Girls Girls Girls’ Nikita Seis and Tawny Lee on Reviving the ‘Crüe,’ Partying with Tommy Lee (and MGK), and Gigging in 2021

NYC-based Mötley Crüe tribute band Girls Girls Girls plays such a high-energy, awe-inspiring live show that phone calls and email requests to play private events are pretty much the norm (as are fangirls like me).

So when the band received a random email in late 2018 about playing a private party in Los Angeles, GGG bassist Nikita Seis was hesitant to celebrate. It just seemed like another fan request.

Girls Girls Girls, NYC’s Mötley Crüe tribute band, partying with Tommy Lee in 2019.

I just got the typical email that I always got about possibly ‘playing a private party in LA in March,’” Nikita tells Rockmommy. “I was on my way to see The Struts with a friend and told her about the email, and how nine times out of ten those are just some random person asking us to play their party and they never pan out.” 

But her mindset changed a few hours later as she pulled in to the driveway of the suburban Nashville home she shares with her husband and kids, and the host of SiriusXM’s Hair Nation confirmed the date for the release of Mötley Crüe’s biopic The Dirt, for March 22nd.

“At that point I realized there was a chance the two could have something to do with each other, and the next day, when I spoke to the woman in charge, it was confirmed,” Nikita tells Rockmommy. “She told me the filmmakers wanted us and it was contingent on all four members of Mötley Crüe signing off on us.”

After dusting off their instruments and scrambling over the next six weeks to bring on a new singer, rehearse like crazy, and try to stay sane while balancing job responsibilities and parenting, the band pulled off a visually and musically epic rock set at LA’s legendary club Whisky a Go Go — to the delight of an audience that included none other than Tommy Lee and Machine Gun Kelly (who plays Lee in the movie), front and center.

Girls Girls Girls rocking out. (Photo: Drew Osborne)

It’s a moment and a memory bassist and rock-n-roll mom continues to savor, especially now, as the excitement around live music’s return is being tempered by the delta variant, and the summer 2021 window for worry-free gigging is starting to close.

But she — and the rest of her Crüe-playing bandmates, including lead singer Trixxx Neill, guitarist Denise Mercedes Mars and the drummer better known to GGG fans as Tawny Lee — remain hopeful, even in the midst of uncertainty.

We recently caught up with Nikita and Tawny to talk about the tribute band’s 15-year legacy, and how they balance rock aspirations with work pressures, motherhood (Nikita’s kids are 11 and 9), and life on life’s terms. 

Rockmommy: I’m so psyched to interview Girls Girls Girls! What’s the coolest thing you’ve done in the last two years?

Nikita Seis: This is probably obvious, but getting to play the afterparty for the ‘Dirt’ premiere at the Whisky [in Los Angeles] was probably the coolest thing we’ve done in the last 15 years!

The show itself was very surreal, playing ‘Kickstart my Heart’ and then watching Tommy Lee and Machine Gun Kelly walk down the stairs and come over to the side of the stage and start rocking out. I felt like the whole thing happened in slow motion and I’m not sure how I even hit the right notes. It was like I was just sort of out of my body, because I did spot them when they started coming down the stairs.

That’s the side of the stage I usually play on, and we’ve had several fans over the years tell us we’re “wrong” because our Nikki [Sixx] and Mick [Mars] are reversed, but we decided to switch for that show. If we hadn’t, I’d have been right next to Tommy. Denise [our guitarist], as always, was so engrossed in her playing she didn’t even notice him! 

Tawny: OK, obviously playing at the Whisky afterparty with Tommy Lee air-drumming up front was the coolest thing we did in the last two years/ever. The second-coolest thing, on a personal note, was playing Toronto in January 2020. 

My sister, GGG backup singer Hurricane Yoshi, had just moved to settle in Toronto the month before, after over 10 years of living in NYC, so being able to perform with her in her new hometown was pretty sweet and helped dull the pain of the slap in the face that is losing your sister to Canada (or any other country, to be clear).

Rockmommy: How did the Motley Crüe movie experience come about, when you went to LA?

Nikita: I’m not sure how they found us, but I just got the typical email that I always got about possibly ‘playing a private party in LA in March.’ I was on my way to see the band The Struts with a friend and told her about the email, and how nine times out of ten those are just some random person asking us to play their party and they never pan out. 

But when I got home from the concert and pulled in to my driveway, I heard on SiriusXM’s Hair Nation ‘Mötley Crüe has announced ‘The Dirt’ will finally be released on March 22nd.’ 

At that point I realized there was a chance the two could have something to do with each other, and the next day, when I spoke to the woman in charge, it was confirmed. She told me the filmmakers wanted us and it was contingent on all four members of Mötley Crüe signing off on us. This was right before Christmas, so she said we might not have an answer immediately.

This was okay for us because we hadn’t played in three years at that point and didn’t really have a permanent singer, so it bought us some time to find one. We auditioned Trixxx Neil and one other girl via video. The show confirmed right around February 1st and we had about six weeks to prepare for the show of our lives, with a singer we’d never performed with and with a band member (me) living in a different state. To have pulled it all off felt like a huge achievement!

Rockmommy: What was the last gig you did in the “before times” in early 2020? 

