Passing Strange Share Their Journey to ‘The Water and the Woods’ and What They Want Most in the Post-Pandemic World

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I have a love-hate relationship with pianos in rock n’ roll. Sure, I can acknowledge the greatness of Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel — and the power of their music — but growing up, I didn’t feel super-connected to any of these artists. Piano, even on its angriest days, isn’t an electric guitar. As I began to cultivate my musical tastes as an adolescent, I longed only for artists who could empathize with my budding angst. Anything that veered too closely to Broadway territory wasn’t for me.

But when I discovered Tori Amos, something awakened inside of me, and a brand new affection for piano-driven alternative pop-rock emerged.

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Passing Strange (Kate Mirabella and Anthony Paolucci)

So recently, when a friend of mine turned me onto Passing Strange, a Southern Connecticut piano-and-drums duo that delivers the power of a four-piece rock band, I fell in love with the keys all over again.

Listening to singer/pianist Kate Mirabella and drummer Anthony Paolucci’s latest full-length album, The Water and the Woods (available on Spotify and Apple Music and most digital platforms) feels more like listening to Halsey — but with keys — than Tori. This is a good thing, as the record encompasses all of the moody swings I need in my music — high-energy songs that make you want to bop along, and more melancholy tracks that make you want to sink into your own nostalgic headspace. It’s like riding a roller coaster of sonic landscapes, from the uptempo “Weather Cold” to the heart-wrenching “They All Do” — my personal favorite, with its minor chord progressions and lyrics about broken love and longing.

We recently caught up with Passing Strange to talk about their songwriting process, and how they’re biding their time until live music resumes in the Nutmeg State. 

Rockmommy: Your album The Water and The Woods is really great work. How did you come up with the songs and the concept for this particular body of work?

Kate Mirabella: It definitely wasn’t something I planned ahead of time. I was going through a very difficult time in my life and a painful breakup. Consequently, the songs seemed to all have a dark, gloomy sound and feel. That time in my life seemed like a maze of woods and fog, which inspired the album cover. The album title was inspired by a journal entry that I was looking back on. I was trying to describe the fundamental differences I was noticing in my current relationship. Despite having a deep level of love for each other, and years of making memories, we had different goals for the future and extremely different personalities. The line from my entry seemed to sum it up perfectly: “I liked the woods, he liked the water.”

Rockmommy: It’s amazing how you both sound so full — but you’re a duo. How do you write together? What’s the process like?

Anthony Paolucci: The song comes to me with piano and lyrics — finished, for the most part. Kate will play the song at band practice and I try to find the beat first, or the groove. After that, I play to the song, adjusting the tempo if necessary, complimenting what’s already there with as much or as little drums as possible — whatever it requires. My drumming style is actually a lot more aggressive, having played mostly in hard rock bands since I was a teenager. Back then, as a drummer playing with very technical guitarists and bassists, I always wanted to stand out. This band has been a wonderful challenge in that I only have one other instrument I need to accompany, and it’s a piano, something the drums can easily overpower if approached irresponsibly. Kate’s piano style is also very percussive, as she was originally a drummer too. So a lot of what she’s doing fills in what might be bass parts. It’s a delicate balance, but our chemistry is such that we’ve never had a problem doing the song justice.

Rockmommy: What are some of the topics that are near and dear to your heart as songwriters?

Kate Mirabella: I like when small, seemingly simple things invoke serious emotion. Some of my favorite writers and songwriters have a common theme of looking at something simple like a glove compartment in Death Cab for Cutie’s “Title and Registration,” or other observations in poems by Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Emily Dickinson. Something so small ends up creating existential questions. That’s something I definitely do in many of my songs.

Rockmommy: I’m digging the track ‘Weather Cold’ — is this a cautionary tale?

Kate Mirabella: This is as cautionary as it gets. “Weather Cold” is about the dangers of a young college girl who has nothing to lose and needs absolutely nothing from anyone. People think these types of girls can be tamed or just need a relationship to settle them down, but it will just leave you feeling like a train ran through your life.

Rockmommy: There’s something heart-wrenching about the song, “They All Do.” Can you tell me about that one? 

Kate Mirabella: This song still breaks my heart every time I hear it. There’s something tough about playing a song years later and thinking about how much you were hurting at the time. The first line isn’t poetic license, I really was up at 4 in the morning when I wrote it. I had just ended a long relationship and was reflecting on how hard it had been to let that person in, tell them the most vulnerable things about myself, having them be a part of the family for years, and I just had this crushing realization that I didn’t have the strength or energy to go through it again with someone else. So, as someone who grew up on emo music, I went all-out on this song.

Rockmommy: I think my other favorite one is “June.” It’s dark but alluring, and I love it when you sing “the wrong time … will you ever make it right?” Can you tell us about that one?

Kate Mirabella: I had experienced a lot of loss during this time in my life. Friends dying far too young can really affect your outlook on life. When I wrote that line in the chorus, I was picturing myself running through the woods, trying to grab the hand of those who I wish I hadn’t lost, but their fingers always slip away. It was such a helpless feeling.

Rockmommy: You were playing a lot in Connecticut before the world changed in February. What’s your favorite thing about live performances?

Anthony Paolucci: For me, this is what I’ve always wanted to do, ever since my parents gave me my first KISS album at 3 years old. So I’m basically living my childhood dream – just without the millions of dollars and stage explosions. On a more artistic note, however, there is something profoundly gratifying about performing an original creation in front of an audience. It’s a form of artistic expression that I’ve always found incredibly satisfying, especially when the music is something you’re really proud of. 

Kate Mirabella: I love mixing up the Connecticut music scene. There are a lot of genres reflected in the state, but I never felt like my music style was accurately reflected. I have extremely eclectic taste, and I’ve been to so many shows I can’t even count. I’ve been the girl moshing at a heavy metal concert, and the girl crowd-surfing up onto the stage. However, the shows that I hold closest to my heart are the quiet, lyric-driven artists who captivate the audience. While I had a blast at A Day to Remember and Blink-182 shows, Julien Baker, or City and Colour performances are life-changing for me. So, I love trying to change the minds of Connecticut concertgoers. There’s something so powerful about hearing the bar suddenly get quiet when we go into “Seven” and feeling their attentiveness to the lyrics.

