Making the Most of Summer and Rocking Out Safely

by Marisa Torrieri

On this day one year ago, my rock band Trashing Violet played its debut concert at Otto’s Shrunken Head in New York City, for the club’s Wind Down Sunday Series. 

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It was a gloriously hot, sunny day when I settled into the back seat of our drummer Nick’s family van. We spent hours wading through traffic, but our spirits were high as we listened to music and rattled off names of songs we wanted to cover.

Later that evening, on the small stage in the back room at Otto’s, my absolute favorite hole-in-the-wall Tiki bar, we played a killer set. It felt so good to play again with the first band I’d started since becoming a mom in 2012. It felt even better to be among other musicians, including my “punktry” singer-songwriter friend Rew and Chris Cyanide, a solo bassist who wore these crazy, Mad Max-style masks, who played sets that night. 

That night was a phenomenal inauguration for Trashing Violet — me, lead guitarist Anna V., bassist Doug E., and drummer Nick D — and motivated us to work harder. After months of practice and fine-tuning our sound, we finally hit our stride in mid-January, when we played our first gig at Cafe Nine in New Haven. Between January and February 2020, we played four shows, sometimes on back-to-back weeks, and had a few more dates booked for Spring.

Our last live show was on February 29, with Bad Bad Stereo and Chaser 8. Then Covid-19 happened. 

One day after my birthday on March 10, my kids were sent home for “distance learning” and everything shut down. Our rehearsal studio shut down. Clubs shut down. Bars shut down. Travel shut down. Sports shut down. For several weeks, hope shut down as I tried to wrap my brain around what I thought would be a temporary setback. It wasn’t. 

We’re more than three months into what some people are dubbing “the new normal,” and while I’ve found silver linings in post-coronavirus life, I’m still mourning the life I had in February. My band was on the verge of doing great things. We were talking to producers about recording an album, and getting booked for more shows than we could handle. 

My biggest worry was managing our time, so we could stay present for our kids, spouses, and full-time jobs. Now, my biggest worry is staying healthy as I bide my time, hoping to return to the stage one day. 

[RELATED: What to Do When Goals and Hobbies Become Stressful]

These last few months have tested me in so many ways, and I’ve been adapting pretty well, considering.

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Trashing Violet

I played my first acoustic Facebook Live show on March 25, a date I’d originally reserved for a solo acoustic gig at a sports bar in Milford, Connecticut, put together by Bob D’Aprile. Meanwhile, my friend Rew resurrected her live Rew & Who weekly variety show, which featured some of the greatest interviews and live performances by local musicians. Today, the Internet-based Renegade Rew & Who invites performers to share their creations, open-mic-style, to anyone who’s watching.

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Many of these “new normal” happenings are actually awesome. Through my Facebook Live performances, I reached hundreds of friends and fans all over the world. It’s so fun and encouraging to read all of the supportive comments and seeing all of the heart emojis flood my phone screen while I strum my guitar.

Another bonus: I’ve spent more time with my NYC area friends in Zoomland over the last three months than I had in the last three years. In the “before time,” I rarely had the chance to venture into NYC, a four-hour round trip via Metronorth. But this spring, I’ve “met” several new rock n’ roll friends via Zoom. Once we get talking, it’s not unlike having cocktails at a pub in the Lower East Side. 

I’m also finding time to learn new things. In May, I bought tons of recording equipment through Sweetwater, including my  Focusrite 2i2 and Warm Audio WA-47JR condenser mic. I’ve spent hours tweaking and testing, and watching video tutorials. I’m using GarageBand in new ways to record songs, and my band and I joined ProCollabs. 

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I’m grateful for all of these silver linings.

But with the super-warm summer months of June and July, my desire to play out again has returned with a vengeance. I’m sick of screens. While I love most Facebook Live shows, I need to be in the presence of others — singing, strumming, and connecting.

So on June 21, I played outside on the street in front of my house in the suburbs, for Make Music Fairfield (part of the Make Music Day festivities held in more than 1,000 cities). As I stood on the edge of my front lawn, playing a heartfelt blues-rock set for my neighbor and her young daughter, people beeped as they drove by, and waved as they strolled along the main road. It felt liberating!

