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.”
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.
Singer-songwriter Ben Rudnickhas 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).
We recently caught up with Ben to talk about parenting, music and staying safe this summer.
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.
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.
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 drummerAnthony Paolucci’s latest full-length album, The Water and the Woods (available onSpotify 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.
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.
Just in time for Mother’s Day, Nashville rockmommy Ellen Starksi has released one of the most beautiful, emotional records I’ve heard this year. ‘Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair‘ gives me chills — from the eerie “Never Met a Ghost” to the pretty, uplifting “Pure Intention.” Her voice takes me back to the days of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, with a touch of Patsy Cline. I’m in heaven listening to this record.
One track in particular — “The Satellite that Changed its Tune” — is relatable on so many levels. I feel the song in my bones, as a wife and a mother, especially during these challenging times.
This Mother’s Day, we’re all about listening to moms like Ellen Starski. In case you missed her guest essay for Rockmommy this month, read it here (it’s exactly what you need if you’re feeling blue during these pandemic times).
We recently caught up with Ellen to talk about the making of her album, being a mom and everything else.
Rockmommy: Your album is timeless and powerful — what is the common theme? Change? Describe in your own words the cathartic process that created this record.
Ellen Starski: This album is two years in the making from the songwriting to meeting with multiple producers to co-writing, production and so on. The waves of emotion and life changes throughout this process are perhaps the changes you’re referring to regarding the common theme, and I think you’re absolutely right on with the observation. When you’re working on a project for a long time with multiple humans there’s a ton of different energy, and each person walks in with their day to day experiences that show up along the path ultimately altering the projects destination.
Rockmmommy: What else can you tell us about this record?
Ellen Starski: A lot of personal emotions were addressed during the writing process. My relationship with myself and others was placed under a magnifying glass to be examined, and past experiences bubbled to the surface with nostalgic yearning and lessons learned. I have made a lot of different choices (some good, some bad) along the way that have naturally altered my path in this life, and I revisited some of those times with the hope of healing and helping others.
Half of the material on the record was co-written with my husband (Shawn Starski), father (Henry Deible) and fellow songwriter Michelle LeBlanc.
I had the pleasure of working with producers Lucas Morton, & Max Hoffman and handfuls of Nashville’s most talented musicians.
Lucas and Max played numerous instruments on the record, Will Sayles was on drums, and Andrew Brown handled the bass. We had a string quartet with Kristin Weber (Violin) Laura Epling (violin) Nicole Neely (viola) & Melodie Chase (cello) conducted by composer Raymond Joseph Bracchitta on four of the songs, & the icing was spread over the tracks by the talents of Justin Schipper on pedal steel.
Rockmommy: I love “Never met a ghost.” What’s that song about?
Ellen Starski: “Never Met a Ghost” was the first song I wrote for this record — revealing herself to me before my debut album (The Days When Peonies Prayed for the Ants) was even released in 2018. This song examines different apparitions I’ve experienced over the years that I blended in with a tale of a distressing break up.
Rockmommy: How are things going, in the new world of Facebook live-streams and virtual connections?
Ellen Starski: My husband and I have been working on a video series for socials called ‘Raising Vibration’ that drops a weekly original or cover song, and also plan to stream a live acoustic set for the album release May 8th. This is definitely not how we had hoped to unveil the new material, but I’m finding solace in the idea that it will be a relief for others in this ‘new normal’ we’re all experiencing.
Rockmommy: I understand you are a new mother. How are you balancing motherhood and creative life?
Ellen Starski: Trying to balance motherhood and creativity is not an easy thing to do in Nashville, as our immediate families live states away. So, when we were in production, I had to spend weeks away from my little love while my family cared for her in PA. Even though I knew she was safe and sound with my parents and sisters it was still terribly difficult for me because that’s the longest amount of time we’ve ever spent apart from each other. I’m actually a very protective mother, and this is the first time I’ve even spoke of her in regards to my career. We have to keep them safe, and in a world where all of our lives are incredibly accessible through social media we have built certain walls for her protection.
