Lucy Kalantari: On Motherhood, Music and Feeling Thankful

Lucy Kalantari — a smoky-voiced New York singer who writes adorable, jazzy cabaret tunes for kids and grown-ups — has been busy cooking up new music. The #rockmommy of musical son Darius, 7, is also the subject of this month’s interview with our correspondent Rew Starr. 

See what she’s been up to, and take a minute to check out her musical videos, one of which features her little man on cello. 

Lucy Kalantari

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

Lucy Kalantari: Hi ReW! I’ve been alright, all things considered – hanging in and cherishing all the good and beautiful things. Besides helping my son with remote learning, wiping groceries down (I still do that!), I’ve been teaching, mentoring and writing.

http://smarturl.it/4yh4vl

Rew Starr: So when did you know your amazing son was a musical protégé?

Lucy Kalantari: HAHA I try to avoid the “p” word. 😉 He’s been so very musical since he was in my belly. The first time I felt him move was during a live show in NYC. It was the most beautiful flutter I had ever felt! As a baby he’d hum and sing, musicking his way through his days. When he chose the cello as his instrument at 2.5 years old was when I realized how immensely connected he is to music, and I also realized how much trouble I was in!

Rew Starr: What was it like GOING TO THE GRAMMYS???

Lucy Kalantari: I woke up and did yoga that morning before the makeup and hair artist came to prim me up. I loved watching my husband and son getting ready too. Walking the red carpet and doing interviews was really sweet to do with my son. One of my favorite parts was running into Linda Perry on the elevator!!!!

Rew Starr: What was it like WINNING????

Lucy Kalantari: UNREAL! It’s still hard to believe, even when I look at the statuette! I gave a good heartfelt scream when the presenter, my good friend Kalani Pe’a, announced my band. Then my focus was making sure I said the things I wanted to say in my speech, and the rest … is a total blur.

Rew Starr: Are you making any new music?

Lucy Kalantari: Yes! In early October, I released a song for the Halloween season, called “Haunting Days of Halloween”. It was so much fun to do! It really fed my Halloween spirit during these strange times. I wrote and arranged the song, recorded my parts in my home studio, then my musicians recorded their parts remotely and sent them to me. I edited everything together and my mixing engineer did her stuff. I’m super happy with how it came out!

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

Lucy Kalantari: I’ve been performing live-stream shows from home here and there. It’s been really great to stay connected this way. The most exciting show was for Kennedy Center!! THE Kennedy Center! We had been scheduled to do a live show in person, and due to COVID-19, everything was canceled. Until they contacted me again at the beginning of the fall saying it’s back on––as a pre-recorded remote show! I really wanted to bring the same performance to viewers that we would’ve brought in person. I had a set designer create the stage, my jazz cats in costume, as well as a string section with my son and a 17-year-old exceptional violinist, and we recorded a fun, socially distant, backyard Halloween concert!

[SEE RELATED: Rockmommy Joanie Leeds’ New Record and Message of Empowerment Celebrates ‘All the Ladies’]

Rew Starr: Are there any other projects you’d like to share?

Lucy Kalantari: Just before the pandemic hit in the US, I had finished producing an album for artist Joanie Leeds. It’s her 9th children’s album and the first time I produced someone else! It’s been a gift that keeps giving, even during these times. Joanie is a great songwriter, and she wanted to create an album that empowers young girls and ladies, singing about breaking glass ceilings and about gender equality. I arranged, engineered and played a few things on it. The whole project is performed by and (mostly) made by women, and has been getting really wonderful attention in all the best ways.

Rew Starr: What’s something we don’t know about you?

Lucy Kalantari: Random, I learned how to swim as an adult! Before I became pregnant with my son, I was determined to learn to swim and joined a gym. I’d spend time watching close-up videos of Michael Phelps to see his breast stroke technique. My husband says I’m a “slow-motion Michael Phelps.” I still need to master treading water though…

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

Lucy Kalantari: Thank you Rew! I love being a mom and I love music – I absolutely adore that I get to make music with my son.

Rew Starr is a musician, actor and mom who lives in New York City

D.C. Indie Rocker Erin Frisby on Ecdysis — and Navigating the Uncharted Territories of Love and Inspiration

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

It’s a struggle to think of a single word that captures the essence of Washington, D.C.-based musician and activist Erin Frisby. 

