Alphabet Rockers’ Kaitlin McGaw on Motherhood, Music and Celebrating Diversity with The LOVE

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

This past summer, as our country marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, many Americans marveled at how far we’ve come since the 1960s. From schools revamping their lesson plans to include the contributions of gay and transgender individuals to the legalization of same-sex marriage, we’re seeing true queer liberation on so many fronts. 

But beyond cities like New York and the San Francisco Bay area, where Kaitlin McGaw calls home, many LGBTQ communities have experienced increased violence and intolerance — especially over the last few years.

“I don’t turn away from it, and don’t cringe when contextualizing it for my young nieces, nephews and child,” says McGaw, whose hip-hop collective Alphabet Rockers channeled their frustration and hope into their latest album, The LOVE. “Embracing that has helped me counter how dominant culture is at work in children’s media, in our implicit biases, in our shushing and half truths.”

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Alphabet Rockers’ Kaitlin McGaw (she/her) and Tommy Shepherd (he/him)

The album — available for download everywhere — is loaded with uplifting, high-energy jams, tribal beats, lyrics about inclusion, gender identity and pride. It’s relatable to every listener, no matter who they are, how old they are or where they live.

We recently sat down with Kaitlin McGaw to chat about motherhood (her second child is due in October!), music, culture and more.

Rockmommy: As a dancer, educator, musician and podcaster, you’re really a Jane of All Trades! How’d you get your start as an artist?

Kaitlin McGaw: It had to be the start of high school, when I dove into poetry, voice and theater. Specifically, hearing the performances of poetry from Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou helped me see the power of these art forms to change culture, including my own. When I moved to the Bay Area after college, I found the bravery to really go deeper into every aspect of my artistry. I performed in a hip-hop dance troupe, acted in musical theater and then finally dove into songwriting and singing full-time. I loved how with music, I could let the songs and art change with me — with performances that could stretch over months and years instead of weekends of a theatrical run. Today there is no separating the art from the heart. It’s an authentic representation of myself and the community I perform with and for.

Rockmommy: Why is a record like The LOVE — which centers on gender identity and acceptance — needed so badly right now?

Kaitlin McGaw: Our kids deserve music that is rooted in our diverse identities — songs that they want to bump loud and proud, and process all their big ideas and feelings. Right now, our kids are absorbing all the pain of our country, including our silence and our resistance, whether we talk to them about it or not. Sometimes we hear folks say how grateful they are we do so much for the next generation. But we’re not done changing, either! The LOVE is for all of us — for parents who want to keep learning and evolving and for kids eager to be a part of love and change. There is incredible power in empathy, incredible impact in learning through another person’s narrative and lens. This is how we broaden our ‘blind spots,’ and we can’t do it by staying in a media space of tolerance that centers on dominant cultures. The LOVE allows us to hear from all ages, to center trans and non-binary voices, and to level up our love and understanding.

The Love Cover smallRockmommy: Can you walk us through the process of creating the album, from concept to execution?

Kaitlin McGaw: For the past two albums, Tommy and I have used an inquiry process to create our songs; our goal is to have an authentic truth to each song that meets the real need of our audience. It’s almost like translation. We research, we listen, and we host individual and community conversations about the issues we are writing about. Then we create a web of lyrics and sounds — always pushing ourselves sonically to stay contemporary and on the top of our musical composition. The first track we created for this album was “Live Your Life” — written with a young trans member of our family — and he shared what he would want to tell the 5-year-old version of himself. For other songs on this album, we partnered with Our Family Coalition, the two spirit indigenous community of the Bay Area, and many individual families with gender diverse identities. What resulted was music that sounds, as Our Family Coalition reflected, “by us and for us” — and songs that translate from age 2 to 80 in our human evolution.

Rockmommy: Some of the best art comes from anger and frustration. Have any of those emotions fueled this record?

Kaitlin McGaw: One of the kernels of love on this album, advised by one of our gender non-binary parents, was the importance of honesty even if it counters the child media of ‘love is love’ and ‘sunshine after the rain.’ Telling kids that everything would get better, in the parent’s perspective, was neither true nor fair. You will hear that freedom to name the pain and the self love in so many songs on this album — and I hope listeners will join us in that spaciousness.

For myself as an artist and privileged cisgendered white woman, I have been in conversation with anger, oppression, humanity and justice for many years, even if it is not in my lived body. I don’t turn away from it, and don’t cringe when contextualizing it for my young nieces, nephews and child. Embracing that has helped me counter how dominant culture is at work in children’s media, in our implicit biases, in our shushing and half truths.

