It’s been a busy few days without the added stress of life under our current administration/COVID and I’ve had precious little time with my beloved guitars — my Fender Strat, Gibson SG, and Yamaha acoustic (of course, I have 7 others, but these are my three favorites).
As my eyes glazed over news headlines this morning, I caught a glimpse of a video from the artist H.E.R., playing guitar like a bandit.
In September, H.E.R. became the first black female artist with a signature guitar, a gorgeous Fender Stratocaster that’s as jaw dropping as an Oscars gown.
I’d never heard of H.E.R. before the announcement, but her music — rock meets soul meets R&B meets reggae — is pretty awesome. She’s so badass — I wish I had that kind of presence and confidence at 23.
The guitar, Fender, and H.E.R. give me hope during these dark days. No one loves seeing young women play instruments more than me. I just wish I had the space for all of them, but my basement, where most instruments reside, is currently a sea of Legos. Anyway, Happy Wednesday! Enjoy the video.
I am an MOB — a mother of two boys, 8 and 6 years old. They know mama is a singer and a songwriter, and that she gets dressed “fancy” from time to time to go out and make music in the world.
Before that, I was a supple, younger woman who sang in a coffee shop for tips on Larchmont Blvd. with a three-piece jazz band and then later, workshopped my own songs in that same coffee shop. I was a woman who traveled the world singing in the finest of music lounges in far off, distant places including New Delhi and Beijing.
And before any of that, I was a mixed-race girl (African American/ Irish American) growing up in the city of angels, who rollerskated in her backyard to her favorite albums — and her dad’s record collection — Donna Summer, the O’Jay’s, the ET soundtrack and OMD.
She dreamed as she skated, that she would one day be famous.Known. Seen. Important.
I have been insecure about my place in the world for a long time. As a parent, that is a quality I’m hoping skips my kid’s generation. But I know that outcome requires conscious effort on my part and even then, there are no guarantees.
I write music that uplifts, inspires and encourages me. It is my safe place. I write music that speaks a truth I am desperate to put into the world as my default tendency is to keep it locked inside so that I don’t make other people uncomfortable.
In writing my song “Rally Call,” I consciously chose to do the opposite.
I wrote it because I was at a point where I no longer wanted to compartmentalize myself due to the color of my skin. I was done with erasing myself for someone else’s comfort and I was done with buying into the false belief that I needed to wait for someone else’s permission to live my life.
When I think about parenting my kids, I want to get it “right.” That means making sure they never feel rejected, hurt or disempowered, that they’re always invited to every birthday party (pre-covid) and that they feel like anything is possible at all times. I know, I know — a parent’s perfect formula for disappointment and self-judgment.
I want my boys to be compassionate people. I want them to be proud of all their heritage — being black, being mixed, being part Irish, being part English, being part Jewish. I want my boys to be confident enough to stand up when someone is working from a closed heart and to know the truth of who they are.
Rally Call is a small part of the recipe for making all this possible. Watching their mom put out a song about ‘getting rid of those papers’ — a reference to a time when Black Americans had to actually carry papers to show they had a right to be out without a white person — and no longer waiting for permission from someone outside herself to fully be herself is inspiring.
It normalizes doing challenging things. It normalizes loving oneself. It normalizes speaking out when injustice is present.
We as parents have an opportunity to instill self-love, growth mindset, compassion and courage in the souls we’ve been asked to shepherd. We get to do that in a plethora of creative ways.
My goal in sharing this music is for us all to keep getting into ‘good trouble’ when we feel like slinking back onto our couch and scrolling our phone or watching shows to distract ourselves.
My boys love the song. They love the guitar riffs, the drums. They know some of the lyrics. And truth be told, there are some days when I’m grateful they don’t fully know what the song is about: I’m still trying to get right with god, the universe, or whatever it is that pulls the strings of life, about my needing to have a conversation about black lives matter at all.
It’s a delicate, complex melody to be a conscious parent, to be an advocate for kids loving and accepting themselves in a world that doesn’t support ALL kids in this endeavor. It is a delicate, complex rhythm change to move out of stereotypical thinking into radical love.
And I can only imagine the nuance and tension of being a parent of non kids of color — there is the temptation to overlook or turn away from the truth of people of color’s experiences.