I wanted more.

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So last week, on a balmy summer evening, I drove 20 minutes to my drummer’s house to get together with three-quarters of my band. Wearing my light green, cloth face mask, I sung into the microphone like I was on stage at a club, while my two bandmates played along. It was so much fun, playing together again, even though our only audience was Nick’s wife and kids. I felt more alive that night than I had in a long time. 

It could be said that there’s little point to playing for one or two neighbors, or practicing in a backyard. What’s the point if only the birds and a few people are listening?

But if I’m not playing, I’m losing a part of myself. Even if we have to wear masks, playing music is essential to my survival (and if you and/or your audience isn’t masked up, we have a problem).

Although Trashing Violet is still scheduled to play a gig on September 5, I don’t know what the future holds. But as Foo Fighters’ David Grohl recently wrote for The Atlantic, live music has to come back. It simply must. My sanity depends on it.

So until we can play real shows again, I’ll make the best of what I have … safely. I’ll go outside, crank up the volume up on the amp and my new PA, slip on my mask and sing. Maybe it’ll sound a little warbled with cotton barrier in front of my mask. And maybe only the bees and insects will enjoy it. In the end, the act of playing live music in spite of impossible circumstances — and with the consideration of others top of mind — just makes me more punk rock. And I’m fine with that! 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

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

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

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

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Natalie Schlabs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rockmommy: Who are your greatest artistic influences?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rockmommy: 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.

How I’m Being Present for My family, While Missing My Band: a Guitarist Dad’s Quarantine Experience

by Earl Henrichon

My name is Earl Henrichon and I play in a Hartford, CT-based band called The Professors of Sweet, Sweet Music (POSSM). Yes, you heard right, that is the actual name of our band. We thought it would be hilarious if people actually had to say that out loud in the off-chance we were able to play shows in public.

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Earl Henrichon & The POSSM

A few years later and we’ve won several Best of Hartford awards, a New England Music Award nomination for Best Band in Connecticut and we’ve co-created the Hartbeat Music Festival (a day-long event showcasing local musicians of all genres). I guess now we are stuck with the ridiculous (but hopefully charming?) name.

And now the world has gone to shit in a period of three months, and we are all in quarantine. Suddenly my band is not getting together and playing music, and there are no shows to practice for. This time has given me an opportunity to reflect on a lot of things when it comes to music, its impact on my life, my teaching and my family. I figured what the Internet needed most was the perspective of dad who was getting older and plays in rock band…so here we go!

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Earl & family

I am a high school Health and Physical Education teacher, husband of 14 years and father to an awesome (and sometimes totally insane) 7-year-old daughter. I also love to surf and have an unhealthy relationship with fantasy sports. My wife Jane is clearly an amazingly supportive, patient and understanding human being (talk about a rock mommy!), and as a result my life is immeasurably better for having had so many fun and exciting experiences. Jane has been staying at home since the birth of our daughter, and what we lack in income we have gained in family time. Everyone has their own situations, but for us this has been a tremendous positive…at least so far.

I came to music late in life. I listened to The Beatles, Guns and Roses and a lot of other rock bands growing up, but I didn’t understand what was involved in creating the sounds I was hearing. It wasn’t until I had been listening to Jack Johnson for years, and couldn’t get those sounds out of my head that I finally picked up a guitar. That was about 8 years ago.

Almost immediately after learning a couple of simple chords, I started writing music by ear. At the time I thought was creative and insightful but I look back now and realize how truly terrible most of it was. But not having the requisite shame one should have about publicly embarrassing themselves, I quickly assembled a group of (luckily more talented than I) guys and convinced some fellow teachers it would be a good idea to come out and see our band in action after school once in a while. The beauty of music, probably for all of us, but especially for me, has been the connections that it helps create with other people. From the start we always had other teachers sing songs with us, and later people from other bands would jump in on songs or for join us for entire shows. This helped created a community because of which my life will always be better off and for which I’ll always be grateful.