All that being said, the album The Love feels at once contemporary — speaking our current truth — and of service to our child selves, both music for our future legacy and healing of our past. None of the violence and oppression we are witnessing today is new, nor is our bravery or truth speaking new. But it all is still a revolution and revelation of expansive consciousness, connection and willingness to create positive change.

Rockmommy: Were there logistical challenges in making the record?

Kaitlin McGaw: We coordinated more than 60 artists and collaborators to make this album, which was a huge undertaking! The logistics of coordinating recording sessions, meetings and rehearsals continues to be a huge part of our job in presenting The LOVE — and yet this challenge is so necessary to undertake. One thing I’ve learned about equity and creating equitable frameworks is that what may feel convenient is not always equitable. It takes time, trust and stretching to find that common ground.

Having said that, we’ve got an amazing home base — Zoo Labs — a studio and business development space right here in Oakland that has facilitated every public creation for the album. From artistic brainstorms to business models, listening sessions with families to final recordings, we had a safe and nurturing environment to create. We are also fortunate to have a deep and diverse community of creative minds — families that really opened up to us, and artists who came on board to share their truths.

Oh, and being in my first and second trimester of pregnancy throughout the recording meant a few bumpy days as well! This baby is going to have music in their heart from the very beginning.

Rockmommy: You have lots of other projects and work commitments, in addition to motherhood. How do you balance everything?

Kaitlin McGaw: Balance is huge. Having an active toddler with 12-hour recording sessions, 7 a.m. departures for school concerts, and coordinating a team of performing artists, documentarians, booking agents for tours and shipping/product management means my brain has to be large and in charge. And full of patience. My main thing I have been working on is letting go — knowing I won’t get to everything, that’s it’s OK to not be the perfect meal planner, that my life and art will be OK even if I have to do one more than the other. It’s not always easy. My self care routine is to stop working after I pick up my little one from day care — no projects or logging in. Same for weekends, when we are not performing, I give my family 100 percent attention. Of course the work day, inspiration and upkeep doesn’t ever stop for entrepreneurs, so it’s not easy!

My husband and I are both very passionate about our life’s work (he works in building affordable housing for the Bay Area) so we also feel a ton of support for one another’s time, heart and balance. He thrives on the mornings with our toddler when I race to a school show, or their time on weekends when I’m out at a concert. And I love sitting on the carpet to play with cars to start or unwind the day. But the best part has been watching my toddler grow up in the studio, at rehearsals and looking up to the 10- and 11-year-old Alphabet Rockers.

Rockmommy: On the other hand, how has parenthood influenced your artistry?

Kaitlin McGaw: Becoming a parent has given me so much more compassion for each parent’s journey. Now at shows, when I see parents with little ones, I feel extremely thankful and aware that they have gone the distance to do something of value for their children. I feel even more responsibility and honor to be a source of culture in their family story.

And every story that is shared with me becomes a part of my artistic fabric. The mom who told me her family was targeted with racist harassment on the street on vacation — she said they went back to their hotel and listened to/sang ‘I’m Proud’ on repeat. This is the why. And it brings it all full circle. That song was rooted in the need for healing and self empowerment for diverse individuals — and it continues to do just that. I am eager to hear the stories of how The LOVE changes lives, moments, and after-school processing, and builds a community of empowered change makers.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Rock Dad Mark Pires on Going Solo with The GigBox — and Why Timing is Everything

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Dressed in nice pants and a button-down shirt as he walks his kids to school, Mark Pires looks like your average working parent. But strip away the business frocks and hand him an acoustic guitar, and you realize Mark’s not so basic: In fact, he’s part of a rare breed of dads who can strum an axe like Dave Matthews. Listen a little longer, and he may start finger-picking a tune that will induce a state of musical bliss.

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Mark Pires, creator of The GigBox, with his family in Fairfield, Conn.

But while learning to play guitar was easy for Mark, now a dad of 3, there was one glaring challenge that used to stymie him when he tried to start his solo gigging career: a drummer, or rather, a lack thereof. 

While he’s a whiz with looper pedals and can make his guitar sound like practically any recognizable instrument, Mark spent much of his adult life dependent on drummers and percussionists to round out his rock n’ roll tunes, which tend to capture the mood of Matthews’ music, with clear Grateful Dead influences. And while anyone can play a song with just a guitar, having drums changes the entire vibe of a set, filling it out or making it more rock n’ roll. And a fuller sound can often make the difference when transitioning from the open mic scene to bigger stages and crowds.

