The life of a touring musician isn’t one for the faint of heart — it’s awesome, but frequently tough on mind and body, whether you’re gone for 10 days or 10 months. You’re always on the road, often far, far away from your home base and removed from your loved ones for long stretches. When parenthood happens, it’s even harder. Little ones are counting on you to be there for them — so when you’re home, you need to make every moment count.
For Louisiana bluesman Marc Broussard, the struggle of balancing kids and a full-time career as a touring musician isn’t always easy — but it is always worth it.
“Having kids gave me priorities outside of myself for the first time in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful,” he tells Rockmommy.
And speaking of kids, my own two little men (ages 6 & 7) love Marc’s latest studio album — A Lullaby Collection SOS III, which features a wealth of fun, reimagined classics (like “Danny Boy”) and lush, soulful scores (like “Bedtime,” our favorite).Broussard is also making his debut as an author with I Love You For You, a children’s book about inclusion, affirmation and appreciation for the special traits that make each one of us unique.
We recently caught up with him to talk about making the record, supporting important causes and carving out time for creativity.
Rockmommy: The lullaby record is so sweet and dreamy. How did it come about? Was there a moment when you envisioned creating this?
Marc Broussard: Rebekah Phillips and I have been friends for years and we’d spoken about doing a book together many times. In fact, it was on the plane home after our last visit with Rebekah and her husband that I got inspired and wrote the book on the flight!
Marc Broussard: A Lullaby Collection S.O.S. 3
Rockmommy: Lots of artists make records for younger audiences. How did you come up with the right “vibe” for an album for kids? (high energy vs. lullaby).
Marc Broussard: I had been looking for an opportunity to support this particular children’s hospital, Our Lady of the Lakes, and even though I knew I wanted to make an album for kids, I didn’t want it to be just for kids. I wanted to make a record that kids would like listening too that could also make the parents smile.
Rockmommy: You’re on tour now. How has your music evolved and shape shifted as your life has changed, since becoming — and growing as — a parent?
Marc Broussard: Everything about me is different than before I had kids, so much so that my wife has made comments about reflecting on my past behavior and snapped herself out of it with the thought, ‘Marc would never do that to me!’ Having kids gave me priorities outside of myself for the first time in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Rockmommy: You are involved in a number of philanthropic ventures. Can you talk about how you decided which organizations should benefit from sales of this record — A Lullaby Collection SOS III ?
Mark Broussard: As I mentioned before, I had been looking for an opportunity to support this newly opened children’s hospital from the moment I knew of its existence. It’s a fairly simple process, really. Identify an organization doing incredible work and support them. I don’t see that changing much in the future.
Rockmommy: It’s really tough for rock moms (and dads) — especially those who need other income — to balance being a musician and a parent. What is your best advice for them?
Mark Broussard: Money is nice but it can’t buy time. A singer friend of mine many years ago gave me some advice about getting some home-time. “Go home when you can, even just for a day. Go into debt if you have to.” I took that advice and made sure I got home as often as possible.
— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
I met Michele Stork sometime in 2007, right after I began teaching guitar at New York City Guitar School. I don’t remember our first conversation, exactly, as we sat sprawled across the living room floor of our friend Gail’s Manhattan studio. But I remembered the sparkle in her eyes when she spoke about her band, Loki the Grump, and her musical influences — Rollins Band, Murphy’s Law, and other hardcore-music mainstays in DC and NYC.
As a bonafide DC girl with a love of Henry Rollins and Murphy’s Law, I felt a special connection with Michele, which continued onto our tours. Every hardcore, punk and/or gravelly-vocalled band led us to rush the stage together. She’s still the only friend of mine who knows the words to my super-fast punk song “Strawberry Shortcake” (and has written alternate versions).
Michele, who works in the music business by day, brings the same love of hardcore and punk — and righteous, unforgettable lyrics — into all of her musical projects, from her former band Loki the Grump to her latest project (A)llerdings!, with her friend Joe De Sapio and husband Dietmar.
We caught up with her earlier this week to discuss her plans for getting creative in the near future.