Rockmommy: How are you making music during quarantine? Are you able to meet up and social distance, or using outlets like Zoom to jam?

Anthony Paolucci: All of this happened literally a week after we released our new album. Before that, we had mostly written our next album and had planned to work on that in between shows supporting the current album. So I’ve been sitting on my pad set at home, every night, with my headphones on, and playing along to both our albums, and band rehearsal recordings of our next album. 

Kate Mirabella: Since we can’t really get together, I’ve been doing “Quarantine Covers” as often as I can on Instagram. It’s helped me stay distracted, connect with musicians with similar music taste, and actually sit down and learn other people’s songs, something I haven’t done in years since I started writing my own music.

Rockmommy: What’s the first thing you hope to do once some of the restrictions are lifted?

Anthony Paolucci: Get back to hammering out the next album, and playing shows to support the current album — wherever we can, and as often as we can.

Kate Mirabella: I would love to do a mini-tour. After this is over, I’ll want to support local venues, travel and FINALLY play together. I think some road-tripping around New England would allow us to do all of that at once.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Ellen Starski: On Love, Motherhood and the Making of ‘Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Just in time for Mother’s Day, Nashville rockmommy Ellen Starksi has released one of the most beautiful, emotional records I’ve heard this year. ‘Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair’ gives me chills — from the eerie “Never Met a Ghost” to the pretty, uplifting “Pure Intention.” Her voice takes me back to the days of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, with a touch of Patsy Cline. I’m in heaven listening to this record.

One track in particular — “The Satellite that Changed its Tune” — is relatable on so many levels. I feel the song in my bones, as a wife and a mother, especially during these challenging times.

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Ellen Starski

This Mother’s Day, we’re all about listening to moms like Ellen Starski. In case you missed her guest essay for Rockmommy this month, read it here (it’s exactly what you need if you’re feeling blue during these pandemic times).

We recently caught up with Ellen to talk about the making of her album, being a mom and everything else.

Rockmommy: Your album is timeless and powerful — what is the common theme? Change? Describe in your own words the cathartic process that created this record.

Ellen Starski: This album is two years in the making from the songwriting to meeting with multiple producers to co-writing, production and so on. The waves of emotion and life changes throughout this process are perhaps the changes you’re referring to regarding the common theme, and I think you’re absolutely right on with the observation. When you’re working on a project for a long time with multiple humans there’s a ton of different energy, and each person walks in with their day to day experiences that show up along the path ultimately altering the projects destination.

Rockmmommy: What else can you tell us about this record?

Ellen Starski: A lot of personal emotions were addressed during the writing process. My relationship with myself and others was placed under a magnifying glass to be examined, and past experiences bubbled to the surface with nostalgic yearning and lessons learned. I have made a lot of different choices (some good, some bad) along the way that have naturally altered my path in this life, and I revisited some of those times with the hope of healing and helping others.

Half of the material on the record was co-written with my husband (Shawn Starski), father (Henry Deible) and fellow songwriter Michelle LeBlanc.

I had the pleasure of working with producers Lucas Morton, & Max Hoffman and handfuls of Nashville’s most talented musicians.

Lucas and Max played numerous instruments on the record, Will Sayles was on drums, and Andrew Brown handled the bass. We had a string quartet with Kristin Weber (Violin) Laura Epling (violin) Nicole Neely (viola) & Melodie Chase (cello) conducted by composer Raymond Joseph Bracchitta on four of the songs, & the icing was spread over the tracks by the talents of Justin Schipper on pedal steel.

Rockmommy: I love “Never met a ghost.” What’s that song about?

Ellen Starski: “Never Met a Ghost” was the first song I wrote for this record — revealing herself to me before my debut album (The Days When Peonies Prayed for the Ants) was even released in 2018. This song examines different apparitions I’ve experienced over the years that I blended in with a tale of a distressing break up.

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Ellen Starski, ‘Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair’

Rockmommy: How are things going, in the new world of Facebook live-streams and virtual connections?

Ellen Starski: My husband and I have been working on a video series for socials called ‘Raising Vibration’ that drops a weekly original or cover song, and also plan to stream a live acoustic set for the album release May 8th. This is definitely not how we had hoped to unveil the new material, but I’m finding solace in the idea that it will be a relief for others in this ‘new normal’ we’re all experiencing.

Rockmommy: I understand you are a new mother. How are you balancing motherhood and creative life?

Ellen Starski: Trying to balance motherhood and creativity is not an easy thing to do in Nashville, as our immediate families live states away. So, when we were in production, I had to spend weeks away from my little love while my family cared for her in PA. Even though I knew she was safe and sound with my parents and sisters it was still terribly difficult for me because that’s the longest amount of time we’ve ever spent apart from each other. I’m actually a very protective mother, and this is the first time I’ve even spoke of her in regards to my career. We have to keep them safe, and in a world where all of our lives are incredibly accessible through social media we have built certain walls for her protection.

Rockmommy: What advice do you have for other rock mommies, particularly on this Mother’s Day, in 2020?

Ellen Starski: Advice? Hmmmm, this is tough for me because I feel we all have to approach motherhood in a way that aligns with our personal belief systems. However, I feel the advice to take care of ourselves physically and spiritually is always good. Take time for yourself, stretch, breath, meditate, drink wine, love hard, and hold on to the people you adore with warmth and a nonjudgmental heart. Mother Earth resides in all of us.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Sara Lovell Explores Imagination — and Rediscovering Creativity — Through ‘Night Life’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Musicians tend to be nocturnal creatures, so it’s no surprise many of their children are fascinated by the hours associated with stars and sleep.

But for singer-songwriter Sara Lovell, and so many moms everywhere, night time is also associated with quite a few sleeping challenges. 

Her third family album Night Life explores some of these themes, from sleeping habits (“Night Life Listen”) to wanting to stay up all night (“I Don’t Want to Go to Bed”). Immersed in delicate strings, arpeggiated guitar riffs and folksy vocals, “Night Life” offers perfect end-of-day jams for the kiddos. You’ll also hear a handful of uptempo tunes — from fun, synth-infused tracks like “Nightlife,” to the percussive, playful “Leave the Monkey” — but the vibe is still pretty mellow (which is exactly what you need when you and/or your little ones are trying to get some shut-eye).

