Singer-songwriter Esther Crow had a solid legacy as the front woman of The Electric Mess — a fun, punk-rock-ish band — before becoming a mom, and playing on the NYC kindie rock circuit.
Today, she still rocks hard — but with lyrics and themes that fans of all ages can appreciate. Her latest album, “All Together Now,” celebrates a variety of sounds and subjects, with environmentalism and social issues taking center stage. Her puppets, created by Jeff Lewoncyzk, also play a prominent role on the album, and weave comedy, and kindness, into some more serious topics.
We recently caught up with Esther to talk about making music, city life with mandolin-playing son Vincent, and more.
Rockmommy: Hey Esther! Musically, “It’s so easy being green” has a kinda acoustic Iggy Pop vibe, but the lyrics are catchy and easy to understand. How did that song come about?
Esther Crow: Wow, I don’t think I’ve gotten Iggy Pop [comparisons] for any of my kids material — only The Electric Mess (my “adult band”). So thanks! You know, I can’t really recall even writing the song, but I think it started with the title because it’s sort of a play on Kermit’s famous song (“It’s Not Easy Being Green”), but I reversed it. I knew I wanted to do a song about being more environmentally conscious, and a song that would be easy for the very young to digest with easy, everyday activities they could take part in.
I had already written a few songs about animals, but wanted to start writing songs with a focus on the climate crisis, and this was the first of that batch.
Rockmommy: There are so many great musicians in the NYC area, and the indie-music scene — and they all seem to know Lucy Kalantari or my friend REW! What do you love most about NYC family life?
Esther Crow: Truthfully, 2020 really bonded a lot of us, even though it was mostly virtual bonding. I feel that I got to know so many kindie musicians across the globe via social media, and some Zoom meetings. A few weeks ago I went to a Juneteenth event in Harlem and got to meet a few in person for the first time. In terms of NYC musicians, it’s a wonderfully diverse mix of people and genres.
I recently met Fyütch, a fantastic hip hop artist from Nashville who lives in the Bronx, Flor Bromley, a wonderful Peruvian-American performer who lives just outside the city, further North. And I finally met Joanie Leeds, who lives just across Central Park from me on the Upper East Side, at her great Brooklyn Botanic show in May.
I met Lucy Kalantaria while back at her wonderful Symphony Space show, which she did the winter before Covid struck. I took my son, Vincent, and we loved it. Falu Shah is another favorite. Could not love her music more, and love that she (and Lucy) include family in their live shows. I think it’s impactful for kids to see other kids performing.
Rockmommy: For your latest record, did you consciously decide to write about nature and the environment, or did you write a few songs and notice you were on a roll?
Esther Crow: To be honest, I had written a few songs about animals a few years back, and then it finally dawned on me that I should write a few more and record an album. BUT… I wanted the next few songs to be more socially [and] environmentally conscious. So the first, as I mentioned, was “It’s so Easy Being Green.” And then I started doing research on animals that were environmental helpers/heroes, and it turns out that in addition to bees, which most people know are important helpers, bats and beavers were also crucial. That’s how “Bees, Beavers and Bats” came about.
I don’t think I consciously set out to write a jazz song, but it happened! I think it’s the one and only jazz song I’ve ever written — and certainly the most lyrically-packed song on the album. Which means it kind of needed a skat-type delivery. Well, I immediately thought of Lucy of course! And she could not have been more gracious or easy to work with. And that voice…THAT VOICE!! I feel very lucky. Next up: a Schoolhouse-Rock type video — with animation by Elena Fox — is comin’ down the pike!
Rockmommy: How’s everything else going? Have you been playing out in the “new normal” music scene?
Esther Crow: I played the Make Music New York Day — as you did — which was fun! We lucked out with a show 4 blocks from us. Vincent, my son, accompanied me on mandolin. It was great.
He’ll also be playing with me — as will my husband, on bass — at our Pier 1 gig on Thursday, July 15th at 10 a.m. in Riverside Park at 70th Street. Excited for that one!