ROCKMOMMY: How would you describe your music style?
MICHELE STORK: I’m all over the place when I write songs, but I definitely love to play punk of some sort. My very first band was avant-Garde punk, my second was goth punk, then ones all over the spectrum. The band I‘m most known for in the GRGR world was a bit on the pop punk side. The current trio for this show – (A)llerdings! – is really raw. Our friend Joe is an awesome guitarist, but my husband and I have not picked up our instruments in quite a few years so we are not so awesome… but we do have a load of fun so the fact that we are less than spectacular doesn’t really concern me!
Michele Stork (drums) with Joe & Dietmar of (A)llerdings!
ROCKMOMMY: What kinds of songs will you be playing at your next show? What instruments will you be playing, and who will be with you onstage?
MICHELE STORK: We’re playing a short fast set — some originals, some covers. I’m attempting drums and vox, Dietmar, my husband, is attempting bass, iPad and vox, Joe is killing it on guitar and vox.
ROCKMOMMY: Who is the most inspirational live performer you’ve seen lately?
MICHELE STORK: If I have to pick only one of my recent concerts, I’d have to go with Bob Mould! He’s as phenomenal solo as he is with a full band. Brilliant songwriter and guitarist!
ROCKMOMMY: The GRGR reunion show celebrates women in music — has a lot changed in the past 15 years, since Girls Rock & Girls Rule was founded, and female rockers became more visible?
MICHELE: Women are definitely more prominent as leaders in rock, and in many other genres, now more than ever. It’s pretty awesome to see the transition. However, we still have a LONG way to go. I’m hopeful it will truly get to the place where it’s just a PERSON who rocks as opposed to having to distinguish between genders.
Michele and Dietmar — lovers, spouses and players.
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?
MICHELE: “Making time” is exactly what you have to do. You can’t wait until you have time, it’ll never happen. You have to make that appointment with yourself and/or with others — put it on your calendar as a priority meeting — and stick to it as best you can. Even if it’s just one hour per week.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
It’s no longer revolutionary to see a woman slaying a guitar solo on stage, or a female-fronted band headlining a major tour or music festival. But when Gail Silverman founded Girls Rock & Girls Rule more than 15 years ago, women in hard rock genres tended to stay in the fringes, finding their home on alternative radio or within Lilith-type fairs.
But Gail, a rock singer and guitarist, wanted to flourish within the mecca of musicians and inspiration in her Manhattan home. But even there, so few women in bands could get the mainstream attention their male counterparts enjoyed: Even artists like Courtney Love and Alanis Morrisette — who so loudly and angrily dominated the 1990s — got sidelined for pop princesses.
So in a moment of glorious inspiration in 2001, Gail put together a rock show featuring only bands with one or more women in them. In the days that followed, Girls Rock & Girls Rule — better known as GRGR — was born. But after several good years — hundreds of shows featuring female rockers, two sponsored tours, and partnerships with leading vendors like Daisy Rock and organizations focused on women — the relentless challenge of city life took its toll, and GRGR went into hibernation.
Finding it harder and harder to put together lucrative shows with women and music as the core focal points, Gail turned inward and decided to take a break — and moved Florida in 2012 to channel the bulk of her energy on her career as a freelance marketer.
But the urge to give back to the women and her musical desires never ceased.
As rock enjoys a steady revival in nightclubs and airwaves, Gail started feeling the urge to rock again — and dusted off her trusty electric.
On February 15, Gail returns to the stage with her band G-Spot for the Girls Rock & Girls Rule Reunion show (2/15, at LP n Harmony, 683 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211), with new tunes and a fresh outlook.
Here, she tells us about what makes her motivated, and why nurturing the next generation of women in music is so critical.
ROCKMOMMY: How would you describe your music style?
GAIL SILVERMAN: My musical style has evolved a bit over the years, and with my band G-spot, it was rock, punk, pop. For the past several years, it’s shifted to I would call ‘alternative folk rock’ and the themes of my songs have shifted from ‘angry girl’ tunes and relationship-driven songs to more conscious musical scores, with introspective lyrics and messages. Though every now and then I still fall back to my roots. And I do like to include some humor whenever I can.
