Mimsey Mack, Mom of 6, Proves that Making Music is the Best Antidote to Life’s Hard Turns

by Rew Starr & Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Mimsey Mack is one mysterious, guitar-wielding lady. Between the thousands of likes on her “Facebook” page, inspiring 80s-rocker fashion getups and bluesy tunes, you’d think she started playing music in her tween years. But not so. As it turns out, the self-described “indie-funk-punk rock” artist only picked up her first electric guitar in 2012, well after her kids passed middle school. 

Today, the mom of six — yes, six! — adult children is brimming with ideas and songs, proving once again that age is just a number (and sometimes an excuse). 

Mimsey Mack (Photo Credit: Chuck Thomas)

We asked the one-and-only NYC songstress (and fellow rockmommy) Rew Starr to sit down and chat with Mimsey about life post-COVID and navigating new opportunities in these challenging time. 

Rew Starr: How’s it going? What have you been doing these days?

Mimsey Mack: Thanks so much for the interview, Rew! It’s been a challenging time for us musicians, but I’ve been keeping busy. I started massage therapy School right when Covid happened and will graduate in August. I’m excited about integrating that into my career. I also took an online music therapy course to better equip me to perform at psychiatric centers, domestic violence centers and other locations, specifically for individuals who have been struggling and need hope and a new direction in life. Other than that, I have been playing lots of drums, guitar and even a little bass guitar.

Rew: You making any new music?

Mimsey: Yes! After a long hiatus, I am thrilled to be producing music again. I started writing songs again during the first week of the pandemic. I write songs about my life so sometimes it’s a little weird to sing new songs to others, especially the first time. But I am quickly reminded that we are all songbirds with a special song to sing.

Rew: What about playing out? Have there been opportunities?

Mimsey: I have been performing livestream shows and also performing as a guest on your amazing Renegade Show as often as possible. I am currently living in Virginia, a state that has been a hotspot recently, so I have not been performing live yet.

[RELATED: NYC Rockmommy Rew Starr Proves it’s Never Too Late to Take on a Brave New Role]

Rew: Tell us something we don’t know about you.

Mimsey: I like to tattoo myself. I use a single needle. I have given myself over about 10 tattoos. I’m working on two new ones now.

Rew: What’s the greatest part about being a rockmommy? 

Mimsey: The greatest part of being a rock mommy is sharing the love of the music and performing with my kids. All of my kids picked up music in their teen years. When they were younger, I was very conservative socially, homeschooled my kids and loved traditions. We listened to Classical and Christian music. After my divorce, things changed drastically. When I decided on a whim to take electric guitar lessons in 2012, and discovered I learned fast and could play, sing and perform, music brought a fresh new meaning to life. It’s funny when kids introduce me as their Rockstar Mom, because I think they are the rockstars.

Rew: Have you written anything new during the last six months?

Mimsey: One very exciting accomplishment during COVID was finishing the filming for my upcoming music video, “Redemption.” Thank you, Rew, for performing in it! It’s gonna be great! It’s a song I wrote a few years ago that expressed my transition from domestic violence survivor to overcomer. I am looking forward to writing songs about my new chapter in life, filled with hope and love. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Rew Starr is an actor, musician and performer who lives in New York City. 

Tanya Donelly Shares Her Postpartum Journey Through Music, Parenting, and a New Record with The Parkington Sisters

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

When I call Tanya Donelly for our 2 p.m. interview in mid-June, I’m armed with questions — about her new record with the Parkington Sisters, her journey through motherhood, and her legacy as the lead singer of Belly, one of the most influential bands of my youth. But about 30 seconds into our call, she pauses to ask me a question. “So how are you doing with all this? What are you doing with your kids?”

I nearly drop the phone.

Is this Tanya Donelly, as in TANYA DONELLY, LEAD SINGER OF BELLY, asking me — little me — how I’m coping with everything going on right now?

I’ve interviewed dozens of rock stars, but rarely do any inquire about my children. This isn’t a big deal — yet it’s heartwarming that Tanya Donelly seems genuinely concerned.

Tanya Donelly Press Photo A Hi Res - Photo by Kelly Davidson

Tanya Donelly

That small exchange told me everything I needed to know about Tanya — a bright, twinkling, thoughtful voice that stood out in the angst-ridden, 1990s alternative-rock era. Even with decades of experience in one of the most hard-knocks industries on the planet, Tanya’s nurturing maternal instincts shine through every professional endeavor she pursues, as well as her personal roles as a wife (to bassist/producer Dean Fisher) and mom of two daughters (ages 21 and 14).

Tanya’s instinctual, intimate approach to songwriting and performance shines especially bright in her most recent, collaborative project: a covers album with the Parkington Sisters, a Boston-area siblings trio. The album, which comes out August 14, reimagines classic rock n’ roll tunes (from The Go-Gos, Leonard Cohen and others), through Sisters’ pretty, stringed arrangements and Tanya’s still-high-range, whispery vocals front and center. The common thread, or “connective tissue,” as Tanya puts it, is the Parkington Sisters’ beautiful music, flowing naturally from one song to the next.

The first single, a hauntingly cool cover of The Go-Gos’ “Automatic,” invokes a certain nostalgia for me — but not for the ’80s all-girl group so much as the sunny, summer day when I first heard Belly. 

It was the summer of 1993, and early July, when I headed to RFK Stadium for the HFSTival — an annual, all-day music event in my hometown of Washington, D.C. I remember showing up with a few friends, my nose freshly pierced, to hear Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Bush or some other dude-infused grunge band I (still) can’t recall.

Yet the only memory that stands out after all these years involves Belly: We were walking along a corridor, when suddenly this piercingly sweet voice cut into the air. A surge of electric guitar noise and a thunderous drumbeat reverberated across the entire stadium and — heeding the Siren’s call — we rushed to our seats. On stage, Tanya Donelly with her blonde bobbed hair is armed with her guitar, belting out the verses to “Angel.”

“Wow,” I thought, as I stared at the stage. “That girl is so cool.”