But as Mark would tell you himself, everything happens for a reason. And one day in 2011, when his percussionist cancelled on Mark last minute to play a higher-profile gig, the idea of building a cajón tailored to the needs of a solo guitarist came to him in a vision. 

A few years later, The GigBox ™ was born. 

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The GigBox

Fast forward to 2019, and Mark’s patented invention for solo artists has gained an impressive following. The GigBox has received media attention that would make a public relations pro swoon — like broadcast segments on Fox News and News 12, plus lots of clips in community magazines and newspapers — and is a popular diversion at conferences like NAMM. It’s available at a handful of retail locations too, although the bulk of GigBoxes are ordered online (and made to order). 

[RELATED: Inside the Loog Guitar: Not Your Typical Preschooler’s Instrument]

As expected, Mark can easily bang out tunes on The GigBox, using his heels to tap the sides of the hollow box in timed intervals to create high hat, snare, and bass drum beats. 

Of course, for the rest of us who aren’t used to playing our own percussion during solo gigs, it’s a little trickier to get a rhythm going. I also had a size issue. I’m 5’2, and in sneakers my heels didn’t touch the ground when I started kicking the box and playing a basic chord progression. But fortunately for me — and others 5’4 and under — Mark has created a smaller, more petite version of his signature model — the GigBox Junior (as well as even smaller GigBoxes for mommy-and-me or daddy-and-me jams). 

It’s a minor issue, because playing The GigBox is awesome. The first time I clicked the side of the box with my heel, I immediately wanted to start singing something new, rather than create a beat for an existing track. But if you want to play a classic tune, Mark offers tons of tutorials on The GigBox website. 

In July, we caught up with Mark to chat about his journey to The GigBox, and how he balances his business with family and other responsibilities.

Rockmommy: So, how did you get your start as a musician? 

Mark Pires: I didn’t even know I had a talent for music until I heard my friend playing ‘Warehouse’ [by Dave Matthews] and that’s the first time I realized it was possible to play someone else’s music. One of my best friends introduced me to Jethro Tull, the Grateful Dead, and then I and started listening to Pearl Jam, the Counting Crows, and other bands.

Six months into playing guitar, I got sick of playing Dave Matthews songs and started writing my own material. In college, I did a lot of theater — my first love was acting — and then when I started writing music, something clicked. Writing Songs that no one’s ever heard in the history of time, that’s unique!

I had a band in 2001 called The Reservoir— and in July 2001 won a big battle of the bands at Calf Pasture beach [in Norwalk, Connecticut] called IndieBob. We were promised two things. A college tour and distribution deal, and a recording session at Carriage House, a studio in Stamford.

So in July 2001 we recorded 11 songs in one day — 9 out of 11 songs were first takes — and then September 11th happened. So then, the record company that was giving us the distribution deal and tour went out of business. But they told us, ‘We just started a little company called CD Baby.’ We’ll give you a one-year membership for free [laughs]. We were supposed to get a college tour and a distribution deal — but instead we got a $35 membership to CD Baby.

 

 

Rockmommy: So what happened next? 

Mark Pires: So in 2004, The Reservoir broke up. We got to a point where we just weren’t going. For a year and a half, we were just a power trio — me, a drummer and a bassist. We weren’t gathering steam, so after that I started my solo tour, which I’ve done until now. I was one of the first guys in the area to use a loop sampler, a Boomerang. It’s like a looper pedal. But the one I was using, compared to the ones today, was a million times harder. If I didn’t have my timing exact, the whole song was off. So I started the process where I went on the Mark Pires Solo Tour, and to fill out my sound, I had all these pedals in front of me… and I also had a guitar synthesizer, a Roland GR-33 to play trumpets, steel drums, whatever I wanted, on the guitar. I ran everything through a PA at whatever venue I’d play. So that was the way it went. The one piece I was missing was percussion.

Rockmommy: When did it first occur to you to create The GigBox ?

Mark Pires: My first son, Oliver was 2, it was 2011… and I was playing Georgetown Saloon [in Georgetown, Conn.] and another musician was backing me up — José Feliciano’s drummer — with a cajón. I never would have thought of The GigBox if he didn’t call me up and said, ‘hey I can’t make it to the show, call someone else,’ and I thought, ‘hey, I need to build a cajón.’ But then I realized the cajón it isn’t built for [guitarists]. It sits underneath us, and I was confused. How do I kick it and play? And as soon as I realized how ridiculous that look, I saw the GigBox in my mind. I thought, ‘what about something that comes through your legs? What if it was wider in the back and more narrow in the front?’ The GigBox lets you sit and completely comfortable.