ROCKMOMMY: What kinds of songs will you be playing at your next show?
GAIL SILVERMAN: We will be playing a mix of classic G-spot songs with a very special guest on guitar who I am very excited about. That will be mixed with some of my solo material that I have written and released over the past several years. I will be on lead vocals and rhythm guitar and sharing the stage with my one of my best friends, band partner and bass player Donald Dixon, as well as Andrea Auerbach on drums and special guest Marisa Torrieri on lead guitar for a song or two. And of course I look forward to my other GRGR girls joining me on stage for some back-up vocals!
Gail Silverman, founder of Girls Rock & Girls Rule
ROCKMOMMY: Who is the most inspirational live performer you’ve seen lately?
GAIL SILVERMAN: I have not had the opportunity to see a ton of live music lately, but I was impressed with the all the representation of women at the Grammys this year, even though some of the music was not my go to listening style, including Alicia Keyes and Bonnie Raitt who never cease to blow by mind with their talents.
ROCKMOMMY: The GRGR reunion show celebrates women in music. Has a lot changed in the past 15 years, since GRGR took off, and female rockers became more visible?
GAIL SILVERMAN: I think women are starting to be more in the spotlight not only in music, but in the world in general, which I think is critical to changing the precarious state of the planet. However, I do still see a gap for women in the harder-rock genres and not a lot of representation there, and I know this is true in the country genre as well. It still seems the bulk of exposure for women in music is still in the pop genre. Of course, with Internet streaming changing the way we listen and discover music as well as social media, this continues to bring more opportunities to women and indie artists if you can find a way to break through the noise.
ROCKMOMMY: Being an independent artist isn’t always easy. What’s your best advice for making time to rock?
GAIL SILVERMAN: I can definitely relate to this statement, work-life balance and nurturing your creativity especially if you have other responsibilities. Since leaving NYC several years ago one of my biggest challenges is lack of inspiration from a creative community and I am looking to make a move this year. I tend to go in and out of concentrating on making music. I think the trick is to do your best make time and push yourself to pursue your creative endeavors even when you don’t really feel motivated. I always feel better when I sit down with my guitar whether I write something new or just rock out a bit. Another thing that has helped me is being part of a virtual community of songwriters called Songtown (modern technology has some upsides) and participating in workshops and co-writes as a way to keep me going. I don’t play out much these days (so am really excited about the upcoming GRGR show!) but I have learned some great techniques for songwriting even when you don’t feel inspired. I also participate in other creative activities, including sculpting, cooking and gardening, which help me keep in a creative flow.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
Do you remember the last rock-and-roll show where you were completely gripped by the intensity — the noise, the energy, and the catharsis — of the moment? The best bands deliver that experience consistently — but few deliver it with the same intimacy as NYC’s Thrilldriver.
Escape the Holiday Doldrums: Thrilldriver delivers your metal fix this Sunday (12/15/19) at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall, 8 p.m.
I’ll never forget my first Thrilldriver show at a packed dive bar in the Lower East Side, shortly after the band formed in 2015. The moment the five-piece launched into “Vicious” — a roaring arena-rock-style anthem loaded with Motley-Crue guitar riffs, thunderous rhythms, and Zoe “Pypes” Friedman’s soaring vocals — I was transported.
It was all grit and goodness, hair metal and reckless fury anchored down by a powerful rhythm section. And as I watched Zoe wield her goddess power like a pro, one thing became absolutely clear: I wanted more.
This weekend, Thrilldriver (whose members also include guitarists Tony Calabro and Michelangelo “Moxxxie” Quirinale, plus bassist Jamie “Fingerz” Garamella) returns to the spotlight for an intimate show in NYC at the second stage of the red-velvet-draped Rockwood Music Hall (Sunday, 8 p.m.). We caught up with Zoe and Michelangelo earlier this week to find out what’s in store.
Rockmommy: You’re based in New York. A city where musicians are disciplined but prone to distraction. How did you guys come together?