There are many things about performing music live that actually don’t fit my personality at all. As an early-rising teacher I am not at all at late-night guy. In a perfect world, my favorite place to be is at home with my family, watching some Netflix and getting to bed at a decent time. We don’t play tons of late gigs as a result, we are always glad to open up for other bands, and I usually leave before the rest of my bandmates when a show is over. But I enjoy the hell out of being on stage, sharing the fun moments with others, and being a part of something that brings some joy and laughter into others’ lives.

Having my daughter grow up around music, the guys in the band and all of the positive experiences that have come from that is something I will look back fondly on forever.

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Over the last few months as I’ve been teaching from home, my day is very different. I did 30 days of yoga with my wife, hiking constantly to try and wear out the dog, the 7 year old (and if we are being honest, the 43 year old — me!), and now protesting has become something we participate in as well. This new rhythm is giving me the opportunity to go back and spend time with music in a way I haven’t before. Not having the pressure of getting ready for the next show, booking future shows, having people rely on me to set a lineup or finishing up something for a recording has been freeing in a way I did not expect.

When I first learned guitar I didn’t take proper lessons or even take time to learn anything properly before finding reasons to start playing it in front of others. Since then I’ve mostly been practicing for the next show. Now I am finding the time to learn the scales on the guitar better, how to play a solo that doesn’t sound forced, and how to create voicings of chords I hadn’t considered before. I’ve even starting to learn a bit of the piano — which has helped all of the theory make sense.

I am aware that everyone’s quarantine is different, and that many of the rock moms and dads are feeling run ragged by working, homeschooling, feeling financial stress etc…but there is also a reset button that this time is allowing us to have. I suspect that many of us will find when things go back to whatever normal is going to look like when it happens, that we will miss some of things about this time as well, and to enjoy some of that while we are there.

If anyone of you are interested in checking out our music, we are releasing a new single on all streaming platforms on May 29th, and we can be found on all social media platforms as The POSSM, and at thepossm.com. I hope the rest of the quarantine treats you all well, until we are all rocking out in front of audiences again!

Earl Henrichon is a father, teacher and guitarist for the Connecticut band The POSSM.

Steve Rodgers and the Art of Rebuilding a Music Scene

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

On a warm, overcast Friday in early June 2020, Steve Rodgers might have been strumming his guitar and thinking about set lists for a string of summer concerts. But instead, the indie rocker dad was hard at work building a new chicken coop out of the wood he salvaged from his daughter’s old toy chest. 

“It’s for five chickens, which is the legal limit in Hamden,” says Steve, who has already built an impressive array of wood- and recycled-materials projects over the last few years, in the home he shares with wife Jesse, daughter Fable, 16, and son River, 10.

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Steve Rodgers

The act of repurposing good materials into something new and needed is actually a fitting metaphor these days: In the summer of COVID-19, as Steve and other musicians have been blocked from playing indoor concerts, it’s become necessary to figure out new ways to get live music to the masses.

And he’s doing a pretty good job, so far. In May, Steve — who is still best known for his role as the singer from Mighty Purple, the band he co-founded as a teen — was one of the first artists tapped by the International Festival of Arts & Ideas to start playing live, acoustic outdoor “backyard” sets. It’s one of the few options at the moment for safe, live music right now as most nightclubs are closed and concerts have been postponed or cancelled.

“I played two gigs in one day — one in a two-acre backyard and another on Court Street in New Haven,” says Steve. “There were, literally, on every porch, a family or friends and their roommates. Every time I finished a song people were clapping … they hadn’t seen any live music for two months. It was a good day for me and my fiddle player.” 

And while it isn’t the summer he imagined, it’s an absolutely fitting experience for a guy who’s had to adapt and think outside of the box to survive. 

Humble Beginnings 

When I first met Steve Rodgers, he wasn’t a 40-something dad of two, a music director in a church, or a nightclub owner. He was just 20-year-old dude from Hamden who started a rock band with his younger brother Jonny. 