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Sara Lovell’s “Night Life” is perfect for families and bedtimes.

We recently caught up with Sara, mom to 10-year-old son Gabe, to chat about the creative process around her latest record and making the best of life during the pandemic. 

Rockmommy: Hi Sara! I love the new record. How did you come up with the idea to create a record around bedtime? 

Sara Lovell: Hi Marisa! Thanks so much for listening and so glad you love the album! I was making music for grown-ups in the singer/songwriter genre before starting my family. Then when I adopted my son Gabe, I just started making up songs that came directly from my everyday life with him. Night Life is the third album I’ve created for children and families, and the themes of bedtime came out of a new stage for my son that started about a year or so ago with challenges he was having at bedtime. He started having nightmares, and other kids began telling scary stories to each other, and there was a lot of waking up and a lot of resistance. He’s 10 now and is doing much better with going to sleep, though there have been a few more times with wake ups and I’ve heard from other parents that their kids are also having some sleep challenges with the extra stress from our current situation.

Rockmommy: Why are kids so reluctant to go to sleep? 

Sara Lovell: I’m sure different kids have different reasons for their resistance to going to sleep, but I think the primary reason is not wanting to be separated from the grown-ups they love. Also not wanting to stop doing fun things, not wanting to miss out. Add to that fear of the dark, nightmares or other worries, and I think that about covers it.

Rockmommy: I hear so many different sounds, from 80s synth pop to modern-day folk rock. Who are your musical inspirations? 

Sara Lovell: I’d say that the music I was exposed to when I was growing up and coming-of-age just became a part of me. My parents played a wide variety of music – classical, bossa nova, Dixieland jazz, Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter, Harry Belafonte, some early folk… and my older brother and sister listened to The Beatles and Motown. When I started singing along with playing piano, I learned to play Elton John and Stevie Wonder songs. You mention 80s synth pop – Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush are still favorites of mine. I love so many different kinds of music, which makes the children’s music genre such a great playground because I get to create in the style that’s right for each song. It’s so fun and satisfying to come up with all these varied grooves and arrangements and to sing in that wide range too.

Rockmommy: How can parents rediscover their own powers of creativity by encouraging creativity in their children?  

Sara Lovell: I think this would be an interesting question to ask parents who wouldn’t initially think of themselves as creative. I’ve always wanted to create — art, music, building things. I developed new avenues of creativity when I started making music for kids and families, even began writing separate kids stories in rhyming couplet. I think when parents put out art supplies or instruments for their smaller kids to play with they end up playing with those supplies too, and maybe that helps them to remember when they were younger and felt more free to play, and experiment, and make beautiful messes.

Another amazing adventure in being creative with my son has been making music videos with him! We have eleven videos to date, seven with Gabe starring. It’s been a whole new art form to explore and I’ve had a blast collaborating on concept, design, set-building, editing and producing these individual little movies. I’m so grateful for my incredible creative partners as well. Monica Pasqual is producer and co-writer, BZ Lewis – guitarist/engineer, Josh McClain – cellist and filmmaker (we’ve done eight videos together). I also want to thank Anna Silivonchik whose magical artwork graces the album covers, and her paintings were beautifully animated by Maxim Korol for one video. And Jessica Poon and Sylwia Szkiladz created stunning animation for two other music videos.

Sara playing piano - photo by Andrea Scher

Sara Lovell plays the piano. 

Rockmommy: How are you managing as a mom and a children’s artist in this challenging time?

Sara Lovell: Well let’s just say that it took a lot of resources for me to be consistently writing and producing music, while raising my child as a solo parent before this global pandemic. Now it feels like it requires 10 times more resources when there seem to be 10 times less available. I’ve been letting go of expectations — of distance learning, of screen time, of wanting things to seem more normal when they’re anything but. I’m finding and doing the things that can bring any measure of happiness and connectionto keep emotions as healthy as possible. My child is very relational and physical and having to be so far away from other people he loves is super hard on him so we’ve both been having to learn how to cope. For me, I want to do more creating than managing, to make new music and art, to find beauty wherever I can. Lately that has me spending a lot of time cleaning and clearing up all my spaces, or taking late afternoon camera walks. For Gabe it might be riding his scooter, drawing, baking something, making silly videos, or watching a show or cartoon that makes him laugh. We’re having to find our rhythm of just the right connection time and just the right independent time. I’m also very aware that my challenges are not the same as so many out there and so I am wishing support and more ease for all children and families.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Shelly Peiken: How Motherhood Gave Birth to my Songwriting Career’s High Point

By Shelly Peiken

We often hear women speak of ‘having it all.’ But what does that really mean? What is “all”? Perhaps the definition of “all” changes as your ability to expand your heart evolves.

In the many years before I became a mother my “all” (aside from the given: the health and happiness of my loved ones) was freedom — freedom to move where, when, as much as I wanted to. Freedom that allowed a song junkie like me to stop everything at any given moment and write (yet) another song.

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Shelly Pieken

In 1997 I penned the female empowerment anthem “Bitch” with Meredith Brooks — destination #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and a Best Rock Song Nomination in the 40th GRAMMY Awards. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time.

When my daughter arrived the sound of my “all” shifting was like the screech of a car’s tires coming to a halt. Finally, after years of trying to forge relationships with A-list songwriters, I was the new it-girl. Everyone wanted to work with me. But the thing is if I didn’t want to miss the first raspberry, the first “mama,” the first step, I wasn’t going to be able to take on all those collaborations. It was a rude awakening. I don’t know what had me thinking it might be otherwise. Yet, something kicked in.

I became a pro at the breast pump and learned to quickly trim the fat on lyrics I knew didn’t cut it instead of taking a week to kill my darlings.

My film composer husband and I hired a nanny on a part time basis — 3 days a week from 9am-4pm. I’d only collaborate with those who could accommodate that window, fully aware I’d be passing up opportunities that would lead to a monster smash for someone else. Fortunately, I went to a session that gave birth to Christina Aguilera’s “What A Girl Wants.” It would become the first #1 song of the century. I learned of this mitzvah via a phone call at Layla’s bedtime. I made it quick because Pooh was about to stick his hand into the honey jar. I kept my enthusiasm under control but when she was finally asleep, I burst into a silent scream while jumping pogo-stick-style up and down the hallway.