Michelangelo Moxxxie: Our guitarist/songwriter/producer Tony approached me about starting a hair metal band. We had known each other from teaching at New York City Guitar School. We both love all things rock and metal, so it seemed like a fun idea! While the initial concept was more tongue in cheek, once we got Zoe on board, it turned into a full-fledged band!
While each of us has our own influences, I think we all see Thrilldriver as a band that represents what we all love about great rock acts: Searing guitar playing, powerhouse vocals, and most importantly, great songs!
Zoe Pypes: I’d only ever performed in cover bands and (mostly) rock musicals, and while I fantasized about being a part of an original project, I had never written a song in my life and didn’t think it was something I could do. My initial audition was just for [guitarist] Tony, who had already written “Madeline.” I sang it for him in a tiny room at the Queens Guitar School. For the second stage I was asked to write lyrics and a vocal line over a demo and come sing it w/the full band. I was absolutely petrified, but my first stab at songwriting/co-writing, “Vicious,” has been a staple ever since! This band completely hijacked and rerouted my life away from theatre, but I always bring that world’s high stakes, drama and urgency to our songwriting and performance.
Rockmommy: Who are your favorite live performers and why?
MM: Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Ozzy (with any of his great guitar players), Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses. All these classic bands bring a certain “swagger” and larger than life persona to the stage. I also love super expressive guitar players such as Hendrix, Dave Gilmour, and Steve Lukather (Toto). Any type of sweet solo or riff will always pull me in haha.
ZP: This may mortify my bandmates, but I have three photographs of Steven Tyler on the wall at my piano where I warm up every day. He’s got this wild, frenetic energy I adore, and he doesn’t give a fuck. Not only is he still running around like a maniac, but he DELIVERS vocally to this day. If I could be Ursula the Sea Witch and steal anyone’s voice it would be Steven Tyler, Jack Black, or Dio’s.
There are also a few local artists that consistently inspire me with their live performances. Haley Bowery of The Manimals fills out her shows with drama, ritual, and community, which I really appreciate — each of her shows feels like a completely unique, cathartic experience. And the ladies of Mother Feather. They commit 100 percent to every second of every show, with so much attention to detail — using every inch of their bodies to communicate with their audiences, and using their platform to elevate and inspire their audiences.
Rockmommy: Can you describe the experience of playing music together — and/or the experience you hope to impart onto those who go to your live shows?
MM: I feel like we have such a great chemistry in this band, that our live performances sometimes feel nearly effortless (despite having to play some hard riffs and solos). Everyone goes out there and gives it 110% every show, so it’s easy to get pumped up every single time.
I hope that any of our audience members walk away feeling like they saw a true, raw, and powerful Rock n Roll show, played and sung by dedicated musicians who love to rock!
ZP: Currently a lot of my experience is wielding and harnessing energy. These songs and riffs amp me up so much and I love using my body in performance, but a lot of the vocal lines are challenging — sometimes I have to surrender to stillness and technique and focus in.
Something I think what separates us from a lot of bands and that I love is how much fun we’re having up there. When I’m busting my ass and one of the guys bangs out some insane solo it feels like a party i can’t believe I’ve been invited to.
My goal for the future is to focus more on the audience experience and what I want them to feel. I’ve been incredibly selfish so far and have just been hoping something sticks. Something for the next decade!
Rockmommy: The Sacha EP is brilliant — and features several of my favorite live Thrilldriver songs. What is the songwriting process like with you guys?
MM: Tony (Calabro) seems to the one the brings full-fleshed songs to the group (this was especially the case with the EP). I like to bring riffs and ideas that we can work on arranging into a full song. Zoe and Tony will work on the lyrics, and a few songs on our upcoming album are Zoe originals!
ZP: To this day, every time I introduce something to the group I’m nervous. Especially those on this upcoming record that I wrote from scratch. Tony came over to my apartment and I literally had to take a shot of whiskey at, like, noon to show even just him what I was working on. But Tony has this incredible ability to sift through all of our ideas and bring them together into a banger. A bridge for me here, a verse for Moxxxie there. But it is really a mix. Lyrically, most of the songs about love and rock n roll come from Tony. The songs about sex, drugs, fantasy, and people that suck come from me. Tony’s lyrics are always sincere and poetic and I tend to be more sarcastic and challenging.