Mighty Purple officially formed in 1992, with Steve on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jonny on vocals and lead guitar, Adrian VandeGraff on bass and Will Mix on drums, and quickly grew into one of New England’s more popular regional acts, opening for the likes of Dave Matthews Band and Bare Naked Ladies. Their music spans multiple genres — folk rock, psychedelic rock, funk or even hard rock. The common through line is the Rodgers brothers’ earnest, powerful harmonies and the band’s high-energy performances. Even today, the band’s influence on the New Haven-area arts scene is still evident — nearly every musician I’ve met in Southeastern Connecticut has a Mighty Purple story. 

My first Mighty Purple experience, in Fall 1994, happened by accident, as some of the best experiences do: I was to be a freshman at University of Maryland in College Park, where I met Jason DaPonte, who was from Stratford, Connecticut, and lived in my co-ed dorm (Elkton Hall). He knew Mighty Purple from his high school days, and helped them secure a gig at Javaheads, an intimate little coffeehouse-bar hybrid in downtown College Park, which served bottomless coffee and $2 well drinks. It was one of the last places where patrons could smoke cigarettes while listening to alt-rock acts play in a makeshift space by the windows. 

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Mighty Purple

Deciding to go to the show was a no brainer. Forgive me, but at the time I was 18 and full of hormones. I took one look at the flier and saw two guys with long hair, holding instruments. It was like the grunge version of Nelson. I was in.

But it was the music — arpeggiated guitars, bass, and percussion infused with some of the warmest vocal harmonies I’d ever heard — that kept me there. The show was a stripped-down, acoustic set, and the moment Mighty Purple launched into “When Kingdoms Fall,” an epic anthem characterized by its atmospheric effects, addictive hooks, and a singalong chorus, I became a fan.

After the set, I bought their CD, Bohica, and we somehow ended up having an afterparty in my dorm room, where Jason and Steve swapped stories of their youthful antics. I have a vague recollection of drinking and bong hits, but neither Steve nor I can remember that night completely. I did remember that Steve was the chattier, more extroverted of the brothers, while Jonny was the quieter one. I also recall the hours I spent listening to that CD on my walkman for the next 12 months, enjoying the heavier, funkier tunes like “Wail” and “Circle,” and my favorite — “Rose for Caroline” — throughout my entire freshman year.

“My brother and I wrote some songs collectively, and many more individually,” says Steve. “Once a song had a basic framework we would bring it to each other and then to the band. Throughout the various seasons of the Mighty Purple journey, we had many different ways of writing songs. Sometimes we wrote as a full band. Adrian, our longtime bass player, wrote many parts and transitions alongside my brother.” 

Interestingly, it was during that year, within months after seeing and hanging out with Mighty Purple, that I would pick up a guitar for the first time, and learn how to play.

Building a Scene

Steve and I crossed paths again in 16 years later — in October 2010 — because I’d transplanted to Connecticut from Brooklyn by way of marriage, and managed to score a freelance-writing gig for NBC Universal. My assignment: to write mini profiles of the coolest bars, nightclubs, and hangouts in Connecticut — including the best venues for live, original music. 

Unfortunately, I lived in Stamford, a city which felt artistically void, oozing with pop-rock cover bands and dance nights with pre-recored boom-boom pop. Nothing against these diversions, but I pined for cute little coffeehouses, poetry slams, dive bars and the artist-enclave culture that reminded me of college.

“Remember that band Mighty Purple, you met during our freshman year?” said my old pal Jason, who’d since moved to London after we graduated from University of Maryland. “The singer, my friend Steve Rodgers, opened a nightclub called The Space. I think you should check it out.”

Oh yeah, I realized. I did remember Steve Rodgers! 

The next day I hopped on the Merritt Parkway and headed toward Hamden, Connecticut, a college town I’d never set foot in, to check out Steve’s new commercial digs. As I greeted Steve for the first time since the nineties, I almost didn’t recognize him. The person who stood in front of me was no longer the wide-eyed guy the on the cusp of 21, but a man halfway into his 30s, with much shorter hair — and a wife and two young children.

