Solo Aspirations, 2018 (Part 1)

In 2017, I had a blast playing solo shows, duet shows, and even one full-band show (with Grandma’s Mini, in Washington, D.C.). I played in Stamford, Redding, and Bridgeport, CT; Brooklyn, N.Y., and the aforementioned D.C. While it would be amazing to play a monthly gig, it’s not realistic right now — but playing five gigs in a year is more than I’ve played in quite a long time.

So I don’t have anything in the books just yet — hoping for Acoustic Cafe (a grunge covers set with one of my favorite guitar lady friends) in February and Manhattan in March or April. Here’s to staying motivated to practice, regardless.

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Playing solo at Branded Saloon, one of my favorite little Brooklyn hipster dives

My Teenage Nostalgia: Singing Along to Dolores O’Riordan in the Car

The mid- to late 1990s shaped my musical tastes. I transitioned from loving George Michael and Debbie Gibson to developing a craving for a genre known as “alternative” rock, that leaned heavily in the direction of Seattle. Yet I also craved the sweeter sounds of that epic time period, and spent many hours listening to Belly, Bjork, Lush and, of course, The Cranberries.

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Dolores O’Riordan, in her prime

I think it was my first boyfriend, Pat, who introduced me to The Cranberries, whose beautiful debut Everybody Else is Doing it, So Why Can’t We? The album because a constant companion on trips between my parents’ home in Silver Spring to Pat’s home near College Park. The 22-minute drive provided the perfect time allotment to practice my vocals, as I’d sing along to every track, from “I still do” to the hypnotic “Dreams.”

As my musical tastes expanded, The Cranberries took a backseat to Hole, PJ Harvey, and angrier and more overtly sexualized chick rock in college. Eventually, Liz Phair would become my favorite. But not before I saw The Cranberries play at a D.C.-area stadium in 1995. That’s my last memory of the band’s significance in my life. But while my fandom faded, I still enjoyed much of the band’s sophomore efforts, notably the raging “Zombie” because it matched my angsty attitude.

Throughout my 20s and early 30s, I’d hear updates about Dolores from time to time, such as when she got married and gave birth to her first child.

When I heard she died, all of my personal ’90s nostalgia came back. I recalled the feel of the cassette tape in my hand as I popped it into the car stereo, en route to Pat’s place, and recalled that it was one of the last cassette tapes I ever purchased before I switched to CDs.

It’s so sad when someone dies suddenly, but I mostly grieve for her children. She left behind a 12-year-old, a teen, and a 20-year-old child.

I’m so grateful for music and motherhood today.

Me Time = Learning the Guitar Riffs for a Western Classic

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

When I was little — well, like 11 or 12 — my dad Don Torrieri got me to watch “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”  for the first time. I kind of knew what it was about (I mean, the title says it all), but I didn’t quite get the plot’s nuances (or Tuco’s relationship with Blondie, played by then-hunky, poncho-clad Clint Eastwood). But what stuck with me most wasn’t the scene of Tuco running through the graveyard (my dad liked to say this was me, in Italy, searching a cemetery for the grave of my great-great grandfather Pietro Torrieri I).

It was the soundtrack. Still one of the sexiest Western themes on the planet, Ennio Morricone‘s title track. Take a listen, and a look, and experience the awesomeness.

So today, I had a little free time. Hubby took the kids to my inlaws’ house to watch a football game. I broke my Gibson SG out of its hard case, and got to work, setting a goal to learn this riff. Perhaps so I can play it at an upcoming show.

The good news is that it wasn’t too hard to learn. However, the frets on my Gibson SG are still too far apart for me to stretch my hands in a five-fret span comfortably and pull off something sonically delightful. So I switched to the Fender Strat, and had no troubles. It sounds lovely and is super-fun to play. Learn it here, in this video.

My next goal: To set up my looper pedal so I can strum chords underneath this cool riff and sound like a badass next time I play out.

 

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Why my Goals Are Better than Serious Rock-n-Roll Resolutions

by Marisa Torrieri

New Year’s Resolutions have become a bit of a cliche. Overly ambitious declarations destined to fail most of the time.