My it-girl status was extended and the search for balance between rocking the mommy and rocking the music continued. I chaperoned an elementary school class trip on a Monday and was in the studio with Britney Spears on a Tuesday. There were times I had to cancel a co-write because my girl had a fever and other times, I had to tell her couldn’t take her shopping for a prom dress because I had an opportunity that I simply didn’t want to turn down. Seesaw, seesaw.

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Shelly Peiken and her daughter Layla

My daughter Layla graduated from college last year and moved to NYC. As I write this, she’s sheltering in place in the epicenter of a global health pandemic. I can’t imagine being the mother of small children right now — having to deny them playdates and pre-school for who-knows-how-long — or a parent of hormonal teenagers who can’t leave the house to exercise those hormones. That said I can assure you that although I now reside in an empty nest and have my previous version of freedom back the worry I’m experiencing because Layla is in the hot zone of the pandemic ain’t no picnic either.

Last night, in order to take my mind off that worry I did what many musicians are doing to stay sane — I livestreamed a concert from my home. Gratefully, hundreds of people “tuned in,” later letting me know that it was a lovely way to spend a Saturday evening, pandemic or not. My worry disappeared while I was singing. I felt reconnected to humanity, to music and to my daughter who texted hearts and emojis of clapping hands. Music is medicine. So are daughters.

On the day Layla was born I started documenting anecdotes in a journal — cute little stories about things she did and words she commingled: eucalipstick, hangburger, beffkist. I wrote about the day she came home from school to find her favorite TV star, Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus) in her living room. I wrote about her first kiss. Her disappointments. I’m certain I’d have forgotten a lot of the detail had I not picked up a pen. Middle-aged hard drives get full and memory fades.

A few years ago, while spending a semester abroad Layla FaceTimed me and said she kept dreaming I was dying. I promised her I was more alive than ever but being the songwriter that I am, and because I could once again drop everything, I began a song that started with these words:

My daughter keeps on dreaming that I’m dying
Nothing could be further from the truth
I tell her not to worry
I’m in no hurry
That’s the last thing on this earth I’m gonna do

I called the song “Notebook.” The refrain lets her know where that journal is (on a table next to my bed) so that should something ever separate us she can find it and hear my voice in the pages.

I don’t know what I’d do without her. The umbilical cord is never severed. And as for music — once you’re under its spell it never lets you go. That’s my balance. All the rest — travel, sushi, mani-pedis, cool clothes, weight control, retail therapy, social media following, quality problems…it’s all gravy.

In honor of mother-and-child unions everywhere, I’d like to share “Notebook” the new single from my forthcoming album 2.0 etc….  I wish all the rockmommies of the world the happiest of Mother’s Days. May the balance be with you.

Shelly Peiken is a singer, songwriter, mother, and author. Listen to her new song “Notebook” on iTunes, Spotify and other media outlets. Download her memoir, Confessions of a Serial Songwriter, on Amazon. 

Dustin Sclafani on Fatherhood, Freedom and the Making of Shame Penguin’s New Single ‘Live In Technicolor’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Everyone’s talking about what they can’t wait to do once the great quarantine is over. I have my own list, and one thing is certain: I need to see Shame Penguin play live!

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Shame Penguin, “Live In Technicolor”

I live in Connecticut, in a part of the state that’s dominated by rock n’ roll cover bands. So when Dustin Sclafani, lead singer of the New Haven, Conn., indie-punk quartet, reached out to send me the band’s single “Live In Technicolor” I was absolutely blown away. I listened once, then again, letting the funky, jam-rock vibe fill my head, while Sclafani’s soulful, bellowing vocals commanded my attention. But it was the lyrics I loved the most:  

So I throw my hands up 

And I’ll put my hood up 

And I’ll resist till I can’t breathe 

So we’ll stand up 

And we’ll rise up 

Till we’re truly free

Having grown up in DC, with bands like Black Flag and Bikini Kill setting the tone for my love of activist and resistance rock, I felt at home listening to Shame Penguin’s single. “Live In Technicolor” filled me with nostalgia for my ’90s favorites, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers — music interspersed with prominent baselines and twinkling guitar riffs and beautiful vocals. But while Shame Penguin’s music flows like old-school RHCP — mixed with a pinch of Misfits-era Glenn Danzig, and a dash of Dispatch’s folksiness (minus the bro harmonies) — the lyrics call out to more urgent, pre- and post-2016 social issues, like racism, homophobia, and nationalism.

“This song started while walking thru the streets of New Haven as the tensions over Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner continued to grow and I started seeing the rifts that have now almost cemented them back into American culture,” Sclafani tells Rockmommy. 

As it turns out, Sclafani, who writes the band’s music with guitarist Tristan Powell (and bassist Jon Ozaksut and drummer Kenny Maraczi), has a lot more in common with me than a love for inspiring punk lyrics and cool melodies.

When he’s not making music, he’s a busy dad raising three sons — 10-year-old twins Milez and Joey, and 13-year-old Cash. What’s more, he’s a single parent, a job that’s become even more challenging in early 2020’s homeschool-quarantine period. Yet he still manages to pop onto my social media feed, belting out soulful, heartfelt originals and covers, armed with only an acoustic guitar and a desire to break through the noise. 

We recently caught up with Dustin Sclafani about Shame Penguin’s forthcoming album, (produced by Vic Stevens of Horizon Studios), songwriting, recording ‘Live In Technicolor’ and more.

Rockmommy: So how did you get into music?

Dustin Sclafani: I was born to a single mother in suburban Long Island. Because she had me at a young age, I grew up more [alongside] my mom, which made our relationship more then just a child-parent relationship. 

I started singing with my mom at a young age. I remember as far back as kindergarten doing harmony lines with my mom to House Of Pooh Corner and Teach Your Children before I knew the ABC song. 

The only constant in my extremely colorful and chaotic life has been and will always be music. I started writing and playing shows acoustically when I was 16 even did an original song at my senior variety show. Performing music on stage is the most I ever truly free and truly myself. I tell people all the time “you never really knew me till you see me live.