Nikita: We were so fortunate to have played a couple of gigs in Canada in January/February 2020. COVID was just hitting the news, and we had to answer some questions on whether we’d traveled to China recently while going through customs. I remember seeing that a few cases had been reported in Atlanta, and I was flying through there, but it still felt like it was just hype. We got to play a club in Toronto and a casino in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Rockmommy: When the pandemic happened, what did you do? So many people played acoustic shows on FB Live, but that’s hard to do with a full band! 

Nikita: I never really felt a need to put GGG out there during the lockdown. We’re best as a live band, with the makeup and the outfits and the energy of the crowd. Personally, my bass stayed in its case from when we got back from Canada until we booked our most recent show that we just played. 

Tawny: On account of unfortunate timing, I moved to a new apartment during the height of the NYC pandemic, and I’ll admit I went into full lockdown mode and put my drums into various storage spaces — under the bed, on closet shelves, in ceiling storage, down in the basement — and didn’t dig them out until our Maryland show [in summer 2021] was booked.

Rockmommy: Speaking of Maryland, what was that like? Was there a renewed appreciation for what you’re doing? 

Nikita: It was great to be out there again, but there was also sort of a weird cloud hanging over things, with delta sort of starting to emerge. Like the first “welcome back” thing that happened was showing up to the grounds and finding out we had a different sound man because the person I’d been talking to all week was now in the ICU with COVID. And the day before I was supposed to leave, both my husband and son got sick. They tested negative for COVID, but I had the stress of possibly having to cancel the show. I was grateful that it was an outdoor show. We all want to return to normal but it still doesn’t feel totally within reach. But the bikers and fans at the show were awesome and it did feel good to be on stage again!

Tawny: The members of the Hell’s Angels we met were among the sweetest, most respectful guys we’ve met on the road. It had been so long since we played that it felt brand new again, meeting the other bands on the bill, doing sound check, meeting people from the audience… It was great.

Girls Girls Girls! (From left to right: Denise Mercedes Mars, Tawny Lee, Nikita Seis, Trixxx Neil)

Rockmommy: So all-girl tribute bands have grown, but good ones are rare. Do you get compared with Mötley Crüe a lot? Are people shocked (or not surprised at all) that girls can KICK ASS playing like the pros?

Nikita: We’ve been together almost 15 years now. I do kind of feel like back in those days we got a lot of surprise at the fact we were girls kicking ass, but thankfully we’re hearing that part less these days.

Rockmommy: GGG’s members have tons of personal responsibilities. Like kids, spouses, and jobs. How do you make time for music?

Nikita: It’s got progressively harder for me at least. My kids are 11 and 9 now. It’s easier now than when they were younger, but it is still hard to find the time to practice. Thankfully, since I’ve been playing these songs for so long, it’s really just minimal upkeep. I have a very supportive husband who steps up when I have to fly out a few days for rehearsals or gigs. 

The last gig that I played in the same city as my family was in 2016, and my son was 5. At that time I didn’t want to have him at the gig because I felt like I’d have a hard time being Nikita and not being Mom. Now I’d like for my kids to see me play at least once, so I’m waiting for the right show so they can see me. They’re getting to the age where I’m not cool anymore, so hopefully I can change their minds!

Tawny Lee: I have zero kids, and it’s still hard making time! So big props to Nikita and all the other musician parents out there. My career has always been pretty demanding, but GGG is important enough to me that I will always make time, even if that means working in the van with no internet or plugging in at a hotel “business center.” Which has been tricky at times, given that historically my work has had no idea about my side gig. It can be tricky to reasonably explain why I’m driving to PA and then OH and then upstate NY in a three-day stretch, or why I’m visiting Alaska in January.

Rockmommy: Any upcoming shows for the fall, or tour dates?

Nikita: We have a few upcoming shows we’re scheduling that we haven’t announced yet! Hopefully with the pandemic they all go off without a hitch!

 Rockmommy: What is your favorite Motley Crüe song?

Nikita: This is like asking who your favorite child is. But ‘Live Wire’ is sort of the song that kicked off the first album, first video, etc., and it really set the tone for their whole career. Just a kickass piece of music, with a little bit of cowbell!  And ‘Girls Girls Girls’ will always be one of my favorite songs, not just because it’s our namesake. 

I remember being a sixth grade girl watching that video for the first time  There’s a part at the end where Nikki Sixx is summoning a brunette to come to him, and I remember wanting to be that brunette. As inappropriate as that is, that’s the girl who steps on stage now with her bass, even if at home I’m a mom who drops her kids off at sports before going to book club.

Tawny Lee: Yeesh, Sophie’s Choice. ‘Live Wire’ overall, ‘Primal Scream’ for the beat, ‘Ten Seconds to Love’ for the ridiculous lyrics, and…’Public Enemy #1’ because it makes me happy. And ‘Take Me to the Top.’ And…OK I’ll stop.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

Superstar Bassist Divinity Roxx — Who’s Toured with Beyoncé — Drops Uplifting Back-to-School Jam (and Practice Tips)

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Grammy-nominated bassist Divinity Roxx made a name for herself playing R&B, funk and hip hop alongside musicians like Beyoncé. But’s it’s her solo bass slapping and lyrical riffs — poetic, hypnotic, and pointed — that take me to a different headspace (check out ‘Rebel’ here)

This fall, Divinity’s creating more of that — for the next generation. Her latest song (and video) “Ready Set Go!” is funky, fun and inspiring tune that we all need now, after the most challenging academic year in modern history.