Rockmommy: So how did you have the skills to build this? 

Mark Pires: In life, we don’t know why we’re good at some things and bad at others. Some of the things I’ve had a knack for include songwriting. I just feel things. I’d say the same thing with The GigBox. I could say I have some experience because my dad is a builder so I’m used to tools. When I’d come back from the road, I’d be working for my dad, and be around carpenters and construction workers. The first GigBoxes were built in my father’s garage.

Rockmommy: How would someone get started playing The GigBox? 

Mark Pires: We have four different models you can choose from — the regular GigBox, the Mini, which is 12 inches tall, the Junior, which is 16 inches tall, and the percussion version is 10 inches wide instead of seven-and-a-half.

Rockmommy: What’s the Learning curve for The GigBox? 

Mark Pires: It’s like playing the guitar. Learning the guitar is a learning curve — when I first started playing guitar, I was having a hard time, and my fingers were killing me. It took me a lot of time to get past that. The GigBox was just the same. The best way to explain learning The GigBox is say you have to try to do it slowly. You get a bass going with your heel [taps heel on left side of GigBox], and then you get going.

Rockmommy: You’re a busy guy. How do you balance being a dad, husband, and entrepreneur? 

Mark Pires: My wife, Lara, is the greatest mom — she runs the GigBox business and its PR while taking care of the kids 24/7. This allows me to focus on both Real Estate — I’m a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway — and allows me to build GigBox orders and broadcast live for my Real Talk show every night. Having Lara’s support allows me to have a successful work/life balance. This is important because my work schedule is not normal. I work 358 days a year — I know this because I did the math, and calculated the number of hours I spend working. And I work every single day of the year, except for vacation. Now there are some busier days than others. I tend to work long hours every day, and at night, I eat, hang out with the kids, quickly shower… and do Real Talk, my talk show, where I talk and play some songs with The GigBox. The balance can be hard. It’s about discipline, it’s about consistency. It’s very difficult, because there are times when I get home and I just want to put my feet up. And you know, The GigBox can give you better life-work balance — because our focus is too much on work, not on the positivity of life. The GigBox is an energy builder, an energy soother. My kid can have a rough day and start kicking and playing and then he has a smile on his face. 

Rockmommy: What lessons have you learned over the years? 

Mark Pires: Twelve years ago, I had a record deal on the table with a subsidiary of Jive Records. And my wife and I were going to get married six months later. I brought it to the lawyer in Darien and he laughed, and said, ‘there’s nothing here for you — it’s like the deal Billy Joel signed, when he signed away ‘Piano Man’ and didn’t get a penny for it’ and we went back and forth and I said, ‘you know what? I’m going to get married. I’ll just hang up the guitar and get a real estate license.’ And thank God I did that. Because the first thing a record label will do is put a band around you. And if that happened, I never would have invented The GigBox. It’s nice to be 41 and know you made the right move at 30.

Use “Rockmommy” in the coupon code at checkout and get 10 percent off your next GigBox.

 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Want to Hear Songs Inspired by STEM? Download Turtle Dance Music’s Latest Album

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Does your little one love to dance with her friends? Or is he or she literally shell shocked with shyness? If you answered the latter, Turtle Dance Music wants to schedule a performance in your town.  

The New York City-based musical performance troupe recently reached out to Rockmommy with the news that its live show, which emphasizes — yes! — science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), is coming to town. And honestly, as someone who reviews kindie music all the time, I can definitely say this is the first time I’ve encountered a STEM kindie music act. It’s kinda neat! 

The group, which offers “45- to 60-minute long sensory-friendly performances” geared for Pre-K, grades K-5 and students on the Autism spectrum,” kicks of its 2019 summer tour — “Space: The Cosmos for Kids” — on July 21 in Hartford, Conn.

The group is also releasing its sixth studio album — Add to the World  — this weekend. 

I’ve listened once and already have a few favorites: “One Note,” a math song that kinda reminds me of early Daft Punk. There’s also a super-cutesy song about colds called “I only Sneeze in Threes” and the guitar-laced “Jump and Count” — which is literally a math-inspired remake of “Twist and Shout.”

Want more? 

Check out a video of the group’s performance (for viewers of all ages!) or visit their website for more info. 