Other than that: I’ve been playing a lot of virtual shows — mainly via the Brooklyn Public Library — and have a few more of those coming up.
Rockmommy: What’s your advice for balancing parenthood with everything else — including creative life?
Esther Crow: I think the best advice I have is to be honest with yourself and know when you need to turn down opportunities. I’m trying not to book anything in August, for example, as we’re taking a week in Maine (aaahhhh, vacation!). Parenting needs to come first — or close to first — whenever possible. It’s a hard juggle but I’m also grateful my son gets to perform with me, so we’re lucky we can spend time together, creatively.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.
It blows my mind that some musicians can just pick up an instrument in their late 20s or early 30s, and within a few years play close to the level of Jack Johnson. But that’s just one thing that makes singer-songwriter and guitarist Earl Henrichon so cool. The rockdad, who fronts Hartford, Conn.-based band The POSSM, picked up his signature instrument far past his adolescent years, but strums and sings like he was born to do just that.
And he’s not only a proficient guitarist but a damn good vocalist. Just listen to his gravelly tones on covers like The Pixies’ ‘Where is My Mind’ and originals like “Her” and you’ll agree.
Not that he has a lot of time to sing and play. In 2020, Earl, who’s also a high school PE teacher and surfer, wrote one of our favorite essays on balancing work, music, and life with his wife Jane and now 8-year-old daughter.
We recently caught up with Earl to talk about his return to the stage, the upcoming HartBeat Music Festival on September 18, and parenting an 8-year-old in 2021.
Rockmommy: Hey Earl! How’s it going in 2021?
Earl Henrichon: It is going ok! I think our ‘new normal is going to be fewer shows than we were playing before the pandemic, and at the moment, only outdoors. We are all vaccinated and feel totally safe, but just decided to stick with the outdoor shows since those are so fun anyway. We are going to save more time for family, practicing and recording new songs, and try and appreciate each show and look forward to it, rather than pack the schedule and feel overwhelmed. We just started practicing in the last month or so, and are enjoying getting back together and hanging out and making music together again.
Rockmommy: Did you write a lot of new music between March 2020 and April 2021? How did the band stay connected?
Earl Henrichon: We actually didn’t write all that much original music during that time. Pretty much every member of the band contributes original music, and I think each member may have been creative during that time but not a lot of it was material for the band. I actually think that is pretty healthy, the band is its own thing, but having other outlets for creative energy I think lessens the opportunity for burnout. That isn’t to say we don’t have new material, because we do, and a lot of it we are really psyched about, but it isn’t the amount of material you would have assumed would come from that amount of time. But there was a Pandemic, so there was that…
Rockmommy: You and the lead guitarist are dads! What’s it like sharing your music with your respective daughters?
Earl Henrichon: Hell yeah we are, it is fricking awesome! Having another dad makes the vibe of it for me really great, a couple of old men like us care about things like getting the kids together to play (and it is awesome for them as well), and I think it is healthy for the younger guys in the band to hang out with the kids and get a family vibe. Our band is very much about community and family anyway, so this just makes it obvious about the things that are important to us.
This summer our kids will be at any show that isn’t at night, and that will be awesome. We are playing Hike to the Micon my daughter’s birthday, so it will be a party for the kids. Stuff like that makes playing music even more fun for me. [Lead guitarist] Craig and I can complain about bedtime stalling antics while the other guys have to pretend that even for one second that this is something they find interesting.
Rockmommy: What are you doing to stay balanced, between being a teacher, musician and co-founder of the HartBeat Festival?
Earl Henrichon: Well, to be clear I am not the lone founder of the HartBeat festival, our former bass player Tony Koos was integral about approaching Riverfront about working together on something and this is what was born from that. And working with Riverfront Recapture is amazing, they get behind most of our ideas about the community vibe of the festival. But balance and happiness is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. I teach health so it is on my mind quite a bit about how to best maximize my time so I can have energy and also get relaxing time in.