She’s brave, and refuses to let her life be defined by heteronormative standards. She’s passionate, as evidenced by her round-the-clock efforts in promoting equal opportunities for female musicians through her grassroots non-profit This Could Go Boom! (TCGB!). And she’s curious. Every new guitar pedal is an opportunity for exploration, a path to a new riff.

Yet while it is seemingly impossible for me to think of the perfect word to describe a musician I’ve known half my life, Erin already has one. 

Ecdysis. 

The term, which rolls beautifully off the tongue, refers to the process of shedding old skin, like a reptile. It’s also, metaphorically speaking, the most fitting description of Erin’s current state of existence.

To that end, it is the most fitting title for her debut full-length solo record —an intimate collection of eight songs, which highlight the artist’s poignant songwriting, storytelling, and stunning, sunny vocals. 

“With ecdysis, you’re retaining your shape, but at some point the space you’re living in has become cramped and unrecognizable,” says Erin, recalling the moment she discovered the term. “Over the course of creating this album over the last couple of years, I discovered that I was gay. But I was married to a man.”

Striking a Chord

The first time I met Erin Frisby, many moons ago at a party in College Park, Maryland, I was told I’d dig her. “She’s a singer, and she’s into punk and stuff,” my friend Greg told me beforehand.

Of course, he was right. The moment I met Erin I dug her, though admittedly I was a little intimidated by her angelic beauty and perky demeanor. We chatted like two old pals for at least an hour, beers in hand, as songs from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication record played in the background.  

We ended up becoming roommates for a brief snap of time in a punk-rock group house at the tail end of our University of Maryland days. The house was a messy haven of artists and musicians nestled in the heart of Hyattsville, Maryland. But it was also a little clique-ish. I wasn’t turned away from the thriving vegan-tattooed-hardcore-hipster scene that bubbled up in our basement for house shows. But I wasn’t welcomed into it, either.

The silver lining of that brief experience was my growing friendship with Erin. She was the only one of my four roommates who took the time to get to know me, and ask me questions about my family and musical experiences. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t tattooed, or that I hadn’t heard of so-and-so’s band from Philly. I didn’t need to be part of some underground scene to impress her. Instead, we spent hours jamming — singing and playing guitar — when I wasn’t busy with my other bands. 

Of course, it was a huge treat to have her sing harmonies with me on anything. 

To this day, the only time I’ve ever won any kind of musical competition was at the Sunday open mic night in Adam’s Morgan (at Madam’s Organ), when Erin joined me onstage to belt out backing vocals for my song “I Left my Heart in New Orleans.” 

After a standing ovation, the $50 bar tab prize was ours. We drank it in about 20 minutes. 

Musical Road Trip

Born in Arkansas, and but mostly raised on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., Erin Frisby is a gypsy among artists, a journey woman whose music ebbs and flows as freely as her travels, from folksy to aggressive, East to West and back again. She’s as influenced by opera and classic Appalachian hymns as she is by hard rock n’ roll. 

Erin Frisby (Photo Credit: Anthony Swartz)

I’ve always known this about Erin, yet I could never have predicted the profound metamorphosis that would transpire not too long after the last time we played together, almost four years ago to this day. 

In early November, 2016, I invited Erin to travel to Connecticut, and perform a paid gig with me at the now-defunct Georgetown Saloon, just outside of Redding. She brought her four-piece, garage-rock band Fuzzqueen, which she’d formed with her former spouse, after the two of them relocated to D.C. Before that, they’d spent nearly a decade in California, frequently hitting the road, and racking up hundreds of gigs under the musical moniker Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray. 

“My former partner and I had been touring together and writing together for many, many years … and we actually kind of ended up moving back to D.C. because of that project,” she recalls. “We loved the music scene there and, with what was going on politically, wanted to have an impact.” 

Fuzzqueen’s eclectic brand of folksy indie-rock was filled with trippy, melodic riffs and searing guitar solos, and an enticing balance of masculine and feminine energies. 

After the show, I fell out of touch with Erin for a while, and was surprised when I learned, sometime in 2018, that Fuzzqueen had fizzled out.

Yet the painful and cathartic process of letting go of that project was essential for Erin make space for her new one: her “all-womxn” band The OSYX.

Shortly after the “election” of the 45th president of the United States, Erin was craving something new — a new musical endeavor, and a community that would elevate women and under-represented artists. During an anti-inauguration gathering in January 2017, Erin felt inspired as she watched the Baltimore hard-core feminist punk band War On Women play an acoustic set. At some point she struck up a conversation with a couple of musicians she’d kind of knew, who also played guitar: Ara Casey and Selena Benally. They decided to get together to jam.