Rally Call is my love letter to America — reminding us all that until we’re willing to own all the parts of ourselves, our country’s entire history, only then will we truly have a chance at being free…and isn’t that what we want for our kids?
The greatest rock songs have the coolest riffs — like AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and Joan Jett’s “I love Rock n’ Roll.” But without lyrical substance, many these tunes would fade from memory.
New Haven indie punk band Shame Penguin’s ‘Fall of the Mountain King’ gives us both.
The song opens with a catchy bass riff, which eases itself into the auditory cortex of one’s brain— almost seducing the listener to sway to the mellow beat. But if you just stick to the surface, bopping along as the music segues from clean and distorted and back again, you could miss the song’s true cathartic beauty.
Pay attention as singer Dustin Sclafani’s vocals escalate from nostalgic and whispery to the brink of anger, and you’ll learn that the idealized childhood he rhapsodized about in the first verse never actually happened.
We recently caught up with Sclafani to tell us more about this piece, and what Shame Penguin’s been up to lately.
Rockmommy: ‘Fall of the Mountain King’ is so many things — it’s easy to listen to, yet it’s catchy and it’s complicated, lyrically. What was the story you wanted to tell?
Dustin Sclafani: The story behind Mountain King’s lyrics is an interesting one for sure. I wanted to give the sense of confusion to the listener make them lean in and go back and listen again and again. See, I grew up in a single parent household before it was considered a normal family structure. So throughout school I was consistently living in a state of confusion, forced to make Father’s Day cards for no one and really told by society I could never be a real man because I never had those critical father-son moments that drenched pop culture like ‘Field of Dreams’ — nope I never played catch or learned how to throw a spiral.
So these lyrics are more of a statement against the nuclear family, the first verse is everything pop culture tells us is important for a father and son, the first states that, ”That was not my life….” the second chorus brings the listener into the reality of what was my life and the second verse is the imagery conversation I have had with my father that has brought me peace. I wrote these lyrics for every son that grew up fatherless to let them all know they are not alone and they are going to be OK.
RM: Can you tell us about the songwriting process with Shame Penguin?
DS: I actually love this question because it had so many answers … usually Tristan Powell would send me riffs that he comes up with and if one jumps out I either bring lyrics that I have already written, because I have notebooks and notebooks of lyrics, or I will find a phrase that fits perfectly too it. Then we will meet up and go over the song a couple of times before we bring it to practice and we as a band jam on it. Sometimes Jon Ozaksut will be noodling around on the bass and come up with these ridiculous bass phrases that are just too good to ignore and we write from there — btw that is how Mountain King was written. But honestly I don’t consider any songs written till we have jammed on them a couple of times and we begin to widdle at it and the song tells us what it is going to be.
RM: We’re in COVID life. Did that impact recording or writing and producing?
DS: Covid 19 impacted everything… early March we were set to launch our EP and start playing out ridiculously… then the industry shut down and all four of us didn’t even really play together for 4 months. See, people have to understand I have a son that is the youngest survivor of open heart surgery so I have to be careful.
In that time Vic Steffens, the most amazing producer and person ever, pulled me aside and said that the rest of our material was really good and he wanted us to do a full-length instead of our original EP. So I mean when someone of that caliber believes in you enough to invest further as the rest of the world is burning around you, you gotta feel pretty lucky. So after our lockdown hiatus we went to Sage Sound Studios, because to save local businesses you have to support local business, and the four of us had to relearn what it was like to be a band. Covid hit us so hard I have 2 grand worth of merch shirts in my closet (available on our bandcamp) lol.
RM:Can you talk about how you’re trying to be the best dad you can be, even though you didn’t have the traditional ‘model’ in your own youth?
Well, you see it is a blessing and a curse. Traditionally, we are raised to be better then the generation before us. So me being in my kid’s lives at all is an upgrade. But in all honesty because I helped raise my little brother and sister when I was 9 on I kind of had a cheat code.
RM: Have your sons heard the song? What do they think?
DS: My oldest Cash was in the studio when I recorded the vocals and to be transparent I was not in his life from when he was 2 till he was about 8 years old — his mother and I were young and I was in a very destructive relationship with my twin son’s mother at the time. So the song kind of hits him as well. But all three of my guys love the track and honestly all the stuff Shame Penguin does because they get to see me happy and they see how hard I work for them and they want me to be happy just like them.
RM: What’s next for Shame Penguin this fall?