Later that summer, I bought “Star,” Belly’s debut album, at Tower Records. But the cassette tape almost never left my Dodge Omni console. I’d mark my 20-minute trips to my then-boyfriend’s house — from Silver Spring to Lanham, Maryland — by singing the first side, which included hits “Slow Dog” and “Gepetto,” the freewheeling “Dusted,” and the eerie “Someone to Die For.” I’d take my time parallel parking so I could sing along to the sweeping choruses of “Low Red Moon,” which is still my favorite Belly song (closely followed by “Red” from the band’s 1995 follow-up record “King”).

Post-Belly, in the late 1990s, Tanya went solo with Loversongs for Underdogs. Her life’s journey led her to marriage and motherhood, and service work as a post-partum doula, and back to music again for various projects.

Finally, in 2018, Belly reunited for a tour and released their first new music in decades. I’m so bummed I missed it (my kids were 4 and 5, so I missed a lot of things). But had I known that 2020 would kill live music, I would have made more of an effort.

If this were normal times, Tanya and the Parkington Sisters would have spent the summer of 2020 playing shows in support of the new album.

But instead, the singer has spent the last several months shuttered in the home she shares with her husband, daughters, and dog, doing her part to #flattenthecurve. Days are spent caring for loved ones and doing her best to parent mindfully. In her spare time, she’s sitting in front of her Snowball microphone, home recording vocals on GarageBand for virtual projects with her musician friends, which are posted to her Bandcamp page.

She’s also spending her time trying to impart change (for example, by masking up and marching against racial injustice in June, and donating proceeds from Bandcamp sales to charities), while coping with cancelled tour plans.

But that’s just the beginning.

When Rockmommy caught up with Tanya last month, she shared some of her wisdom around parenting, why she’s still hopeful for the future of live music, and how she’s supporting social justice.

Rockmommy: Hi Tanya, how are you doing, right now?

Tanya Donelly: Like everyone, we’re coping. With our kids, you know, we’re finding ways for them to have some normalcies. Our youngest one is 14, and she’s the one we’re most focused on. My older one is 21 and is here with her partner and they have each other, and Dean [Fisher] and I are here, so we’re trying to focus on letting [our younger daughter] keep her friends … see some people at a distanced way. Fourteen is a tactile age too, they’re just hanging off each other all the time. I keep saying to her, ‘you are allowed to feel sorry for yourself.’ This is a safe, nonjudgmental place for you. We’ve been going to the protests, too, so there have been long conversations around that too. It brought up these whole other conversations because we unanimously decided to go to them but the logistics was challenging.”

Rockmommy: You recently covers album with the [siblings trio] Parkington Sisters. Can you tell us about how this record came about?

Tanya Donelly: So when Joe from American Laundromat approached me, in reaction to how well Juliana Hatfield’s cover albums are going with them …and asked if I wanted to do something like that, at first I felt like, ‘I don’t want to have a hodgepodge of songs, that are all sort of fragmented, sewn together, a Frankenstein sort of situation. But then, I thought of the Parkington Sisters. I’ve known them for years and I’ve always wanted to do some collaboration with them, and I just thought, ‘if it sounded like a Parkingtons album, I would be so excited to do this.’ I wanted all of the songs to feel like a real album, with cohesion and some connective tissue since it was such a mixed bag. They’re some of the most talented people I’ve played with so I knew that they would kill it. It was one of the few times, when I listened to it when we finished, I was like, ‘wow! It sounds like I thought it would.’

Tanya Donelly Press Photo B Hi Res - Photo by Kelly Davidson

Tanya Donelly

Rockmommy: How did the recording process go?

Tanya Donelly: The Parkington Sisters and I picked all the songs out, and we were all recording together. About 90 percent of this album was made in Brick Hill Studios in Orleans on the Cape. The sisters are from Well Sweep, and the guy who owns this studio is a former touring musician, who’s toured with Tori Amos, Paula Cole, and others. He opened this beautiful studio. It’s sunny, and there were cats and dogs running around … and there was a baby.

Rockmommy: How did you select the actual songs, though? Was that hard?

Tanya Donelly: These are just songs that run through my head all the time for whatever reason. They just are kind of on the playlist at all times, and I think part of that is because I’m attracted to a great or interesting vocal performance. Though, once we picked them, in my mind, I was like, ‘Oh my God, these are all songs that are perfectly sung,’ so I set myself up for an anxious experience. The Sisters are singing with me and they brought a newness with them.

Rockmommy: Your voice is unique in rock. So I have to ask: Do you have a secret low range you’re not letting out?

Tanya Donelly: ‘I have a new middle-age low range [laughs] that I’ve found. On the Belly reunion tour we had to drop a couple because I was not going to get there. It’s a tradeoff — for every high note, I’ve got nice, low raspy notes. My oldest daughter and I went to see Stevie Nicks and she doesn’t even try to hit those notes… she has backup singers, and she has this new timbre. It’s nice to see that embraced.

Rockmommy: Can you talk about early motherhood, and some of the work you do with other mothers, as a postpartum doula?

Tanya Donelly: Both of my kids had different postpartum experiences, and the second one, I felt like, ‘oh I got this — I did this,’ But it was a brand new experience. I hadn’t planned to use a doula or become a doula but as I started to talk to women who had and read a book my friend Rachel Zimmerman wrote about it, I became more interested in it. I also decided that I was a time in my life that I wanted to do something that wasn’t about me, aside from parenting. I wanted to be helpful and it fit the bill and it was good work in terms of my music and touring schedule. I’m a postpartum doula and I can work that around music work. Everything about it was so appealing and so I trained and started doing that, and slowly I became the ‘music themed’ doula. Most of my work’s been word of mouth.

Rockmommy: Do millennial moms know who you are?

Tanya Donelly: Most clients have no idea who I am, but I have had people who do. When I started ten-ish years ago, there were more people who knew, but now they don’t. I’m 54.

Rockmommy: They definitely need the support!

