music teachers have been very responsive, which is great, because as you know, some guitarists can be music snobs … there are some kids that can play out of the box with a standard guitar, but 90 percent of kids can’t. In fact, 90 percent of people who learn to play guitar quit. So we are trying to solve that in a way that makes people want to graduate to a standard, six-string guitar. For a five-year-old, six-year-old, eight-year-old, [starting with a Loog guitar] makes it easier for them to learn guitar. We have many music schools using our guitars. Even smaller guitars, like ¾ guitars, are just more difficult – and it’s easier to grasp three fingers than six fingers. We even have some adults using our guitars. 

Rockmommy: What about the argument that it’s better to start with something harder?  

Rafael Atijas: I started with bass guitar – which was something harder – but we’ve found that when learning guitar it’s better to have some sense of accomplishment, or mastery [built in]. 

Rockmommy: What about your own children? 

Rafael Atijas: I have a three-year-old son and he loves it. My six-year-old girl likes it when I play, but I try not to push it on my children. If you push it on them, they will see it as something they are being forced to do. One of my kids is really into music, and the other is, just a normal amount. 

Rockmommy: What’s your advice for parents? 

Rafael Atijas: Be aware of the music they like. As parents and musicians, we like to think we’re really cool, but kids are kids and have their own taste. Don’t force them to listen to Velvet Underground. Let them listen to Disney. 

For a limited time, Rockmommy readers get a 10 percent discount off their Loog Guitar purchase [Use the code ROCKMOMMY at Checkout]. 

Folk-Rock Mama Edie Brickell’s Big Comeback is Blissfully Nostalgic

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians in the late-late ’80s, when Casey Kaseem played a video clip of “What I Am” — highlighting the ditty as one of the week’s hot movers on the Billboard 100 chart. I was young, and loved pop music like Debbie Gibson — but also loved Guns N’ Roses — and Edie Brickell was unlike anything I’d ever heard (my parents played the Beatles, The Zombies and Elvis, but never any Jimi Hendrix, Eagles, Grateful Dead or Woodstock-worthy rock).

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Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians in Portchester, N.Y., on 11/08/18

I was instantly hooked on the dizzy, slide-guitar tune from the six-piece band that I wanted to use my allowance on the band’s debut record, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars. I’ve never looked back. The hours I spent listing to “The Wheel,” “Nothing,” “Little Miss S,” “She,” “Circle,” and — of course — “What I am” were well spent.

But I’d never seen Ms. Brickell (who some refer to as Ms. Simon, per her famous husband).

Turns out, she was busy being a mama (of three kids, no less), and dabbling in musical side projects all of these years. So when I found out her band was coming to my area, I went nuts!

Thursday night’s performance at the Capitol Theater in Portchester, N.Y., was epic. Yes, Edie’s voice has changed (the timbre is a little different), but she sounds terrific. And the New Bohemians, with their drums-percussion-keys assault, play in perfect harmony. I loved every second of it, from the classics to the new tunes off the just-released album Rocket like “Eyes in the Window.”

I’m hoping for more great shows like that in the future!

Marisa Torrieri is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.