DS: In October we are shooting an interesting concept video for ‘Mountain King’ and we are finishing up some final touches on the album and preparing it for release. We started a weekly livestream concert series every Wed night on our Facebook page called Maraczi Midnight Radio and we are hoping to do some outdoor, safe shows and of course we wait for our world to open back up again. Oh and the most important thing myself and R&B artist and dope dad Manny James have acquired a bus that will be taking people to the voting polls Nov 3rd because we are all about being the change we are looking for.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
As summer 2020 comes to a close, I’m feeling all kinds of emotions. I’m sad, mostly, but not just because I love this season, but because COVID-19 and other events of the world have created a dystopian-like existence I thought was years away from materializing.
There were definitely many bright moments. But above all else, I’m grateful for the time I had with my kids.
When my sons’ day camp was cancelled, my mama friend Steph and I created “Camp OB” on a lark — named after Oyster Bay (the wine, not the town). Together, we envisioned a summer of activities like playing tennis, doing obstacle courses, crafting, going to the beach, and taking field trips. We planned s’mores by the fire pit and paddle boarding by the Long Island Sound.
I’m incredibly grateful to say that WE DID IT! ALL OF IT (aside from camping outside — I didn’t feel like shelling out for a tent).
But still. With a little creativity and ingenuity, we managed to pack a summer full of activities. Our kids somehow forgot that they were supposed to be in fun camps for 9 weeks, six hours a day (although they did half-day camps for three weeks). And we somehow managed to (almost) forget we’re living in the era of COVID (and racial injustice).
Our final big event of the summer, the Camp OB Talent Show, was appropriately fitting. While I could post a review of my own, my father in law wrote an amazing one already, which I’ll post below:
A Concert for the Ages
by Stuart Bloom
The Camp OB Fairstock Summer Music Festival kicked off Friday morning on the Bloom Tuller Farm grounds. After a riffin’ guitar intro by Marisa, Logan opened the show with a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony piped in from the enigmatic and reclusive artist’s home studio.
Once the crowd settled in, the roadies, Alex and Zack – who doubled as bongo backups on many of the concert numbers — took over the stage to set up for an amazing display on the drums by Declan, who pounded the skins with the raucous enthusiasm of the great rock drummers.
Nathan brought the crowd to its feet with a down and dirty gravel voiced cover of the Scorpions’ Rock Me Like a Hurricane, accompanied by the slashing Marisa on guitar.
Then it was time to change it up, from metal to hip hop as Kellan took the stage and burst through the fog showing all kinds of ink to shout out NF’s The Search that had the crowd dancing in the aisles.
Stephanie brought the festivities to a close with a haunting rendition of A. Corelli’s Allegro.
This was a concert for the ages, and we may never again see the likes of such talent gathered together on one stage. Here’s hoping the live album isn’t too far behind.
Summer 2020 will go down as the most unexpected one of my life, between navigating the cancellation of camps to surviving a tornado. And I know many moms — even those who didn’t survive tornados — are on the same page as me. Who knew vacations would only work if our kids would willingly #maskup, or that we’d be preparing for a school year where most student-teacher interaction will take place in the virtual realm?
Musician, yoga therapist and mama Suzanne Jamieson can relate. Carving out time for creativity is difficult enough with two young children, but with 2020 layered on top, it can feel downright impossible. Yet it is this struggle within such this crazy year that makes her new family album Bounce so refreshing.
Released on July 17, Bounce is an 11-track, pop/New Wave record cowritten with children’s band The Pop Ups. The common thread: Every song is infused with joy and positivity: The single “Lemonade” is all about making the best of a situation while “Luna” recognizes the scary feelings that can come at night.
We recently caught up with Jamieson to talk about her music, motherhood, and how she’s finding joy this summer.
Rockmommy: Can you tell us about your new record? Was it created in reaction to recent events?