Tanya Donelly: They really do. As much as you can hear that it’s going to be a challenge, you don’t believe it will be until it happens. And both of my kids were different feeders, and I needed an LC for both of them. I’ve been with clients who will be talking about feeling isolated and not having support, and I will witness them turning help down. I don’t know if it’s a purely American cultural thing, but I do feel like there is a pervasive ‘I got this’ culture.

Rockmommy: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in having a music career when you became a mom?

Tanya Donelly: Whenever I do talk about this, but I have to be clear that because my husband [Dean Fisher] is also in music, I have more support than others might. But when my children were little I had to make an effort to carve out the time to work, and the main thing was that an album that would have taken six months from writing to finished would take two years. I think the timing is what changed most radically for me… having come from years and years where the process of putting out an album might have taken a year — would suddenly take much longer. I had to reframe my expectations when I had [my first child] Gracie. And in some ways that really pulled me and grounded me. Some people are self-grounding and don’t need the birth of a child to get there, but her appearance on the scene brought me to my own life and my own skin and family.

The more profound changes in my life were not music related. I wouldn’t leave them to tour, but we took Gracie on the road when I would tour, but that was just kind of exhausting for three of us back then, and by the time Hattie [my second child] came along, we weren’t doing that kind world touring anymore.

Rockmommy: Are your kids into your music?

Tanya Donelly: They’re curious about it. Because every project I’m doing is different, they’re curious as to what the new thing will be. They were definitely excited to come to the Belly tour [a few years ago] so they could come to London and Paris. But if we’re playing in Boston or doing a local tour, they’re not usually there — they have musical interests but they’re very different than mine. They’re both theatrical … and they dabble in instruments, but they’re not interested in being [professional] musicians.

Rockmommy: When you say you had to ‘carve out time’ for creativity, what does that mean?

Tanya Donelly: I’ve always had a relatively blue collar approach to music work … obviously when a song comes to you, it comes to you whether you are sitting down with a guitar or breastfeeding… but once the inspiration piece has been filtered, then I had to be much more ‘9 to 5’ about working, and how that fit into the kids’ scheduling. Dean was working and touring, too. As a parent, he’s very hands on. With any solo work that I’ve done, he’s in that band, so that’s how we made it work for a while — we’d both be making the same record and touring the same tour. And then as he started playing with other people again, by then the kids were old enough that I could handle working from home and taking care of them. Also, if I go on tour with Belly, he’s here with them fulltime. Or if he goes on the road with Juliana [Hatfield], I’ll be here.Cover Art - 3600 x 3600

Rockmommy: Speaking of touring …

Tanya Donelly: Yeah, we just rolled out the reopening phases here [in Mass.] and entertainment, you could barely see it. Like, you need binoculars to see it. I’m so deep-tissue worried about this. Behind the scenes, musicians are having these conversations like, ‘oh we can play in a park or on the wharf, but I also want to support the clubs, and say, ‘when you open I will be there.’

Rockmommy: Let’s talk about recording. What are you using?

Tanya Donelly: I play guitar through an interface directly into a laptop. And a Blue Snowball. I love that thing and it sounds amazing.  That company in general — I’m a big Blue fan. Just for home recording, it’s ridiculous how good those things sound. I’m doing everything on GarageBand with my laptop and my Blue Snowball and the simplest possible interface and it’s pretty much that simple for everyone I’m working with too! Everyone’s got a disclaimer attached to their part. Mine is, ‘you can hear my dog on every vocal I do. She’s either sighing, or she’s barking she’s on my lap.

The proceeds of the songs we’re releasing are going to different charities, like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

The more pressing loss right now is that I love being in a room making music. I love bringing new ears into the system. It’s an invaluable relationship and it’s hard to replace that, but the DIY piece has been great.

So is there any hope for a show in the next few months?

Tanya Donelly: That’s something the Parkingtons and I were talking about because we had to cancel everything we had planned, but we had been talking about the possibility of doing something on the Cape. But I think everybody is still in the stage of waiting and seeing, with some firmly held hope that by Fall some modified version of a show can happen.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

For The BeatBuds, Rocking ‘In’ and Livestreaming New Content is Key to Keeping Sane

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The BeatBuds — a couple of hilarious, LA.-based musician dads who write and perform fun, relatable rockin’ family tunes — have gone through a lifetime of highs and lows since meeting in grade school.

But nothing prepared #rockdaddies Jonny Jingles (guitar) and Matty Maracas (drums) for life after Covid: balancing work, music and raising kids ages 2 through 9, while trying to channel a positive attitude into the homes (and screens) of Americans everywhere.

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The BeatBuds

The duo’s YouTube livestream series is full of delightful nonsense, random songs and engaging content (on a rainy day, I recommend binge-watching them with your kids).

This summer, they’re elevating their musical and virtual game, with the first-ever virtual BeatBASH on Sunday, July 12 at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT): The free event is billed as a 360-degree, immersive and interactive tropical island experience, which will feature an abundance of digital touchpoints, virtual instruments for kids to play, trivia games, and rockin sing-alongs. Tickets are available here

We recently caught up with The BeatBuds’ Matty Maracas (Shapiro) over email to learn more about the upcoming gig, family life, and music’s ability to improve creativity, lift moods and boost self-expression.

Rockmommy: You’re musicians and dads and have a really cool backstory. Can you recall how you felt in March when the world changed (due to Covid) and it became essential for music to shapeshift (from live settings to virtual streams)?

Matty Maracas: Thank you so much for the kind words! Obviously, our first concern was for the safety of our families. But after we took a moment and processed what was really happening, we could clearly see that things for The BeatBuds were not going back to normal anytime soon. Jonny came up with the idea to do a YouTube live stream simply as a way to maintain a sense of normalcy for the kids that we previously saw day to day during our many in-home classes, birthday parties, and special events. To be honest, not only did it help the kids and parents in that initial period of chaos, but it also helped us stay positive as we watched our thriving live event business come to a halt. After diving headfirst into the daily livestream we quickly started to learn how to be most effective for the kids in this new digital format that seemed here to stay.