I could talk about this topic a lot, since it is a passion of mine, but the short story is that I am at once a physical person who loves to be active and at times an introvert who needs to recharge my batteries with lots of time with my family and at home. So since I know that about myself, there are just things I don’t spend a lot of time doing, like going out and having drinks with friends on a regular basis. I prioritize things I love to do that make me feel good such as surfing, playing ultimate frisbee, disc golf, music etc… and will try to work in time with friends doing that stuff and then spend the rest of my time with my family so that I get that recharge time and feel that family connection that is important to me.
I am also not a late-night guy. I want to be curled up on the couch with my wife watching Netflix and going to bed at a decent hour so I can feel good.
Rockmommy: What advice do you have to rockin’ dads out there who want to find the right balance between work, play, and family time?
Earl Henrichon: It is one of the large questions in many of our lives, and for musicians who have late-night schedules it can be even harder. My advice is not to play too many really late-night gigs. It is hard to say no to things, but the alternative is burnout and exhaustion. I think the idea of that sort of thing is sort of old school, I have found many people feel just like I do, and I try adjust many of our shows to be at reasonable hours, and I think that is part of why we were able to get people to come hang out with us, because we could get them in bed by 10:30 and they could still have a fun night.
I find exercise to be very therapeutic and stress relieving, but the days of hitting the weight room hard are sort of over for me, so finding other avenues to play and actually get out and run around are meaningful to my physical and mental health. I’ve gotten into chasing down frisbees with a group of people in Hartford at lunch time when I am on break, and it gives me an opportunity to get out and run at full speed, which doesn’t exist that much in adult life the way it does for kids. It makes me feel alive to get to compete a bit, break a sweat and get some sun.
I am not someone who will just go for a run, so finding times to actually play and get exercise at the same time are huge for me. I do Wim Hoff breathing in the morning before my shower and use the waking up app (meditation) when I am feeling stressed. I also have become a fan of mastering mobility stretches on YouTube so when I have a free 20 minutes, I can get my old man body some much needed stretching in.
I also try to use social media sparingly, I keep all notifications off on my phone so I can try to use it when I want as opposed to when my phone tells me to get my eyeballs on screen so someone can make advertising money. That is easier now for me, since the brand of our band is built a bit, I needed to spend more time when we were starting, so that is a balance as well.
I also try to give other bands and musicians love when I am online, and that tends to get returned when others feel like you are looking out for them. We maybe don’t have the following we could potentially have online as a result, but in the end is that really the most important thing? I try to stop and think a lot about what makes me happy, and then I just try to make sure that that thing is happening in my life enough to meet my needs. And if it isn’t, I think about how to adjust my schedule to make it happen. I know that sounds simplistic, but many of the best moments in my life are pretty simple and I want to make sure I get as many of them as I can.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and cofounder of Rockmommy.
As I write this it’s around 3 p.m. on the last Tuesday in June, a month that’s kept me so busy that I’ve had little time to stop and reflect on life, music or motherhood — the pillars of my existence. On the plus side, I’ve been living the change I want to see for rockmommies — playing out, booking gigs, and creating new music. It doesn’t matter that I’m past my so-called youthful “prime.”
Rock n roll isn’t an age; it’s an attitude.
This week, I’m at the beach, enjoying some quality time with my sons, my spouse, and the sun, thinking about my recent performance on 6/21/21 for Make Music Day in New York City. I’m ecstatic I got to play in Tomkins Square Park with my band Trashing Violet, and several other friends’ bands on the makeshift Girls Rock & Girls Rule “stage” where the bandshell used to exist. Simply being New York for the first time since February 2020 meant the world to me.
The MMNY show was meaningful for so many other reasons. Obviously, being able to play music in public without a mask is a reality I couldn’t fathom a year ago. I tend to be a bit “glass half empty” at times, and I really didn’t believe that vaccinations would work so well, or that I’d be able to stand side by side with my girlfriends, singing into the same shared microphone.
Seeing people enjoying our music as we played in the park reminded me of why I picked up a guitar and a microphone in the first place, and stirred up emotions I hadn’t felt in so long. The last time I played MMNY was in 2009, with my former band The Underage Hotties. I’d forgotten what it was like to play on the streets, to relative strangers or would-be friends.
