Inside the ‘Kindie Rock’ Life of Rockmommies Jennie and Sarah of The Not-Its!

by Jennie Helman & Sarah Shannon

“Just one more bedtime story, then I’ve got to get to practice.” Good night family, hello “band family.”Cover for digital

That’s what we tell our kids on the one night a week we hang out for the purpose of working on old and new tunes and connecting with one another. We represent the girl power of The Not-Its! We’re tutu-wearing, 40-something rocker moms. We play what’s known as ‘kindie rock’ — if you’re not familiar, that’s independent rock for kids and their grown-ups.

And our bond in this band is so strong; we are lucky.

We’re raising pre-teen girls (Sarah with two and Jennie with three), maintain day jobs, and have our own start-up businesses on the side – Lugabag(Jennie), a travel seat for toddlers that attaches to a rolling suitcase, and Rockaboo (Sarah), a preschool music, movement and mindfulness program.

As we juggle year-round show schedules, travel, writing songs, recording albums, practicing, The Not-Its! is what we like to call our “jobby”— somewhere between a job and a hobby. It’s a job because we work really hard. It’s a hobby because it doesn’t pay the bills, but it brings us great joy.

We get to create music with dear friends, see new places, connect with incredible kids and families, and contribute to communities in a positive, soulful way. We’re often asked how the heck we have the energy to do what we do. And the thing that makes most sense is that we believe in and do what we love, and that keeps us young at heart.

Our bandmates are also parents: Danny, Michael and Tom also manage day jobs along with their “jobby” with the band. Our Not-Its! kids are a lucky bunch — they always get free snacks in the green room, stage access, studio play, and cool trips (we all went to India a few years back).

But as moms we’ve struggled. There are the daily worries of being spread too thin, vacations cut short, missed soccer games, the perennial “to do” lists stacking up. We know every mom can relate. Yet over the years we’ve been able to let it go, recognizing that we only get one shot at life — we have to do what we love knowing everyone around us will benefit. Our girls see us challenged, making mistakes, determined to get it right, working hard. We know they’re watching and learning.

It’s easier now than when the girls were toddlers and it was a constant balance of parenting while playing. Either the girls were rocking out or tugging at our tutus (“Can’t ya see I’m singing here, kid?”). There are too many sweet moments to count. Sarah had a song where she’d call her oldest to the stage, pull her in her lap and sing about a story they made up together. Sometimes the kids would cry the entire show because they should have been napping, or make their way on stage for more crackers. After one show we found Jennie’s daughter literally asleep in her open bass case backstage.

And as the girls have entered middle school, being engaged looks just a bit different. Being older and more independent, they share ideas that we eagerly mine as gems for content. Now and again they slide us a new lyric, brainstorm song content, grab the mic during sound check, act silly (but cool) with their friends at a show.

Our songs have to connect with both kids and parents – no matter what age. As an example, “Curriculum Night” (off our latest album, Ready or Not), evokes that feeling of parental excitement (tinged with a bit of anxiety) in meeting your kid’s teacher. The lyric about “grown-ups squeezing into tiny chairs,” is a memory we can all relate to… every year from Kindergarten on. Kids laugh, parents get it. Item number one in our band’s manifesto (even though we don’t really have one) is to make music that we want to hear with lyrics that are not dumbed down — and our kids are a good “first test” audience.

We see a toddler boldly walk on stage as if they were a part of the band, or a family dancing together. We hear from fans that they played one of our records over and over on a road trip and it didn’t drive them crazy (or secretly share that they play our tunes even when their kids are not around). Stories like these give us a great sense of lift and gratification. Rocking out family-style at a live event or to a favorite record builds stronger connections and inspires what we do. There’s nothing better than experiencing music together, no matter whose family it is.

Our worlds are not perfect, but they sure are rewarding — and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jennie Helman (bassist) and Sarah Shannon (lead singer and former member of the Sub Pop group Velocity Girl) live and work in Seattle. The latest album by The Not-Its!, Ready Or Not,was chosen as one of the top albums of 2018 by the annual Fids & Kamily poll. Catch the latest news about The Not Its! and their upcoming concert dates at www.wearethenot-its.com and view their new video “Hide and Seek” on their video page.