Rockmommy: What advice do you have for other rock mommies, particularly on this Mother’s Day, in 2020?
Ellen Starski: Advice? Hmmmm, this is tough for me because I feel we all have to approach motherhood in a way that aligns with our personal belief systems. However, I feel the advice to take care of ourselves physically and spiritually is always good. Take time for yourself, stretch, breath, meditate, drink wine, love hard, and hold on to the people you adore with warmth and a nonjudgmental heart. Mother Earth resides in all of us.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
Musicians tend to be nocturnal creatures, so it’s no surprise many of their children are fascinated by the hours associated with stars and sleep.
But for singer-songwriter Sara Lovell, and so many moms everywhere, night time is also associated with quite a few sleeping challenges.
Her third family album Night Life explores some of these themes, from sleeping habits (“Night Life Listen”) to wanting to stay up all night (“I Don’t Want to Go to Bed”). Immersed in delicate strings, arpeggiated guitar riffs and folksy vocals, “Night Life” offers perfect end-of-day jams for the kiddos. You’ll also hear a handful of uptempo tunes — from fun, synth-infused tracks like “Nightlife,” to the percussive, playful “Leave the Monkey” — but the vibe is still pretty mellow (which is exactly what you need when you and/or your little ones are trying to get some shut-eye).
We recently caught up with Sara, mom to 10-year-old son Gabe, to chat about the creative process around her latest record and making the best of life during the pandemic.
Rockmommy: Hi Sara! I love the new record. How did you come up with the idea to create a record around bedtime?
Sara Lovell: Hi Marisa! Thanks so much for listening and so glad you love the album! I was making music for grown-ups in the singer/songwriter genre before starting my family. Then when I adopted my son Gabe, I just started making up songs that came directly from my everyday life with him. Night Life is the third album I’ve created for children and families, and the themes of bedtime came out of a new stage for my son that started about a year or so ago with challenges he was having at bedtime. He started having nightmares, and other kids began telling scary stories to each other, and there was a lot of waking up and a lot of resistance. He’s 10 now and is doing much better with going to sleep, though there have been a few more times with wake ups and I’ve heard from other parents that their kids are also having some sleep challenges with the extra stress from our current situation.
Rockmommy: Why are kids so reluctant to go to sleep?
Sara Lovell: I’m sure different kids have different reasons for their resistance to going to sleep, but I think the primary reason is not wanting to be separated from the grown-ups they love. Also not wanting to stop doing fun things, not wanting to miss out. Add to that fear of the dark, nightmares or other worries, and I think that about covers it.
Rockmommy: I hear so many different sounds, from 80s synth pop to modern-day folk rock. Who are your musical inspirations?
Sara Lovell: I’d say that the music I was exposed to when I was growing up and coming-of-age just became a part of me. My parents played a wide variety of music – classical, bossa nova, Dixieland jazz, Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter, Harry Belafonte, some early folk… and my older brother and sister listened to The Beatles and Motown. When I started singing along with playing piano, I learned to play Elton John and Stevie Wonder songs. You mention 80s synth pop – Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush are still favorites of mine. I love so many different kinds of music, which makes the children’s music genre such a great playground because I get to create in the style that’s right for each song. It’s so fun and satisfyingto come up with all these varied grooves and arrangements and to sing in that wide range too.
Rockmommy: How can parents rediscover their own powers of creativity by encouraging creativity in their children?
Sara Lovell: I think this would be an interesting question to ask parents who wouldn’t initially think of themselves as creative. I’ve always wanted to create — art, music, building things. I developed new avenues of creativity when I started making music for kids and families, even began writing separate kids stories in rhyming couplet. I think when parents put out art supplies or instruments for their smaller kids to play with they end up playing with those supplies too, and maybe that helps them to remember when they were younger and felt more free to play, and experiment, and make beautiful messes.
