The Green Orbs’ Heather Hirshfield on Music, Videos and Raising Teenage Girls

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The Green Orbs’ music is infectious and silly, as in laugh-out-loud silly — and that’s exactly what the band, made up of brother-sister duo Heather Hirshfield and Eddie Rosenberg III, want you to do. Don’t believe me? Just watch the carnival-worthy “Mr. Mustache,” and you’ll agree. We sat down with Hirshfield, a piano teacher and mom of three, to get the scoop on the band’s upcoming release, Thumb Wrestling Champions (out September 7). 

Green Orbs_ukes_photo credit Nicole Michaelis

The Green Orbs

Rockmommy: You have an amazing musical background! What did you listen to growing up?

Heather Hirshfield: I listened to a wide variety of music growing up. My parents had a really cool domed-top deco record player and a huge collection of records and 45s that we listened to on a daily basis. The Beatles were very popular in the house, but we also listened to Billy Joel, Paul Simon, The Beach Boys, Beethoven, Mozart…..gosh, really so many great artists and composers to list! When I received my own record player as a present, I listened to a lot of musical soundtracks like Grease and Annie, and also Disney storybook records. My sister and I loved to put on The Monkees and dance around our room. We really were constantly listening to music. Music was, and continues to be, a huge part of my life.

Rockmommy: Before the Green Orbs, did you play other music? What was that like?

Heather Hirshfield: As a kid, I played piano, and played marching trombone in the marching band. I enjoyed both immensely, but I gave both up when I went to college which in hindsight was a huge mistake. After having my children, I started playing piano again and remembered how much I loved it. I did not really perform anything, though, until my brother and I started The Green Orbs.

Rockmommy: I read a bit about how you and your brother got started — can you tell me about how your latest collection of songs came about? Was there an inspiring idea/theme?

Heather Hirshfield: Our new album “Thumb Wrestling Champions” is the end result after many, many years of work. We were just writing different fun songs over the years, until we realized we had enough for an album! There is no overarching theme, but many of the songs were inspired by my girls, either through stories that I told them when they were little, or by something that they may have said.

Rockmommy: Let’s talk about video for a second. In the era of YouTube, having a video that connects to your audience is super important. How do you come up with the concepts for the video? Do you and Eddie sit around and brainstorm? Do you seek feedback from little ones on what connects?

Heather Hirshfield: We have been talking about videos a lot for this album! We haven’t had a brainstorm session specifically for videos … we just share ideas as they come to us. Personally, OK Go’s videos have been a huge inspiration for what is possible in a music video and I hope one day to be able to create a video as epic as theirs! As far as feedback, our niece and nephews are our sounding board right now.

Rockmommy: What are your most popular songs? is there a particular age group that connects with your music?

Heather Hirshfield: We have played some of our songs from the album for school children and “Doug the Bug” is always a huge hit. “The Suction Cup Shuffle” is also well-liked because it gets everyone up and dancing. We also have a group of songs in the YouTube Audio Library, and an instrumental song called “Splashing Around” that my brother wrote is hugely popular!

I think that kids 3-12 will really enjoy “Thumb Wrestling Champions,” but, of course, we hope that anyone who listens to it will enjoy it!

Rockmommy: You have three daughters! How old are they? What are some of the challenges you have with balancing motherhood and making music and everything else?

Heather Hirshfield: My girls are now 18, 16, and 13, and it is still a struggle finding time to do anything! I am so fortunate to be able to work out of my home as a piano teacher and musician for the last few years so I am here when they need me. On the other side of that, though, I really had to work on setting boundaries with them and letting them know that I can’t drop everything to get them a snack when I am working on something on the computer. It was also hard for me to realize that what I was working on was important and that I didn’t have to be at my kids’ beck and call constantly.

Rockmommy: What advice do you have for other rock n roll playing mommies (and daddies)?

Heather Hirshfield: My advice would be to always do what you love and remember that it is important that your kids see that you are passionate about whatever it is that you are doing, whether it be work or a hobby, so that they will have the desire to go out and find their own passions.