If you’re in Connecticut, see them in late July or August at one of these gigs:

Space: The Cosmos for Kids
7/25: Milford library, 57 New Haven Ave.; 6:30 p.m.
8/2 Cheshire library, 104 Main Street; 10 a.m.
8/2: Meriden library, 105 Miller St.;11:30 a.m.
8/14: Weston library, 56 Norfield Road; 3:30 p.m.
8/14: Harwinton library, 80 Bentley Road, 6:30 p.m.
 
Autism Friendly Music, Bubble and Comedy Show 
8/21: New London library, 63 Huntington Street; 1 p.m.
 
Songs That Count
8/21: New Canaan library, 151 Main Street, 10 a.m.

From Backstreet Boy to Musical Dad: Howie D. on Love, Fatherhood and New Record ‘Which One Am I?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The Backstreet Boys are all dads in their 30s and 40s — which proves you’re never too old to be a pop star, and churn out hits infused with killer vocal harmonies and choreographed dance moves. 

And as the experience of founding member Howie D. proves, you’re never too old to try something completely different and unexpected. 

The vocalist’s first family album ‘Which One am I?’ — which draws on his sometimes-awkward adolescence as the son of a Puerto Rican mom and Irish-American Dad — drops July 12. Judging by the catchy first single, “No Hablo Español” — a Santana-meets-Sesame-Street tune — the record will show us a side of Howie we’ve only glimpsed in interviews and news stories.

Howie D

Backstreet Boys vocalist Howie D. will release first family album, Which One Am I?, on July 12.

In the video for “No Hablo Español” Howie’s real-life, 10-year-old son James plays a young boy trying to explain to kids and grown-ups in his community that he doesn’t speak Spanish, isn’t accustomed to spicy foods, and has had few cultural experiences that exemplify his presumed upbringing. It’s a powerful song that encapsulates the struggle experienced by many kids from mixed family backgrounds — especially today.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t taught Spanish at a young age,” Howie D. — whose full name is Howie Dorough — tells Rockmommy. “My response was always ‘No Hablo Español.’”

The album is also inspired by Howie’s perspective as a father of two, who — just like the rest of us — works hard to balance creative career endeavors with the demands of parenting, like shuttling kids to and from school every day (raise your hand if you can relate!). 

So how does he do it all? 

We caught up with Howie D., who is currently on the Backstreet Boys DNA World Tour, to find out more. 

Rockmommy: I just finished watching the video for “No Hablo Español” — it’s like Sesame Street meets a Broadway musical! How did the song (and the album Which One Am I?) come about?

Howie D: Thank you, that’s such a compliment and exactly what I was looking to achieve. The idea for the song “No Hablo Español” came from my experiences as a child and people assuming I spoke Spanish by the way I look. Unfortunately, I wasn’t taught Spanish at a young age. My response was always: “No Hablo Español.” The album is based off different childhood experiences and challenges I faced.

Rockmommy: When did it occur to you that you wanted to create a family album? Was there a moment? Or did the idea sort of percolate over time?

Howie D: This idea started when my eldest was about 5 years old. I wanted to find a way to connect with him on a musical level. I had a hard time relating to music that was out there at the time. It made me wonder why there wasn’t more music that kids and parents could enjoy together. Also, as I looked into the audience at a Backstreet Boys show one day, I noticed a lot of kids coming to the shows with their BSB fan parents. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back… and I began working on what is now Which One Am I?

Rockmommy: You became a husband and then a dad after decades of musical success with the Backstreet Boys. How has parenthood changed you, personally?

Howie D.: Parenthood has taught me to be selfless. Having a family has really balanced me out in life. Now, I am able to truly understand the meaning of working hard, but also the meaning of being a family man too.

Rockmommy: How has parenthood influenced your music (or even your tour schedule)?

Howie D.: Parenthood has influenced my music by making me think about different subjects. I am inspired by different things nowadays. All 5 of us in the Backstreet Boys are now parents. We try to work together on a schedule that allows us to work hard and put in quality time with our families, even if it is on the road.

Rockmommy: Do your boys enjoy playing music or sing with you?

Howie D.: My kids LOVE singing with me. On the way to school — I am the bus driver when I am home — we are always singing along and rewriting songs we hear on the radio. James definitely has the entertainer bug! He loves singing and dancing. He even takes voice lessons from my sister, Pollyanna [Dorough].

Rockmommy: Do you go to “daddy and me” toddler music classes or anything like that? Or just jam at home?

Howie D.: When my kids were younger, I would go to Gymboree with them. This also inspired me to want to make something more entertaining for families!