The Space itself was unlike any music establishment I’d seen. On the outside, it was gray-block building that looked like it was plopped down in the middle of an old parking lot, in the middle of nowhere. But inside, it was gloriously cool, with a ‘90s record-store vibe, teeming with knick-knacks and hanging lights, and band posters plastered to brightly painted walls. There was a spacious main floor with a stage, and a cozy little basement-bar area, intended for open-mic nights.

Over the course of two hours, Steve shared his plans to lease a second venue, to be called the Outer Space, which would be tailored to 21+ patrons who wanted to enjoy good beer with their music. He would go on to do this, and then in 2013, add a third, all-ages venue — The Spaceland Ballroom — with an ample, checkered floor space that was perfect for watching all kinds of performances, from bands to burlesque.  

But by mid-2017, after years and years of growth, things started getting complicated. Keeping up with the Spaces’ overhead costs and renovations was tough, and Steve occasionally needed to hold fundraisers to keep business afloat. Some health issues had developed, and he began to meet with a couple of parties who were interested in potentially purchasing the venue. Yet he was still working feverishly every day to keep the club vital.

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The Space in Hamden, Connecticut

The signs that something had to give kept coming. Steve’s doctor told him that his vocal cords were fried, and he’d need surgery for his nodules. He’d also need to quit smoking. In January 2018, Steve underwent throat surgery, which left him unable to speak much for months.

There was one “final straw” incident in particular that shook him. About six months before the Spaces would close, Steve was getting ready to lock up one night and was approached by a man in the parking lot who pulled a gun on him. This incident was traumatizing and was one of the signs that told Steve it was time to sell. 

What happened next, which led to Steve ultimately exiting the Spaces, is a long story involving landlords and lawyers — and you can read the New Haven Register’s detailed account here — but from Steve’s perspective, the timing, although bittersweet, all worked out as it was supposed to. The Space and The Outer Space/Ballroom closed in late December 2018. 

Re-Building a Life, Part 1

It would be remiss to write a profile of Steve Rodgers without acknowledging the role that his faith in God and the church have played in his life. 

The son of an Anglican minister, Steve’s earliest memories are of him sitting in the Cathedral at King’s College and listening to sacred hymns. This tied into his musical upbringing, as his parents — “church hippies” — were songwriters and guitarists who frequently played at services. But in his teens, his parents divorced, and Steve found himself struggling with his feelings about religion. 

“The church establishment has driven so many from the faith because of intolerance, judgmental rhetoric and divisive narrow thinking,” says Steve. “My heart breaks to see the divide the church has created. I embrace all humans no matter who they are and no matter what they believe in.” 

In his 20s, after a decade of constant touring with Mighty Purple, Steve rediscovered his faith and enrolled in a Christian missions training program. His re-involvement grew slowly from there, and soon, he began playing drums in a church band. For the last 15 years, he’s served as the church’s music director (even when he was working overtime at his nightclubs).

“My faith now is about my relationship with God and about the spiritual mindset, which helps me to seek and spread hope, love, joy and peace in my everyday life,” he says. 

Faith also proved crucial when it came to the tumultuous reentry into normal, post-nightclub-owner life in early 2019. In the aftermath of his departure from the Spaces, Steve grappled with lingering feelings of sadness.

“Even though I’ve always been a family guy, I was at work 60, 70 hours a week,” says Steve. “I had no idea what I was going to do after all that stuff went down. Financially, that was a very difficult time. In the six months following the Spaces, my true friends made themselves known.” 

What Steve did appreciate was having significantly more time with his family and friends — and himself. He spent the first three months after the Spaces closed building miniatures, including miniature train sets and fairy homes. And as his voice continued to heal, and he acclimated to a more balanced home life, inspiration struck again, and he started writing new songs.

In April 2019, Steve Rodgers released “Count it All Joy,” a full-length album that leans closer to country — and further from rock — than a Mighty Purple record, with mellow melodies and multiple stringed instruments. It’s clear the songs are the work of someone who’s faced incredible challenges and emerged a better person. My favorite, so far, is “Why Are You Here?”, a song about the way humans seek spiritual comfort in the wake of hardships. Even after the imprint of 27 years of smoking, Steve’s voice soars brightly in songs like “Love Will Conquer You.”