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New Haven indie-punk quartet Shame Penguin (photo courtesy of Dustin Sclafani)

Rockmommy: What inspired you to write “Live In Technicolor?”

Dustin Sclafani: This song started while walking thru the streets of New Haven as the tensions over Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner continued to grow and I started seeing the rifts that have now almost cemented them back into American culture. We have lost all of our cultural heroes — The Marvins, The Malcoms, The Lennon-Onos … our music wasn’t saying anything in a time where I felt we needed it the most, so change comes from within and I penned the verses and never feel on a hook I liked. Until Shame Penguin started in my living room last March (2019). Tristan, my guitarist, has this amazing way to understand my meaning without ever hearing my words. The driving chorus brought the anthem out of me.

Rockmommy: What’s it like balancing kids and music — especially now?

Dustin Sclafani: I don’t balance kids and music, but I am a different case — I am raising my three sons in this lifestyle. It makes for late nights and early mornings. But the weirdest things are giving my sons the freedom to develop their own likes, even if it is generic pop music. It’s a constant, “really you literally call people ‘uncle’ who are better artists than that crap.’” But I try and let them discover themselves. It’s also interesting because my sons think our life is like other people’s. When the younger guys were in 3rd grade they would be surprised that their friends’ dads didn’t take them to the studio or do Instagram music clips.

Rockmommy: Do any of them love a certain kind of music because of your influence, you know, taking them to the studio and stuff like that?

Dustin Sclafani: It’s interesting because, especially with Milez and Joey, since I got custody of them, music has been part of their everyday life. Ray Charles “Shake your tail feather” from the Blues Brothers movie helped teach Milez how to talk — he was born with two congenital heart defects, and during surgery at 2 weeks old one of his vocal chords got nicked and it now moves slower than the others. So at 3 and a half his speech was only 33% recognizable to the average ear. So I started playing Ray Charles and Tom Waits and showed him sounding different is OK. But Milez’s favorite band is New Haven’s own Phat A$tronaut — he sat in on Djembe with them when he was 7. Joey loves musicals and is big ‘Greatest Showman’ fan. Cash is 13 so he actually is really into Shame Penguin and loves showing it off to his friends. But Cash really respects Tristan, our guitar player, who is an aspiring visual artist with anime influence — just like him. Tristan is also a big Red Hot Chili Peppers fan and Cash made sure his mom got him a RHCPs T-shirt in this year’s new school clothes shopping trip.

Rockmommy: Why is music so important now?

Dustin Sclafani: I love music and culture, thru out history when the arts thrived civilization thrived. But besides now we are at the most polarizing time in my life, echoes of our hate filled history ripple thru us daily. It is our job as the Troubadours and Heralds to deliver substance and feeling. To take all the darkness in the world and put all thru our individual kaleidoscope and project it back into the hearts and minds of the masses. We are the voices of the voiceless whether the bitterness of reality or the spoonful of sugar needed to swallow it.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Ellen Starski, Nashville Rockmommy, on the Importance of Positivity in Uncertain Times

by Ellen Starski

While working on the creation of the album and back story for Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair, I revisited a lot of inner struggles, and also revisited places in the world I’ve traveled and specific people I encountered along the way that make up the character that is ‘Sara.’ 

From characters in Nova Scotia, to Bozeman, MT, to Key West I’ve broadened my life and creativity through travel, and look forward to the adventures that await after these times have past. The first place within reason I’d like to travel is Hot Springs, Ark. I’ve always wanted to take advantage of those healing waters.EllenStarski8ByAnnaHaas

The release of Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair is still plowing full force ahead, but the tour I was getting ready to plan is officially on the back burner. I’ve also gotten word that the vinyl companies will most likely be closing up shop for a bit, so that will delay the production of my vinyl release. 

There’s an all-around feeling of uncertainty these days, but I’m fortunate to have my family and friends to help me through this. Personally I’m finding comfort in good thoughts and positive events where I can find them. I can, for example, smile when I think of the honey bee population recovering. I also try to see the possibility of a bright side to the quarantine by taking the time to reflect on where I am and where I’m headed. In our hectic lifestyles this may be the perfect opportunity to slow down and appreciate everyone around me, those I have worked with, those who helped me to grow, and how I can return the gifts I’ve been given. And, the music community has rallied to support each other through organized social media and sponsored performances.

There are a couple of songs off the upcoming record with lyrics that have become poignant to me during this epidemic. I never could have imagined while writing them how impactful they would be during these strange times. There’s a song I wrote called ‘All my Fears’ that was initially about the devastation that comes along with a broken heart. Now every time I think of the line ‘All my Fears have come to life’ in regard to our world’s current situation I can’t help to think this virus is my worst fear coming to life. And the song ‘Have we Forgotten’ is reminding me that at times like these we can be reminded of what’s important in this life, and how we can help others and take care of our own bodies, minds and spirits.

I’ve found it hard to sit down to write about the way Covid-19 is affecting my life right now, but I am finding strength with my family and the fact the humanity is coming together and supporting each other’s health. We are alive… we need to enjoy that miracle every chance we get.

Ellen Starski is a mother, singer and songwriter who lives in Nashville with her family. Her upcoming record, Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair, is out May 8. 

Castle Black, on Making Surreal ‘Dream’ Music and Hunkering Down During the Traditional Season of Rebirth

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Brooklyn trio Castle Black’s music is hard to define, often evoking multiple genres, from math-rock to melodic post-punk, as Vents magazine recently noted. Case in point: “A Cigarette, Saved” is simultaneously moody and frantic, channeling Nine Inch Nails one moment, then swinging into something akin to pre-goth Siouxsie Sioux. One has to listen a few times to a Castle Black song to let the poetry of the lyrics sink in, and even then, the moment is open to interpretation. 

Yet, the Castle Black live experience is consistently intense and fantastic. I know this, having seen Castle Black in more than one state, and in more than one nightclub. The combination of singer Leigh Celent’s mesmerizing vocals and effects-laden, arpeggiated guitar riffs — layered over thick, powerful rhythms courtesy of bassist Scott Brown and drummer Joey Russo — get me every time.