But the most epic thing about performing on the first official day of summer was being part of something bigger than myself.
Make Music Day actually began in 1982 in France, as “Fête de la Musique,” and crossed over the Atlantic to debut 12 years ago in New York City. Today, more than 5,000 New York-area musicians — amateurs and professionals, of all ages and musical persuasions — perform in more than 1,000 free, outdoor concerts on June 21st. And nearly 100 other U.S. cities officially mark “Make Music Day” through performances in public spaces.
I’m over 35, an age that many in the industry consider “ancient” — especially if you’re female. While times have changed, there’s still a pervasive attitude that if you haven’t already “made it” in your 30s, it’s better to give up and make room for the next generation. Put the guitar in the corner, or perhaps relegate performing for open mic nights every once in a while.
But on June 21, age, gender, and status don’t matter in idyllic parks or on sidewalks. Music can be made and played anywhere, and there is always someone who wants to listen. All you need is a power source.
Playing outdoors on the summer solstice, the longest and one of the hottest days of the year, felt so liberating. By the time my band finished an hour-long set, and lugged our gear to a restaurant’s makeshift outdoor seating area in a former parking space (pre-2020), my life felt so perfect and so complete.
I hope that every musician reading this feels inspired to get back out there this summer. While we can’t predict what tomorrow will bring, there’s no time like the present to seize your instrument — and seize the day.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
When singer-songwriter Claudia Robin Gunn became a mom — or “mum” as they say in New Zealand — she had 20 years of pop-rock chops under her belt, including multiple musical projects and nightclub gigs. Yet transitioning to a more folksy pop style came naturally. Of course, it helped that the songs she wrote could double as lullabies.
“My songs definitely helped them sleep, and I think perhaps it helped me to relax and just slow down to their pace too,” says Gunn.
Her latest album, a collection of pretty, vocally textured, nature-inspired tunes, is no less dreamy.
We recently caught up with Claudia to talk her latest record, released in late 2020, motherhood, crafting songs, playing music, and more.
Rockmommy: Can you tell us about the inspiration for your record that came out recently, ‘Sing Through The Year – A Little Wild Childhood?’
Claudia Gunn: All these songs started off in life, and then my imagination took over.
When you’re a kid, I think it’s hard to judge the passing of time — isn’t that awesome how timeless it feels? — and I think it’s interesting how the changing weather day to day, and the natural signs of the different seasons progressing through the year is a tangible way for children to grasp the idea of time, and how the months and years turn.
My kids have always calmed down and become these magical, adventurous non-quarrelsome beings when they are in a garden, or out in the woods making branch forts.
As a parent, time slows down and speeds up in weird ways as we go through the seasons of parenthood and our children grow, sometimes it’s so slow and sometimes a blink of an eye and they’ve changed before our eyes. So capturing some of the bright moments along the way is something that I love to try and do with songs.
Process wise, I have a lot of songbooks, some of them are digital, some are actual notebooks, or paper scraps, or cardboard from cereal packets, and basically as the years have gone by since [my children] Ella and Dylan were born, the songs kept on stacking up, like a diary of our adventures through the years.
Last year during the Covid lockdowns there was suddenly a whole lot of time not rushing around the world, and I ended up performing loads of unpublished songs inside the kids treehouse (that they’d now grown out of) for a series of lockdown livestreams. I got the chance to press play on recording a stack of them and making the songbook thanks to a grant from our arts funding agency Creative New Zealand.
Rockmommy: How have you evolved, or changed as a musician, over time, from pre-parenthood to now?
Claudia Gunn: I’d say I’m determined — I’ll never give up on a song, though I’ll give it space to breathe and some songs need time to mature or change before they are ready to meet the world! That said, I’ve been writing for nearly 30 years — showing my age — and some songs have had LONG arcs to find their time in the sun.