The album features Ben Dean on fiddle, Jonny Rodgers on acoustic guitar and Seth Adam on bass, and Fred Delione playing keys for a couple of song.

“‘Count it All Joy’ means ‘no matter what trials and tribulations … there’s always something you can find joy in,” Steve tells me. “Get excited about the things you do have and throw yourself into something.”

Re-building a Life, Part 2

Steve and Jesse chose to homeschool their own children years ago, because they wanted their kids to have a more personalized and nurturing learning environment. So the past three months of mandated “distance learning” are nothing new, except that his kids can’t gather with their friends.

However, their approach to homeschool may seem a little unorthodox by some parents’ standards. For example: While some parents try to educate their kids with a structured schedule, the Rodgers let the inspiration of the day guide learning. So if 10-year-old River would rather paint a mural at 9 a.m. before doing math, he paints a mural. There’s always time to do math later on.

“I know a lot of people are really struggling right now, but we’ve been really family closening,” says Steve. “This experience has helped us get a lot closer and understanding each other more.”  

After our conversation about homeschooling, I found myself questioning this approach. 

I’m a creative person, but I’m also a mom. When the urge comes on to write a song, I can’t just drop my income-generating work or childrearing to write it down. Without structure, how will my kids accomplish anything that isn’t fun? 

But over the course of several hours, I came around a bit in my thinking. I realized that it’s important to take inspiration when it comes. If my 6-year-old son feels like stapling papers together and “writing” a book, he’s still learning. Maybe that’s more important than forcing him to add numbers at a pre-designated time. 

Also, inspiration frequently comes at inopportune times — when we’re focused on other things, or when we’re experiencing pain or loss.

“My last show before coronavirus lockdown was March 6,” Steve recalls. “It was in this little coffeehouse in Vernon, Connecticut, and I sold 30 CDS, which is huge by today’s [streaming] music standards, and I had a lot of momentum building. But I can’t let this time discourage me. I had 20 gigs cancelled, and some really good ones, like a festival in Massachusetts. But instead of getting bummed out, I started spending 10 or 12 hours a week in my basement, learning recording software. Musically, I’ve just let any idea come out. If it feels right, I write something — I don’t let any genre or ideas about genre limit me. I’m not sitting down writing songs called ‘Coronavirus Shut In,’ but I’ve been writing stuff about coming together and healing.”  

In March, he channeled his despair and hope into the song, “Invisible Forces,” which is universally relatable to everyone suffering in the pandemic. The song is mixed by local producer Vic Steffens, and video is not for the faint of heart, with images of spiked COVID balls spinning aimlessly through space, masked pedestrians strolling briskly past one another, and a haunting scene filled with empty children’s chairs. But it’s a cathartic visual experience, and proof that music can bring us together, even when we’re apart.

On June 13, Steve will participate in his second round backyard concerts with the New Haven Arts & Ideas Festival (you can still book a slot here). 

“Really, this summer, what I’m looking forward to is doing some more shows, outdoors and stuff,” says Steve. “I’ve also taken up home recording, and am learning how to use software. Some of my music friends are busy with their own stuff, so you know what? I’m playing bass now. I’m playing lead guitar — which I’ve never really known. I’ve taken this time to learn.” 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Mary Prankster Debuts ‘Sweet Beet’ Video in Honor of Pride Month

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Today is June 1, so Happy Pride Month! With all of the insanity going on right now, it’s nice to have a reason to celebrate. And in near-perfect timing, my favorite mid-Atlantic-born rocker chick Mary Prankster has released the video for “Sweet Beet,” the second single off her album Thickly Settled. The tune features intoxicatingly sexy horns and a low-key jazz lounge vibe, paired with a simple, sweet message, “I love you the way you are!”

But if you listen closely, you’ll realize the song is actually much deeper than that —and for Mary, much more personal. “Sweet Beet” an anthem for the sister themes of love and acceptance — regardless of your gender identity, “stick or automatic, wedding gown or tux.”