Rockmommy: What kind of gear do you like and why?
MM: I like to use hot-rodded Fender Strats and Marshalls amps. No matter how polished and smooth the tone, the Fender Strat has a certain gritty sound that I love for all styles of playing, but especially rock n roll! I’ll usually throw in some kind of hot humbucker(s). In the case of my main Thrilldriver Strat, it’s a Suhr Aldrich. Also some of my favorite players (Hendrix, Gilmour, Clapton) used Strats.
The same goes for Marshalls. As a kid, I always lusted after the giant Marshalls stacks I saw in guitar magazines! So many of my favorite players used Marshalls, that I just always associated them with the sound of rock guitar! While I’m constantly trying other amps, there’s just this certain “Marshall roar” that I can’t seem to get away from. Plug into a cranked 100-watt head, strum a big fat open chord, and you’ll see what I mean haha.
For effects I use a Line 6 HX Effects. For years I was anti-digital and multifx, but they’ve come so far that I’d A/B’d the Line 6 unit with my favorite pedals, and couldn’t tell the difference! I also like the ability to save different settings and change around effects whenever I want.
Picks are Dunlop Ultex Sharps 1.14mm, and strings are D’Addario EXL110.
ZP: I couldn’t live without my JH Audio custom iems. They let the rest of the guys crank it up to 11 and I can still hear myself and do what I gotta do.
Rockmommy: You’ve been together for a few years. Has your music evolved or changed a bit with the second record?
MM: I feel like the EP is very “hair metal” in the best of ways haha. Now we’re more confident in our sound and identity, so I think that leads to branching out in terms of songwriting and guitar parts. Our second album exhibited a wider range of sounds, and I think our upcoming album is our biggest, most creative one yet!
ZP: I second that. God, I can’t wait to get this album out there. One, I feel like I’ve finally found my lyric “voice,” and the vocals in general have more style and point-of-view. And two, we’re starting to incorporate synth and more layers of production. To me, this album has more of an opinion and feels more specific and authentic to who we are as contemporary artists.
Rockmommy: Some of you are balancing a lot — bands, parenting, etc. — in addition to this band. What is your best advice on making it work? Please be specific, especially about the parenting stuff, which many of us are juggling!
MM: Coffee. Lots of coffee.
But seriously, I think that any discipline or passion in life it takes commitment and certain sacrifices. I watch my kids in the mornings and teach all afternoon into the evening. Sometimes this can be followed by a gig or rehearsal! That doesn’t leave a ton of time for practicing or writing, so I’ll try and pick up the guitar on any small breaks I have in between lessons. Or I just sacrifice a couple hours of sleep and practice with headphones after everyone in my apartment is in bed. Even though it can feel much harder these days, I think it’s really important that my kids see me doing something that I love and enjoy!
ZP: I don’t know how Jaime and Moxxxie do it. One second I think I’m busy as hell, thinking that there’s no way I’ll get it all done, and then I remember my two bandmates that have not one, but two children AND successful marriages. And then they show up to practice completely focused and seemingly serene. “Relationship goals” right there.
It is admittedly hard to get all 5 of us in a room at the same time with everyone’s schedules, which can be frustrating, but we tried something new last night which I loved — we came to practice with a super specific game plan and were able to really milk a lot out of just 2 hours. And surprisingly, having a super structured practice led to some creative developments and changes. I think that’s part of what makes it work for everyone who’s so busy. We don’t amble in late and dick around for 4 hours. We’re all respectful of each other’s precious time, do our homework, and work efficiently.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
As the editrix of a mommy blog, I hear a lot of peppy indie rock. And so much of it is (lyrically, at least) inspired by remarkable, fun ideas — say, songs about flying a rocket ship to Mars or songs about breakdancing with dinosaurs. Yet it’s the mundane stuff — the everyday activities — which parents and music partners Andrew & Polly believe are worthy of their own anthems.