Rockmommy: Having a busy work life and kids can be hard on marriage. How do you make it work?

Howie D.: I try to put in quality time for both. When me and my wife are back home, we have a date night once a week. It brings us back to a time when it was just the two of us! Marriage is something you always work on. As I mentioned, I am the bus driver when I’m at home. I love that quality time with the kids in the morning and afternoons.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor of Rockmommy. 

What to Do When Goals and Hobbies Become Stressful

When I first began playing guitar in college, no one had to nag me to practice. I played every chance I got, picking up tips from more-skilled players and romantic partners along the way.

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Me, carving out 10 minutes on a sunny day, to play guitar.

Within a few months, I was hooked. It helped, of course, that when I started playing guitar I was dating an insanely skilled player — a guy who patiently walked me through the basics (transitioning from E-minor to G) and the complex stuff (the Circle of Fifths) — but he didn’t need to convince me to practice. I just did, perhaps to the detriment of other areas of my life.

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Fast forward to 2019, and “play guitar” has frequently found itself on my “to do” list — something to accomplish, something to check off. Sure, I play for fun too — I have a new band, Trashing Violet, and we practice for two hours a week — but most days, I try to hit a minimum of 10  minutes. Some days it’s a struggle.

So what gives? I didn’t even know what a “to do” list was when I was a teenager with her first Yamaha Acoustic (12 Gauge) 6-String. 

In a word, motherhood. 

My days are busy and — between making breakfast and lunch, snuggle time, laundry, working as a freelance writer, teaching guitar, working out to stay healthy, cooking, folding laundry, and finally, hanging out with my husband — the amount of time devoted to personal recreation has dwindled. And often times, I’m too exhausted to want to do anything at the end of the day besides watch The Bachelorette (don’t judge, people) or scroll through Instagram. In this way, I’m definitely not alone. 

But it isn’t just motherhood that’s changed me, and given a new urgency to goals like running a half marathon in 1:50”. It’s also the onset of “to do” culture and #goals.

Hobbies are no longer ways to pass the time. They’re #sidegigs and essential passion projects. Like many millennials, I grew up with the mindset that I should follow my dreams only to land a mediocre job after college. I grew up being told that having ambitions didn’t just mean getting a job — it meant aiming for the stars. And never quitting. Winners never quit. 

Of course, being a professional, paid freelance writer — one who’s written for The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun and other esteemed outlets — is fantastic. Getting paid to teach guitar is fantastic. Playing guitar and singing with a band is fantastic. But I also harbor secret dreams that one day, I’ll get paid to tour the world with whatever band I’m in while writing a New York Times best-selling novel. 

The problem is that having goals — or being totally driven by passion projects — can distract us from the here and now. 

The truth is that I can only do so much to be a better writer, guitar player, singer and person. I no longer have the lazy days of college to practice my skills, or lie in my bed thinking of nothing until a poem comes into my head. Being a great mom is the most important thing I do. And that takes time. It also takes time away from personal development or passion projects.

In order to keep my life and recreational endeavors in balance, here are a few rules I follow: 

  1. Keep goals reasonable. If I were to practice guitar 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, I wouldn’t have time for anything else — exercise, parenthood, income-earning ventures, etc. So maybe that means Nita Strauss, a professional guitarist with no kids, will always be a better guitar player than me. But by practicing maybe two to three hours a week, I can still be better than the average hack. 
  1. Set the bar low. My weekly goals are as follows: 3 hard workouts (45 minutes or more) per week; 1 to 2 hours of singing/guitar practice per week (on at least 3 separate days); 1 hour of personal, non-income-generating writing time. That’s it. When I try to raise the bar, I get stressed out because I end up dropping things I need (like meditation). Keeping the bar low-ish leaves me time for self-reflection.
  1. Practice gratitude. Cheesy as it sounds, when I am grateful for the little things — a body that can run half marathons, a spouse who supports my ambitions, two beautiful children, a nice and relaxing home, my parents — I don’t feel deprived or resentful that I’m not as famous as Gwen Stefani. 

As my wise mom friend Emily once told me (I think, quoting Michelle Obama), women can have it all — just not all as once. 

Hobbies and goals should motivate and excite us. If they’re stressing you out, it’s time to rethink why you engaged in them in the first place. And it may be time for a new hobby. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Just in Time for Mother’s Day: The Story Behind the Single ‘Miracles Happen’ Will Warm Your Heart

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

To say that miracles happen is almost an understatement for producer, musician and dad Don Cherel. When Cherel found out his wife was expecting twins in October 2017, he was over the moon that they’d be expanding their family. But then his world came crashing down when he was told that one or both of the girls would not survive due to Fetal Hydrops. Between December and February 2018, he struggled to keep the faith as he feared the worst. CoverArt

But then, something different happened. In February 2018, the Cherel family received the news that the hydrops had “miraculously” disappeared. 