Rockmommy: How old are your kids?

Matty Maracas: My girls are 9 and 6 going on 18. Yikes! They dance like crazy. Jonny’s son is 2.5, taller than most kids his age, and rocks the drums harder than I do!

Rockmommy: I’ve seen the livestream — it’s hilarious. How do you come up with such funny material that’s kid-appropriate (and on the fly)? 

Matty Maracas: We are glad you dig it! Jonny and I have been best friends since the age of 6. We’ve experienced nearly everything together as young kids, as grade school pals before we played music, and of course later on in our teens and all through adulthood as musical partners. With so many shared life experiences over a 35-year span, we know a thing or two about each other and how to riff off the other to create material that is not pre-planned. Because Jonny and I have a best friendship since super early childhood, a career in the ‘kid’ world, and are both dads, we have a unique ability to channel the dynamic we had as children and as best buds when we are together. It just happens naturally. Although we are adults and have the same responsibilities as other dads, husbands, and career driven people, our history and career allows us the ability to go to that innocent ‘place’ where we can come up with things that maybe an adult with a different history and background cannot. Long story short, we know exactly what the other is thinking and gonna do in performance situations, and we use that intuition to help us create honest, kid-friendly material on the fly.

Rockmommy: Why is music so important right now, especially for kids? What do you hope to give them if they’re in quarantine, or even post-quarantine?

Matty Maracas: As we go back to life’s basics and keep exposure to a minimum, music continues to be the perfect vehicle to help equalize the children.  Music has always been a source of comfort that encourages creativity, a mood controller, and a vehicle for self-expression. Kids can sing, dance, and perform in the privacy of their own home and can exercise that creative muscle without limitation. As always, and especially during this quarantine period, we aim to maximize the power of music and use it to inspire the kids. Amongst an interactive, ‘hands on’ music experience, our live stream and virtual programming also exposes children to a wide range of general education topics, crafting, voting, and sharing to name a few. Our mission is always to give the kids a fun, lighthearted, educational music experience that they can learn from and will inspire their creativity.

Rockmommy: What’s been the coolest “silver lining” of the new world? Making home videos?

Matty Maracas: The coolest “silver lining” of the past few months, although things are really ramping back up now, was the quality time we spent with our families. While, yes, it’s been scary, and certainly not optimum as we feel for those families that have not been so lucky, we have done our best to make it a time of positivity. As far as ‘silver lining’ for The BeatBuds, our livestream gave rise to a new set of skills that allowed us to pivot our business, offer virtual programming to our customers, and think in a new way. Not only do we now offer virtual services for customers who desire that format, but we can now offer our fun musical approach to customers all around the world. We’re global!

Rockmommy: What are you guys doing this summer, with life and the show? How will you keep the kids entertained?

Matty Maracas: This summer we plan to keep on rockin’ the YouTube live stream, re-enter the live event space safely, and maximize engagement through the digital realm. Over the past few months we have entered a new normal and instead of looking toward a time that resembles the ‘old days,’ we plan to take our most recent experiences as performers and organize the first ever Virtual BeatBASH! Yep! Imagine entering a 360 immersive and interactive world via your computer where you, your friends, and your family are in control of experiencing a live BeatBuds concert together in the comfort and safety of your own home. On Sunday, July 12th at 10:00am PST you will be able to jam with us, sing along, play virtual instruments, and navigate BeatBuds Island customizing it along the way through interactive ‘hot spots.’ It’s wild! We want the kids of the world to experience it, so get your tickets now at www.TheBeatBash.com and help us make this a summer to remember. See you at the Virtual BeatBASH!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Getting Close with Natalie Schlabs: Nashville Singer-Songwriter Discusses Life, Music and Motherhood in Quarantine

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I love to rock. But I’m also a lover of those gorgeous, stretched-out songs that slow me down, with mellow guitars, unexpected harmonies and a laid-back feel. Artists that come to mind are are Tom Petty, and lately, Nashville singer-songwriter Natalie Schlabs.

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Natalie Schlabs

I got serious Stevie Nicks vibes the first time listened to Schlab’s country-rock songs off her forthcoming album, Don’t Look Too Close. Her series of intimate videos, including one that features her tiny toddler son, are even more heartwarming.  

There’s something about the way her voice rises and falls, like the crest of the wave in an ocean of slide guitars and strings, that relaxes me. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a solo drive on the highway in the summer — though because I’m a mom of sons in the era of the coronavirus pandemic, I’m rarely solo or driving for long stretches. 

Lyrically, though, Natalie’s music isn’t just breezes and sunshine. The title song “Don’t Look Too Close,” for example, focuses on everyday aches and pains people tend to hide from loved ones, while “Ophelia” was written for a friend who lost her daughter. 

Perhaps that’s why I appreciate this record so much, in this precise moment of time, where loss and pain are as common as love and happiness. 

We recently sat down to catch up with Nashville-based Natalie, to talk about how she’s balancing work and motherhood — and coping with the international shutdown and postponed musical experiences.

Rockmommy: I love this album’s ebb and flow. Can you tell me more about how it was created? In what ways did becoming a mother inspire you?

Natalie Schlabs: Thank you so much. Writing and preparing for this album felt very different from previous projects. I wanted to write something that I would want to listen to, something sonically I would enjoy. That sounds strange, but sometimes what naturally comes out isn’t always a style I find myself gravitating to. I think that’s part of becoming an artist. I wanted to steer the sounds and structure towards a slightly more indie direction. I had some great co-writers that were instrumental in this as well (no pun intended). The preproduction for the album started soon after having my baby. My husband and I started making some demos of the songs in our basement and hashing out ideas. There were even times I was recording while my newborn was strapped to me sleeping.

I brought these demos to my friend Juan Solorzano who went on to produce my record with Zachary Dyke at Tracehorse Studio in Nashville. We wanted it to have lots of layered guitars, strong drums, and string arrangements.