Suzanne Jamieson: While I hope that this album brings some positivity in this trying COVID situation, it was not born in quarantine. I actually came up with the concept of this album five years ago, when I was in a bit of a postpartum funk after the birth of my second child. I noticed that my thinking patterns had been swaying toward the negative, which is not like me at all. I said to myself, “Whenever I notice this kind of thinking, I’m just going to say ‘Om.’ Then, I thought of a song…. ‘I’m just gonna say Om. I’m just gonna say Om Om Om Shanti Om…” and I thought, “Hey! That’s a kids’ song!” The idea was born… .I would take all of my knowledge of yoga philosophy and positive psychology and write an album of songs for my kids. That’s what we’ve done with Bounce…and ‘Om Shanti’ is on the album. Ultimately, my kids love it and have taken away some really positive lessons from it, but I really benefitted the most, I think. It gave me a positive focus and the creative process is so healing. I collaborated with some amazing artists. I co-wrote the album with The Pop Ups, and had guests artists Patti Murin and the Alphabet Rockers lend their talents to it as well. It’s been an incredibly satisfying and inspiring journey and I am super proud of what we created in the end.
Suzanne Jamieson’s new record “Bounce” has us jumping for joy. Literally!
Rockmommy: I’m digging the vibe. It’s refreshing to hear great new wave children’s music. Why isn’t there more of it?
Suzanne Jamieson: Thank you!! It’s the best to hear that. It was my number one goal when I started recording children’s music, that I was recording music that the grown-ups would like as much as their kids. That’s why I sought out The Pop Ups…I would sometimes leave their music on even after I dropped my kids off at school. The Pop Ups and I write in a way that really tries to respect that kids are just small human beings. They have full depth of emotions, awareness of their surroundings, and capacity for humor as much as anyone else. That coupled with Jason Rabinowitz’s musical sensibilities with the 80’s vibes and the sort of retro-meets-modern feel of the tunes, and you end up with what I think is a really relevant, fun album.
Rockmommy: I really like “Grateful” — how did the collaboration with the Alphabet Rockers happen?
Suzanne Jamieson: So glad to hear it! I agree, it’s one of my favorites on the album. I met the Alphabet Rockers a couple years ago at the Childrens’ Music Luncheon that happens in Los Angeles Grammy weekend every year….actually I met the Pop Ups that day too! (I basically had to sing “Brave” to myself to walk in to that luncheon alone and go up to all these strangers to introduce myself!!) Then when the Pop Ups and I saw them again at the 2019 luncheon (as they were nominated for another Grammy), I mentioned to Tommy how much I admire what they’re doing with their music. They’ve been singing about social justice all along…teaching kids about about anti-racism, teaching about gender and inclusivity….etc…and we asked if they might like to collaborate on this album. “Grateful” is what came of that chat…and they really added so much to the song. Their lyrics and voices add depth and profundity…and ultimately that is what we are teaching….we can be grateful for everything….from the small things like “that narwhals are a thing!” to the deep, “Gratified, By the things that you say, Telling me I’m perfect, Letting me find a way.”
Rockmommy: What do you hope that young listeners will get out of this record?
Suzanne Jamieson: Well, my hope is that they’ll take away all these positive life skills without even knowing they’re learning them. These songs teach about optimism, resilience, grit, bravery, thought-stopping, making the best of things, gratitude, community, and friendship. Research says if we focus on “being happy,” we are actually less happy. But if we get really good at these life skills, the result is a happier, more satisfying life. Rockmommy: You recently turned 40. Is there something awesome, and celebratory, about the fact that so many women are making music well past their 20s?
Suzanne Jamieson: I was just thinking about this idea of 40 being considered ‘old’ to do something….that’s just crazy! Literally it’s only like 2 decades into being an adult! I sure hope I have a lot of years left, and I sure plan to make the most of them by creating and growing more and more every year. It doesn’t surprise me at all, though, that women in their 30’s and 40’s are getting attention for their work. Women are doing so much nowadays, and have so much to offer. Every mom I know is a freaking powerhouse—literally all of my friends are doing amazing, interesting things and are also great, present moms. I also think there is just this general sea change in a woman’s late 30’s/40’s when it’s like, “OK. I am done trying to be what anyone else wants me to be. Here’s me….” and that is incredibly powerful.
Rockmommy: You became a mom in 2012 (me too!) What’s it like balancing parenthood and music/creative life? What challenges did you not anticipate?
Suzanne Jamieson: Eight years ago… what a trip! Time flies. I think the reason it took me so long to write and record this album from start to finish is that I really needed hours alone with no distractions to write music… and when do moms get that?! I would do it in airplanes, or when I got a solo night in a hotel here and there over the years. I think it can be more challenging to carve out time to work when the work is creative… there is the challenge of it not being My Boss Assigns Thing + I Do Said Thing= $$$ that can make creative types undervalue the necessity for their time and work. But I will say that when I make it very clear to my family that Mommy is taking a voice lesson or Mommy is practicing or writing or whatever, that I felt fulfilled. And as I did that more often, this album really took off.