“Sometimes you meet people, and you play with them but nothing more than that comes of it… but every once in a while it just clicks and it falls into place,” Erin recalls. “We ended up getting a bass player (Maya Renfro) and a drummer (Robzie Trulove) … and we started playing a lot and from there it grew into a sisterhood.” 

Erin Frisby (blonde in back) with her band The OSYX (Photo credit: Farrah Skeiky)

The OSYX have been described as “raucous … with melodic tensions and chemistries,” which is fitting in more ways than one: Erin shares lead vocals with Ara and Selena, who is now her girlfriend. All three women play guitar, and Erin also plays keys, organ and other instruments. While each member’s sonic stylings are as distinct as their pedal preferences, the fusion of sound culminates in a high-energy, rock n’ roll experience.

Songs like the buoyant “Dog Fight,” make me want to jump and dance, while the darker, harder tunes like “Carry it With Me” make me want to crank of the volume and drown myself in the heavy intensity.

Forming The OSYX dovetailed nicely into Erin’s other endeavor: the creation of This Could Go Boom!, a nonprofit organization focused on helping women/womxn artists thrive in the competitive indie music scene, which — even in D.C. — is heavily male-dominated. 

But while the two years pre-COVID were a time of joyful self-discovery and collaboration, what the promo photos don’t show is the pain Erin endured as she let go of the marriage that was no longer working. 

“Creating this project helped me to navigate that and discover who I am,” says Erin. “I had to confront a lot of internal biases inside myself. All my life, when I’ve heard of people who had committed relationships and came out [as gay], I wasn’t particularly sympathetic to that. I had some resistance to that narrative. But as the truth unfolded and became clear to me, I realized I had choices to make.” 

New Skin

Since putting band life on hold, Erin’s channeled her creative energy into recording and mastering Ecdysis with help from a generous grant from the Prince George’s County Arts and Humanities Council (PGCAHC).

The result is a sonic slideshow of Erin’s life — an eight-track record that seems to leverage instrumentation — keys, guitars, bass, drums, and dulcimer — gently, so not to overpower the outpouring of confessional lyrics and coloratura-soprano vocals.

Ecdysis (Erin Frisby)

Ecdysis offers a glimpse into Erin’s earliest musical memories (“You are my Sunshine”), experiences in longing (“Waiting for my Love to Wake”) and the process of self-actualization (“Theia and Gaia”). As an added bonus, Erin simultaneously released a sister album, Second Skin, featuring covers of Ecdysis tracks performed by friends, as well as originals inspired the record (like Selena Benally’s “Punk-dysis”).

“Selena is a shredder,” says Erin of jamming with her girlfriend. “I’ve been learning a lot from her during quarantine as far as guitar technique. She’s pretty amazing — and she’s invested in a lot of different styles beyond rock like flat picking and blues. Selena also programmed the drums and played the bass on Ecdysis.”

For Selena Benally, the admiration is mutual.

“Erin’s performances and songwriting are heartfelt and genuine — sacred not saccharine,” Selena tells Rockmommy. “She employs a lifetime of dedication and hard work to her craft as she explores the seemingly boundless depths of who she is and it shows in every song and live set.”

As fall continues, Erin’s trying to play out play out whenever she can, albeit in limited and modified capacity due to safety concerns. So far, she’s played one drive-in performance and a few outdoor music jams. When she’s not doing that, she’s busy teaching virtual piano, guitar and vocal lessons, and planning other ways to help her community. 

“I’ve been reflecting a lot on the power of art in the way that exposure to different views and immersion in different disciplines and voices really helps people to explore their own voice as well as empathy,” says Erin tells me over email, when I ask her what’s next for 2021. “Learning to think through what someone else’s vision was and think about their approach to creatively addressing a problem leads to a flexible and curious and intelligent approach to the world in general. With that in mind, I’m thinking more and more about how important it is that representation in the arts is diverse.

Selena Benally and Erin Frisby of The OSYX (Photo credit: Farrah Skeiky)

“It’s important for people to see themselves or hear themselves in a piece and it’s important for them to see or hear what it’s like to be a real human with deep emotions and beliefs who is different from them,” she continues. “That’s brought me back to the mission of This Could Go Boom!, which is that lesser heard narratives and underrepresented voices are potent. We are going to be putting out new music by the end of the year and I couldn’t be more excited!”