Motherhood was the backdrop of the album from songwriting to recording. Many of the themes have aspects of parenthood. I will also add that it was incredibly hard for me to leave my 2-month-old and record for a whole day, but it also felt really good to remember myself as an artist as well as a new mother.

Rockmommy: Who are your greatest artistic influences?

Natalie Schlabs: Like most artists, my influences are spread pretty wide. Honestly, I’ve struggled in the last few months with being excited by the prospect of listening to the newest artist or staying on the bleeding edge of music culture. It can be an unexpected challenge, but at times I find myself struggling with comparison more than simply enjoying the act of listening to music.

The reason I wanted to play guitar in the first place was to cover Lori McKenna and Patty Griffin songs. I’ve been extremely inspired by women in Americana music. When I really started listening to Bob Dylan I was challenged and spurred on to deeper lyricism. I think at their core, these songs are still focused on the narrative and storytelling structures of folk and Americana. More recently and particularly for the album’s sonic influences, I’ve really resonated with artists like Big Thief, Kevin Morby, and War on Drugs.

Rockmommy: You seem to be telling a story in “Don’t Look Too Close” about another childhood — is it yours? Can you tell us more about the track, and how comparing your childhood to motherhood changes your parenting perspective?

Natalie Schlabs: There is certainly inspiration from my childhood in many ways, but broadly it is about being a kid and having no idea who your parents really are as humans and what they are going through. As a mom now myself I realize that parents are often doing the best they can, often in the midst of difficult circumstances. My co-writers and I wanted to communicate the idea that kids will never know how much you will love them, that they likely won’t know what you were dealing with until they are older, and that you hope they don’t really see you mainly for your flaws. There is also the point of view of innocence or losing your innocence as you mature. There is a parallel between parent and child there.

Rockmommy: A lot of moms say that motherhood brings out a different kind of sound, and different songs. Would you agree with that? Why or why not?

Natalie Schlabs: I completely agree. Becoming a mother is incredibly transformative. We learn so much about ourselves and see the world again through the eyes of our children. I’ve felt much bolder in my writing and am who I am as an artist. I was listening to an interview with Sharon Van Etten recently in which she was sharing a similar sentiment. Mothering re-alters your inner and outer life in such an amazing way, you can’t help but be transformed in all your life by it.

VqUQPZdwRockmommy: How are you managing in quarantine? Any highs and lows?

Natalie Schlabs: Part of me loves the limited options I have had. I don’t have the same ability to get hung up on if I should go somewhere or do something. Because of that, I seem to have more room in my brain for creativity. So, even though I’m desperate to be sitting closely with my friends and to be in the middle of a large group of people at a show, I hope to be able to carry some of this necessary limitation with me after the quarantine.

Rockmommy: I understand you have a young child. In what ways do you try to inspire creativity every day?

Natalie Schlabs: I can be a perfectionist, and that can lead to a lot of discouragement as I’m pursuing music as a mom without consistent childcare. One thing I’ve been practicing is lowering my expectations of what is possible. That can help me start the work without feeling too much pressure. I work when I can— while my son is napping or while my husband switches with me and takes him to the park. When I begin my work I try to start my time with 10 minutes of “Object” writing (coined by Pat Pattison). It doesn’t take long, but it can do wonders for waking up my writer’s brain. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

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.

Ben Rudnick’s New Song ‘Monster NO!’ Helps Kids Embrace Handwashing & Sing Away Coronavirus Anxiety

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Singer-songwriter Ben Rudnick has had to cope with the same annoyances — from cancelled performances to the closure of live-entertainment venues — as the rest of us. But instead of moping, the rockdaddy is staying busy, and recently penned a clever little tune that encapsulates this strange moment in history and parenthood. His latest single, “Monster NO!” — a folksy tune that’s perfect for kids who are experiencing serious coronavirus anxiety.

 In the song, Ben sings of washing your hands with soap, doing a silly dance, jumping up and down, or even talking like a frog — “Ribbet ribbet croak and keep the monster away!” (Download “Monster NO!” on his Soundcloud page here).

[SEE RELATED: Ben Rudnick: How My Daughter Inspired My Favorite and Best-Known, Musical Project]

We recently caught up with Ben to talk about parenting, music and staying safe this summer.

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Ben Rudnick

Rockmommy: What’s been going on lately, music and otherwise?

Ben Rudnick: Well… The band had a busy summer planned. Lots of shows; big, small and in between. That’s clearly compromised but we have been asked to do some virtual shows. The loose plan is to set up on my front porch and play for the neighborhood while a neighbor pal handles the streaming end. I hope it works! We can be safe and still get to play a bit. How fun will that be!? At this point, LOTS!

Otherwise, musically, a few years back I visited Jorma Kaukonen’s (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio and have been taking workshops with Jorma ever since. Besides learning how to fingerpick Jorma tunes, there’s a whole community around the place that has been wonderfully supportive. I got proficient enough at it to a) start a band called Don’t Tell Jack which plays those tunes I’ve learned and b) know that I’ve got a long way to go to really be good at it. All that said…. I’ve been fingerpicking like crazy these days and will be taking an online workshop with Jorma in a week or so. Fingerpicking is something of a meditation for me and it certainly keeps me busy.

Otherwise, not musically, lots and lots of gardening and cooking. I also hike with my beautiful golden retriever Lucy around five miles in the early morning. Every morning. Sun, rain, snow… you name it. There’s a wonderful wooded park close to where I live which at this point in history, might be one of my favorite places of all time.

I’m close to home and busy. That’s the deal.

Rockmommy: How did you come up with the song, “Monster NO!?

Ben Rudnick: Monster NO! came about from an acquaintance who was looking to connect with me on Facebook and found someone else who happened to be a doctor with the same name. The doctor, a fan of ours, asked if when she found me, would she ask me if I could write a song about the current situation for kids. At first I thought, “nahhhhh…” but then it seemed like a pretty good idea. It’s surely not as epic as some other songs I’ve written but hey, it doesn’t have to be! Plus, I wrote it so that I could use my new mad, fingerpicking skills!