Folk-Rock Mama Edie Brickell’s Big Comeback is Blissfully Nostalgic

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians in the late-late ’80s, when Casey Kaseem played a video clip of “What I Am” — highlighting the ditty as one of the week’s hot movers on the Billboard 100 chart. I was young, and loved pop music like Debbie Gibson — but also loved Guns N’ Roses — and Edie Brickell was unlike anything I’d ever heard (my parents played the Beatles, The Zombies and Elvis, but never any Jimi Hendrix, Eagles, Grateful Dead or Woodstock-worthy rock).

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Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians in Portchester, N.Y., on 11/08/18

I was instantly hooked on the dizzy, slide-guitar tune from the six-piece band that I wanted to use my allowance on the band’s debut record, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars. I’ve never looked back. The hours I spent listing to “The Wheel,” “Nothing,” “Little Miss S,” “She,” “Circle,” and — of course — “What I am” were well spent.

But I’d never seen Ms. Brickell (who some refer to as Ms. Simon, per her famous husband).

Turns out, she was busy being a mama (of three kids, no less), and dabbling in musical side projects all of these years. So when I found out her band was coming to my area, I went nuts!

Thursday night’s performance at the Capitol Theater in Portchester, N.Y., was epic. Yes, Edie’s voice has changed (the timbre is a little different), but she sounds terrific. And the New Bohemians, with their drums-percussion-keys assault, play in perfect harmony. I loved every second of it, from the classics to the new tunes off the just-released album Rocket like “Eyes in the Window.”

I’m hoping for more great shows like that in the future!

Marisa Torrieri is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

The Most Rock n’ Roll Pumpkins Ever

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I don’t know about you, but I’m over the moon that it’s Halloween! While I normally don’t spend hours on social media (though my husband would probably disagree), Halloween is one of those days when I’m entrenched in it. I love seeing the pics of little kids’ costumes, decorations and festivities.

I’m especially tickled over some of the cool, Pinterest-worthy rockstar pumpkins I’m seeing.

Check out this Martha Stewart one:

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Or this one, from the Firewire Blog:

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And this one is another favorite (also from Firewire):

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Enjoy the day — costumes, candy, pumpkins and everything else!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Rockmommy Laurie Berkner’s New Book will Make Your Little Monsters Boogie on Halloween and Beyond

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Laurie Berkner is no fly-by-night children’s music artist. My sons, who have loved her since they were toddlers, still regularly sing along to her tunes, particularly “We Are Dinosaurs” and “Monster Boogie.” The latter may just be their favorite, as evidenced by their obsession with a.) watching the video over and over again, b.) making monster masks, per Laurie’s instructions at the end of said video, and c.) running around like monsters screaming “rawr!” after watching the video EVERY SINGLE TIME!! 

Recently, we caught up with busy rocker mom Laurie to chat about the new Monster Boogie book, music, and her new audible.com project! 

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Laurie Berkner (photo credit: Jayme Thornton)

Rockmommy: We LOVE the new Monster Boogie book. How did the idea to make a book come along? 

Laurie Berkner: I was originally thinking that I would like to turn some of my lullabies into books. When I pitched the idea to Simon and Schuster they suggested doing a series of three books, only one of which turned out to be a lullaby. Monster Boogie was the third title they chose, and I thought it was a great idea!

Rockmommy: How did you write the original “Monster Boogie?” Do you remember how that idea came up?

Laurie Berkner: I wrote it for a class I was taking on how to teach kids music using the Dalcroze Eurythmics method. (It’s a method that teaches music through movement.) I don’t remember what inspired it exactly, but I thought it would be fun to write a song about monsters that was NOT scary, since so many kids are afraid of monsters.

[RELATED: Superhero Mom Laurie Berkner: 20 Years of Making Cool Tunes in the Ever-Evolving Kids Music Soundscape]

Rockmommy: How old is your daughter now? Is she a music person, or does she help you out in any way with Laurie Berkner Band stuff?

Laurie Berkner: She is 14 now and sings, plays the drums, and writes songs on the ukulele. She is always happy to give me feedback on a song or anything else I’m working on, and she also sometimes works in my office. Right now she is officially in charge of taking pictures and video for my Instagram story!

Rockmommy: You have really great staying power — my kids always come back to you and your music. Why do you think they relate to your songs so well?

Laurie Berkner: That is a great question … I’m not really sure, other than that I really try to write a lot of my songs from a kids’ perspective. I think that creates a feeling of ownership, of the music really being theirs. I also try to make sure there is always at least one thing in each song that kids can really connect to, like a movement or an image or a rhythm.