Still, I start every year thinking, “OK, this is it! This is the year I play guitar for an hour a day every single day no matter what. And if I don’t, then I’m lazy. Now GO!”

And then life happens. This week, two unexpected life events threw off my post-NYE ambitions:

1.) I cut my pinky finger while slicing vegetables for dinner, an event that led to lots of gushing blood, panicked cries of “Oh my God, Oh my God,” and a trip to my local urgent care center. By the end of the night, I was banned from washing my kids or doing anything that would get my now-surgically-glued-together pinky.

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The finger I sliced open on Jan. 2. Two hours later, it was surgically glued back together. Yay!

2.) The weather decided to move up its plans to deliver four inches a foot of snow and an obnoxious amount of post-apocalyptic winds to New England. This led to school cancellations, which forced me to cancel my highlights appointment (my biggest, and very occasional, indulgence), and start to fret about spending a whole day at home (did I mention I didn’t exercise Wednesday? Now I’m missing two days of exercise this week! UGH! I hate that!).

Then I look at the broader picture. I’m a mom and a wife, a skilled musician and freelance writer who gets regular gigs. I teach guitar, I tutor writers, I help my older son with his homework. I’m also an aunt and a granddaughter, a sister-in-law. I have more friends than I can count.

In 2017, I played five original shows (including one with Grandma’s Mini, my band in DC, plus three solo shows and one cover-band gig). I got an article published in Guitar World magazine. I posed for a zillion photos, looking like a 20-something. We expanded our house. My family’s health is good. I have so much to be grateful for.

By setting goals that are reasonable, not forced like resolutions, we can accomplish so many things. Better than that, we can accomplish these things without feeling bad, like we failed.

So today as I sit in my house, and the blizzard whirls around outside, I’d like to try to make 2018 the year of patience: I’d like to be more patient with my children, more patient with circumstances I can’t control (like the weather), more patient with my spouse, and more patient with my progress — not just as a person, but as a musician, writer, runner and traveler. I’d like to think that things we are putting off this year (like a trip to Disney World) will come later, so I needn’t be envious of my peers.

Perhaps I can channel my energy into gratitude, instead.

Marisa Torrieri is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Rockmommy: The Comeback

Damn, it’s been a WHILE since I updated this blog. Since I interviewed a guitar-wielding goddess. Since I offered tips for parents trying to find time to balance music with motherhood. You know why? Because things got totally off balance for me these last few months — albeit, in a good way.

In a perfect storm of circumstances (no pun intended, especially considering the disastrous storms that have impacted Houston, Puerto Rico, The U.S. Virgin Islands and many, many other places since August), my oldest son started elementary school, I picked up a lot of freelance-writing work (like triple the amount I usually do, on a regular basis), and I started a new cover-band project. Made new friends. Volunteered for said elementary school. Decided to start a new novel.

And then I look up, and four months have passed. Rockmommy sustained itself off its popular archived content, namely Why I Gave up My Gibson G-Force Auto Tuner and my interview with rockmommy Amy Lee of Evanescence. But new content didn’t appear, because I simply didn’t have time to write it. I was busy doing life.

But lately, the longing has returned.

I have so many things I’d like to write about — like my guilt over wearing provocative clothes instead of sensible ones (now that I am a mom of two sons), or whether I should tone down my lyrical content now that I am the room mom at my kids’ elementary school. I have interviews I’d love to do — of rockmommies like Pink!, Ann Wilson, Brody Dalle and countless others. I’d love to put the spark back into the mommy community again.

So here’s to doing all of that — once a week — in 2018. To making an editorial calendar, and creating content because content needs to be read. Because people are reading my journalism. Because this website is one of the few crafted with the rock n’ roll parent in mind. And because writing is both a privilege and a service. And the ability to do it decently is one of the biggest blessings of my life.

 

Starting School is That Much Harder in Houston

Like so many other parents around the country, I’ve been so busy and excited, preparing my kids for the start of their school year. So when I saw this article about Houston-area schools having to stay shuttered through the first part of September my heart sunk.

My heart truly goes out to everyone affected by Harvey. Especially the littlest ones, and those who can barely afford to keep food on the table as it is (who don’t get paid holidays and sick days).