Rockmommy: Any advice for other rockmommies like yourself, who are trying to carve out a little time to make music?
Suzanne Jamieson: Yeah, write it in the calendar. Invite your husband or get a caretaker (obviously if that’s safe…it’s a weird time…) or get the iPads and let the kids know that you are unavailable during this time. What would the world be without music??? There is great value in art, and never ever forget that or devalue your own contribution.
Rockmommy: School is upon us, and most of the country is virtual or remote. Kids are scared. What is your greatest hope for your kids and humanity right now?
Suzanne Jamieson: Great question. The answer that comes up for me is “Reprioritization.” I think COVID has taught many of us about what is—and isn’t— important. Our relationships are important. Our health is important. Our making this country safe for everyone is important. I hope that we all can tap into those lessons and—even after things re-open—and remember what we’ve been taught by 2020. Tell each other how we feel. Breathe. Stand up for what’s right. Spend time together as families or friends. My hope is we don’t forget, and that this can be a sort of spiritual catapult to a better world for us all. Oh, and keep making sourdough. 🙂
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
I have a pretty vast amount of useless talents. I can throw food high up into the air and catch it in my mouth, like a seal. I can whip up a stunning batch of luxurious, golden pancakes from scratch. But not all of my useless talents are food-related. I can also play any instrument you can think of, with a passable skill level, even if I’ve never played it before. Though I’ve done every kind of performance from busking in the subway to playing my original comedic novelty jams on international television, it hasn’t amounted to what I might consider a useful life skill. Fun? Yep! Necessary in the event of an emergency? Perhaps more so than I had thought, prior to March 2020, but still, not so much.
The author Jessica Delfino jamming with her son in 2020
A sad, but well-loved guitar and a beat up, yet, used daily baby grand piano were some of my first toys, in an era when there weren’t a bajillion toy manufacturers on the market. I had some little plastic people, and the crusty acoustic six-stringed dreadnaught. I’m certain the thing was missing an E string. The little people lived in and on the guitar, and over time, I learned to pluck the strings and make music. At 14, I was playing “Old Man” by Neil Young and “Crazy on You” by Heart and by the time I was 23, I was writing and performing comedic dirty folk rock songs on stages up and down the East Coast and sometimes even on TV and the radio (mostly in the UK, because America hates women’s’ bodies). Today, I still perform, write and lately teach music from time to time. I’ve branched out from piano and guitar, and I can additionally play ukulele, sax, autoharp, singing saw, electric autoharp, banjo, dulcimer, the glockenspiel, a flute, a pan flute, heck, a skin flute. I am music’s annoying cousin who always wants to be all up in its business.
Now I have a 3-year-old son, and I’d love nothing more than to teach him to play ukulele and record a pandemic-inspired family band kid’s album. The ability to play an instrument is touted as being, essentially, a miracle drug. It develops young brains and fine motor skills, pushes back the progress of Alzheimer’s, improves math skills, memory, creativity and dexterity, benefits movement-related issues such as hand injuries, and it even lowers anxiety. Call my instruments my Xanax, massage therapist and meditation apps, all in one. Especially during this pandemic, more than anything else, my guitar and my ukulele, especially, have been what I reach for when I feel tense, bored or sad. Playing songs I know passes time.
Figuring out or writing new songs keeps my brain engaged. Trying to teach my son to play ukulele; well, that’s a lesson in patience and letting go. He wants to run his trains over the pretend rails of the neck of the thing, he wants to smash his fingers over the strings with the showmanship of Pete Townsend, he wants to put stickers on it or lay it down altogether and turn it into a home for little plastic people. His lack of interest allows days to slip by where I forget to encourage him to pick up the little four-stringed thing.
“The cobbler’s son wears no shoes” often comes to mind when I think about my inabilities to teach my own son to play an instrument. I scowl and fume as a universe of YouTube’s countless two-year-old’s pluck Bach out on their Lanakais. Then I am ashamed of myself. What do I care what these other kids can do? My kid is my kid, and I have everything — and nothing — to do with that.