When I started playing in bands, I was always dedicated to a project as long as it lasted, to the point I wouldn’t take a job in another town or even take an O.E. since I was always sure we were about to break through (an O.E is what we kiwis call our overseas experience — a rite of passage most of my friends did in their early twenties, travelling and working for a few years overseas after finishing university).
My electronic band Substax has lasted the longest time, albeit with pretty much a 15 year break in between shows, as we all had kids and went into sort of hibernation with the project.
Now the kids are bigger, we are now at the point we have a bank of songs, have just re-released the original album on streaming for the first time, and have new songs lined up to release. I also just got Substax to remix one of my kindie tracks, and a couple years back I got the band together to play with me on a bunch of kids tunes for the Auckland Kiddie Limits festival, so it’s kind of fun getting my musical worlds to mesh sometimes!
Rockmommy: How long have you been playing banjo and guitar?
Claudia Gunn: I play the banjolele, ukulele and the guitar — I’m self taught, starting to pick up my mum’s instruments at about 18. She wrote down 3 chords for me on a piece of paper, and then told me to go for it!
Rockmommy: What, or who, are your musical inspirations?
Claudia Gunn: I’m a 70’s baby, 80’s kid, 90’s teenager. My formative musical heroes were really all the female artists from my parent’s record collection, along with my mum herself, who sung in bands, often playing shows 3 or 4 nights a week when I was small. I grew up knowing songs by heart from artists like Tracy Chapman, Annie Lennox, Neneh Cherry, Joni Mitchell, Carole King,Joan Armatrading, Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield, Dolly Parton, Texas and Phoebe Snow.
Rockmommy: I love that you wrote children’s music to put your babies to sleep. Did they go to sleep? How old are they now (and do they play music with you)?
Claudia Gunn: Yes it definitely helped them sleep, and I think perhaps it helped me to relax and just slow down to their pace too. When they got older, the lullabies were more just to help them calm down. Even now I’ll get asked for a song occasionally. One of the songs called “Goodnight Moon” on Little Wild Lullabies was composed for Dylan when we would go say goodnight to the moon by either walking the block in his pram in summer or driving the block in the car in winter (desperate times).
My kids are now 11 and 14, and the youngest Ella learns guitar and singing, and she wrote a few songs with me when she was 8 or 9, we put them on a Christmas EP in 2019. Dylan learns the drums and plays the tenor drum in a pipe band — he was always more about rhythm, from kitchen pots and pans when very small to bashing sticks on trees (sorry trees!) to make music on bush walks.
Rockmommy: Any advice on balancing motherhood and musician life?
Claudia Gunn: I’ve had times when I just put music kind of on the shelf for a bit as there was so much going on to try and get used to being a mum, and then other times when I had a clear goal and just stayed up really, really late to steal time to make it happen. For years I’d keep on writing songs, because you can do that in your head when you’re feeding babies, doing laundry, buying groceries, commuting to work, making dinner (I write lots of songs in the kitchen), but not getting them recorded or performing live because either I didn’t have physical space to have gear set up, or mental headspace to plan and book shows.
Finding other musician mums is key I think, as you can share coping strategies, experiences, ways of doing things to keep your musical life happening alongside your mum life.
And also being persistent, using downtime to listen to podcasts or blogs so you can upskill when you’re on the side lines of a soccer game for example. Being a mum has made me more fearless too, and decisive with songwriting and production, as my time is limited so I just get to work, and don’t let myself sit on the fence indecisively like I probably used to do when I was younger, and had all the time in the world!
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
Rissi Palmer’s song “Seeds” — the first track off her album “Revival” — grips the listener in the first 20 seconds, coming on with whisper of a plea, “don’t believe what you’ve been sold,” over muted acoustic guitar riffs as her voice builds toward momentous, soaring chorus.
The song on its own is nothing short of profound. But in the context of its music video, produced by Emil Gallardo and Ed Massey, experiencing “Seeds” is life changing.
As Rissi sings, “they can bury your body, but never touch your soul,” the young, Black man walking causally down a dusty road is stopped and threatened by a policeman pointing a shotgun at his face, before the footage cuts to Rissi, strumming her guitar in a more traditional front-porch country montage.