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Nashville Singer-Songwriter Elliott Park Spent Quarantine Making an Album with his 3 Teenage Daughters — And it’s Perfect

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The first few months of pandemic life and quarantine may have been the most difficult in many ways, as we grappled with the unknown.

Yet this period of uncertainty spurred creativity among musicians, who found themselves writing new material for the first time in months. 

Nashville singer-songwriter Elliott Park is among them. Over the spring, Park and his three teen daughters Anna, 18, Autumn, 16, and April, 14, created an acoustic, 12-song collection —  Songs With My Daughters  — that is beautiful and compassionate, with the daughters’ gorgeous harmonies intertwined with jazzy pop-rock tunes, like “To the Moon and Back,” and nostalgic tributes (like “Blue Skies Over the Rainbow” — my favorite).

It’s like hearing Jack Johnson but better, because daughters make everything that much more awesome.

Elliott Park “Songs with my Daughters”

We caught up with Elliott in one of his rare free moments to talk about the new record, and life in this crazy new world. 

Rockmommy: Talk to me about this album! When and how did the idea to do a quarantine album with your three daughters come about? 

Elliott Park: Well it wasn’t really intended to be a quarantine album. I had been planning a new family album for several months but midway through recording process the pandemic hit and I started feeling like the songs I was producing didn’t quite fit the mood of the times. So I put my nose back on the grindstone and reworked it with a little different vibe. Still quirky but with a little more intimacy and organic feel.

Rockmommy: Who wrote the songs? Was there any teenage angst about lyrics (kidding, kind of) or musical direction? 

Elliott Park: I wrote all the songs except one, Blue Skies Over the Rainbow… which is a mashup of two of my favorite classics; Blue Skies and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The girls and I collaborated on that one. It was a ton of fun coming up with the parts. There was not TOO much angst haha, but at times it was a little difficult to pull them away from what they were doing. I’m proud at how hard they worked.

Rockmommy: How long have you been playing music? How has that influenced your girls? 

Elliott Park: I was raised in a musical family but never learned an instrument. I was always too shy to sing. But when I went to college something clicked. Almost every evening after basketball practice I would sneak over to the music department and tinker on the piano. That went on into my twenties and then I started singing and writing music at around age 30. I found I had a knack for songwriting and it sort of developed into a career. My girls have grown up with it as well. We have an old Magnivox record player we call Maggie. She’s sung us all to sleep a few thousand times and still does to this day. I’d like to think they’ve developed their musical interests from listening to all those old records. Sweet Maggie.

Rockmommy: These songs are so sweet — do your daughters and you have similar music tastes? 

Elliott Park: Thanks! Well I think we have overlapping sets of musical interests. But I really dig a lot of the stuff they listen to. I think it surprised them one day when I was singing along to a Billie Eilish… It kind of crossed their wires there for a few seconds haha!. Likewise they REALLY love the old classics, and I don’t just mean rock. If you look at their personal playlists you’ll see Sinatra, Billie Holliday, The Carpenters, some Gershwin tunes… a lot of different genres. I think those overlapping interests shape this album and I love it to pieces. They can mimic the elevator voices on a Percy Faith track or knock off the Andrews sisters like nobody’s business. 

Rockmommy: What was the recording process like? Did you do this DIY with a good DAW, or with an engineer? 

Elliott Park: I had a lot of it remotely recorded, but it all came together in my bedroom using Logic Pro X on my old iMac. Towards the end of the project it would crash about three times an hour no lie. We did all the vocals in my bedroom. I had to yell through the walls for silence many, many, times.

Rockmommy: Obviously the pandemic sucks. But is there some level of gratitude for the time with your daughters that you had BECAUSE of the pandemic? 

Elliott Par: Definitely! We made the best of it. I’m proud of us all for staying at it all the way through. 

7. Are you planning a social distance concert or parking lot shows?

Not at this time. I’m not huge on performing and honestly I’ve used this pandemic as an excuse not to perform. It’s awful and I need to change that about myself. That’s some bare bones honesty right there haha.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

NYC’s Val Kinzler Reflects and Rocks On

Playing rock n’ roll requires a lot of stamina. So does motherhood. This month, Rockmommy correspondent Rew Starr talks to NYC rocker mom Val Kinzler — a self-described cross between “Janis Joplin & Karen O” — about life, music and finding balance in a crazy world. 