But I did witness a magic moment and hope for his musical potential when I broke out my harmonica one night. As annoying as it is easy to play, my son was immediately drawn to it. He ran his little face up and down the harp, making all kinds of weird and wonderful sounds that I didn’t even know a harmonica could make. He was pleased with himself, and I felt like the mother of the year.
Maybe there’s hope for us as a future family band, after all.
Jessica Delfino is a comedian, musician, writer and mom who lives in NYC. Follow @JessicaDelfino on Twitter and Instagram.
When I call Tanya Donelly for our 2 p.m. interview in mid-June, I’m armed with questions — about her new record with the Parkington Sisters, her journey through motherhood, and her legacy as the lead singer of Belly, one of the most influential bands of my youth. But about 30 seconds into our call, she pauses to ask me a question. “So how are you doing with all this? What are you doing with your kids?”
I nearly drop the phone.
Is this Tanya Donelly, as in TANYA DONELLY, LEAD SINGER OF BELLY, asking me — little me — how I’m coping with everything going on right now?
I’ve interviewed dozens of rock stars, but rarely do any inquire about my children. This isn’t a big deal — yet it’s heartwarming that Tanya Donelly seems genuinely concerned.
That small exchange told me everything I needed to know about Tanya — a bright, twinkling, thoughtful voice that stood out in the angst-ridden, 1990s alternative-rock era. Even with decades of experience in one of the most hard-knocks industries on the planet, Tanya’s nurturing maternal instincts shine through every professional endeavor she pursues, as well as her personal roles as a wife (to bassist/producer Dean Fisher) and mom of two daughters (ages 21 and 14).
Tanya’s instinctual, intimate approach to songwriting and performance shines especially bright in her most recent, collaborative project: a covers album with the Parkington Sisters, a Boston-area siblings trio. The album, which comes out August 14, reimagines classic rock n’ roll tunes (from The Go-Gos, Leonard Cohen and others), through Sisters’ pretty, stringed arrangements and Tanya’s still-high-range, whispery vocals front and center. The common thread, or “connective tissue,” as Tanya puts it, is the Parkington Sisters’ beautiful music, flowing naturally from one song to the next.
The first single, a hauntingly cool cover of The Go-Gos’ “Automatic,” invokes a certain nostalgia for me — but not for the ’80s all-girl group so much as the sunny, summer day when I first heard Belly.
It was the summer of 1993, and early July, when I headed to RFK Stadium for the HFSTival — an annual, all-day music event in my hometown of Washington, D.C. I remember showing up with a few friends, my nose freshly pierced, to hear Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Bush or some other dude-infused grunge band I (still) can’t recall.
Yet the only memory that stands out after all these years involves Belly: We were walking along a corridor, when suddenly this piercingly sweet voice cut into the air. A surge of electric guitar noise and a thunderous drumbeat reverberated across the entire stadium and — heeding the Siren’s call — we rushed to our seats. On stage, Tanya Donelly with her blonde bobbed hair is armed with her guitar, belting out the verses to “Angel.”
“Wow,” I thought, as I stared at the stage. “That girl is so cool.”
Later that summer, I bought “Star,” Belly’s debut album, at Tower Records. But the cassette tape almost never left my Dodge Omni console. I’d mark my 20-minute trips to my then-boyfriend’s house — from Silver Spring to Lanham, Maryland — by singing the first side, which included hits “Slow Dog” and “Gepetto,” the freewheeling “Dusted,” and the eerie “Someone to Die For.” I’d take my time parallel parking so I could sing along to the sweeping choruses of “Low Red Moon,” which is still my favorite Belly song (closely followed by “Red” from the band’s 1995 follow-up record “King”).
Post-Belly, in the late 1990s, Tanya went solo with Loversongs for Underdogs. Her life’s journey led her to marriage and motherhood, and service work as a post-partum doula, and back to music again for various projects.
Finally, in 2018, Belly reunited for a tour and released their first new music in decades. I’m so bummed I missed it (my kids were 4 and 5, so I missed a lot of things). But had I known that 2020 would kill live music, I would have made more of an effort.
If this were normal times, Tanya and the Parkington Sisters would have spent the summer of 2020 playing shows in support of the new album.
But instead, the singer has spent the last several months shuttered in the home she shares with her husband, daughters, and dog, doing her part to #flattenthecurve. Days are spent caring for loved ones and doing her best to parent mindfully. In her spare time, she’s sitting in front of her Snowball microphone, home recording vocals on GarageBand for virtual projects with her musician friends, which are posted to her Bandcamp page.