Because I watched this video in early 2021, on the heels of 2020’s racial reckoning in the United States, and the global, and pivotal, push for social justice, I assumed the song was new. It captured this moment in history, through music, in such a compelling, and urgent way. It made me want to take the streets (again) and protest for change.
Yet the sad irony is that the song wasn’t new.
“Seeds” was actually penned nearly six years before the murder of George Floyd, on the heels of another eerily similar tragedy in Ferguson, Mo., the Aug. 9, 2014, shooting and killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr.
And as I pushed “play” again, letting the lyrics, music, and visuals soak in, I knew I needed to hear more from the artist who has spent the better part of 20 years navigating the ups and downs of an industry traditionally associated with white men in pickup trucks. Whether it’s her cheeky (but serious) breakout hit “Country Girl” or the intimate, string-heavy “Soul Message,” Rissi Palmer’s music tugs at the heart and inspires change.
Rockmommy: Hi Rissi! For those who are not familiar, can you tell us a little bit about your music career?
Rissi Palmer: I came up in the 80s and 90s, so I listened to artists like Trish Yearwood and Faith Hill. I loved Dolly Parton. We listened to a lot of country, a lot of R&B and a lot of pop growing up so my influences are pretty diverse. And I love stories. I was a big storyteller when I was a kid, and I used to tell these long crazy stories that would make my friends laugh. What I love about country music is the songs, the storytelling.
Rockmommy: Which musical storytellers are you drawn to?
Rissi Palmer: Wynonna Judd is one of my favorites. I loved her song choices — she didn’t always write all of her songs but I loved her song choices — and I loved her strong, strong voice. Especially what she did with The Judds, with her mom. Also, she’s a vocal beast … she can pretty much sing anything and it would sound amazing.
Rockmommy: Fast forward to the early 2000s… pre-2007. What was it like getting into the country music industry?
Rissi Palmer: Here’s how the story went. I grew up in St Louis, and I went to college in Chicago and while I was in Chicago I started working on my demo. Midway through my freshman year of college, my managers were like, ‘we want to shop you for record deals but we need you to be available for meetings.’ So that means you’re going to have to leave school. So I sat down my parents and said, ‘if you let me do this now, when I’m young, if it doesn’t work out in two years, I’ll go back to school.’ And their philosophy was, ‘you’re only 18 once.’ They knew this is what I always wanted to do.
Rockmommy:So what happened next?
Rissi Palmer: Then when I turned 19 I got my first publishing deal in Nashville, so I started spending way more time there, although I didn’t move officially to Nashville until I was 26, seven years later. My publishers would treat me awesome. I would stay with them, and I would stay for, like, a couple weeks at a time.
I’ll say this: Those that were in the trenches with me … my publishers and the other writers, they were wonderful. But because I was the only person of color — I didn’t know of any other people of color doing country music — I felt this self-imposed need to fit in. I didn’t want to stick out for any reason, I didn’t want my songs to stick out.
Then, when I started taking meetings, I realized, it wasn’t going to be, ‘oh you’re Black, you’re cool.’ One of the meetings I took before I had a publishing deal… the producer played my demo, while I’m in the hallway, listening to their reaction. They’re like, ‘OK, nice … what’s the catch?’ So then I walked in, it was like, ‘oh my God, oh my God.’ And then it turned into, ‘well, we have to find songs for Black girls, for someone like you.
Rockmommy: I can’t believe they would say that!
Rissi Palmer: They would get stuck on ‘how do we make her relatable?’ and ‘how do we present her to our listeners in a way that’s palatable to them?’ I learned early on there obviously must be an issue. It was hard not to take it personal. And for a long time I did. It felt like it was me, like I was the problem. It’s taxing on you mentally on ways you don’t really think about.