“Put that pep in your step, put that pride in your stride,” she sings to the beat as a cool keyboard-and-bass melody flutters underneath, urging the listener to embrace the day.

Divinity Roxx

“When I started writing the lyrics, they seemed to write themselves,” Divinity Roxx tells Rockmommy. “I wanted to talk about being prepared for a new day and everything that goes into that. I wanted kids to feel like every new day is filled with possibility and as long as they were prepared, they could meet that possibility with success.”

We recently caught up with Divinity to talk about making music, theory and the best way rockmommies like me (with small hands and limited time) should practice.

Rockmommy: Hi Divinity! For our readers who don’t much about you, how would you describe your music?

Divinity Roxx: My music is a mood elevator, a culmination of all the genres that have inspired me over the years based on hip-hop and funk. 

Rockmommy: How long have you been playing bass? Did you start with another instrument? 

Divinity Roxx: I’ve been playing the bass since my 2nd year in college. I played the clarinet throughout elementary and middle school.

Rockmommy: This song “Ready Set Go!” is such a perfect ‘back to school’ anthem right now. It’s super catchy! How was this created? 

Divinity Roxx: Ready Set Go! was created initially as part of a pre-k curriculum. They were looking for a song about being prepared, so I thought the title ‘Ready, Set, Go!’ was perfect. When I sat down to write it I wanted to create something really fun and catchy. 

One of my favorite songs is ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ (I’m not kidding). It is the simplest song, yet it is so profound, lyrically and musically. It will also stand the test of time. I’m always striving to write a song with all of those qualities. Twinkle is also in the key of C. I wanted ‘Ready Set Go! to be in the key of C but I didn’t want a typical 1, 4, 5 progression. So, I used a bit of my theory knowledge and started playing chords on the piano around the key of C but starting on F major, and eventually, I began making my way around the progression of the song, which still turned out to be a 4, 1, 5 kinda thing. 

After looping that for a bit and adding the drums, I picked up the bass and began playing around the progression. The line started writing itself. I’ve learned to let the bass do that. I try to interfere but the bass is usually telling me what it wants to do, and it’s always right. 

My favorite part of the song is the bassline, especially in the 2nd half of the chorus. It kinda feels like that Atlanta skating rink vibe. I’m from Atlanta and I used to love skating at the skating rink. My dad would take us there on the weekends. The DJ kept the party going so I wanted to keep the party going in the song. When I started writing the lyrics, they seemed to write themselves. I wanted to talk about being prepared for a new day and everything that goes into that. I wanted kids to feel like every new day is filled with possibility and as long as they were prepared, they could meet that possibility with success.

Rockmommy: How was the video produced? It’s so fun! 

Divinity Roxx: I wanted to make a lyric video because we didn’t have much of a budget to hire a videographer and do the whole music video production hullabaloo. We (my wife and I) set up two tripods and recorded the video with our phones (iPhone and Android) in front of a green screen in our apartment. We spent a day recording me by myself performing the song in my home studio. Then we asked our little primo and my Goddaughter if they’d like to be in the video. 

They loooved the song and had been singing it for months so it was only right to have Sofia and Ryan join us. Again, in front of the green screen in our apartment, after their parents said yes, of course. I was resistant to editing the shots myself because there were so many good shots to choose from and I wanted someone else who was looking at it from a different vantage point to choose the best shots so I had a friend of mine who is a talented video editor edit the video.

I had found a company online to do the graphics and sent them some reference ideas about how I wanted it to look and they knocked it out of the park. Lyricvideo.tv. Those guys are great. I think they’re based in India.

Rockmommy: What are some of the best musical moments you’ve experienced this summer? 

Divinity Roxx: This summer, while strange, has afforded me some awesome musical moments. I was really excited about a song I was featured on, ‘Family Reunion’ with a fellow Family Music artist, Fyutch. I also played my first Family Music live show at Levitt Pavilion in Westport, Conn. That was exciting. And I played an adult show in Tenafly, N.J. and gained a new group of fans. I hadn’t played live in a long time so it was great to get back on the stage. Still got it… ;). 

Rockmommy: What are you looking forward to, or hoping for, for the fall? 

Divinity Roxx: I’m looking forward to releasing a full-length Family Music Album titled ‘Ready Set Go!’ in October and I’m also looking forward to releasing my next single, ‘Happy and Healthy’ in September alongside an even cooler project that I can’t disclose at the time but I really hope I’m able to share it with Rockmommy when it drops. 

Rockmommy: How can I get better at playing bass while trying to juggle everything else in my life?

Divinity Roxx: Try to use the time when you are practicing to experience some joy. If you set a 20-minute timer to “practice” be sure that you split that time up into sections, with a warm-up (1-2 minutes), some focused scale stuff (5-7 mins), and then some jamming (playing songs, making up songs, jamming along to records, etc) (12 mins).

And/or switch off between focused practice and focused fun. I think when we start a new instrument as adults (especially when we already play an instrument), we spend too much time judging ourselves and whether we sound good, or whether we’re improving-which means we aren’t having any fun. Playing music is supposed to be fun. And if you only have 20 minutes, then make it the most fun 20 minutes of your day.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Getting Kids to Practice their Musical Instruments is Harder Than I Realized

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

“Logan, can you practice your piano please?” 