She’s also spending her time trying to impart change (for example, by masking up and marching against racial injustice in June, and donating proceeds from Bandcamp sales to charities), while coping with cancelled tour plans.
But that’s just the beginning.
When Rockmommy caught up with Tanya last month, she shared some of her wisdom around parenting, why she’s still hopeful for the future of live music, and how she’s supporting social justice.
Rockmommy: Hi Tanya, how are you doing, right now?
Tanya Donelly: Like everyone, we’re coping. With our kids, you know, we’re finding ways for them to have some normalcies. Our youngest one is 14, and she’s the one we’re most focused on. My older one is 21 and is here with her partner and they have each other, and Dean [Fisher] and I are here, so we’re trying to focus on letting [our younger daughter] keep her friends … see some people at a distanced way. Fourteen is a tactile age too, they’re just hanging off each other all the time. I keep saying to her, ‘you are allowed to feel sorry for yourself.’ This is a safe, nonjudgmental place for you. We’ve been going to the protests, too, so there have been long conversations around that too. It brought up these whole other conversations because we unanimously decided to go to them but the logistics was challenging.”
Rockmommy:You recently covers album with the [siblings trio] Parkington Sisters. Can you tell us about how this record came about?
Tanya Donelly: So when Joe from American Laundromat approached me, in reaction to how well Juliana Hatfield’s cover albums are going with them …and asked if I wanted to do something like that, at first I felt like, ‘I don’t want to have a hodgepodge of songs, that are all sort of fragmented, sewn together, a Frankenstein sort of situation. But then, I thought of the Parkington Sisters. I’ve known them for years and I’ve always wanted to do some collaboration with them, and I just thought, ‘if it sounded like a Parkingtons album, I would be so excited to do this.’ I wanted all of the songs to feel like a real album, with cohesion and some connective tissue since it was such a mixed bag. They’re some of the most talented people I’ve played with so I knew that they would kill it. It was one of the few times, when I listened to it when we finished, I was like, ‘wow! It sounds like I thought it would.’
Rockmommy: How did the recording process go?
Tanya Donelly: The Parkington Sisters and I picked all the songs out, and we were all recording together. About 90 percent of this album was made in Brick Hill Studios in Orleans on the Cape. The sisters are from Well Sweep, and the guy who owns this studio is a former touring musician, who’s toured with Tori Amos, Paula Cole, and others. He opened this beautiful studio. It’s sunny, and there were cats and dogs running around … and there was a baby.
Rockmommy: How did you select the actual songs, though? Was that hard?
Tanya Donelly: These are just songs that run through my head all the time for whatever reason. They just are kind of on the playlist at all times, and I think part of that is because I’m attracted to a great or interesting vocal performance. Though, once we picked them, in my mind, I was like, ‘Oh my God, these are all songs that are perfectly sung,’ so I set myself up for an anxious experience. The Sisters are singing with me and they brought a newness with them.
Rockmommy: Your voice is unique in rock. So I have to ask: Do you have a secret low range you’re not letting out?
Tanya Donelly: ‘I have a new middle-age low range [laughs] that I’ve found. On the Belly reunion tour we had to drop a couple because I was not going to get there. It’s a tradeoff — for every high note, I’ve got nice, low raspy notes. My oldest daughter and I went to see Stevie Nicks and she doesn’t even try to hit those notes… she has backup singers, and she has this new timbre. It’s nice to see that embraced.
Rockmommy: Can you talk about early motherhood, and some of the work you do with other mothers, as a postpartum doula?
Tanya Donelly: Both of my kids had different postpartum experiences, and the second one, I felt like, ‘oh I got this — I did this,’ But it was a brand new experience. I hadn’t planned to use a doula or become a doula but as I started to talk to women who had and read a book my friend Rachel Zimmerman wrote about it, I became more interested in it. I also decided that I was a time in my life that I wanted to do something that wasn’t about me, aside from parenting. I wanted to be helpful and it fit the bill and it was good work in terms of my music and touring schedule. I’m a postpartum doula and I can work that around music work. Everything about it was so appealing and so I trained and started doing that, and slowly I became the ‘music themed’ doula. Most of my work’s been word of mouth.