Andrew & Polly
Thus, the musical duo’s latest record “Go for the Moon” is filled with songs about the silliness of normal life — from falling off chairs(“Chair School”) to watching scuba divers swim (“Aquarium”). Each track is interlaced with a special surprise, be that tinkling keys, booming choruses or slide guitars and trombone jokes.
Recently, Rockmommy caught up with Andrew & Polly, to talk about the Los Angeles kindie-rock scene, and the constant juggle of parenthood, music and everything else (like their Ear Snacks podcast).
Rockmommy:The world is full of so many would-be musical partners. How did you guys meet?
Andrew & Polly: Polly was making a record in college and rehearsing in a dorm room with one of Andrew’s friends. Andrew asked him to ask her, “Does she need any keys?” Seventeen years later, we’re still making music together!
Rockmommy: What was the inspiration behind ‘Go for the Moon?’
Andrew & Polly: Family life is magical, difficult, and ridiculous all at the same time — this collection of epic anthems is inspired directly from the absurdity and delight we find in our everyday lives. Childhood and parenthood alike take a good dose of aspiration and a whopping spoonful of humor, and we hope this record can be a soundtrack for many different kinds of little adventures.
Rockmommy: You’re proud parents of Izzy and Gertie — what’s it like balancing parenthood with a career in the arts?
Andrew & Polly: Balance? Ha! We try and keep a little space between work and family, but for us there’s obviously a lot of cross-pollination between the two. “Chair School” is now a catch phrase in our home (where people fall out of chairs on the regular), and “Mom’s Name” (co-written by the incomparably hilarious Mike Phirman) was based on a real life preschool drop-off. Gertie, Izzy, and even Polly’s dad volunteered to be on this record, but they’re not part of our social media, and that’s probably the best way we keep a balance between work and family — by trying to keep our phones away when it’s time to play.
Rockmommy: Tell us about the Los Angeles music scene. How would you say your live show compares with that of others?
Andrew & Polly: LA has a rad kids music scene, and we’re honored to fill a little Westside niche of it. Two incredibly wonderful LA-based kids musicians are featured on “Go for the Moon” — our new music pal Mike Phirman and our longtime collaborator Mista Cookie Jar. Our shows range from intimate duo shows to large stage-rocking ensemble events, but we always make sure our concerts are interactive and tailored to the vibe of the space and the audience. We love taking a big stage with bass, drums and trombone, but more often than not we get to singalong right up close and personal with an acoustic set for curious young ears interested trying out Polly’s ukulele or Andrew’s glockenspiel.
Life in LA is a bit odd though — it’s a complicated and beautiful city, not just a place for fun celebrity-sightings. We even included a song about it on this record, “Circus by the Sea.”
Rockmommy: What is your favorite song on the new album and why?
Andrew & Polly: That’s like choosing your favorite child! No fair, we can’t do that! We’re super proud of this record and the “Go for it!” feelings each song elicits in a different way. But a couple songs worth mentioning… “Mom’s Name” a collaboration with Mike Phirman is about a real parenting milestone and based on a true story (like so many of our songs). Once you start toting your toddler all over town, you end up meeting a lot of great people — but you just don’t know their names. Instead it’s like this: “Oh, do you know what Ollie’s dad told me yesterday at the park?” And “When you see Frankie’s mom tomorrow, could you give her these pants back?” This song is a humorous deep-dive into that oof-ful truthful parenting rite of passage in which you find yourself asking, “But who is that lady? And who even am I?”
Another favorite on the record has to be “Chair School,” featuring Mista Cookie Jar. Actually, both of these songs were long-fought logical battles that required incredible teamwork to bring them into existence! Maybe that’s why they are faves. If you’ve ever seen a kid just… BAH! Fall out of a chair! You’ll understand this quirky tangent of a song about a fictitious place where everyone can learn to “Chair!”
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.
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.
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).
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, aBoomerang. 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’sdrummer — 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.
To say that miracles happen is almost an understatement for producer, musician and dad Don Cherel. When Cherel found out his wife was expecting twins in October 2017, he was over the moon that they’d be expanding their family. But then his world came crashing down when he was told that one or both of the girls would not survive due to Fetal Hydrops. Between December and February 2018, he struggled to keep the faith as he feared the worst.