It’s a question asked daily, sometimes three times, to my 7-year-old Beethoven-loving son. And the response is almost always the same:

“NOT NOW!!”

To which, I’ll usually follow:

“YES NOW!”

To which, he’ll caterwaul:

“Not yet, mom!”

It’s unbelievably frustrating. I try to be patient, because badgering my kid is not how I envisioned I’d spend motherhood.

I never took piano lessons as a kid. I’d just play with the keys on the baby grand at my grandmother’s house, trying to figure out how the sounds could make a song. I learned “Chopsticks” from Nana, and the tail end of a few other songs from my friend Karina. I didn’t pick up an instrument (other than the recorder) until I was 16, and no one offered me lessons. I didn’t know what “Middle C” was until deep into my 20s.

So when I’m nagging my son to practice piano, I’m frustrated. Why won’t he do it on his own? Doesn’t he realize how lucky he is that I’m paying for lessons? What should I do to encourage him to pick it up (without my asking)?

My son Logan, practicing piano with his bear Ludwig watching.

The irony is that I always prided myself on getting kids to practice guitar, before I became a mom. Since becoming a guitar teacher 2006, I’ve learned to create challenging but manageable practice schedules for kids. While some kids don’t practice at all, at least 70% of my students over age 7 do, at least twice a week.

[SEE RELATED: 6 Ideas for Getting Your Kids to Practice Between Lessons]

But man, being a mom is different than being someone’s music teacher.

I’m keeping this post short because I have to go remind my little pianist, yet again, to practice his keys. I have to remind him that Ludwig Van Beethoven practiced every day, for hours and hours, before he became a master of the keys.

So if you’ve mastered the art of getting your little ones to eagerly play their piano, guitar, or whatever — even when they’d rather play video games, I want to know your secret. How are you encouraging your budding musician to build his or her repertoire and skills?

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Make Music Day 2021, and Ushering in a Rockin’ Summer

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

As I write this it’s around 3 p.m. on the last Tuesday in June, a month that’s kept me so busy that I’ve had little time to stop and reflect on life, music or motherhood — the pillars of my existence. On the plus side, I’ve been living the change I want to see for rockmommies — playing out, booking gigs, and creating new music. It doesn’t matter that I’m past my so-called youthful “prime.”

Rock n roll isn’t an age; it’s an attitude.

This week, I’m at the beach, enjoying some quality time with my sons, my spouse, and the sun, thinking about my recent performance on 6/21/21 for Make Music Day in New York City. I’m ecstatic I got to play in Tomkins Square Park with my band Trashing Violet, and several other friends’ bands on the makeshift Girls Rock & Girls Rule “stage” where the bandshell used to exist. Simply being New York for the first time since February 2020 meant the world to me.

Enjoying my ukulele in Montauk. It’s also the only instrument that will fit into the car when we go on a family vacation. Photo credit: Nathan Bloom (my son)

The MMNY show was meaningful for so many other reasons. Obviously, being able to play music in public without a mask is a reality I couldn’t fathom a year ago. I tend to be a bit “glass half empty” at times, and I really didn’t believe that vaccinations would work so well, or that I’d be able to stand side by side with my girlfriends, singing into the same shared microphone.

Seeing people enjoying our music as we played in the park reminded me of why I picked up a guitar and a microphone in the first place, and stirred up emotions I hadn’t felt in so long. The last time I played MMNY was in 2009, with my former band The Underage Hotties. I’d forgotten what it was like to play on the streets, to relative strangers or would-be friends.

My band Trashing Violet playing Tomkins Square Park for Make Music New York (6/21/21). Photo: Alan Rand

But the most epic thing about performing on the first official day of summer was being part of something bigger than myself.

Make Music Day actually began in 1982 in France, as “Fête de la Musique,” and crossed over the Atlantic to debut 12 years ago in New York City. Today, more than 5,000 New York-area musicians — amateurs and professionals, of all ages and musical persuasions — perform in more than 1,000 free, outdoor concerts on June 21st. And nearly 100 other U.S. cities officially mark “Make Music Day” through performances in public spaces.

I’m over 35, an age that many in the industry consider “ancient” — especially if you’re female. While times have changed, there’s still a pervasive attitude that if you haven’t already “made it” in your 30s, it’s better to give up and make room for the next generation. Put the guitar in the corner, or perhaps relegate performing for open mic nights every once in a while.

But on June 21, age, gender, and status don’t matter in idyllic parks or on sidewalks. Music can be made and played anywhere, and there is always someone who wants to listen. All you need is a power source.

Playing outdoors on the summer solstice, the longest and one of the hottest days of the year, felt so liberating. By the time my band finished an hour-long set, and lugged our gear to a restaurant’s makeshift outdoor seating area in a former parking space (pre-2020), my life felt so perfect and so complete. 

I hope that every musician reading this feels inspired to get back out there this summer. While we can’t predict what tomorrow will bring, there’s no time like the present to seize your instrument — and seize the day.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

New Zealand Rocker Mum Claudia Robin Gunn on Embracing Change and Finding Your Inner ‘Wild Child’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

When singer-songwriter Claudia Robin Gunn became a mom — or “mum” as they say in New Zealand — she had 20 years of pop-rock chops under her belt, including multiple musical projects and nightclub gigs. Yet transitioning to a more folksy pop style came naturally. Of course, it helped that the songs she wrote could double as lullabies. 