Rockmommy:Do millennial moms know who you are?
Tanya Donelly: Most clients have no idea who I am, but I have had people who do. When I started ten-ish years ago, there were more people who knew, but now they don’t. I’m 54.
Rockmommy:They definitely need the support!
Tanya Donelly: They really do. As much as you can hear that it’s going to be a challenge, you don’t believe it will be until it happens. And both of my kids were different feeders, and I needed an LC for both of them. I’ve been with clients who will be talking about feeling isolated and not having support, and I will witness them turning help down. I don’t know if it’s a purely American cultural thing, but I do feel like there is a pervasive ‘I got this’ culture.
Rockmommy:What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in having a music career when you became a mom?
Tanya Donelly: Whenever I do talk about this, but I have to be clear that because my husband [Dean Fisher] is also in music, I have more support than others might. But when my children were little I had to make an effort to carve out the time to work, and the main thing was that an album that would have taken six months from writing to finished would take two years. I think the timing is what changed most radically for me… having come from years and years where the process of putting out an album might have taken a year — would suddenly take much longer. I had to reframe my expectations when I had [my first child] Gracie. And in some ways that really pulled me and grounded me. Some people are self-grounding and don’t need the birth of a child to get there, but her appearance on the scene brought me to my own life and my own skin and family.
The more profound changes in my life were not music related. I wouldn’t leave them to tour, but we took Gracie on the road when I would tour, but that was just kind of exhausting for three of us back then, and by the time Hattie [my second child] came along, we weren’t doing that kind world touring anymore.
Rockmommy:Are your kids into your music?
Tanya Donelly: They’re curious about it. Because every project I’m doing is different, they’re curious as to what the new thing will be. They were definitely excited to come to the Belly tour [a few years ago] so they could come to London and Paris. But if we’re playing in Boston or doing a local tour, they’re not usually there — they have musical interests but they’re very different than mine. They’re both theatrical … and they dabble in instruments, but they’re not interested in being [professional] musicians.
Rockmommy:When you say you had to ‘carve out time’ for creativity, what does that mean?
Tanya Donelly: I’ve always had a relatively blue collar approach to music work … obviously when a song comes to you, it comes to you whether you are sitting down with a guitar or breastfeeding… but once the inspiration piece has been filtered, then I had to be much more ‘9 to 5’ about working, and how that fit into the kids’ scheduling. Dean was working and touring, too. As a parent, he’s very hands on. With any solo work that I’ve done, he’s in that band, so that’s how we made it work for a while — we’d both be making the same record and touring the same tour. And then as he started playing with other people again, by then the kids were old enough that I could handle working from home and taking care of them. Also, if I go on tour with Belly, he’s here with them fulltime. Or if he goes on the road with Juliana [Hatfield], I’ll be here.
Rockmommy: Speaking of touring …
Tanya Donelly: Yeah, we just rolled out the reopening phases here [in Mass.] and entertainment, you could barely see it. Like, you need binoculars to see it. I’m so deep-tissue worried about this. Behind the scenes, musicians are having these conversations like, ‘oh we can play in a park or on the wharf, but I also want to support the clubs, and say, ‘when you open I will be there.’
Rockmommy: Let’s talk about recording. What are you using?
Tanya Donelly: I play guitar through an interface directly into a laptop. And a Blue Snowball. I love that thing and it sounds amazing. That company in general — I’m a big Blue fan. Just for home recording, it’s ridiculous how good those things sound. I’m doing everything on GarageBand with my laptop and my Blue Snowball and the simplest possible interface and it’s pretty much that simple for everyone I’m working with too! Everyone’s got a disclaimer attached to their part. Mine is, ‘you can hear my dog on every vocal I do. She’s either sighing, or she’s barking she’s on my lap.
The proceeds of the songs we’re releasing are going to different charities, like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
The more pressing loss right now is that I love being in a room making music. I love bringing new ears into the system. It’s an invaluable relationship and it’s hard to replace that, but the DIY piece has been great.
So is there any hope for a show in the next few months?
Tanya Donelly: That’s something the Parkingtons and I were talking about because we had to cancel everything we had planned, but we had been talking about the possibility of doing something on the Cape. But I think everybody is still in the stage of waiting and seeing, with some firmly held hope that by Fall some modified version of a show can happen.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a the founder and editor of Rockmommy.