Rew Starr: Hows it going? What have you been doing these days?

Val Kinzler: I’m still adjusting to the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdown. Living on the Lower East Side in NYC with my son and two pugs. I’ve been teaching music virtually — which still feels kind of strange — and hosting songwriting webinars. I work with an LBGTQ non-profit record label. 

Val Kinzler (Photo: Donna Malech, Parkside Lounge, NYC) 

I also participated in a successful livestream fundraising effort to help save The Bitter End venue on Bleecker Street, which was produced by Room Full Of Music and Off Stage Tunes,  and another livestream benefit for the NAACP via Tune Hatch.

Beyond that, I’ve been cooking, cleaning, eating, taking 8- to 10-mile walks with my son to avoid public transportation and trying to squeeze back into my skinny jeans!

RS: How is this different than pre-pandemic life? 

VK: Prior to the pandemic, I co-curated a week long NYC Women Who Rock Fest in conjunction with Mike McHugh and New Century Booking that featured some awesome, 

power house women artists including you! I’m amazed that we were able to complete all of the fest dates just before the lockdown!

RS: What about the kids? What does going back to school look like?

VK: Jesse is thirteen and actually did great with Google Classroom, and is still participating in online distance learning. Recently he informed me that after taking a “mental age calculation test” he is actually 27! So, I kind of feel like I have a “QuaranTEEN” and an adult child rolled into one!

RS: So tell us about your life. So how many bands have you been in? Is it more than boys you have been with or less? (laughs)

VK: This is a loaded question. I dissected and re-assembled the trajectory of my varied band experiences and realized there’s got to be a book penned by me eventually called “Road Kill!”

My earliest girl band was The Sirens, which played classic rock and Grateful Dead covers at Long Island colleges and bars, with a born-gain Christian manager who desperately wanted to “get to know us better,” and I went from there to my excuse for dropping out of college: a punk-pop all girl band called The Technical Virgins (i just received newly rendered live and studio tracks and a pending script/screen play for the “TV’s” that the singer/songwriter/bassist/flute player Susan Neuffer wrote). The TV’s played in the 1980’s at A7, with Marilyn and The Movie Stars and The Bad Brains, at Maxwells in Hoboken, CBGB’s on Valentine’s Day (we opened for the Sick F*cks) and at Queens College (on the bill with ISM) and other rock n roll joints that are long gone. 

Val Kinzler (photo by Alan Rand; The Red Lion, NYC)

We had interest from the Go Go’s producer and I met with Sid Bernstein several times. Sid wanted to change our name. The founding TV’s said no. I still miss him, though. 

After playing piano exclusively for years, I picked up the guitar because, I was moving from squat to squat on the Lower East Side, sometimes sleeping under a friend’s kitchen table.

I had to sell my piano and started writing a lot more on the guitar which proved to be a blessing because, with my limited chops, I was forced to keep my writing simple and more intuitive rather than getting sidetracked by riffing on the keys.

I joined open blues jams at places like Dan Lynch on Second Avenue between 13th and 14th Street where the Holmes Brothers, Joan Osborne, Jon Paris, Grant Green Jr., Harry Holt and others packed the joint. I also backed up some groups as a keyboard player — most notably, The Jive Five, which was really cool because, we’d play the oldies shows with Little Anthony, The Dixie Cups, Ronnie Spector and these singers and their tunes still remain timeless!

Valkyrie and The Vikabillys was my first all original band. But, I was still doing back-up gigs, singer-songwriter open mics and blues jams. 

I played The Lone Star, Bitter End, Village Gate, Kenny’s Castaways, and after recording two projects, one with Popa Chubby (I still love those tracks!) and my debut East Third Street record produced by Genya Raven who also sang backgrounds with me. 

Hilly Crystal (CBGB’s) came in to the studio to lay down the voiceover of the sanitation worker in “Alleyways Of Love,” a song I wrote about a hooker and a garbage man who fall in love when he spots her as he’s picking up the trash. That record landed me some cool gigs, I opened  solo in California for Marty Balin and Chuck Negron at a show where Joe Walsh and Clapton were also booked.

After joining a heavy metal band called ICU (Intensive Care Unit) for a brief time, I then joined Blue Lagoon, a hard-hitting blues rock band, as their lead singer.

Eventually, my music evolved when I met Joe Vasta, who also became my romantic partner. Joe and I originally connected through Thommy Price, who I’d worked with in the 1990s.