“My songs definitely helped them sleep, and I think perhaps it helped me to relax and just slow down to their pace too,” says Gunn. 

Her latest album, a collection of pretty, vocally textured, nature-inspired tunes, is no less dreamy.

We recently caught up with Claudia to talk her latest record, released in late 2020, motherhood, crafting songs, playing music, and more. 

Rockmommy: Can you tell us about the inspiration for your record that came out recently, ‘Sing Through The Year – A Little Wild Childhood?’

Claudia Gunn: All these songs started off in life, and then my imagination took over.

When you’re a kid, I think it’s hard to judge the passing of time — isn’t that awesome how timeless it feels? — and I think it’s interesting how the changing weather day to day, and the natural signs of the different seasons progressing through the year is a tangible way for children to grasp the idea of time, and how the months and years turn.

My kids have always calmed down and become these magical, adventurous non-quarrelsome beings when they are in a garden, or out in the woods making branch forts. 

As a parent, time slows down and speeds up in weird ways as we go through the seasons of parenthood and our children grow, sometimes it’s so slow and sometimes a blink of an eye and they’ve changed before our eyes. So capturing some of the bright moments along the way is something that I love to try and do with songs.

Process wise, I have a lot of songbooks, some of them are digital, some are actual notebooks, or paper scraps, or cardboard from cereal packets, and basically as the years have gone by since [my children] Ella and Dylan were born, the songs kept on stacking up, like a diary of our adventures through the years. 

Last year during the Covid lockdowns there was suddenly a whole lot of time not rushing around the world, and I ended up performing loads of unpublished songs inside the kids treehouse (that they’d now grown out of) for a series of lockdown livestreams. I got the chance to press play on recording a stack of them and making the songbook thanks to a grant from our arts funding agency Creative New Zealand.

Rockmommy: How have you evolved, or changed as a musician, over time, from pre-parenthood to now? 

Claudia Gunn: I’d say I’m determined — I’ll never give up on a song, though I’ll give it space to breathe and some songs need time to mature or change before they are ready to meet the world! That said, I’ve been writing for nearly 30 years — showing my age — and some songs have had LONG arcs to find their time in the sun.

When I started playing in bands, I was always dedicated to a project as long as it lasted, to the point I wouldn’t take a job in another town or even take an O.E. since I was always sure we were about to break through (an O.E is what we kiwis call our overseas experience — a rite of passage most of my friends did in their early twenties, travelling and working for a few years overseas after finishing university).

My electronic band Substax has lasted the longest time, albeit with pretty much a 15 year break in between shows, as we all had kids and went into sort of hibernation with the project.

Now the kids are bigger, we are now at the point we have a bank of songs, have just re-released the original album on streaming for the first time, and have new songs lined up to release. I also just got Substax to remix one of my kindie tracks, and a couple years back I got the band together to play with me on a bunch of kids tunes for the Auckland Kiddie Limits festival, so it’s kind of fun getting my musical worlds to mesh sometimes! 

Rockmommy: How long have you been playing banjo and guitar?

Claudia Gunn: I play the banjolele, ukulele and the guitar — I’m self taught, starting to pick up my mum’s instruments at about 18. She wrote down 3 chords for me on a piece of paper, and then told me to go for it! 

Rockmommy: What, or who, are your musical inspirations? 

Claudia Gunn: I’m a 70’s baby, 80’s kid, 90’s teenager. My formative musical heroes were really all the female artists from my parent’s record collection, along with my mum herself, who sung in bands, often playing shows  3 or 4 nights a week when I was small. I grew up knowing songs by heart from artists like Tracy Chapman, Annie Lennox, Neneh Cherry, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Joan Armatrading, Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield, Dolly Parton, Texas and Phoebe Snow. 

Rockmommy: I love that you wrote children’s music to put your babies to sleep. Did they go to sleep? How old are they now (and do they play music with you)?  

Claudia Gunn: Yes it definitely helped them sleep, and I think perhaps it helped me to relax and just slow down to their pace too. When they got older, the lullabies were more just to help them calm down. Even now I’ll get asked for a song occasionally. One of the songs called “Goodnight Moon” on Little Wild Lullabies was composed for Dylan when we would go say goodnight to the moon by either walking the block in his pram in summer or driving the block in the car in winter (desperate times). 

My kids are now 11 and 14, and the youngest Ella learns guitar and singing, and she wrote a few songs with me when she was 8 or 9, we put them on a Christmas EP in 2019. Dylan learns the drums and plays the tenor drum in a pipe band — he was always more about rhythm, from kitchen pots and pans when very small to bashing sticks on trees (sorry trees!) to make music on bush walks.

Rockmommy: Any advice on balancing motherhood and musician life? 

Claudia Gunn: I’ve had times when I just put music kind of on the shelf for a bit as there was so much going on to try and get used to being a mum, and then other times when I had a clear goal and just stayed up really, really late to steal time to make it happen. For years I’d keep on writing songs, because you can do that in your head when you’re feeding babies, doing laundry, buying groceries, commuting to work, making dinner (I write lots of songs in the kitchen), but not getting them recorded or performing live because either I didn’t have physical space to have gear set up, or mental headspace to plan and book shows.