Another amazing adventure in being creative with my son has been making music videos with him! We have eleven videos to date, seven with Gabe starring. It’s been a whole new art form to explore and I’ve had a blast collaborating on concept, design, set-building, editing and producing these individual little movies. I’m so grateful for my incredible creative partners as well. Monica Pasqualis producer and co-writer, BZ Lewis – guitarist/engineer, Josh McClain – cellist and filmmaker (we’ve done eight videos together). I also want to thank Anna Silivonchik whose magical artwork graces the album covers, and her paintings were beautifully animated by Maxim Korol for one video. And Jessica Poon and Sylwia Szkiladz created stunning animation for two other music videos.
Rockmommy: How are you managing as a mom and a children’s artist in this challenging time?
Sara Lovell: Well let’s just say that it took a lot of resources for me to be consistently writing and producing music, while raising my child as a solo parent before this global pandemic. Now it feels like it requires 10 times more resources when there seem to be 10 times less available. I’ve been letting go of expectations —of distance learning, of screen time, of wanting things to seem more normal when they’re anything but. I’m finding and doing the things that can bring any measure of happiness and connection, to keep emotions as healthy as possible. My child is very relational and physical and having to be so far away from other people he loves is super hard on him so we’ve both been having to learn how to cope. For me, I want to do more creating than managing, to make new music and art, to find beauty wherever I can. Lately that has me spending a lot of time cleaning and clearing up all my spaces, or taking late afternoon camera walks. For Gabe it might be riding his scooter, drawing, baking something, making silly videos, or watching a show or cartoon that makes him laugh. We’re having to find our rhythm of just the right connection time and just the right independent time. I’m also very aware that my challenges are not the same as so many out there and so I am wishing support and more ease for all children and families.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
We often hear women speak of ‘having it all.’ But what does that really mean? What is “all”? Perhaps the definition of “all” changes as your ability to expand your heart evolves.
In the many years before I became a mother my “all” (aside from the given: the health and happiness of my loved ones) was freedom — freedom to move where, when, as much as I wanted to. Freedom that allowed a song junkie like me to stop everything at any given moment and write (yet) another song.
In 1997 I penned the female empowerment anthem “Bitch” with Meredith Brooks — destination #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and a Best Rock Song Nomination in the 40th GRAMMY Awards. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time.
When my daughter arrived the sound of my “all” shifting was like the screech of a car’s tires coming to a halt. Finally, after years of trying to forge relationships with A-list songwriters, I was the new it-girl. Everyone wanted to work with me. But the thing is if I didn’t want to miss the first raspberry, the first “mama,” the first step, I wasn’t going to be able to take on all those collaborations. It was a rude awakening. I don’t know what had me thinking it might be otherwise. Yet, something kicked in.
I became a pro at the breast pump and learned to quickly trim the fat on lyrics I knew didn’t cut it instead of taking a week to kill my darlings.
My film composer husband and I hired a nanny on a part time basis — 3 days a week from 9am-4pm. I’d only collaborate with those who could accommodate that window, fully aware I’d be passing up opportunities that would lead to a monster smash for someone else. Fortunately, I went to a session that gave birth to Christina Aguilera’s “What A Girl Wants.” It would become the first #1 song of the century. I learned of this mitzvah via a phone call at Layla’s bedtime. I made it quick because Pooh was about to stick his hand into the honey jar. I kept my enthusiasm under control but when she was finally asleep, I burst into a silent scream while jumping pogo-stick-style up and down the hallway.
My it-girl status was extended and the search for balance between rocking the mommy and rocking the music continued. I chaperoned an elementary school class trip on a Monday and was in the studio with Britney Spears on a Tuesday. There were times I had to cancel a co-write because my girl had a fever and other times, I had to tell her couldn’t take her shopping for a prom dress because I had an opportunity that I simply didn’t want to turn down. Seesaw, seesaw.