The emotional roller coaster and Cherel’s gratitude led him back to his guitar, and in March, the song “Miracles Happen” came to life. Three months later, in June 2018, his twin daughters were born. 

Of course, it isn’t lost on Cherel that he’s incredibly lucky because devastating things happen to real families every day. But he hopes that his song is a testament to the power of music and writing — not only as an outlet to get through a difficult time, but as a way to channel emotions and celebrate all that is good. 

Cherel recently caught up with Rockmommy to share his heartwarming story. 

[You can download the single “Miracles Happen” here]. 

Rockmommy: Can you talk about how the song “Miracles Happen” came about?

Don Cherel: I wrote the song “Miracles Happen” during an extremely difficult time for myself, my wife, and two sons. It was March of 2018 when I sat down at the piano to write a song about what our family was going through: We found out we were having twins the previous October, and told one or both would not survive that December due to Fetal Hydrops — and then, in February, we were told that miraculously the hydrops disappeared! Our twin girls were born in June of 2018.  We’re planning their first birthday now.

The song was an emotional journey that I had to express musically. Music has always been my fundamental communicative art form. There’s something about an emotional and poetic expression wrapped in a rhythmic mathematical construct that has always felt naturally expressive to me.

I’ve worked on hundreds of tunes professionally working at a production company but this one had far more personal gravitas. This song contains so much personal pain, fear and triumph culminating into a story of hope, I had to express those emotions musically. I’ve always dealt with tragedy and devastation even joy through songwriting.  I suppose, for me, songwriting is a way to internalize, realize then materialize all the human emotions I’m processing with a tangible keep sake at the end.  Praying got us through the stresses of the experience, the song is sort of the documentary that describes it.

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Don Cherel with his twin daughters, who inspired the single ‘Miracles Happen’

Rockmommy: Have you always been a believer in miracles or more of a skeptic?

Don Cherel: To say I’ve always believed in miracles would be inaccurate. The older I get the more I realize there are certain instances I can’t explain logically. I would consider myself a logical person approaching most instances with ration and logical thought, however this time was very different.  Ration and logic did little to help face the paralyzing fear of a grim prognosis.  My wife and I were devastated because the doctors told us one child (Baby B) wouldn’t survive and there’s a good chance Baby A would meet the same fate.  We have two boys and our family was huddled together crying in the living room.  They looked up at me and asked “Daddy, will it be ok?”  No ration or logic is going to suffice in that instance.  We started praying for a miracle and a few months later we got one.  I am now 100 percent a believer in miracles.

Rockmommy: So many devastating things happen to people — why is music, songwriting specifically, such a helpful channel?

Don Cherel: It is an unfortunate truth that as human beings we witness and experience devastation.  I can’t logically, rationally or accurately explain all the reasons behind human devastation but I know what it feels like. I also know what hope feels like, and not just empty hope but hope  that comes to fruition. To live through that experience formed in me a story I had to tell through song. Why a song? I think songs have the ability to describe and communicate emotions we couldn’t otherwise articulate, at least that’s what happens to me. For some reason those 12 pitches when arranged correctly can evoke in us the deep, deep feelings.

Don Cherel: How do you make time to write?

Rockmommy: I’m not sure I make time to write as often as I should. I primarily compose on guitar and have a recording studio in our barn. Guitars are always hanging on the wall or leaning on a piece of furniture so whenever I have something to say I pick one up to see what will come out.  I try and play everyday, sometimes 20 minutes sometimes a few hours but I’m always writing.

Rockmommy: What message do you hope to pass on to other parents?

pastedGraphic.pngDon Cherel: The message I hope to pass on to other parents is the same message that was passed on to me: hope. My wife and I have a friend who knew of a family in a very similar situation and their child was diagnosed with Fetal Hydrops, told the baby wouldn’t survive yet was born and had just turned 12 months old. We don’t know why certain things happen to certain people but the more people I talk to the more we agree, miracles are happening everyday. This just happens to be our miracle story.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Kindie Rocker Jessa Campbell Shares Her Secrets for Staying Creative While Raising a Toddler

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

If kindie rock musicians were planets, Jessa Campbell would be Mother Earth. The Portland, Ore.-based singer loves hiking through the tranquil forest, pondering life, and basking in the warmth of a summer day. In fact, her latest single with band The Saplings, “How I Love You Sun,” which debuts this month on Rockmommy, is all about her hot friend. 