Finding other musician mums is key I think, as you can share coping strategies, experiences, ways of doing things to keep your musical life happening alongside your mum life.

And also being persistent, using downtime to listen to podcasts or blogs so you can upskill when you’re on the side lines of a soccer game for example. Being a mum has made me more fearless too, and decisive with songwriting and production, as my time is limited so I just get to work, and don’t let myself sit on the fence indecisively like I probably used to do when I was younger, and had all the time in the world!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Rissi Palmer’s Revival: Motherhood, ‘Color Me Country’ and Raising Girls

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Rissi Palmer’s song “Seeds” — the first track off her album “Revival” — grips the listener in the first 20 seconds, coming on with whisper of a plea, “don’t believe what you’ve been sold,” over muted acoustic guitar riffs as her voice builds toward momentous, soaring chorus.  

The song on its own is nothing short of profound. But in the context of its music video, produced by Emil Gallardo and Ed Massey, experiencing “Seeds” is life changing. 

As Rissi sings, “they can bury your body, but never touch your soul,” the young, Black man walking causally down a dusty road is stopped and threatened by a policeman pointing a shotgun at his face, before the footage cuts to Rissi, strumming her guitar in a more traditional front-porch country montage.

Because I watched this video in early 2021, on the heels of 2020’s racial reckoning in the United States, and the global, and pivotal, push for social justice, I assumed the song was new. It captured this moment in history, through music, in such a compelling, and urgent way. It made me want to take the streets (again) and protest for change.

Rissi Palmer — Seeds

Yet the sad irony is that the song wasn’t new.

“Seeds” was actually penned nearly six years before the murder of George Floyd, on the heels of another eerily similar tragedy in Ferguson, Mo., the Aug. 9, 2014, shooting and killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. 

And as I pushed “play” again, letting the lyrics, music, and visuals soak in, I knew I needed to hear more from the artist who has spent the better part of 20 years navigating the ups and downs of an industry traditionally associated with white men in pickup trucks. Whether it’s her cheeky (but serious) breakout hit “Country Girl” or the intimate, string-heavy “Soul Message,” Rissi Palmer’s music tugs at the heart and inspires change. 

We recently sat down with the mom (of two young daughters) to talk about her second full-length record, “Revival,” and her new radio show Color Me Country Radio with Rissi Palmer, which debuted on Apple Music in August 2020. 

Rockmommy: Hi Rissi! For those who are not familiar, can you tell us a little bit about your music career?

Rissi Palmer: I came up in the 80s and 90s, so I listened to artists like Trish Yearwood and Faith Hill. I loved Dolly Parton. We listened to a lot of country, a lot of R&B and a lot of pop growing up so my influences are pretty diverse. And I love stories. I was a big storyteller when I was a kid, and I used to tell these long crazy stories that would make my friends laugh. What I love about country music is the songs, the storytelling.

Rissi Palmer (Photo Credit: Chris Charles)

Rockmommy: Which musical storytellers are you drawn to?

Rissi Palmer: Wynonna Judd is one of my favorites. I loved her song choices — she didn’t always write all of her songs but I loved her song choices — and I loved her strong, strong voice. Especially what she did with The Judds, with her mom. Also, she’s a vocal beast … she can pretty much sing anything and it would sound amazing. 

Rockmommy: Fast forward to the early 2000s… pre-2007. What was it like getting into the country music industry? 

Rissi Palmer: Here’s how the story went. I grew up in St Louis, and I went to college in Chicago and while I was in Chicago I started working on my demo. Midway through my freshman year of college, my managers were like, ‘we want to shop you for record deals but we need you to be available for meetings.’ So that means you’re going to have to leave school. So I sat down my parents and said, ‘if you let me do this now, when I’m young, if it doesn’t work out in two years, I’ll go back to school.’ And their philosophy was, ‘you’re only 18 once.’ They knew this is what I always wanted to do.

Rockmommy: So what happened next? 

Rissi Palmer: Then when I turned 19 I got my first publishing deal in Nashville, so I started spending way more time there, although I didn’t move officially to Nashville until I was 26, seven years later. My publishers would treat me awesome. I would stay with them, and I would stay for, like, a couple weeks at a time.

I’ll say this: Those that were in the trenches with me … my publishers and the other writers, they were wonderful. But because I was the only person of color — I didn’t know of any other people of color doing country music — I felt this self-imposed need to fit in. I didn’t want to stick out for any reason, I didn’t want my songs to stick out. 

Then, when I started taking meetings, I realized, it wasn’t going to be, ‘oh you’re Black, you’re cool.’ One of the meetings I took before I had a publishing deal… the producer played my demo, while I’m in the hallway, listening to their reaction. They’re like, ‘OK, nice … what’s the catch?’ So then I walked in, it was like, ‘oh my God, oh my God.’ And then it turned into, ‘well, we have to find songs for Black girls, for someone like you.

Rockmommy: I can’t believe they would say that! 