For more, check out the band’s social media feeds: Facebook, Instagram & Twitter

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Stay-at-Home Rockin’ Dad Gunnar Madsen on Parenthood & New Projects

This month, Rockmommy talks to rocker dads about music and work-life balance. Here, we chat with Gunnar Madsen about his new projects (including a new video co-created by his 15-year-old son) and parenthood. I Am Food Cover 300 Square
 

Rockmommy: What do you love best about being a dad?

Gunnar Madsen: I love working on being a better dad all the time. The idea that there is no end to parenting used to scare me – in school or in work, every project has a due date, or a production, or has a finished product. But the growth of a child is never-ending, it presents constant new challenges, things I could never have imagined. And the learning goes on and on, no due date, no completion. That’s an amazing teaching to get ahold of.

Rockmommy: Tell me about your latest musical project,  “I Am Your Food”  — how did it come about?

Gunnar Madsen: I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for all of my son’s school years (he’s 15 now). Parenting took up much of my time, but in spare moments I dreamed of my next album, and I had the idea that it could be about food (which I love). I wrote some of the songs from this album over the course of many years. It’s only in the past 2 years, as my son matured and required less of my time, that I was able to focus on bringing this album to fruition – finishing up the writing of the songs, recording them, and preparing to launch the project.

Rockmommy: Has your music changed since you became a dad? If yes, how so?

Gunnar Madsen: I think the things I’m learning from fatherhood, like patience, generosity, and a greater awareness of myself and who I am, are coming through in my creative life. I’m still writing funny, sometimes goofy, songs, but I sense a different spirit in them.

Rockmommy: What’s it like trying to balance music with parenthood? Are there other factors in the mix — e.g., time with a spouse or partner, a day job to pay the bills, etc.?   Is your partner involved in the music project?

Gunnar Madsen: The main shift in my music career came when our son was born. It was not reasonable to go on tour and leave my partner at home alone with the care of a baby. And I didn’t want to be away, — the gravitational pull of fatherhood kept me at home. I continued performing locally, but over time my desire to perform diminished. I found that I was happiest just writing music at home, and left the stage. Luckily, being a stay-at-home composer and a stay-at-home dad work pretty well together. My partner is not involved in my music – she’s has a store she runs with her mother, antiques and fine things for the home and such, which has paid the bulk of our bills over the past years. But I trust her opinions very much, and share everything I’m working on with her to see what she thinks.

Rockmommy: What’s your advice to other rockin’ dads?

Gunnar Madsen: If you’ve got to rock, you’ve got to rock. It’s not like I made a decision to become a musician. It was a calling, a fire burning inside, that wouldn’t allow me to do anything else. It has maybe saved my life, it’s a joy, and it’s also caused a heap of trouble and pain. I can imagine a whole lot of easier ways to get through life, but this is the only way I know how to do it 🙂 In the end, I’m grateful for having such a passion.

Gunnar Madsen on Fire (1)

— Marisa Torrieri is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

Camp Crush’s Jennifer Deale on Parenthood, Music, Feminism and Carving Out a New Sound

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Camp Crush, the musical incarnation of husband-wife duo Jennifer Deale and Chris Spicer, pushes out powerful, soaring, synth-driven pop-rock songs with such conviction that you’d think they’d been doing this forever. 

But as it turns out, when they burst onto Portland, Ore., music scene ten years ago, they were a pared-down folk-music act with a large local following. They could have continued on like that indefinitely, but a few years ago, something shifted. “I started getting really into synth and pulling in vintage pads, old patches, and new iPad patches,” Jennifer recalls. 

Shortly thereafter, the decision was made to let go of their old project and create Camp Crush. 

And while every musician remakes herself now and then, staying relevant and migrating an established fan base to a new sound — while raising two young children — wasn’t an easy feat. Jennifer felt out of balance and overwhelmed as she struggled to juggle a full-time job at a high-tech company with family life, music, and learning the ropes of parenthood. 