Rockmommy: Are you generally finding new creative inspiration during this challenging time?

Ben Rudnick: You know, I’d love to say “yes” but I’m gravitating more toward sharpening up some skills and filling in some blanks. For me, that has always paid off with new music further on up the road. It’s part of my process so we’ll see what comes out of it.

I did take a few ZOOM lessons with an amazingly talented guy named Joe Craven. I’m familiar with Joe as he played in David Grisman’s band for 15 years, which encompassed the Grisman/Garcia work. Joe got me to write a tune that is way more jazzy than I would have written otherwise. I can’t wait to set the band loose on it when we can finally reconvene on a regular basis.

Rockmommy: What are your best coping tips for pandemic parenting?

Ben Rudnick: I’m not sure I’m the best guy to ask about this but I’d say to parents, ‘remember to take care of yourselves.’ A calm — okay, a mostly calm — parent who can get some alone time and come back even slightly fresher to the kids and family really is good for all.

The other tip is, of course, listen to a band’s music. There is a lot of it! Each album is a world unto itself that you can get happily lost in. Speaking for my own music, me and my band put a lot of time into all of our songs and it can pay off for you and the family. Our discs have always been a happy glue that can make your family life better and now is a good time to let them work for you. Really! Let Ben Rudnick and Friends help you get through the pandemic.

Rockmommy: What’s your advice for making time for yourself?

Ben Rudnick: I only know what’s worked for me and that is, it always felt important for me to model ‘do stuff I’m passionate about’ behavior for my daughter. I thought if she saw me making time for things that were important to me, she may end up having the same ability. I hoped it might make her more independent. It worked out. She’s a self-starter and I’m proud of her. So, I would say, give yourself permission to make some time for something you want to do that’s important to you. That’s easy to say of course, but if it can be done, it’s worthwhile for the parent and in my experience beneficial for the kids in the long run.

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. 

Castle Black, on Making Surreal ‘Dream’ Music and Hunkering Down During the Traditional Season of Rebirth

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Brooklyn trio Castle Black’s music is hard to define, often evoking multiple genres, from math-rock to melodic post-punk, as Vents magazine recently noted. Case in point: “A Cigarette, Saved” is simultaneously moody and frantic, channeling Nine Inch Nails one moment, then swinging into something akin to pre-goth Siouxsie Sioux. One has to listen a few times to a Castle Black song to let the poetry of the lyrics sink in, and even then, the moment is open to interpretation. 

Yet, the Castle Black live experience is consistently intense and fantastic. I know this, having seen Castle Black in more than one state, and in more than one nightclub. The combination of singer Leigh Celent’s mesmerizing vocals and effects-laden, arpeggiated guitar riffs — layered over thick, powerful rhythms courtesy of bassist Scott Brown and drummer Joey Russo — get me every time.

The band’s latest video, “Dead in a Dream” (from their EP, Take Her my Life), which premiered on April 8, offers just one small glimpse of their upcoming livestreamed set, to be held on Friday, April 17, as part of The Cellar on Treadwell’s “Dinner & a Show” event — which benefits the nightclub’s Employee Relief Fund (music begins at 7:30 p.m.)

We recently interviewed the band — pre-coronavirus — to talk about their latest EP, live music and future plans.
Rockmommy: How would you describe your music style?

Leigh Celent:  I let everyone else do this!

Scott Brown:  Post-punk indie rock I guess?

Joey Russo:  As a band, we’re some kind of rock. Math-grunge, some have said!

Rockmommy: You have a new record out. What can you tell us about it?

Leigh Celent: Take Her My Life represents this band’s journey up until now. It’s representative of the new line-up of the band; it is the first record made with Joey and Scott. Take Her My Life pushes the boundaries of our sound. We broke the album into two thematic parts — “Born in a Dream” and “Dead in a Dream” — where there is this relentless push and pull between themes of life and death. Themes of beginning/end, and hope/despair become blurred concepts. We had a burning birthday cake at our release show.

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Castle Black: Joey Russo, Leigh Celent, Scott Brown

Rockmommy: Who is the most inspirational live performer you’ve seen lately?

Leigh: I saw Thee Oh Sees last year in Brooklyn, and that was a really inspiring show. Their energy and intensity was infectious, and their show was captivating to watch.  Also, I recently saw David Byrne’s “American Utopia” on broadway, which was completely inspirational — he’s hypnotic to watch, authentic in his approach, and his longevity and evolution as a performer is inspiring.

Scott: So many of the bands we end up playing with are amazing. It seems like every show there’s something I hear or see that inspires me in one way or another. As far as shows we’re not playing, the Misfits at MSG most recently was one of those shows with a special energy in the air.

Joey: Thrice, which I recently saw in Brooklyn! I’ve seen them a few times and they always inspire something in me. Their seamless incorporation of odd times on groovy and heavy music with the catchiest riffs and hooks. So emotive and special.

Rockmommy: Do you think a lot changed in the past 15 years, in terms of female rockers becoming more visible?

Leigh: Things are constantly evolving and getting better, and that’s due to the number of people who have stood up for what is right, spoken out for what they believe in and just persevered in light of obstacles. I’m extremely grateful to women performers going back decades who faced different challenges and to everyone who is a decent human being in the world, who paved the way for change.  Of course, there are still people who aren’t decent human beings and who think women are objects, things not to be respected, things made for their imminent pleasure, not deserving of the same respect they would give a man etc. Do we still see that? Unfortunately, yes. But we see that in other facets of life living on this planet, unfortunately, and it’s a fight that continues — and not just for women, but for all beings.

Rockmommy: Being an independent artist isn’t always easy. You’ve gotta balance lots of stuff. What’s your best advice for making time to rock?

Leigh Celent: I make time for what’s important to me. I prioritize this band as much as I prioritize the other important things in my life. If something goes on the calendar, it’s on the calendar, and oddly that’s a very simple tool that I would be lost without! Some weeks are really hectic and stressful, where I’m not sure how I will do everything that needs to get done, but those weeks pass and things are back to feeling manageable, at least for a little while! All of that effort is so very worth it, because we are doing what we love, especially once we are the road for a few weeks, everything that went into making that happen is worth it.