My daughter Layla graduated from college last year and moved to NYC. As I write this, she’s sheltering in place in the epicenter of a global health pandemic. I can’t imagine being the mother of small children right now — having to deny them playdates and pre-school for who-knows-how-long — or a parent of hormonal teenagers who can’t leave the house to exercise those hormones. That said I can assure you that although I now reside in an empty nest and have my previous version of freedom back the worry I’m experiencing because Layla is in the hot zone of the pandemic ain’t no picnic either.
Last night, in order to take my mind off that worry I did what many musicians are doing to stay sane — I livestreamed a concert from my home. Gratefully, hundreds of people “tuned in,” later letting me know that it was a lovely way to spend a Saturday evening, pandemic or not. My worry disappeared while I was singing. I felt reconnected to humanity, to music and to my daughter who texted hearts and emojis of clapping hands. Music is medicine. So are daughters.
On the day Layla was born I started documenting anecdotes in a journal — cute little stories about things she did and words she commingled: eucalipstick, hangburger, beffkist. I wrote about the day she came home from school to find her favorite TV star, Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus) in her living room. I wrote about her first kiss. Her disappointments. I’m certain I’d have forgotten a lot of the detail had I not picked up a pen. Middle-aged hard drives get full and memory fades.
A few years ago, while spending a semester abroad Layla FaceTimed me and said she kept dreaming I was dying. I promised her I was more alive than ever but being the songwriter that I am, and because I could once again drop everything, I began a song that started with these words:
My daughter keeps on dreaming that I’m dying Nothing could be further from the truth I tell her not to worry I’m in no hurry That’s the last thing on this earth I’m gonna do
I called the song “Notebook.” The refrain lets her know where that journal is (on a table next to my bed) so that should something ever separate us she can find it and hear my voice in the pages.
I don’t know what I’d do without her. The umbilical cord is never severed. And as for music — once you’re under its spell it never lets you go. That’s my balance. All the rest — travel, sushi, mani-pedis, cool clothes, weight control, retail therapy, social media following, quality problems…it’s all gravy.
In honor of mother-and-child unions everywhere, I’d like to share “Notebook”the new single from my forthcoming album 2.0 etc…. I wish all the rockmommies of the world the happiest of Mother’s Days. May the balance be with you.
Everyone’s talking about what they can’t wait to do once the great quarantine is over. I have my own list, and one thing is certain: I need to see Shame Penguin play live!
I live in Connecticut, in a part of the state that’s dominated by rock n’ roll cover bands. So when Dustin Sclafani, lead singer of the New Haven, Conn., indie-punk quartet, reached out to send me the band’s single “Live In Technicolor” I was absolutely blown away. I listened once, then again, letting the funky, jam-rock vibe fill my head, while Sclafani’s soulful, bellowing vocals commanded my attention. But it was the lyrics I loved the most:
So I throw my hands up
And I’ll put my hood up
And I’ll resist till I can’t breathe
So we’ll stand up
And we’ll rise up
Till we’re truly free
Having grown up in DC, with bands like Black Flag and Bikini Kill setting the tone for my love of activist and resistance rock, I felt at home listening to Shame Penguin’s single. “Live In Technicolor” filled me with nostalgia for my ’90s favorites, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers — music interspersed with prominent baselines and twinkling guitar riffs and beautiful vocals. But while Shame Penguin’s music flows like old-school RHCP — mixed with a pinch of Misfits-era Glenn Danzig, and a dash of Dispatch’s folksiness (minus the bro harmonies) — the lyrics call out to more urgent, pre- and post-2016 social issues, like racism, homophobia, and nationalism.
“This song started while walking thru the streets of New Haven as the tensions over Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner continued to grow and I started seeing the rifts that have now almost cemented them back into American culture,” Sclafani tells Rockmommy.
As it turns out, Sclafani, who writes the band’s music with guitarist Tristan Powell (and bassist Jon Ozaksut and drummer Kenny Maraczi), has a lot more in common with me than a love for inspiring punk lyrics and cool melodies.