The decision to let go of the day job wasn’t an easy one, but for Jennifer, it was absolutely essential to her entire being. In putting motherhood and music first, everything shifted, and today she parents two kids (a son and a daughter) and creates music with refreshing zeal. 

In March, Camp Crush premiered “November Skin,” the first track off their brilliant EP She’s Got It (out May 18) which gives me serious nostalgia for my college goth-club nights. 

Recently, Jennifer sat down to chat with Rockmommy on rebranding her sound, being a mom and living your truth.

 

campcrush-1030x687

Camp Crush

Rockmommy: So let’s talk about the evolution to Camp Crush. How did this come about? 

Jennifer Deale: So Camp Crush is my husband and I and we’ve been playing music together for 10 years and we obviously fell in love and started out playing music, and have done it in so many iterations — we had a folk band for a while, a blues band for a while — but Camp Crush is the band that we’re most connected to, that’s what’s most authentic to us. Chris has been a drummer since he was five, I’ve played piano since I was five. I started getting really into synth and pulling in vintage pads, old patches, and new iPad patches, and we’re trying to play these… and it was getting to a point where we’re like, ‘we’re folk but we’re 80s synth too.’

Rockmommy: Was the rebranding hard? 

Jennifer Deale: So we took a month off and rebranded everything. It was really hard because we do most of our stuff DIY so it was all about working crazy long on weeknights and doing Photoshop and making a music video. We lined up a brand new website, brand new merch, and did everything to get ready for our [debut]. You have to apply for Facebook to change your page, so once they flipped the switch, we went live with our new band. 

Rockmommy: What was that like? 

Jen Deale: It’s really cool because we spent so much time being intentional in what we wanted this band to look like and sound like. Taking that time off to focus on all of those pieces was great. As a musician I just want to think about the music, but from a fan’s perspective … I want the whole package. We put out a single called “Take me Back.” Then we did a follow-up single called “Hometown Glory.” 

Rockmommy: So How do you do it all? And you’re a mom to grade-school-age kids, right? 

Jennifer Deale: We cancelled our Netflix a long time ago. Before I went full in the music thing, I had a big corporate job in Amazon. And I got to the point where I was like ‘I can’t pursue music to the level I want to pursue it and do this job.’ Being a mom is my priority — it’s a huge part of my day. So when I left my day job I was like, ‘I’m leaving a lot of money behind.’ But it’s a dream to get to do music. It’s a lot of late nights and we read Harry Potter and they go to bed at 8, and Chris is like ‘alright, what do we have to do?’ Chris will look at the calendar and go, ‘we have a free day on this day — we’re going to go on a day trip.’ We know there are big corporate jobs we could go back to, but this feeds us. 

Rockmommy: I didn’t realize you’d have to give up so much to do this. 

Jennifer Deale: Yes, absolutely. But I chose to be a mom. What am I trying to teach my kids in life? To take the most secure path? Or to follow your dream? It has been a lot less secure and a more of a scrappy lifestyle, but I see my kids a lot more.

Rockmommy: What inspired the subject matter in your music, your latest songs? 

Jennifer Deale: As a woman in the music industry, I’ll play a show and with three or four bands on the bill and I’ll be the only female onstage the whole night. And ‘November Skin’ was inspired by an experience after a show, when a man pulled me aside and said, ‘I really think you’ve got it!’ And then he went on to tell me things I should improve on to get further into the music industry. So I wanted to talk about this unrealistic expectation of people for women to be something specific.

Rockmommy: How do your kids respond? Are they into music? 

Jennifer Deale: I think the kids are understanding all of these things … but they don’t necessarily think it’s super cool what I do. My kids both go to an arts-focused elementary school. They both sing and do the school choir. But my daughter is a visual artist, and my son is a coder. And that’s cool. Music is definitely part of our everyday life — we have pianos everywhere — it’s part of the essence of our home. I know when I was their age, you couldn’t pull me off the piano! My kids aren’t like that about music but they are like that about art and technology. 