Rissi Palmer: They would get stuck on ‘how do we make her relatable?’ and ‘how do we present her to our listeners in a way that’s palatable to them?’ I learned early on there obviously must be an issue. It was hard not to take it personal. And for a long time I did. It felt like it was me, like I was the problem. It’s taxing on you mentally on ways you don’t really think about.

Once I was signed, we started doing the radio tour and that sort thing. Radio tour is not fun. It can be at times, but for the most part it’s not. You’re sitting in this room and the radio people are judging you and deciding whether they want to play you, and sometimes it has nothing to do with the song, but how they feel about you personally. I had some great people in radio but then I had some horrible people, people who said to my radio promoter, ‘don’t even bother bringing her in because we’re never going to play her.’ It was a lot.

Rissi Palmer (Photo: Chris Charles)

Rockmommy: Just wow. Are there still assumptions about what country music fans want among record producers today? 

Rissi Palmer: In the industry at large, I still think it’s a pretty pervasive thought. I think there are innovative people and people that want to try to do different things as evidenced by the fact that Darius Rucker has a career … one of each of those people signed to a major label for every 15 blonde girls or 20 guys in baseball caps. You can’t have 20 Mickey Guytons.

Rockmommy: Because of this dynamic, are Black, indigenous, and/or Latinx artists afraid to try to make it in country? 

Rissi Palmer: There are tons of artists of color, and the moment I started the show (Color me Country), my inbox flooded. In the very beginning, artists of color are the same as white artists. When they decide to go into a career in music, they do it because they love it. They’re not thinking about the odds against them.

Then once you get in, you see the hurdles behind the scenes. A lot people think that racism is a white hood and torches and a cross, that things are blatant. When you don’t see it blatantly, you think everything’s fine. It’s only when you add up little things, the little micro-aggressions, the little oblivious things people do, it starts to weigh on you. I think that after trying to climb the mountain for so long, and seeing no return on investment, that’s when you see people quitting, and changing their trajectory.

Rockmommy: How did you decide to start your show, Color me Country

Rissi Palmer: I started doing interviews with artists in [Spring 2020], when quarantine started, with plans to start a podcast. I wanted to talk about my experience in country music… and talk to others about their experiences in being ‘the other’ — a [forum] where people could tell me things they might not necessarily tell a journalist because they know that I’ve been there.

I didn’t know George Floyd was gonna happen, that we were going to go through this reckoning. Suddenly this little thing I had planned to start, this podcast, was included in The New York Times. Then another friend of mine introduced me to Apple Music, literally the week before I was supposed to launch the podcast on my own. They offered me a deal to do a radio show, which meant I would be able to include full songs. 

Still, mission is exactly the same, to make stories public to raise awareness. I hear people discovering the show, saying, ’I didn’t know Black people sang country music!’ I’m trying to normalize this, because we’ve been a part of this since the beginning. This whole story that country music is white man’s music is patently false.

Rockmommy: Can you tell me about the song ‘Seeds’ came about? 

Rissi Palmer: ‘Seeds’ was actually written in 2014: I grew up in St. Louis, watching how everything unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri, after the murder of Michael Brown. I felt powerless, because I wasn’t there. I was in North Carolina. But I saw this quote, ‘they try to cut us down, but they don’t know that we were seeds.” So I thought, ‘OK, this is the great place to start for the song.’ 

Rockmommy: Can we talk about ‘Revival?’ Is that a revival … of you?

Rissi Palmer: Yeah! This is a revival of me. I did a project in 2014, of back porch sessions, and this is the first full-length album I’ve done since my debut. I’m older … I was the same age my mom was when she died, right when the template [for being a mom] was about to become obsolete. When we started recording the album, I was pregnant with Nova. Every song of that album is a snapshot of my marriage, where I was as a mother, where I was as a Black woman.

Rockmommy: How has being a mom influenced your work, or challenged it?

Rissi Palmer: It’s really funny to approach this now, and see just how my perspective is different. When I started out, everything was very focused on me. Everything is very ‘me, me, me’ when you’re an artist. You’re very much into your look your sound. Now that I have the girls, I have to prioritize, of course, [their needs]. I approach motherhood a lot different then some people do because I lost my mother when I was very young. My mom passed away when I was 7. She was sick for the last two years of her life, in a hospital in another state. So I knew that if I ever had children, they would be my first priority, and make sure that whatever I did would revolve around them, rather than them revolving around me. 

I’ve tried to find ways that my music and my art can be something that we can all do together, that they can do with me. That’s why I did a children’s album in 2013, because I wanted to do something to commemorate my daughter’s birth and do something we could enjoy together. All my music I do with, in my mind, ‘my girls are going to hear this.’ It doesn’t necessarily stop me from saying things, but it means I am very truthful.

They’ve made me, in turn, become a more intentional artist, and make smarter decisions, in regards to my time and what I can do and what I can’t do. They make me mindful. I suddenly went from being this very self-focused artist to thinking, ’how can I change this corner of the world that we’re all in together?’

In every way they make me better. It’s hard. It’s hard to juggle and I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of time that I used to devote to my art.’ My time is very valuable. I can’t be all over the place that I used to be. I’ve had to become really resourceful with my time.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

 

Tracy Bonham’s New Children’s Record, ‘Young Maestros Vol. 1’ Explores Music, Movement and More

by Marisa Torrieri 

Singer-songwriter Tracy Bonham gained international fame for her iconic ’90s rock song “Mother Mother” — the post-grunge-era anthem for so many young adults getting their first taste of the real world. Fast forward to 2021, and Bonham’s now a mother herself (of a 10-year-old son), navigating the daily struggle of work-life balance and channeling her expansive musical talent into new projects. 