The band’s latest video, “Dead in a Dream” (from their EP, Take Her my Life), which premiered on April 8, offers just one small glimpse of their upcoming livestreamed set, to be held on Friday, April 17, as part of The Cellar on Treadwell’s “Dinner & a Show” event — which benefits the nightclub’s Employee Relief Fund (music begins at 7:30 p.m.)

We recently interviewed the band — pre-coronavirus — to talk about their latest EP, live music and future plans.
Rockmommy: How would you describe your music style?

Leigh Celent:  I let everyone else do this!

Scott Brown:  Post-punk indie rock I guess?

Joey Russo:  As a band, we’re some kind of rock. Math-grunge, some have said!

Rockmommy: You have a new record out. What can you tell us about it?

Leigh Celent: Take Her My Life represents this band’s journey up until now. It’s representative of the new line-up of the band; it is the first record made with Joey and Scott. Take Her My Life pushes the boundaries of our sound. We broke the album into two thematic parts — “Born in a Dream” and “Dead in a Dream” — where there is this relentless push and pull between themes of life and death. Themes of beginning/end, and hope/despair become blurred concepts. We had a burning birthday cake at our release show.

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Castle Black: Joey Russo, Leigh Celent, Scott Brown

Rockmommy: Who is the most inspirational live performer you’ve seen lately?

Leigh: I saw Thee Oh Sees last year in Brooklyn, and that was a really inspiring show. Their energy and intensity was infectious, and their show was captivating to watch.  Also, I recently saw David Byrne’s “American Utopia” on broadway, which was completely inspirational — he’s hypnotic to watch, authentic in his approach, and his longevity and evolution as a performer is inspiring.

Scott: So many of the bands we end up playing with are amazing. It seems like every show there’s something I hear or see that inspires me in one way or another. As far as shows we’re not playing, the Misfits at MSG most recently was one of those shows with a special energy in the air.

Joey: Thrice, which I recently saw in Brooklyn! I’ve seen them a few times and they always inspire something in me. Their seamless incorporation of odd times on groovy and heavy music with the catchiest riffs and hooks. So emotive and special.

Rockmommy: Do you think a lot changed in the past 15 years, in terms of female rockers becoming more visible?

Leigh: Things are constantly evolving and getting better, and that’s due to the number of people who have stood up for what is right, spoken out for what they believe in and just persevered in light of obstacles. I’m extremely grateful to women performers going back decades who faced different challenges and to everyone who is a decent human being in the world, who paved the way for change.  Of course, there are still people who aren’t decent human beings and who think women are objects, things not to be respected, things made for their imminent pleasure, not deserving of the same respect they would give a man etc. Do we still see that? Unfortunately, yes. But we see that in other facets of life living on this planet, unfortunately, and it’s a fight that continues — and not just for women, but for all beings.

Rockmommy: Being an independent artist isn’t always easy. You’ve gotta balance lots of stuff. What’s your best advice for making time to rock?

Leigh Celent: I make time for what’s important to me. I prioritize this band as much as I prioritize the other important things in my life. If something goes on the calendar, it’s on the calendar, and oddly that’s a very simple tool that I would be lost without! Some weeks are really hectic and stressful, where I’m not sure how I will do everything that needs to get done, but those weeks pass and things are back to feeling manageable, at least for a little while! All of that effort is so very worth it, because we are doing what we love, especially once we are the road for a few weeks, everything that went into making that happen is worth it.

Scott Brown: Playing and making music is an important part of my life and a great outlet that helps me deal with work and daily stress, so I prioritize it pretty highly. I believe that if something’s truly important to you it’s not really that hard to find ways to make it happen, even if it’s just a few minutes here or there. Those little spaces can add up to a lot if you’re dedicated to them.

Joey: Gotta be devoted to your craft! Make time for what you love.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Why Musician Randy Kaplan’s Version of ‘Hugs for My Family’ is the Virtual Embrace We All Need

By Randy Kaplan

Hello there! I just released a digital single: “Hugs for My Family (Coronavirus Version).” My pal Marisa — a fellow rocker parent and the editor of this blog — invited me to share the song with you and tell you a bit about its inception. So here goes.

[SEE RELATED: Randy Kaplan and 4-Year-Old Son Record Love Song to Wife/Mommy . . . About Candy, Protein, and Crime]

In 2018, I participated in Steve Denyes‘s 20-Songs-in-20-Days challenge, in which Kindie Music fans created titles and Steve (and a different one of his colleagues each day) wrote songs with those titles, one per day for 20 days. On the morning of February 4 (Super Bowl Sunday), I was given the title “Hugs for My Family, High Fives for My Friends.” I cooked up a song about that season’s flu epidemic. It became a SiriusXM Radio Kids Place Live hit, and I donated a portion of the royalties to Happy Star Melodies, a charity that brought musical instruments and musical experiences to kids facing long hospital stays. (The charity has since closed its doors.)

Hugs.for.My.Family

Randy Kaplan and family

Last week, during our quarantine and lockdown here in Michigan, I thought about that song and how that terrible flu season seemed like the good old days compared to this current scourge. I took a look at the lyrics and saw that some changes were necessary if I were going to sing the song again. In the original version, the narrator has hugs for his family but only high fives for his friends. Now it would be luxurious to high five a friend. So I had to change that lyric along with some of the other no-longer-relevant passages. The coronavirus version was thus formed.

I also changed some of the symptoms from those associated with flu to those associated with COVID-19. And I had to add lines about handwashing and hand-sanitizing and the dry knuckles that result from all of that abrasion. Some interesting rhymes resulted:

So now that I’ve donned these gloves I’ve got on

and rolled down my sleeves, I’m not quite as skeeved.

But it’d still be nightmareful if my hands touched a hairful

or a handful of germs from your palm or some derm-

atological surface; we gotta be careful

not to cough or sneeze droplets and not breath in airfuls

of air that are filled with this novel corona-

virus that’s high-risk, so I sit here alone. A

slick surface like metal can host this corona thing.

It’s really unsettling. I just want my phone to ring

‘cause sitting here reading online is too much for me:

percentages, ratios, CNN, CDC.