Rockmommy: What advice do you have for other musician or artist parents? 

Jennifer Deale: Obviously as a mom you want to spend as much time with your kids as you can. But motherhood is also about being someone your kid to look up to. It’s not just about the quantity of time, but about you giving an example of being a more authentic version of yourself.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy. 

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

Cheri Magill and I have nothing in common.

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

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

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

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

Cheri Magill_3_ photo credit Brianne Heiner

Cheri Magill (Photo credit: Brianne Heiner)

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

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

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

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

Rockmommy: How old are they? Boys? Girls? 

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


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

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

Rockmommy: But do you still play in your house? 

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

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

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

Rockmommy: Any plans to tour with this album? 

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

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

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

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy. 

Shawn Colvin Talks Motherhood, Touring, and New Lullaby Album ‘The Starlighter’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

I came of age in the Lilith Fair era, in the late 1990s when guitar-wielding goddesses like Sarah Mclaughlin, Liz Phair and Shawn Colvin ruled alternative radio. I remember the summer when the latter, Colvin, got her big break with the popularity of “Sunny Came Home,” a twangy, folksy tune uplifted by pretty vocal inflections. The hit single, from the 1996 album A Few Small Repairs, put Colvin on the map as a powerful singer and storyteller — and earned her a couple of Grammy awards (for “Record of the Year” and “Song of the Year”).

Shawn Colvin 492 by Joseph Llanes

Shawn Colvin

Fast forward 20 years, the etherial-voiced songstress’ musical catalogue and fan base has expanded, even as radio trends like emo or millennial pop have wavered and waned. In the years since “Sunny,” Colvin’s creative musings have also expanded. In 2013, she exposed her grit through her audio biography “Diamond in the Rough: A Memoir,” and an unexpectedly brilliant, moody folk collaboration with songwriting legend Steve Earle around the same time. In early 2000’s, she gifted the world with her first children’s record, Holiday Songs and Lullabies, shortly after becoming a mom (to daughter Caledonia). 

A sense of maternal creativity seems to be inspiring Colvin again. Her latest album The Starlighter — available exclusively through Amazon Music — features songs adapted from the children’s music book “Lullabies and Night Songs.” The record is jazzy and hypnotic, Colvin’s voice equal parts smoky and sweet as the listener is gently eased into a dreamlike state. I’m particularly fond of “Raisins and Almonds,” a delightful, slowed-down carnival song. 

The album features some pretty neat technology perks, too —  lyrics stream as the song plays from a device (great for mamas and papas who like to sing along), and there’s a visual video companion (members of Amazon Prime or Amazon Music can stream the video here), which babies are sure to love. 

We recently caught up Colvin in the midst of her March 2018 tour with crooner Lyle Lovett, to chat about her new record, motherhood and life in general. 

The Starlighter cover artRockmommy: How’s the tour with Lyle Lovett going? Do you find it any tougher to go out on tour now than it used to be?

Shawn Colvin: Performing with Lyle has been delightful. I’m such a fan of his and thoroughly enjoy playing and singing with him. Touring for me is as much or more fun than ever. Every day I am grateful for my work.

Rockmommy: Let’s talk about your new lullaby album The Starlighter — you said it’s a companion record to a children’s record you made 19 years ago! Now that you’ve been a mom for just as long, how do you think your perspective or inspiration has shifted?

Shawn Colvin: It hasn’t changed a lot — I’m just very connected to the music book of lullabies these songs are taken from. It’s called Lullabies and Night Songs. It was a gift to me when I was 8 years old. I love the arrangements by Alec Wilder. I just hope folks of all ages will enjoy them as much as I have.

Rockmommy: Being a mom is all about balance — but balance is kind of an elusive concept to many of us. When your daughter was younger how did you unwind when your work/tour schedule was packed, you had a million career things to do/home things to do, and your child needed you? And is it any easier now that your daughter is an adult?