Rockmommy: What other news is going on? What kind of shows are you playing?

Laurie Berkner: My big news is that I just created a new audio series for Audible.com! It’s called Laurie Berkner’s Song and Story Kitchen, and it’s ten different stories with music that I wrote and narrated, featuring characters from my songs like Oscar Beebee the Bumblebee and Victor Vito and Freddie Vasco who are ferret cousins. Each story starts and ends in my song and story kitchen where I make something yummy with my friend, Thelonius Pig (acted by Josiah Gaffney).

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Laurie Berkner’s Song and Story Kitchen

I also have a bunch of special themed shows coming up. Halloween shows in New York and California in October, and winter holiday shows with the whole band in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in December.

Rockmommy: Also, let’s say guitar-playing moms want to write songs for/with their own kids. Any suggestions on how to start that process?

Laurie Berkner: I think the best way to write a song for kids is to listen to what they are saying, watch what they’re doing, and think about what they enjoy. Then use those things as inspiration to develop songs that are relevant and interesting to them. And try singing the songs with them while you’re writing them!  You’ll see right away what works and what doesn’t.

For more on Laurie’s show dates, visit LaurieBerkner.com.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Dana Fuchs Talks Love, Loss, and Bringing a Baby on Tour

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Singer-songwriter Dana Fuchs is many things. 

Most visibly, she’s a powerful vocalist, famous for her gritty and raspy voice that belies her humble upbringings in the tiny, rural town of Wildwood, Florida. 

She’s also tough: When Fuchs got her break playing Janis Joplin in an Off-Broadway production, Love, Janis, which ran from 2001–2003, her work ethic and stamina gave her a staying power other singers couldn’t touch. Since then, she’s experienced so much love and loss that comparisons to Joplin feel eerily familiar. 

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Dana Fuchs

And today, a new identity has emerged for the New York City transplant: Mother. 

Fuchs, who recently released Love Lives On, the seventh record since her 2003 debut, now balances music and family with a little son, whom she regularly brings on tour.

We recently sat down with Fuchs as she prepared for her 2018 international tour, which kicks off in Europe this week, to talk about how the little man in her life, toddler son Aidan, is making music and life all the more magical. 

Rockmommy: For those of us who don’t know your story, could you give us the short version of your music career? 

Dana Fuchs: I came up here at 19 years old, and started doing these blues clubs, and had several fits and starts. Then I was asked to play Janis Joplin in the Off-Broadway production of “Love, Janis.” The other singers were dropping like flies! But I wasn’t really interested in that, I had just gotten on this fall tour. But I did it anyway. Fast forward a few years, and by 2008, 2009, I was touring nonstop, literally I was on the road three-quarters of the year, most of it in Europe. In the interim I’ve had some personal issues … there was the loss of siblings, and I lost my mom as I found out I was pregnant. I had just found out my son was a boy four days before she died, and never got to meet him. It was a bittersweet story.

Rockmommy: How have things changed since Aidan, who is now almost 2, was born? 

Dana Fuchs: The minute he was born, I was terrified. But I remember my friend giving me a book called ‘I can’t wait to meet you,’ but I was like, ‘no — stay in there as long as you want!’ But the night I met him, everything changed. And I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to be a stay-at-home mom somehow.’ But then my music partner who lives four blocks away in Harlem said, ‘why don’t we just do a few songs, and start a crowdfunding campaign’ for my next album. And then that turned into, ‘let’s go to Memphis and make a record,’ and I thought, ‘OK … I guess I can take the baby.’ 

Rockmommy: Did you pump [breastmilk] on tour? 

Dana Fuchs: [laughs] Yes, I pumped a lot! I pumped around five months. I would leave to [write the album] when he was five months old, and have these writing sessions that were four or five hours a couple of times a week, and that went well! It was really easy. So when he was about 7 months, he went on tour. We had a little travel pump. And when I would play, my bass player’s daughter would watch him, it was great. 

Rockmommy: Is there really a big market for American blues in Europe? 

Dana Fuchs: Yeah, it’s huge! That’s really how I’ve made my living. 

Rockmommy: What challenges did you have with your son on tour? 