I also worked in some terms in the news, terms we’re all well-versed in by now: “social distancing,” “flattening the curve,” “asymptomatic transmission,” fomites … okay, nobody but me and the infectious disease doctors know that last one. But you’ll know it too as soon as you look it up. [Side note, for the kids: Hey, when I was your age, I had to use an actual dictionary with weight and volume. It was much more onerous!] Anyway, “fomite” rhymes with “poem might,” so I had to use it.Randy.Kaplan.Hugs.for.My.Family.(Coronavirus.Version)

I have gotten a lot of nice feedback on the song. It seems to make people feel better to hear someone express a range of emotions they feel but may not have expressed. There’s anxiety in the song, yes, but there’s also hope, humor, and solidarity. The overall message, seen most clearly right there in the last quatrain, is the same as it was two years ago:

For now, yes, it’s scary, but we’re in it together.

This ton-of-bricks heavy’s feeling light as a feather

‘cause talking to you keeps me safer for longer.

The long and the short of it’s that together we’re stronger.

I’m certainly looking forward to high-fiving you when this quarantine ends! Until then, see you in cyberspace!

Listen for free (for now) at SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/randykaplan/hugs-for-my-family-coronavirus-version

Coming soon to iTunes, Pandora, and all the rest!

Randy Kaplan is a father, musician, teacher and author.

Rockmommy Joanie Leeds’ New Record and Message of Empowerment Celebrates ‘All the Ladies’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

As a former Brooklynite, I thought I knew Joanie Leeds. When I interviewed the singer and performer in 2017, chatting about raising a tiny person in a busy but super-creative borough, I thought to myself, “yes! That’s my girl. She’s bright, happy, and living the mom life I would’ve lived if I hadn’t transplanted to the suburbs of Connecticut.” 

I also thought I knew her music — wonderful, insightful, high-energy kindie rock with a touch of sass — that was perfect for dance parties with my toddlers (who are now 6 & 7). Adorable songs like “I love New York,” made complete with fun, colorful videos.

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Joanie Leeds

[SEE RELATED: Singer-Songwriter Joanie Leeds on Motherhood, Her Summer Tour & ‘Brooklyn Baby’]

So when I heard that Joanie had spent the last two years channeling her emotions (and some life hard experiences) into a record that celebrates women’s empowerment — and features women instrumentalists — I was pleasantly surprised. At the same time, it made total sense. Based on Joanie’s previous work, it’s pretty clear she’s a creative, multifaceted rocker mama — a lyrical badass who writes songs that are universally catchy and relevant.

Joanie’s latest record isn’t just fronted by a female singer. It’s infused with ladies, and all about the #girlsplayinstruments movement. An added bonus: Today, April 3, she is part of an hours-long, all-women Facebook Live show (12:30 to 4 pm EST on the @alltheladiesmusicfestival page on Facebook). As such, her record is created for women by women.

We recently caught up with her to talk about her new album “All the Ladies,” motherhood, life in New York and everything else. 

Rockmommy: I love the concept of “All the Ladies.” Was this inspired by the 2016 election turnout, or the #metoo movement, in addition to a desire for true equality in the music industry?

Joanie Leeds: Thank you. Actually the idea came to me as I was sitting in audience of the 2018 Grammys Awards. I had just separated from my husband about three months prior and felt a rush of creativity flood within me ignited by my newfound freedom. At the ceremony however, I felt enraged by the underrepresentation of women at the Ceremony and those nominated. While it may have bothered me a little bit before that night I felt the need to take action. I took out my phone and started typing all of these ideas about an all-female performed, produced, engineered, mixed and mastered album. I even starting making a list of women I wanted to work with right there, at Madison Square Garden.

I sat on the concept for a year because I just started a grown-up music project Joanie & Matt (coincidentally, music from THAT project was inspired by the #MeToo movement). In March of 2019, I had lunch with Lucy Kalantari and whispered my idea for an all-female album for kids and she said she was actually looking to produce someone and liked the idea. It was the meal that changed everything. With that conversation I went home and over the next three months wrote all the songs from the album. In July, we started recording at her studio. Often, I would walk directly out of the court house during my divorce trial and head over to Lucy’s to record. The entire process was emotional and cathartic all at the same time.

Rockmommy: The last time we chatted you had a kids’/family record! Is ‘All the Ladies’ for the mamas (or can kiddos listen along too)?

Joanie Leeds: For the past 10 years I have written kids songs focusing on the 2- to 5-year-old audience. While my own 4-year-old loves all the songs from “All the Ladies” as well as many other under 5’s who have heard the tunes, I really wrote these tunes with older kids in mind. While the album non-apologetically carries themes of feminism through out, it is not just for young girls and women. It’s for every age and all gender identities. Someone once asked me, “What about the boys? I answered, “Anyone who has ever had a mother, sister, grandmother, aunt or a daughter will find value and joy in songs that honor and respect their family.”

Rockmommy: You relied on other females to make your record. I gotta say, even in NYC, it is damn hard to find women (other than singers and guitarists) for the purposes of collaboration. Why was that so important to you? 

Joanie Leeds: EXACTLY! I wanted to challenge myself and I couldn’t do it alone. Lucy put all of the instrumentalists together. I had a list of singers in mind but she did an incredible job finding string players (Nelly Rocha, Libby Weitnauer) a bass player (Caylen Bryant), percussionists/drummer (Rosa Avila, Lisette Santiago, etc)… I had been playing with an all-male band for 10 years and whenever one of them couldn’t play a show and I needed a sub, I would ask for their short list — it would ALWAYS be ALL men. I was just sick of it. The only way to bring women into the room and into the conversation is by making change, shaking things up. I say this with my own band in mind but it’s true of ANY profession, at any level.unnamed

Rockmommy: Can you tell us more about the virtual live show on Friday?

Joanie Leeds: One of the singers on the album, Tina Kenny Jones, reached out to me after my album launch concert (and entire tour) was canceled due to COVID-19 and suggested I hold an online music festival. I called up my publicist right away and was like ‘Do you think it will work?’ After I heard a big yes, I asked all of the singers on the album and they were all in too! It’s been a wonderful thing for me to throw myself in to help take my mind off the crisis here in NYC. I need to stay busy. Between creating all the artwork, media, taking zoom tutorials and all the logistics of producing an online festival, and telling the world about it, it’s been quite a ride already. It will be Friday April 3, featuring all the incredibly talented ladies below: 12:30-4 pm EST on the @alltheladiesmusicfestival page on Facebook.