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Mary Prankster

[RELATED: Mary Prankster on Creating ‘Thickly Settled’ & What Lured Her Back Into the Studio]
“I was thinking specifically about transition when the song bubbled up, but it applies to unconditional love across the board,” Mary tells Rockmommy. “It sounds exactly how I feel.”

Check out the video, animated by California trans artist Jacq Kirkman (@jacqets)— and download & stream the record here. “Sweet Beet” is a true mood lifter and adorably family friendly, so your 3-year-old can sing along, even if he or she doesn’t know what “Mx” means. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

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

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

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

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

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

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

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Ben Rudnick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Passing Strange Share Their Journey to ‘The Water and the Woods’ and What They Want Most in the Post-Pandemic World

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I have a love-hate relationship with pianos in rock n’ roll. Sure, I can acknowledge the greatness of Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel — and the power of their music — but growing up, I didn’t feel super-connected to any of these artists. Piano, even on its angriest days, isn’t an electric guitar. As I began to cultivate my musical tastes as an adolescent, I longed only for artists who could empathize with my budding angst. Anything that veered too closely to Broadway territory wasn’t for me.

But when I discovered Tori Amos, something awakened inside of me, and a brand new affection for piano-driven alternative pop-rock emerged.

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Passing Strange (Kate Mirabella and Anthony Paolucci)

So recently, when a friend of mine turned me onto Passing Strange, a Southern Connecticut piano-and-drums duo that delivers the power of a four-piece rock band, I fell in love with the keys all over again.

Listening to singer/pianist Kate Mirabella and drummer Anthony Paolucci’s latest full-length album, The Water and the Woods (available on Spotify and Apple Music and most digital platforms) feels more like listening to Halsey — but with keys — than Tori. This is a good thing, as the record encompasses all of the moody swings I need in my music — high-energy songs that make you want to bop along, and more melancholy tracks that make you want to sink into your own nostalgic headspace. It’s like riding a roller coaster of sonic landscapes, from the uptempo “Weather Cold” to the heart-wrenching “They All Do” — my personal favorite, with its minor chord progressions and lyrics about broken love and longing.

We recently caught up with Passing Strange to talk about their songwriting process, and how they’re biding their time until live music resumes in the Nutmeg State. 

Rockmommy: Your album The Water and The Woods is really great work. How did you come up with the songs and the concept for this particular body of work?

Kate Mirabella: It definitely wasn’t something I planned ahead of time. I was going through a very difficult time in my life and a painful breakup. Consequently, the songs seemed to all have a dark, gloomy sound and feel. That time in my life seemed like a maze of woods and fog, which inspired the album cover. The album title was inspired by a journal entry that I was looking back on. I was trying to describe the fundamental differences I was noticing in my current relationship. Despite having a deep level of love for each other, and years of making memories, we had different goals for the future and extremely different personalities. The line from my entry seemed to sum it up perfectly: “I liked the woods, he liked the water.”

Rockmommy: It’s amazing how you both sound so full — but you’re a duo. How do you write together? What’s the process like?

Anthony Paolucci: The song comes to me with piano and lyrics — finished, for the most part. Kate will play the song at band practice and I try to find the beat first, or the groove. After that, I play to the song, adjusting the tempo if necessary, complimenting what’s already there with as much or as little drums as possible — whatever it requires. My drumming style is actually a lot more aggressive, having played mostly in hard rock bands since I was a teenager. Back then, as a drummer playing with very technical guitarists and bassists, I always wanted to stand out. This band has been a wonderful challenge in that I only have one other instrument I need to accompany, and it’s a piano, something the drums can easily overpower if approached irresponsibly. Kate’s piano style is also very percussive, as she was originally a drummer too. So a lot of what she’s doing fills in what might be bass parts. It’s a delicate balance, but our chemistry is such that we’ve never had a problem doing the song justice.

Rockmommy: What are some of the topics that are near and dear to your heart as songwriters?