My main band now is the Val Kinzler Band. David White whom I met and played with in King Bee and The Stingers, Joe Vasta, and Jon Ihle. We recorded our debut record “Nothing Sacred About Hatred” in Oklahoma for a Christian label. The label’s owner was busted for embezzlement but, we got a great record and two videos out of the deal! I refer to VKB as my grown-up band because we’ve all been there, and are done with “THAT!” I’ve also joined several other all-female groups.

Val Kinzler Band

RS: We met in the Dirty Mothers. You had a newborn. How were you so able to try anything even at that vulnerable state?

VK: Yes! I also remember Joey Zero years earlier when I was playing at Sun Mountain in the West Village insisting that I must meet his friend REW!

Joey booked us both at The Continental and after seeing you perform for the very first time, I totally understood why Joey wanted us to coordinate!  I was totally psyched to learn that Kelly Britton and you had teamed up! Jesse was under a year old. I was not yet healed after having a cesarean section. But, it sure was a blast and I loved playing all of our original songs.  We each had a slightly different style but the vibe was in sync. I had no immediate family to help me with Jesse when he was an infant. Also, took me two years to get back into shape physically because I gave birth at 46!

I used to take Jesse to rehearsals and wherever I needed to be. But, there were times when I had to pull out of gigs because I didn’t have a sitter or money to pay for child care and it became really strenuous carrying my guitar on my back and the diaper bag while having the baby harnessed to my chest using public transportation.

There were also rehearsals when Jesse was sleeping in the harness on my back and we’d turn down low to keep rehearsing. I literally couldn’t put him down at times or he’d fuss. I think he wanted to be close to the music! Luckily, certain musicians (like you and Kelly) were also parents and were cool with me having to bring my baby! 

RS: I love your twist words. When did this start? Ever think of making a Val dictionary?

VK: I think my “oops” with words comes from a learning disability known as dyscalculia and perhaps a touch of dyslexia. I used to write everything backwards in elementary school out of boredom I thought but, as the years progressed, I began to reverse how I saw numerical equations and it’s become such a part of me that I simply create new words automatically.

I read signs in reverse and it can really screw me up at times if I’m not concentrating.

Like, if the teacher gave an exercise with two rows of words, and instructed me to take one word from each column to fuse together sensibly, I’d write “road rail” and incorporate it into a sentence rather than “rail road.” 

Songwriting for me is challenging because it’s like inventing and solving a crossword puzzle simultaneously.

RS: Are you making any new music?

VK: My most recent single “Some Bitch” is on Spotify and desperately needs a video! 

It’s a quirky tune about cyber cheating. “Some Bitch is dancing topless on your lap top, I can smell her perfume from out here… etc.”  I also wrote a quartan-tune inspired song called “In the Rain” and am still catching up on half completed songs my band was working on for our forthcoming record.

RS: What about playing out? have there been opportunities?

The only live show I did recently was in Tompkins Square Park for the anniversary of the riots. 

It held meaning to me due to the history of The Lower East Side, the squatters, the musicians and artists and Monika Beerle, who became my muse in “Broken Ballerina.” Also, it is so important to join other musicians and artists right now as these are uncertain times and music is the universal language of healing and inspiration!

I am scheduled to play at Porch Stomp, 2020 as part of Kat Minogue’s Stage on Governor’s Island on October 10th. Violizzy, Rigel Mary and Jesse will probably join me.

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

VK: All of my personal achievements can now be applied to reinforcing life skills in my own child and the students I teach. 

To me, being a rockmommy means dissecting and recycling stressful moments creatively by incorporating my love for music! Jesse and I always turn on the radio in the morning and wind up dancing to our favorite tunes. Pain in life is inevitable, remaining stagnant is no longer an option. 

I’m grateful that my son is tenacious and driven. We both use music, dance and exercise to keep a positive mental attitude. I love my close relationship with Jesse especially when we have opportunity to jam together. Taking him to rehearsals, gigs and not sheltering him from my artsy friends has lost me some people along the way. I was definitely mis-judged as being reckless at times.But, interestingly, those particular ex-friends never had children of their own. 

Rock n’ Roll is all encompassing and celebrates uniqueness and survival!

I’m definitely a survivor and passionate about inspiring hope in Jesse and others.

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

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.

unnamed

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.

qbOcG4jA

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.

steve_casee

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. 

17953_310853776172_4224293_n

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.

The_Space,_Hamden_CT

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.

Ben Rudnick guitar

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.