Dana Fuchs: The long drives and planes between shows used to be my time for to sit and listen to music and read and write. But now with Aidan next to me, the last year and a half, it’s different because he wants my attention! And that’s where it’s really been challenging. I don’t get a lot of that quiet downtime … and that’s so important. And I’ll sometimes be walking on the stage to do a show and he’ll be crying, ‘no mama, no!’ Another time, I had this one show in Copenhagen, and I thought, ‘oh cool — I’ll bring Aidan and my husband.’ But it was a disaster — we didn’t leave until 3 in the morning … so I said to the people around me, ‘OK guys, I don’t know how he’s going to be’ and he woke up and had a fit for hours. It was a terrible situation but we got through it. 

Rockmommy: Any advice for all the rocker moms out there? 

Dana Fuchs: If music is really your passion, find a way to do it. I say, ‘happy mommy happy child.’ It’s really all about keeping your core.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

The Ramoms Take on The Ramones, Mixing Motherhood and Punk Rock in Philly

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Musician mama Jodi Jeffers spent decades as a lead singer in various bands, her love of the punk scene so deep rooted that it led her to her husband, Jonathan Jeffers, of the band Duffy’s Cut. But once the 11-year Philadelphia resident became a mom — raising her three young sons, ages 10, 8 and 5, while working nights as a bartender — finding time for band life got a little more challenging. 

“The idea for an all-mom punkrock band, where we could switch up the songs, parody style, came to me in my car,” recalls Jodi. “Then, at dinner, I was talking to my husband, it hit me like, ‘oh, The Ramoms.’”

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The Ramoms, from left: Cori (bass), Jodi (lead vocals), Sharon (guitar), Ginger (drums)

After recruiting music scene kid-and-furry-animal moms Cori (bass), Ginger (drums) and Sharon (guitar), the Ramones-inspired pop-punk/punk-parody band — which plays all the Ramones covers, sometimes swapping lyrics for silly, family-friendly alternatives — was born. 

Two years later, the band is on a roll, booking gigs and winning over fans of all ages. But making time for music is even more challenging, when you have five kids and eight pets to consider (the band’s collective total!). Here, Jodi tells Rockmommy about making it all work and whether the Ramoms will be playing a PTA function anytime soon. 

Rockmommy: How did you recruit your band? 

Jodi Jeffers: Once I decided this would happen it came together easily. Cori the bass player and I have know each other since we were teenagers and we figured it would be the two of us and then two other guys. But then I talked to Ginger, who I knew through another friend, and soon after, at a party, we met Sharon, the guitar player. And it was not hard to convince her to join — we just clicked! Nothing could be easier than being with these three women. 

Rockmommy: So Jodi, let’s talk about what kind of music the Ramoms makes. Straight up Ramones covers, except with moms? Or something more? 

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The Ramoms — Cori Ramom, Jodi Ramom, Sharon Ramom & Ginger Ramom — are playing several shows in Philly, Brooklyn & Staten Island this Fall.

Jodi Jeffers: We play a mix of songs for different types of gigs. For the night shows, we do all real covers, but with the family crowd sometimes we’ll do a kid play on the Ramones song, like ‘I want to be play dated’ instead of ‘I want to be sedated.’ We’re writing a lot too, and we’re working on a split 7-inch with a band called the Dad Brains, you know, like Bad Brains but with dads. They’re fun — they sing all originals about being old and hoping to sit down. 

Rockmommy: Is everyone in the band a diehard Ramones fan? 

Jodi Jeffers: Not everyone is a diehard fan, but everyone is a fan. They wrote great pop-punk songs. 

Rockmommy: Do you do any originals? 

Jodi Jeffers: That’s the next step after the children’s album … to write some originals. 

Rockmommy: So who comes to your shows? What kind of crowd is it? 

Jodi Jeffers: It’s pretty much anyone but we get a lot of people like ourselves — we’re all over 40 and we have jobs and kids and responsibilities. We get a lot of punk fans, and Ramones fans too, who love to come out and hear songs that they know.

Rockmommy: How do you make practice happen every week with your hectic schedules? 

Jodi Jeffers: Sharon drives an hour and a half to practice with us. My husband is really flexible and he gets it — he’s in his own band, and practices and goes on tour, so he is happy to watch the boys so I can practice too. Ginger’s son is a lot older, so childcare isn’t as much of an issue. Cori has a young son, but he comes over to play with my sons and we hang out. Most weeks we can make it work. 