When he’s not making music, he’s a busy dad raising three sons — 10-year-old twins Milez and Joey, and 13-year-old Cash. What’s more, he’s a single parent, a job that’s become even more challenging in early 2020’s homeschool-quarantine period. Yet he still manages to pop onto my social media feed, belting out soulful, heartfelt originals and covers, armed with only an acoustic guitar and a desire to break through the noise.
We recently caught up with Dustin Sclafani about Shame Penguin’s forthcoming album, (produced by Vic Stevens of Horizon Studios), songwriting, recording ‘Live In Technicolor’ and more.
Rockmommy: So how did you get into music?
Dustin Sclafani: I was born to a single mother in suburban Long Island. Because she had me at a young age, I grew up more [alongside] my mom, which made our relationship more then just a child-parent relationship.
I started singing with my mom at a young age. I remember as far back as kindergarten doing harmony lines with my mom to House Of Pooh Corner and Teach Your Children before I knew the ABC song.
The only constant in my extremely colorful and chaotic life has been and will always be music. I started writing and playing shows acoustically when I was 16 even did an original song at my senior variety show. Performing music on stage is the most I ever truly free and truly myself. I tell people all the time “you never really knew me till you see me live.
Rockmommy: What inspired you to write “Live In Technicolor?”
Dustin Sclafani: This song started while walking thru the streets of New Haven as the tensions over Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner continued to grow and I started seeing the rifts that have now almost cemented them back into American culture. We have lost all of our cultural heroes — The Marvins, The Malcoms, The Lennon-Onos … our music wasn’t saying anything in a time where I felt we needed it the most, so change comes from within and I penned the verses and never feel on a hook I liked. Until Shame Penguin started in my living room last March (2019). Tristan, my guitarist, has this amazing way to understand my meaning without ever hearing my words. The driving chorus brought the anthem out of me.
Rockmommy: What’s it like balancing kids and music — especially now?
Dustin Sclafani: I don’t balance kids and music, but I am a different case — I am raising my three sons in this lifestyle. It makes for late nights and early mornings. But the weirdest things are giving my sons the freedom to develop their own likes, even if it is generic pop music. It’s a constant, “really you literally call people ‘uncle’ who are better artists than that crap.’” But I try and let them discover themselves. It’s also interesting because my sons think our life is like other people’s. When the younger guys were in 3rd grade they would be surprised that their friends’ dads didn’t take them to the studio or do Instagram music clips.
Rockmommy: Do any of them love a certain kind of music because of your influence, you know, taking them to the studio and stuff like that?
Dustin Sclafani: It’s interesting because, especially with Milez and Joey, since I got custody of them, music has been part of their everyday life. Ray Charles “Shake your tail feather” from the Blues Brothers movie helped teach Milez how to talk — he was born with two congenital heart defects, and during surgery at 2 weeks old one of his vocal chords got nicked and it now moves slower than the others. So at 3 and a half his speech was only 33% recognizable to the average ear. So I started playing Ray Charles and Tom Waits and showed him sounding different is OK. But Milez’s favorite band is New Haven’s own Phat A$tronaut — he sat in on Djembe with them when he was 7. Joey loves musicals and is big ‘Greatest Showman’ fan. Cash is 13 so he actually is really into Shame Penguin and loves showing it off to his friends. But Cash really respects Tristan, our guitar player, who is an aspiring visual artist with anime influence — just like him. Tristan is also a big Red Hot Chili Peppers fan and Cash made sure his mom got him a RHCPs T-shirt in this year’s new school clothes shopping trip.
Rockmommy: Why is music so important now?
Dustin Sclafani: I love music and culture, thru out history when the arts thrived civilization thrived. But besides now we are at the most polarizing time in my life, echoes of our hate filled history ripple thru us daily. It is our job as the Troubadours and Heralds to deliver substance and feeling. To take all the darkness in the world and put all thru our individual kaleidoscope and project it back into the hearts and minds of the masses. We are the voices of the voiceless whether the bitterness of reality or the spoonful of sugar needed to swallow it.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.