Shawn Colvin: When she was younger and I wasn’t traveling I just threw myself into her routine — taking her to school, packing lunches, spending a lot of time with her. Now that she’s older we still spend lots of time together — going out for dinner, hanging out. I go to her apartment a lot to visit and to see her awesome cat!

Rockmommy: Did you ever feel like you were missing out as you tried to make a living as a musician while being a mom?

Shawn Colvin: Yes, I did. It was painful at times. But my job involves travel and we both accepted that and adjusted to it. She traveled with me until she started school and when I was gone she spent time with her dad and other family members.

Rockmommy: Have you ever made music with your daughter? Or is she into other things?

Shawn Colvin: Yes! She asks me to learn songs she wants to sing and I do. So I play guitar or piano and she sings. She’s great! It’s a lovely thing to do together.

Rockmommy: Finally, what advice do you have for mothers who desperately want to balance music with motherhood — but also have a non-music career to worry about? Is there a secret to having it all, such as building in a day/time every week to be creative?

Shawn Colvin: Yes, I think having a schedule is important, a set time when you show up for writing, maybe in a specific place. It doesn’t have to be for a long time. Just something to keep you from getting rusty. I also found giving myself deadlines was helpful. Sometimes I burned CDs of works in progress and listened to them in the car. That helped me make headway with them and kept me inspired.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy. 

Rockmommy Jess Penner’s First Kids Record Proves You’re Never Too Old for ‘Imagination’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Before many of us had kids, life centered on long jam sessions with bands, and writing songs in uninterrupted spurts.

But Singer-songwriter Jess Penner — a self-described cheerful and cheeky, creatively ADD artist from Los Angeles, who was raised on a banana farm in Hawaii — did things differently. She became a mom in her very early 20s, after doing the band-and-tour thing with her husband in her late teens. And while she struggled with the same music-life balance that many rockmommies struggle with, that didn’t stop her from having the biggest career success of her life, as an artist and a producer.

Jess Penner 1

Jess Penner

Today, Jess is the mom of a 16-year-old and a soon-to-be 1-year-old, and she’s still killing it, musically. In addition racking up thousands of TV and film credits, not to mention her string of gorgeous indie-pop records, she’s carving a space for herself as an artist for all listeners, big and small. Her first children’s record — a lovely collection classic covers and indie tunes, flows effortlessly, note after note, inspiring listeners to indulge their creative sprits. Songs like the title track “Imagination” transcend age, and remind us that you can be an old soul while possessing the passion of a young idealist.

In August, Jess made time to chat with Rockmommy about her first kids’ recording, making music, life in LA.

Rockmommy: Can you talk about the inspiration for “Imagination?” Why did you want to make this record?

Jess Penner: The original idea for doing a kid’s record came from my publisher! Up until that point, I hadn’t thought about it at all. But then I started thinking about all of these iconic songs of my childhood, and how much I loved them.

Rockmommy: Can you talk about the songs?

Jess Penner: There are two originals — “Imagination” and “Forever in my Heart”— and interestingly I wrote these songs before I had the idea of a kids’ record. But until now, I didn’t have a record these could go on. “Imagination” is about trying to inspire other kids about the power of dreaming.

Imagination CD

Jess Penner’s new kids album “Imagination” out Aug. 11, 2017

Rockmommy: How being a mom at such a young age affect your music career?

Jess Penner: My husband and I have been touring since I was 16, when we stated out, and did that for five years. We had one last tour booked when I found out I was pregnant. And so I toured when I was six and a half months pregnant. And then we moved back to Hawaii… and spent about two years adjusting to regular life, and my husband got a regular job and built a studio. So then we started learning how to make records. That was probably the best decision we made because we had an infant, so we could record during the day when he was sleeping, or at night after he went to bed.

My husband and I moved to Los Angeles when our older son was 4, and that was difficult because all his family is in Canada and all my family is in Hawaii. But we felt we needed to be in a musical hub city. My husband is a drummer and produces and mixes records full-time. Between the two of us, we pretty much do all of it.