Scott Brown: Playing and making music is an important part of my life and a great outlet that helps me deal with work and daily stress, so I prioritize it pretty highly. I believe that if something’s truly important to you it’s not really that hard to find ways to make it happen, even if it’s just a few minutes here or there. Those little spaces can add up to a lot if you’re dedicated to them.

Joey: Gotta be devoted to your craft! Make time for what you love.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Rockmommy Joanie Leeds’ New Record and Message of Empowerment Celebrates ‘All the Ladies’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

As a former Brooklynite, I thought I knew Joanie Leeds. When I interviewed the singer and performer in 2017, chatting about raising a tiny person in a busy but super-creative borough, I thought to myself, “yes! That’s my girl. She’s bright, happy, and living the mom life I would’ve lived if I hadn’t transplanted to the suburbs of Connecticut.” 

I also thought I knew her music — wonderful, insightful, high-energy kindie rock with a touch of sass — that was perfect for dance parties with my toddlers (who are now 6 & 7). Adorable songs like “I love New York,” made complete with fun, colorful videos.

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Joanie Leeds

[SEE RELATED: Singer-Songwriter Joanie Leeds on Motherhood, Her Summer Tour & ‘Brooklyn Baby’]

So when I heard that Joanie had spent the last two years channeling her emotions (and some life hard experiences) into a record that celebrates women’s empowerment — and features women instrumentalists — I was pleasantly surprised. At the same time, it made total sense. Based on Joanie’s previous work, it’s pretty clear she’s a creative, multifaceted rocker mama — a lyrical badass who writes songs that are universally catchy and relevant.

Joanie’s latest record isn’t just fronted by a female singer. It’s infused with ladies, and all about the #girlsplayinstruments movement. An added bonus: Today, April 3, she is part of an hours-long, all-women Facebook Live show (12:30 to 4 pm EST on the @alltheladiesmusicfestival page on Facebook). As such, her record is created for women by women.

We recently caught up with her to talk about her new album “All the Ladies,” motherhood, life in New York and everything else. 

Rockmommy: I love the concept of “All the Ladies.” Was this inspired by the 2016 election turnout, or the #metoo movement, in addition to a desire for true equality in the music industry?

Joanie Leeds: Thank you. Actually the idea came to me as I was sitting in audience of the 2018 Grammys Awards. I had just separated from my husband about three months prior and felt a rush of creativity flood within me ignited by my newfound freedom. At the ceremony however, I felt enraged by the underrepresentation of women at the Ceremony and those nominated. While it may have bothered me a little bit before that night I felt the need to take action. I took out my phone and started typing all of these ideas about an all-female performed, produced, engineered, mixed and mastered album. I even starting making a list of women I wanted to work with right there, at Madison Square Garden.

I sat on the concept for a year because I just started a grown-up music project Joanie & Matt (coincidentally, music from THAT project was inspired by the #MeToo movement). In March of 2019, I had lunch with Lucy Kalantari and whispered my idea for an all-female album for kids and she said she was actually looking to produce someone and liked the idea. It was the meal that changed everything. With that conversation I went home and over the next three months wrote all the songs from the album. In July, we started recording at her studio. Often, I would walk directly out of the court house during my divorce trial and head over to Lucy’s to record. The entire process was emotional and cathartic all at the same time.

Rockmommy: The last time we chatted you had a kids’/family record! Is ‘All the Ladies’ for the mamas (or can kiddos listen along too)?

Joanie Leeds: For the past 10 years I have written kids songs focusing on the 2- to 5-year-old audience. While my own 4-year-old loves all the songs from “All the Ladies” as well as many other under 5’s who have heard the tunes, I really wrote these tunes with older kids in mind. While the album non-apologetically carries themes of feminism through out, it is not just for young girls and women. It’s for every age and all gender identities. Someone once asked me, “What about the boys? I answered, “Anyone who has ever had a mother, sister, grandmother, aunt or a daughter will find value and joy in songs that honor and respect their family.”

Rockmommy: You relied on other females to make your record. I gotta say, even in NYC, it is damn hard to find women (other than singers and guitarists) for the purposes of collaboration. Why was that so important to you? 

Joanie Leeds: EXACTLY! I wanted to challenge myself and I couldn’t do it alone. Lucy put all of the instrumentalists together. I had a list of singers in mind but she did an incredible job finding string players (Nelly Rocha, Libby Weitnauer) a bass player (Caylen Bryant), percussionists/drummer (Rosa Avila, Lisette Santiago, etc)… I had been playing with an all-male band for 10 years and whenever one of them couldn’t play a show and I needed a sub, I would ask for their short list — it would ALWAYS be ALL men. I was just sick of it. The only way to bring women into the room and into the conversation is by making change, shaking things up. I say this with my own band in mind but it’s true of ANY profession, at any level.unnamed

Rockmommy: Can you tell us more about the virtual live show on Friday?

Joanie Leeds: One of the singers on the album, Tina Kenny Jones, reached out to me after my album launch concert (and entire tour) was canceled due to COVID-19 and suggested I hold an online music festival. I called up my publicist right away and was like ‘Do you think it will work?’ After I heard a big yes, I asked all of the singers on the album and they were all in too! It’s been a wonderful thing for me to throw myself in to help take my mind off the crisis here in NYC. I need to stay busy. Between creating all the artwork, media, taking zoom tutorials and all the logistics of producing an online festival, and telling the world about it, it’s been quite a ride already. It will be Friday April 3, featuring all the incredibly talented ladies below: 12:30-4 pm EST on the @alltheladiesmusicfestival page on Facebook.

Rockmommy: How are you making time for music with the kids home?