But these days there’s another kind of sunshine that’s capturing her heart: Her real-life, three-year-old son. 

Here, Campbell talks about carving out the“me time” she needed to make her latest album, the Pacific Northwest music scene, and finding work-life balance. [Watch the video here, and download the single on Spotify]

Rockmommy: Your voice is amazing! When did you start singing?

Jessa Campbell: Music was a part of my life right from the start. My father loved bluegrass and would often play his guitar and sing around the home. My younger sisters and I could often be found harmonizing from our respective rooms! The first time I remember actually learning a song and singing it for my family was in 1st grade. Mrs. Williams introduced Raffi’s song, “Evergreen Everblue” to the class. That song instilled in me a desire to protect the planet, while also showing my parents that I could carry a tune! I remember singing it for them at a little family picnic we had in our backyard and seeing the surprised looks on their faces.

Rockmommy: Can you tell us how your music has changed since you became a mom (or has it?)

Jessa Campbell: Oh yeah, it’s changed quite a bit! Long gone are the glorious days of hiking through the tranquil forest, pausing now and then to ponder the journey through life! Let’s just say that I wrote a lot of music before having my son. But now, I think I write better music. As you know, moms have very little “me” time. I have to fiercely protect the limited time I’ve carved out for myself. It’s within those incredibly small spaces that the plug is pulled and the songs burst through. With going sometimes weeks or months without having that space, there is a lot of pent-up creativity! The space slowly refines the songs within. Once a moment arises for them to emerge, they can’t get out quickly enough! And there’s no time for crap ideas at that point. I know when a song just isn’t right. In the old days, I would give it space and coax it into being. Now, there’s another song right behind her!

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“How I Love You Sun” single available now (Photo courtesy: Jessa Campbell and the Saplings)

Rockmommy: What inspired your new song and video? 

Jessa Campbell: I was thinking about some of my friends in Indonesia! It was actually quite early in the morning, like, 4 a.m. early. I had been woken up, by my 3-year-old of course, and was unable to fall back asleep due to the laundry list of things that needed to be accomplished the next day. I starting thinking of friends who were already well into their day. I used to sing on a cruise ship and have a lot of Indonesian friends from that experience. The melody was originally written for a song I was crafting called “Indonesian Sun”. I started thinking about how incredible this jewel in the sky was and began researching facts about the sun! The song practically wrote itself!

Rockmommy: What inspires you about the Pacific Northwest’s music scene? 

Jessa Campbell: I appreciate the collaborations and support I’ve received through the community. It’s the kind of place where artists really are there for one another. My bandmates both with the Saplings and in other projects I play with have been my support system! Folks of LDW, the Talking Heads Tribute Project I’m in, were cool with me bringing my toddler to rehearsals. He’d rock out with his little headphones on while mama sang. One incredible organization that I first received some help from and now have the pleasure to work with is Local Roots Music. Local Roots Music NW was founded in 2013 by local musician and entrepreneur Robert Richter. What began as a weekly Sunday night radio program showcasing NW Music on KMUZ-FM in Salem now includes a number of programs promoting local music with most events held in the Portland area.

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Jessa Campbell

Rockmommy: When you see little ones respond to your music, how do you feel?

Jessa Campbell: It’s the best feeling in the world! From the wide-eyed wobblers to the “twirl-around- the-room-like-a-fairy” 8-year-olds, I cannot get enough of it. Each show is so different, and I play to the ages and energies in the room. There was a recent show with a little boy who was quite shy, hiding under the table. I decided to turn that into a game and play our song about the moles in the ground, pointing out that he must have known what song was next! He lit right up once he realized he was doing something pretty awesome!

Rockmommy: What are some of the challenges of being a musician and a mom?

Jessa Campbell: Carrying gear and a kiddo. I have to make multiple trips back and forth of course. Oh, and then there are the moments when your kid is coming up on the stage to tug on your costume while you try to keep singing and also try to communicate that he needs to stop. Fun times. Thankfully Grandma and Grandpa are here now!

Rockmommy: What advice do you have for rockmommies?

Jessa Campbell: Keep doing it. I thought that as a single mama, my music days were over. Nah. You just have to be creative, super resourceful, and carry extra snacks in the diaper bag for the band members at rehearsal!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor of Rockmommy.