Once I was signed, we started doing the radio tour and that sort thing. Radio tour is not fun. It can be at times, but for the most part it’s not. You’re sitting in this room and the radio people are judging you and deciding whether they want to play you, and sometimes it has nothing to do with the song, but how they feel about you personally. I had some great people in radio but then I had some horrible people, people who said to my radio promoter, ‘don’t even bother bringing her in because we’re never going to play her.’ It was a lot.
Rockmommy: Just wow. Are there still assumptions about what country music fans want among record producers today?
Rissi Palmer: In the industry at large, I still think it’s a pretty pervasive thought. I think there are innovative people and people that want to try to do different things as evidenced by the fact that Darius Rucker has a career … one of each of those people signed to a major label for every 15 blonde girls or 20 guys in baseball caps. You can’t have 20 Mickey Guytons.
Rockmommy: Because of this dynamic, are Black, indigenous, and/or Latinx artists afraid to try to make it in country?
Rissi Palmer: There are tons of artists of color, and the moment I started the show (Color me Country), my inbox flooded. In the very beginning, artists of color are the same as white artists. When they decide to go into a career in music, they do it because they love it. They’re not thinking about the odds against them.
Then once you get in, you see the hurdles behind the scenes. A lot people think that racism is a white hood and torches and a cross, that things are blatant. When you don’t see it blatantly, you think everything’s fine. It’s only when you add up little things, the little micro-aggressions, the little oblivious things people do, it starts to weigh on you. I think that after trying to climb the mountain for so long, and seeing no return on investment, that’s when you see people quitting, and changing their trajectory.
Rockmommy: How did you decide to start your show, Color me Country?
Rissi Palmer: I started doing interviews with artists in [Spring 2020], when quarantine started, with plans to start a podcast. I wanted to talk about my experience in country music… and talk to others about their experiences in being ‘the other’ — a [forum] where people could tell me things they might not necessarily tell a journalist because they know that I’ve been there.
I didn’t know George Floyd was gonna happen, that we were going to go through this reckoning. Suddenly this little thing I had planned to start, this podcast, was included in TheNew York Times. Then another friend of mine introduced me to Apple Music, literally the week before I was supposed to launch the podcast on my own. They offered me a deal to do a radio show, which meant I would be able to include full songs.
Still, mission is exactly the same, to make stories public to raise awareness. I hear people discovering the show, saying, ’I didn’t know Black people sang country music!’ I’m trying to normalize this, because we’ve been a part of this since the beginning. This whole story that country music is white man’s music is patently false.
Rockmommy: Can you tell me about the song ‘Seeds’ came about?
Rissi Palmer: ‘Seeds’ was actually written in 2014: I grew up in St. Louis, watching how everything unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri, after the murder of Michael Brown. I felt powerless, because I wasn’t there. I was in North Carolina. But I saw this quote, ‘they try to cut us down, but they don’t know that we were seeds.” So I thought, ‘OK, this is the great place to start for the song.’
Rockmommy: Can we talk about ‘Revival?’ Is that a revival … of you?
Rissi Palmer: Yeah! This is a revival of me. I did a project in 2014, of back porch sessions, and this is the first full-length album I’ve done since my debut. I’m older … I was the same age my mom was when she died, right when the template [for being a mom] was about to become obsolete. When we started recording the album, I was pregnant with Nova. Every song of that album is a snapshot of my marriage, where I was as a mother, where I was as a Black woman.
Rockmommy: How has being a mom influenced your work, or challenged it?
Rissi Palmer: It’s really funny to approach this now, and see just how my perspective is different. When I started out, everything was very focused on me. Everything is very ‘me, me, me’ when you’re an artist. You’re very much into your look your sound. Now that I have the girls, I have to prioritize, of course, [their needs]. I approach motherhood a lot different then some people do because I lost my mother when I was very young. My mom passed away when I was 7. She was sick for the last two years of her life, in a hospital in another state. So I knew that if I ever had children, they would be my first priority, and make sure that whatever I did would revolve around them, rather than them revolving around me.