Joanie Leeds: It is NOT easy. With deadlines looming and online concerts to prepare for and perform each day, every moment of each day is a balance. The day usually starts out with ‘school’ and playing in ‘centers’ and then eventually I have to get work done. Sometimes that is an epic failure and the iPad comes on so I can practice or hold an online show and sometimes, my daughter surprises me by building or playing solo with toys in her room. It’s not easy being one on one but we have a lot of fun with daily dance parties (tonight was Phish, last night was Tom Petty, most nights it’s Brandi Carlile. We love screaming and playing cowbell out the window at 7 PM to send love to the first responders.

Rockmommy: What words of advice or inspiration can you offer to your fans and rocker mamas in NYC and beyond?

Joanie Leeds: Maybe this comes with age but to the all the amaaaazing rocker mamas, I am most recently living in a constant state of NOT GIVE ANY *&^%s. I don’t know if it’s being in your 40s and finally knowing who you really are or if it’s being a mother, but I couldn’t care less about what anyone thinks of me and at the same time, I have never been as comfortable in my own skin as I have been over the past few years, gray hairs, readers and all.

For the kids: When I was in middle school, the kids gave me a very hard time at school as well as my sleep away camp. As a result, I had little confidence and was filled with anxiety about just showing up at school or entering a room. I know it’s cliche to say but it does get better. To all the kids struggling, there are many things I would to say. First, believing in yourself can only come from within so find the things you love about yourself and share those things with the world. Do your best not to compare and despair. Elevate your friends by cheering on their accomplishments and always try your best to make everyone feel included, even when it’s not the popular thing to do. As it relates to the album, I want to see young girls putting themselves out there more with the confidence that you can be ANYTHING — raise your hands and help each other out. It’s important to stick together. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Bilingual Music Mama Flor Bromley Brings Virtual ‘Fiesta’ into Your Home

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

If the last few weeks has taught me anything, it’s that I still need love and joy — and music. Like most other parents, I’m stuck mostly indoors with my kids, engaging in the once-unthinkable balance of homeschooling and working. Trying to stay sane. 

So when I heard that musician mama Flor Bromley, a bilingual singer-songwriter and guitarist, had released some fun, family party music — I could not have been more ecstatic! Flor’s new single, “Fiesta de los Globos” is a celebratory song, sung in Spanish and infused with horns, keys and an aura of springtime joy.

Flor Bromley_9_photo credit Carmen Steven

Flor Bromley

“The world needs hope,” Flor tells Rockmommy. “Kids essentially need a sense of normalcy. They need to know that everything will be ok, even through changes, so why not release stress and turn it into a big party, a big balloon party with our families to celebrate togetherness, to celebrate unity?” 

This week, the mother of two — 4-year-old and an 8-month-old — took a break to chat with us about her new single, and the importance of celebration and culture. 

In addition to the new single and a forthcoming album, the mother of two — ages 4 and 8 months — is hosting bilingual musical story times for kids three days per week through her Facebook page: Kids can join Flor, her puppets, and her “Bonita” guitar to learn Spanish through music and stories for 30 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 11 a.m. EDT.

Rockmommy: Flor, I love your new song “Fiesta de los Globos.” Can you tell us about the creative process that inspired it? 

Flor Bromley: Thank you! I created this song right after doing a concert at a birthday party. There were so many balloons, and I decided that we should play with them and sing along, so I started the process of “Balloon Party” which is a song included in my upcoming album Fiesta Global that has the collaboration of Jazzy Ash on the vocals. The Spanish version “Fiesta de los Globos” was created especially to be released as a single because Spanish is my native language, and I wanted kids to enjoy this song in English and Spanish as well. After crafting the song, I decided to play it in NOLA jazz style because of the way the verses and the chorus were intertwined, and producer Sinuhe Padilla, who is also my musical director, helped me make that happen. I’m very happy with the outcome.

Rockmommy: New Orleans is an amazing city (I lived there for two years!) and your song takes me right back there. Who were some of your inspirations growing up?

Flor Bromley: Being Peruvian, you don’t get a lot of NOLA jazz there, but you do get a lot of cartoons, especially the old Walt Disney ones. The 4-year-old me, without knowing, was being exposed musically to Dixieland jazz from early childhood cartoons, and I feel it’s has been engraved in my musical brain since then. In my journey, I re-discovered this type of jazz in my early 20s when I went on a trip to Argentina. I was at a music venue, and the band started playing a NOLA inspired jazz number, and the sound just filled my soul, and I couldn’t stop moving. So I researched more about this music, and I fell in love with the ease of the style and the way it just makes you get up and dance. One of my favorite albums of this style is Louis Armstrong and the Dukes of Dixieland.

Rockmommy: Can you tell me why the song is exactly what the world needs right now?

Flor Bromley: The world is in an intricate state right now. Things are changing. Globally we are all together fighting a big virus that affects everyone in different ways. It’s time for hope. The world needs hope. Kids essentially need a sense of normalcy. They need to know that everything will be ok (even through changes), so why not release stress and turn it into a big party, a big balloon party with our families to celebrate togetherness, to celebrate unity? Which is also what the world needs. Unity.

Rockmommy: What else can you tell us about your upcoming album?

Flor Bromley: Fiesta Global will be released April 24. We have collaborations with Latin Grammy winner 123 Andres, Peruvian award-winning singer Damaris, and jazz family favorite Jazzy Ash. Fiesta Global is a celebration to dance around the world. Because there will always be music. Cultures use music and dance to heal, to mourn, to celebrate. With this album I want to celebrate our world, the different types of rhythms that live inside of us (the way NOLA jazz always lived inside of me since I was 4), and I want to give families a time to dance together, being united in the joy of music.

FlorBromley_FiestaGlobal_Cover_FIN

Flor Bromley’s new record “Fiesta Global” 

Rockmommy: What are some ways families can share traditions and culture and music during this difficult time?

Flor Bromley: This is the perfect time to be close as families, to learn more about each other, to teach your children things that you weren’t planning on doing. So, I encourage parents to research music, find new and old music, to use the best tool we can right now from our homes via the internet, and learn about our roots, learn about cultures, make new traditions and celebrate each other, having a big “Fiesta de los Globos”!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.