Rockmommy: Have you played a PTA function yet? 

Jodi Jeffers: Not yet, but that would be lovely. 

Rockmommy: What’s your advice on work-life balance? 

Jodi Jeffers: My advice is, don’t lose yourself in being a parent. If you want to be in a band, go for it. Because you need to have some sort of outlet for yourself. If you can have time for yourself, that makes you a better parent.  

The Ramoms are playing in Staton Island on Saturday, September 22; in Philadelphia on Monday, September 24th with The Vibrators in Philadelphia (at Underground Arts), and Brooklyn (at Saint Vitus) on Sunday, October 7. For more information, visit the band’s Facebook Page. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

5 Reasons Why I’m Swooning Over Guitarist Nita Strauss’ Signature Ibanez JIVA

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

I didn’t have Nita Strauss to guide my guitar-purchasing decisions when I started playing. I just settled for what I could afford, forking over $100 in cash for a vintage Airline model, which I played through a pretty battered, 100-watt Laney amp, for most of my 20s. Most players I knew were dudes, and their advice on what to seek in a guitar — “gnarly pickups,” “a hefty sound” — went over my head. 

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Nita Strauss at the Guitar Center Clinic on 9/5/18 in Union Square (NYC)

So on Wednesday night, more than 15 years since I acquired the Airline, I felt a bit awestruck when Nita Strauss took the “stage” at the Guitar Center in Union Square for her nerd-worthy clinic and performance, wielding the most beautiful instrument I had ever seen. 

“I didn’t just fall out of the sky and land in Alice Cooper’s band,” she told the mostly male crowd of about 50 after showcasing a fraction of her skills. And while she came with an enviable rig that included a BOSS pedalboard and a Marshall CODE amp head, it was the Ibanez JIVA that caught my eye. Why didn’t I have a guitar like that when I stared playing, with my tiny, tiny girl hands? Had I been handed a JIVA instead of my male ex’s super-heavy Les Paul, I wouldn’t have had so many inferiority complexes in my early 20s. 

[RELATED: 5 Great Signature Guitars Designed for — and Inspired by — Female Rock Guitarists] 

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Nita Strauss’ signature guitar — the Ibanez JIVA10

The beautiful Ibanez JIVA, unveiled in summer 2018 as Nita embarked on another U.S. tour with Alice Cooper and his band, is awe-inspiring.

I want to buy one immediately — and if I didn’t have to pay for childcare, I would, literally, buy one online right this second. 

Here, in less-technical speak, I’ll dive into why this is the ideal instrument for rock mommies like me and aspiring Nita Strauss-like shredders (regardless of gender) who want to slay onstage: 

  1. It’s gorgeous. Nita describes the color of the JIVA, a name which means into one’s “soul” and has personal connections to the artist, as “Deep Space Blonde,” which is a gray burst on a natural quilted maple top. But the gorgeousness isn’t simply skin deep: The guitar’s wood combination of mahogany and bound ebony is the foundation of an equally beautiful tone. 
  2. It’s practical. At the Guitar Center clinic, Nita demonstrated the JIVA’s durability and balance. As such, the guitar’s Edge Zero II bridge features “a lower profile design for comfort, and stud lock function for superior tuning stability,” according to Ibanez. 
  3. It’s ideal for smaller-framed players. I love my Gibson SG, but it can feel like a couple of tons onstage — and since I’m about 5’2, every pound counts. I haven’t tried out the Ibanez JIVA, and Nita’s a few inches taller than me, but I can tell it’s easy to maneuver like a rockstar. I can’t wait to see how it stand up against my Strat! 
  4. It’s lightweight. Just look at this skinny beauty with the sleek neck. Nita had no trouble wielding it as she pranced the stage.
  5. It’s designed by a woman. Of course, any guitar can be played by a woman, but the fact that Nita sat down with the team at Ibanez to fine tune everything from the signature DiMarzio pickups to the lighting-bolt design on the fretboard means something to players like me.

It’s amazing how every year, more and more female rock guitar players are going mainstream, running clinics and working with guitar companies to launch their own signature models. While companies like Daisy Rock used to offer the only guitars tailored to a woman’s preferences, today we’re seeing everyone from Fender to Gibson and Ibanez considering our needs. 

I’ve always believed a woman’s place is on the stage, not in the home. And with guitars like the JIVA, a woman will feel right at home on stage. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.