Kate Mirabella: I like when small, seemingly simple things invoke serious emotion. Some of my favorite writers and songwriters have a common theme of looking at something simple like a glove compartment in Death Cab for Cutie’s “Title and Registration,” or other observations in poems by Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Emily Dickinson. Something so small ends up creating existential questions. That’s something I definitely do in many of my songs.

Rockmommy: I’m digging the track ‘Weather Cold’ — is this a cautionary tale?

Kate Mirabella: This is as cautionary as it gets. “Weather Cold” is about the dangers of a young college girl who has nothing to lose and needs absolutely nothing from anyone. People think these types of girls can be tamed or just need a relationship to settle them down, but it will just leave you feeling like a train ran through your life.

Rockmommy: There’s something heart-wrenching about the song, “They All Do.” Can you tell me about that one? 

Kate Mirabella: This song still breaks my heart every time I hear it. There’s something tough about playing a song years later and thinking about how much you were hurting at the time. The first line isn’t poetic license, I really was up at 4 in the morning when I wrote it. I had just ended a long relationship and was reflecting on how hard it had been to let that person in, tell them the most vulnerable things about myself, having them be a part of the family for years, and I just had this crushing realization that I didn’t have the strength or energy to go through it again with someone else. So, as someone who grew up on emo music, I went all-out on this song.

Rockmommy: I think my other favorite one is “June.” It’s dark but alluring, and I love it when you sing “the wrong time … will you ever make it right?” Can you tell us about that one?

Kate Mirabella: I had experienced a lot of loss during this time in my life. Friends dying far too young can really affect your outlook on life. When I wrote that line in the chorus, I was picturing myself running through the woods, trying to grab the hand of those who I wish I hadn’t lost, but their fingers always slip away. It was such a helpless feeling.

Rockmommy: You were playing a lot in Connecticut before the world changed in February. What’s your favorite thing about live performances?

Anthony Paolucci: For me, this is what I’ve always wanted to do, ever since my parents gave me my first KISS album at 3 years old. So I’m basically living my childhood dream – just without the millions of dollars and stage explosions. On a more artistic note, however, there is something profoundly gratifying about performing an original creation in front of an audience. It’s a form of artistic expression that I’ve always found incredibly satisfying, especially when the music is something you’re really proud of. 

Kate Mirabella: I love mixing up the Connecticut music scene. There are a lot of genres reflected in the state, but I never felt like my music style was accurately reflected. I have extremely eclectic taste, and I’ve been to so many shows I can’t even count. I’ve been the girl moshing at a heavy metal concert, and the girl crowd-surfing up onto the stage. However, the shows that I hold closest to my heart are the quiet, lyric-driven artists who captivate the audience. While I had a blast at A Day to Remember and Blink-182 shows, Julien Baker, or City and Colour performances are life-changing for me. So, I love trying to change the minds of Connecticut concertgoers. There’s something so powerful about hearing the bar suddenly get quiet when we go into “Seven” and feeling their attentiveness to the lyrics.

Rockmommy: How are you making music during quarantine? Are you able to meet up and social distance, or using outlets like Zoom to jam?

Anthony Paolucci: All of this happened literally a week after we released our new album. Before that, we had mostly written our next album and had planned to work on that in between shows supporting the current album. So I’ve been sitting on my pad set at home, every night, with my headphones on, and playing along to both our albums, and band rehearsal recordings of our next album. 

Kate Mirabella: Since we can’t really get together, I’ve been doing “Quarantine Covers” as often as I can on Instagram. It’s helped me stay distracted, connect with musicians with similar music taste, and actually sit down and learn other people’s songs, something I haven’t done in years since I started writing my own music.

[RELATED: Catching up with Kate Mirabella]

Rockmommy: What’s the first thing you hope to do once some of the restrictions are lifted?

Anthony Paolucci: Get back to hammering out the next album, and playing shows to support the current album — wherever we can, and as often as we can.

Kate Mirabella: I would love to do a mini-tour. After this is over, I’ll want to support local venues, travel and FINALLY play together. I think some road-tripping around New England would allow us to do all of that at once.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.