I’ve tried to find ways that my music and my art can be something that we can all do together, that they can do with me. That’s why I did a children’s album in 2013, because I wanted to do something to commemorate my daughter’s birth and do something we could enjoy together. All my music I do with, in my mind, ‘my girls are going to hear this.’ It doesn’t necessarily stop me from saying things, but it means I am very truthful.
They’ve made me, in turn, become a more intentional artist, and make smarter decisions, in regards to my time and what I can do and what I can’t do. They make me mindful. I suddenly went from being this very self-focused artist to thinking, ’how can I change this corner of the world that we’re all in together?’
In every way they make me better. It’s hard. It’s hard to juggle and I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of time that I used to devote to my art.’ My time is very valuable. I can’t be all over the place that I used to be. I’ve had to become really resourceful with my time.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
Every April, as greenery unfolds into cherry blossoms and daffodils burst from the cool ground, I start to get excited for summer. The weather will warm, and I’ll shed my 8,000 layers of fleece, ready for rock and roll gigging season to kick into high gear. Sadly, last spring’s excitement was tempered by COVID, while this year’s is tempered with a bit of cautious optimism.
Is it right, to make like a Dionysian maenad, frolicking at a Beltaine-inspired musical gathering? Or do I have to pare back my dancing, even though I’m vaccinated?
These questions rotated in my mind on April 24, when I ventured 20 miles north from my home with my friend Steph, and headed toward Woodbridge, Conn., a town just off the Merritt Parkway not far from New Haven. My destination: a space called 10Selden, where the outside concrete blacktop had been transformed into a socially distanced, DIY music enclave.
Of course, masks and social distancing were in order, as expected. But it was 100 percent worth it. As much as I love Facebook Live-streaming, nothing beats the real deal — pure rock n’ roll in the flesh.
Shame Penguin kicked off the evening with an hour-long set of indie-punk/bluesy jams, saturated with atmospheric, delay-pedal guitar riffs, catchy bass lines, and poetic, powerful vocals which, at times, took me back to the late ’90s. As the daylight faded into sunset, Shame Penguin played its new single “Pretzel Time,” an ode to “the songbird,” as singer Dustin Sclafani (aka “EZ Bluez”) shared with me later on. If you haven’t streamed this track on Spotify, do it now.
Local band Fiction’s set kept the energy high with a sound I initially described as “a cross between Blink 182and Blues Traveler” to my friends — fun and powerful. Fiction’s cover of Sublime’s “Garden Grove” was possibly the best one I’ve heard. For a full review of the show, check out AMP’s myampmusic.co) writeup here.
My favorite takeaway from the night was the sense of community, the spirit of gratitude and happiness that radiated from every song — which is why I’ m so excited 10Selden’s series is extending into summer.
It’s been forever since my band played together for people other than our spouses, kids, or close friends. Most of my solo shows were broadcast from my living room in ’20 — or, once, from our drummer Nick’s driveway — via Facebook Live. The upcoming show will be the first time my punk-pop/grunge band has gigged IRL since last February, before the carefree music-mom life I knew skidded to a halt.
This summer, we have gigs scheduled for 6/21 (for Make Music New York, in NYC’s Tomkins Square Park); 8/21, and 9/3 (so far). We’re also hoping to plan a safe, indoor live music show at a venue in our state. Admittedly, there are a lot of unknowns, such as how many music fans will get vaccinated, whether clubs in Connecticut will make like New York City with some version of the Excelsior pass, and how strong the new COVID variants are in triggering “breakthrough” cases.
But while everyone will have to adjust to a “new normal” in live music this summer, the privilege of playing live music is no longer one I take for granted.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and we love flowers and pretty things. But we of the rockmommy collective also love to rock. Here, a few of the coolest musical, creative and sustainable gift ideas for us.
Engage the Zoom-ready mama with real-time, virtual guitar lessons that connect her with awesome teachers and other rockstar parents. NYC Guitar School’s online lessons are the gift that keeps on giving: Choose from a variety of options (a monthly membership to dozens of drop-in classes on songwriting, guitar technique and more), private lessons, or weekly group classes (*use code new21 to get started for just $20).