Tracy Bonham (photo by Shervin Lainez)

This month, the singer-slash-guitarist-slash-violin player debuts her very first children’s album, with Melodeon Music House: Young Maestros Vol. 1, an energetic 11-song record for kids of all ages. It’s available now on all media platforms (iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, etc.), and CD. 

Bonham fans — including older millennials and Gen X’ers of all ages who fell for her soaring vocals and angst-ridden rock in the pre-aughts — will be delighted to share this set of super-fun, danceable songs that highlight musical concepts the whole family can appreciate. The first single, “Me Symphony,” is my favorite so far, with its fun animation, big band vibe, and rhymes that linger in the listener’s mind, hours later: “I lost my tuba in Aruba/I lost my piano in Indiana.” 

Tracy Bonham and Melodeon Music House ‘Me Symphony’

My kids love the joyful, silly ‘Let’s Take The Subway,’ which might be the only song I’ve heard that cheerfully name-drops the NYC C Train, B Train, and the elusive G train (which I’ve still never managed to catch). 

We recently caught up with Bonham to find out what’s next: 

Rockmommy: Hi Tracy! How did ‘Young Maestros’ record come about?

Tracy Bonham: Everyone was forced to stop during the pandemic. I don’t like being told what to do so I was pretty mad at the world. I would say F**k COVID to myself… often. During this time my bassist and collaborator, Rene, and I were figuring out how to create a business plan for my music education music curriculum and remote classes. I had been teaching my original curriculum at the Brooklyn Preschool of Science for a number of years, and little did I know it would become a laboratory for this new endeavor! 

In October, I had an incredibly uplifting conversation with my manager, Patrice Fehlen, where we decided that we would jump head-first into releasing an album of my music education songs.These songs had been laying around for years and thankfully they had already been recorded and mixed a few years prior with my dear friend and founder of Gowanus Music Club, Josh Margolis. Josh is a musician, a teacher, a business owner and another music enthusiast / music theory nerd. We recorded and mixed these songs over the course of six years knowing that someday it would become something really cool. However, my career as a singer-songwriter, and being a parent, would always kick the project to the back burner. Once Patrice and I put it out into the universe, that early October day, the whole thing started to take shape. Rene became my business partner and we started creating Melodeon Music House with the first album release, and accompanying music education program, called Young Maestros Vol. 1, slated for release on April 16, 2021.

Rockmommy: The video for ‘Me Symphony’ is so fun, and all the songs on this record are so great! Did you ever think you’d make a children’s album/family record in your pre-parenting days? Is it wild to think about that? 

Tracy Bonham: It is totally wild to think about. I have never been one to follow trends and I probably would balk if someone told me (pre-parenting) that I would follow the ranks of artists who make children’s albums after they become parents. When I started writing these songs, they were meant to be teaching tools.

Rockmommy: So my rock band Trashing Violet covers “Mother Mother.” It’s one of my favorites. Is it a blessing or a burden to have one iconic song because you have so much other great music?  

Tracy Bonham: I would rather have one iconic song than no iconic song! Thank you for saying that about my other songs, but if they didn’t have ‘Mother Mother’ as the beacon, they might not have reached so many people. That song was iconic because it touched a universal nerve. Pretty much everyone can relate to it in some way. I don’t think I nailed that kind of transparency and universality with any of my other songs. 

Rockmommy: What are you most hopeful for in 2021?

Tracy Bonham: I am really hopeful the vaccine will give people their lives back. I hope the people of the world can heal and rise out of this pandemic in a more thoughtful and mindful way. I especially hope that in 2021, the United States and all of its inhabitants, from whatever political affiliation, can heal in a psychic way. The patriarchal system is being challenged and I am so excited to experience the age of femininity taking shape. 

Rockmommy: What is your advice on balancing parenting and creative life?

Tracy Bonham: My advice to any creatives out there who are new to parenting — do not freak out thinking you will get writers block or lose your creativity. First of all, you have just done the most creative thing there is to do in the history of creation! You have created a family. 

For both men and women, your creativity is on fire! It is what you do with it from this day forward that matters. Whether it is creating a loving environment and an inspiring relationship for the child to thrive in, or whether it is taking care of your individual muse by creating loving boundaries for your art to cultivate on it’s own, these things you CAN do and will do if you believe you can. Of course, it is incredibly hard to find the time and energy when you are a parent of a young child. But what I found was that creativity FOUND me as long as I stayed open to it. 

I would be changing a diaper, singing to my son, and a new melody would come out of my mouth. Of course, I would be singing the word “diaper, diaper baby, diaper, diaper baby” but I was creating a future melody for a future song. I always kept my iPhone nearby so that I could hit record on the voice memo app and save the fleeting but inspired moment for when I had a half hour to myself (yes, that is possible) to go back and listen and create something out of it. I guess what I am saying is, please don’t think creativity goes out the window just because you have a new focus. Remain open to possibility. It may come in different forms. But creativity will always be available for you if you are available for it. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.