But then, something different happened. In February 2018, the Cherel family received the news that the hydrops had “miraculously” disappeared.
The emotional roller coaster and Cherel’s gratitude led him back to his guitar, and in March, the song “Miracles Happen” came to life. Three months later, in June 2018, his twin daughters were born.
Of course, it isn’t lost on Cherel that he’s incredibly lucky because devastating things happen to real families every day. But he hopes that his song is a testament to the power of music and writing — not only as an outlet to get through a difficult time, but as a way to channel emotions and celebrate all that is good.
Cherel recently caught up with Rockmommy to share his heartwarming story.
[You can download the single “Miracles Happen” here].
Don Cherel: I wrote the song “Miracles Happen” during an extremely difficult time for myself, my wife, and two sons. It was March of 2018 when I sat down at the piano to write a song about what our family was going through: We found out we were having twins the previous October, and told one or both would not survive that December due to Fetal Hydrops — and then, in February, we were told that miraculously the hydrops disappeared! Our twin girls were born in June of 2018. We’re planning their first birthday now.
The song was an emotional journey that I had to express musically. Music has always been my fundamental communicative art form. There’s something about an emotional and poetic expression wrapped in a rhythmic mathematical construct that has always felt naturally expressive to me.
I’ve worked on hundreds of tunes professionally working at a production company but this one had far more personal gravitas. This song contains so much personal pain, fear and triumph culminating into a story of hope, I had to express those emotions musically. I’ve always dealt with tragedy and devastation even joy through songwriting. I suppose, for me, songwriting is a way to internalize, realize then materialize all the human emotions I’m processing with a tangible keep sake at the end. Praying got us through the stresses of the experience, the song is sort of the documentary that describes it.
Don Cherel with his twin daughters, who inspired the single ‘Miracles Happen’
Rockmommy: Have you always been a believer in miracles or more of a skeptic?
Don Cherel: To say I’ve always believed in miracles would be inaccurate. The older I get the more I realize there are certain instances I can’t explain logically. I would consider myself a logical person approaching most instances with ration and logical thought, however this time was very different. Ration and logic did little to help face the paralyzing fear of a grim prognosis. My wife and I were devastated because the doctors told us one child (Baby B) wouldn’t survive and there’s a good chance Baby A would meet the same fate. We have two boys and our family was huddled together crying in the living room. They looked up at me and asked “Daddy, will it be ok?” No ration or logic is going to suffice in that instance. We started praying for a miracle and a few months later we got one. I am now 100 percent a believer in miracles.
Rockmommy: So many devastating things happen to people — why is music, songwriting specifically, such a helpful channel?
Don Cherel: It is an unfortunate truth that as human beings we witness and experience devastation. I can’t logically, rationally or accurately explain all the reasons behind human devastation but I know what it feels like. I also know what hope feels like, and not just empty hope but hope that comes to fruition. To live through that experience formed in me a story I had to tell through song. Why a song? I think songs have the ability to describe and communicate emotions we couldn’t otherwise articulate, at least that’s what happens to me. For some reason those 12 pitches when arranged correctly can evoke in us the deep, deep feelings.
Don Cherel: How do you make time to write?
Rockmommy: I’m not sure I make time to write as often as I should. I primarily compose on guitar and have a recording studio in our barn. Guitars are always hanging on the wall or leaning on a piece of furniture so whenever I have something to say I pick one up to see what will come out. I try and play everyday, sometimes 20 minutes sometimes a few hours but I’m always writing.
Rockmommy: What message do you hope to pass on to other parents?
Don Cherel: The message I hope to pass on to other parents is the same message that was passed on to me: hope. My wife and I have a friend who knew of a family in a very similar situation and their child was diagnosed with Fetal Hydrops, told the baby wouldn’t survive yet was born and had just turned 12 months old. We don’t know why certain things happen to certain people but the more people I talk to the more we agree, miracles are happening everyday. This just happens to be our miracle story.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.