Rockmommy: How are you making time for music with the kids home?

Joanie Leeds: It is NOT easy. With deadlines looming and online concerts to prepare for and perform each day, every moment of each day is a balance. The day usually starts out with ‘school’ and playing in ‘centers’ and then eventually I have to get work done. Sometimes that is an epic failure and the iPad comes on so I can practice or hold an online show and sometimes, my daughter surprises me by building or playing solo with toys in her room. It’s not easy being one on one but we have a lot of fun with daily dance parties (tonight was Phish, last night was Tom Petty, most nights it’s Brandi Carlile. We love screaming and playing cowbell out the window at 7 PM to send love to the first responders.

Rockmommy: What words of advice or inspiration can you offer to your fans and rocker mamas in NYC and beyond?

Joanie Leeds: Maybe this comes with age but to the all the amaaaazing rocker mamas, I am most recently living in a constant state of NOT GIVE ANY *&^%s. I don’t know if it’s being in your 40s and finally knowing who you really are or if it’s being a mother, but I couldn’t care less about what anyone thinks of me and at the same time, I have never been as comfortable in my own skin as I have been over the past few years, gray hairs, readers and all.

For the kids: When I was in middle school, the kids gave me a very hard time at school as well as my sleep away camp. As a result, I had little confidence and was filled with anxiety about just showing up at school or entering a room. I know it’s cliche to say but it does get better. To all the kids struggling, there are many things I would to say. First, believing in yourself can only come from within so find the things you love about yourself and share those things with the world. Do your best not to compare and despair. Elevate your friends by cheering on their accomplishments and always try your best to make everyone feel included, even when it’s not the popular thing to do. As it relates to the album, I want to see young girls putting themselves out there more with the confidence that you can be ANYTHING — raise your hands and help each other out. It’s important to stick together. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Bilingual Music Mama Flor Bromley Brings Virtual ‘Fiesta’ into Your Home

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

If the last few weeks has taught me anything, it’s that I still need love and joy — and music. Like most other parents, I’m stuck mostly indoors with my kids, engaging in the once-unthinkable balance of homeschooling and working. Trying to stay sane. 

So when I heard that musician mama Flor Bromley, a bilingual singer-songwriter and guitarist, had released some fun, family party music — I could not have been more ecstatic! Flor’s new single, “Fiesta de los Globos” is a celebratory song, sung in Spanish and infused with horns, keys and an aura of springtime joy.

Flor Bromley_9_photo credit Carmen Steven

Flor Bromley

“The world needs hope,” Flor tells Rockmommy. “Kids essentially need a sense of normalcy. They need to know that everything will be ok, even through changes, so why not release stress and turn it into a big party, a big balloon party with our families to celebrate togetherness, to celebrate unity?” 

This week, the mother of two — 4-year-old and an 8-month-old — took a break to chat with us about her new single, and the importance of celebration and culture. 

In addition to the new single and a forthcoming album, the mother of two — ages 4 and 8 months — is hosting bilingual musical story times for kids three days per week through her Facebook page: Kids can join Flor, her puppets, and her “Bonita” guitar to learn Spanish through music and stories for 30 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 11 a.m. EDT.

Rockmommy: Flor, I love your new song “Fiesta de los Globos.” Can you tell us about the creative process that inspired it? 

Flor Bromley: Thank you! I created this song right after doing a concert at a birthday party. There were so many balloons, and I decided that we should play with them and sing along, so I started the process of “Balloon Party” which is a song included in my upcoming album Fiesta Global that has the collaboration of Jazzy Ash on the vocals. The Spanish version “Fiesta de los Globos” was created especially to be released as a single because Spanish is my native language, and I wanted kids to enjoy this song in English and Spanish as well. After crafting the song, I decided to play it in NOLA jazz style because of the way the verses and the chorus were intertwined, and producer Sinuhe Padilla, who is also my musical director, helped me make that happen. I’m very happy with the outcome.

Rockmommy: New Orleans is an amazing city (I lived there for two years!) and your song takes me right back there. Who were some of your inspirations growing up?

Flor Bromley: Being Peruvian, you don’t get a lot of NOLA jazz there, but you do get a lot of cartoons, especially the old Walt Disney ones. The 4-year-old me, without knowing, was being exposed musically to Dixieland jazz from early childhood cartoons, and I feel it’s has been engraved in my musical brain since then. In my journey, I re-discovered this type of jazz in my early 20s when I went on a trip to Argentina. I was at a music venue, and the band started playing a NOLA inspired jazz number, and the sound just filled my soul, and I couldn’t stop moving. So I researched more about this music, and I fell in love with the ease of the style and the way it just makes you get up and dance. One of my favorite albums of this style is Louis Armstrong and the Dukes of Dixieland.

Rockmommy: Can you tell me why the song is exactly what the world needs right now?

Flor Bromley: The world is in an intricate state right now. Things are changing. Globally we are all together fighting a big virus that affects everyone in different ways. It’s time for hope. The world needs hope. Kids essentially need a sense of normalcy. They need to know that everything will be ok (even through changes), so why not release stress and turn it into a big party, a big balloon party with our families to celebrate togetherness, to celebrate unity? Which is also what the world needs. Unity.

Rockmommy: What else can you tell us about your upcoming album?

Flor Bromley: Fiesta Global will be released April 24. We have collaborations with Latin Grammy winner 123 Andres, Peruvian award-winning singer Damaris, and jazz family favorite Jazzy Ash. Fiesta Global is a celebration to dance around the world. Because there will always be music. Cultures use music and dance to heal, to mourn, to celebrate. With this album I want to celebrate our world, the different types of rhythms that live inside of us (the way NOLA jazz always lived inside of me since I was 4), and I want to give families a time to dance together, being united in the joy of music.

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Flor Bromley’s new record “Fiesta Global” 

Rockmommy: What are some ways families can share traditions and culture and music during this difficult time?

Flor Bromley: This is the perfect time to be close as families, to learn more about each other, to teach your children things that you weren’t planning on doing. So, I encourage parents to research music, find new and old music, to use the best tool we can right now from our homes via the internet, and learn about our roots, learn about cultures, make new traditions and celebrate each other, having a big “Fiesta de los Globos”!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.