I really think that having a child helps you focus on what your goals are, and it helps you prioritize your time. Because I had less time, the time that I had I took more seriously.

Rockmommy: So, when did you go back to touring?

Jess Penner: My late 20s, early 30s, I started to get more inquiries because of my decision to get into licensing. I had a residency in Singapore, and little regional tours here and there. But I’ve never gone back to touring 200 dates a year. It wasn’t until I was 28 until I started performing live again.’ I really spent my 20s writing songs, and trying to establish myself, while being a mom.

Rockmommy: Who are some of your current musical inspirations? Has that changed? 

Jess Penner: In my early 20s, I was definitely more into the ‘shoe gazer’ stuff… like Weezer, Foo Fighters, Radiohead. I’m a ’90s girl, so I love all of that stuff. As a result, some of the early stuff I wrote in my first few years of self-producing was very emo and dark. But then, when I was 26 or 27, I was approached by licensing agent who pitched artists to brands, and asked, ‘would you ever be interested in custom composition for ads?” My husband was recording other bands, and that’s how we were surviving but my own music wasn’t doing much, so he started sending me briefs, like, ‘Dove Soap is looking for a new song, and they wanted it to be brief, light and happy.’ So being in this new realm forced me to craft for a target. Through that, I was allowed to play a role, to be an actress, so to speak, and learned to express myself many different ways. I became a lot more experimental.

Rockmommy: What is life like for you in the day to day in LA, as a mom and a musician? 

Jess Penner: My 16-year-old, I’m so proud of him. He’s one of the most compassionate, kind, and respectful kids. I think that’s because we’ve both been fortunate enough to be stay at home parents. We’ve been fortunate to have a really cool relationship with him. Even with the new baby, I thought, ‘how am I going to have time to be productive?’ But I’ve gotten more done in the last two years than I have in the previous four. I think it comes down to focus and drive. I have less time so I’m more focused on getting things done.

Rockmommy: What is your advice to other moms who play music? 

Jess Penner: Prioritize! I’m not good at letting people help me, but two weeks ago I hired someone to clean my house every other week, and it was so weird for me… I wondered ‘do I need this?’ and ‘Is this a reasonable expense?’ but as I get older and have more kids, I realize my time is worth more.

Rockmommy: This is your first kids’ record. Any plan to tour? 

Jess Penner: My plan is to see what the reaction is. It’s not my strategy to tour to build an audience. My desire is to tour to satiate a need — it’s not part of my business model to go out and make new fans touring. I’m really curious to see what happens with this! I would love to do some live streaming concerts. But yeah, we’ll just see!

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

Singer-Songwriter Joanie Leeds on Motherhood, Her Summer Tour & ‘Brooklyn Baby’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

While Brooklyn is a place where dreams are made for so many creative types — rockmommies included! — Joanie Leeds didn’t ever intend to move to the borough when she began her music career more than a decade ago.

Joanie_Leeds_Nightlights

Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights

Or, as Joanie puts it, “I was a true Manhattanite — I never thought I’d leave!”

It took a cool man (then boyfriend/current husband Dan Barman), who plays the drums for her band, to convince her to leave the cozy upper West Side digs she called home.

The move to the eclectic ‘melting pot’ of Williamsburg turned out to be one of the best decisions of her life. Six years later, Joanie’s made a solid name for herself — with her band Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights — in a part of the country that is saturated with talented artists. But perhaps the best thing to come out of her big move is the birth of her daughter, affectionately known as “Baby B,” nearly two years ago.

Unsurprisingly, motherhood completely changed everything in Joanie’s world. Still, she managed to squeeze in the time, between parenting and teaching music during the day, to write, record, and release her eighth studio album, Brooklyn Baby (which you can stream here), in May 2017.

While I could talk endlessly about my favorite individual tracks on Brooklyn Baby, the whole record is awesome — and that means a lot coming from someone who listens to children’s music several hours each week. It’s silly, energetic, filled with clever lyrics, and totally relatable — especially to anyone who’s spent time living in New York (it also helps that her voice, on tracks like “Ferry Nice,” reminds me of ’90s rockers like Liz Phair).

At first listen, Brooklyn Baby doesn’t sound like what you might think a kids’ record should sounds like. Joanie’s rich, pretty vocals and musical style give it more of an alt-pop, coffeehouse vibe. Only when you listen closely to the lyrics about stuff like “rainbow bagels from outer space” or hear bubbles and other random effects interspersed into songs like “Pizza” do you realize this would be something you could play in the minivan or on a playdate.

Joanie, who kicks off her summer tour on June 11, sat down with Rockmommy to share about her unexpectedly awesome life in Brooklyn, how motherhood has impacted her craft, and what she’s most excited about these days.

Rockmommy: So, Brooklyn Baby — what can you tell us about this record? What was it like moving to Brooklyn? Brooklyn_Baby

Joanie Leeds: Moving here, while it was difficult for me, it was really inspiring because it was a whole different vibe. It was a cool place to live. It was definitely different from Manhattan, and the Upper West Side. Becoming a mom, that in and of itself was really challenging. But I did get a really wonderful community. I’ve been teaching kids and singing to kids for over a decade, but becoming a mom gave me a whole new look into Brooklyn.

Rockmommy: Do you have a set age in mind when you write children’s music?

Joanie Leeds: When I first started writing children’s music, my first CD was called City Kid. I had 2- to 3-year-olds in mind. But as I started growing as a writer, I’ve started expanding on the ages that I write to. The cool thing is that the younger siblings, like the 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds, can listen to a record, and grow into it, while the older kids [get it] too. I put in little humorous, witty jokes … A lot of parents say it inspires some creative conversations, like with ‘Hipster in the Making.’ I think there’s songs I write where I have the kids in mind, and the kids get it. And then there are songs that go toward the parents. How I write is I come up with a concept or title, and I go from there. Like I knew I wanted to write a song about pizza, and I literally got out my recorder, and thought, ‘maybe I’ll make a song about pizza, and make it about things a kid thinks are funny,’ and that’s how I came up with the idea to include sound effects.

Rockmommy: How long did it take to write? What was your creative process like?

Joanie Leeds: I’m not one of those people who sits down every night and strums and writes music. I’m a little more regimented. I really need to be alone. In the past, I’ve gone to North Carolina to a cabin to write. Now with a daughter, I couldn’t go that far. The way that I have to work, now that I’m a mom, is that I have a very small amount of time where I can get things done, so I have to be really focused. I’m always struggling to find the hours to get things done. Writing songs for me is challenging. To get that creative time to do it is difficult.

Rockmommy: The song “Hipster in the making” caught my eye and ear right away, and it’s really funny. What kind of reception are you getting?

Joanie Leeds: Parents are very well acquainted with what a hipster is, but I’m hearing that the kids are listening to this song and they’ll ask their parents, ‘mom, can I be a hipster?’ [laughs]

Rockmommy: You’re a first-time mom, as of two years ago. How has that affected your songwriting or other aspects of musicianship?

Joanie Leeds: I’m always completely amazed when I hear parents say, ‘I did this today’ or ‘I did that today.’ It’s absolutely a work in progress. My husband and I play in the band together, and we have our own creative endeavors. I teach music at a nursery school every day to have some steady income. We have a babysitter who comes a few days a week. And whenever we are out of town, we find ourselves searching for babysitters on the road. For now, since our daughter is so young, it’s hard. My favorite time with our daughter is when we’re on the road. Because all we have to do is the show, and the rest of the time is ‘fun with the hotel’ or ‘fun on the road.’

Rockmommy: What’s cool about being a parent in Brooklyn, or a kid in Brooklyn, today?

Joanie Leeds: Brooklyn really is a melting pot. I think it’s really important to have exposure to every single type of race and religion, so kids can grow up with acceptance and compassion.

Visit Joanie Leeds’ website for summer tour dates near you, or check out her YouTube channel to watch videos with your kids. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.