 

Rockmommy Jess Penner’s First Kids Record Proves You’re Never Too Old for ‘Imagination’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Before many of us had kids, life centered on long jam sessions with bands, and writing songs in uninterrupted spurts.

But Singer-songwriter Jess Penner — a self-described cheerful and cheeky, creatively ADD artist from Los Angeles, who was raised on a banana farm in Hawaii — did things differently. She became a mom in her very early 20s, after doing the band-and-tour thing with her husband in her late teens. And while she struggled with the same music-life balance that many rockmommies struggle with, that didn’t stop her from having the biggest career success of her life, as an artist and a producer.

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Jess Penner

Today, Jess is the mom of a 16-year-old and a soon-to-be 1-year-old, and she’s still killing it, musically. In addition racking up thousands of TV and film credits, not to mention her string of gorgeous indie-pop records, she’s carving a space for herself as an artist for all listeners, big and small. Her first children’s record — a lovely collection classic covers and indie tunes, flows effortlessly, note after note, inspiring listeners to indulge their creative sprits. Songs like the title track “Imagination” transcend age, and remind us that you can be an old soul while possessing the passion of a young idealist.

In August, Jess made time to chat with Rockmommy about her first kids’ recording, making music, life in LA.

Rockmommy: Can you talk about the inspiration for “Imagination?” Why did you want to make this record?

Jess Penner: The original idea for doing a kid’s record came from my publisher! Up until that point, I hadn’t thought about it at all. But then I started thinking about all of these iconic songs of my childhood, and how much I loved them.

Rockmommy: Can you talk about the songs?

Jess Penner: There are two originals — “Imagination” and “Forever in my Heart”— and interestingly I wrote these songs before I had the idea of a kids’ record. But until now, I didn’t have a record these could go on. “Imagination” is about trying to inspire other kids about the power of dreaming.

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Jess Penner’s new kids album “Imagination” out Aug. 11, 2017

Rockmommy: How being a mom at such a young age affect your music career?

Jess Penner: My husband and I have been touring since I was 16, when we stated out, and did that for five years. We had one last tour booked when I found out I was pregnant. And so I toured when I was six and a half months pregnant. And then we moved back to Hawaii… and spent about two years adjusting to regular life, and my husband got a regular job and built a studio. So then we started learning how to make records. That was probably the best decision we made because we had an infant, so we could record during the day when he was sleeping, or at night after he went to bed.

My husband and I moved to Los Angeles when our older son was 4, and that was difficult because all his family is in Canada and all my family is in Hawaii. But we felt we needed to be in a musical hub city. My husband is a drummer and produces and mixes records full-time. Between the two of us, we pretty much do all of it.

I really think that having a child helps you focus on what your goals are, and it helps you prioritize your time. Because I had less time, the time that I had I took more seriously.

Rockmommy: So, when did you go back to touring?

Jess Penner: My late 20s, early 30s, I started to get more inquiries because of my decision to get into licensing. I had a residency in Singapore, and little regional tours here and there. But I’ve never gone back to touring 200 dates a year. It wasn’t until I was 28 until I started performing live again.’ I really spent my 20s writing songs, and trying to establish myself, while being a mom.

Rockmommy: Who are some of your current musical inspirations? Has that changed? 

Jess Penner: In my early 20s, I was definitely more into the ‘shoe gazer’ stuff… like Weezer, Foo Fighters, Radiohead. I’m a ’90s girl, so I love all of that stuff. As a result, some of the early stuff I wrote in my first few years of self-producing was very emo and dark. But then, when I was 26 or 27, I was approached by licensing agent who pitched artists to brands, and asked, ‘would you ever be interested in custom composition for ads?” My husband was recording other bands, and that’s how we were surviving but my own music wasn’t doing much, so he started sending me briefs, like, ‘Dove Soap is looking for a new song, and they wanted it to be brief, light and happy.’ So being in this new realm forced me to craft for a target. Through that, I was allowed to play a role, to be an actress, so to speak, and learned to express myself many different ways. I became a lot more experimental.

Rockmommy: What is life like for you in the day to day in LA, as a mom and a musician? 

Jess Penner: My 16-year-old, I’m so proud of him. He’s one of the most compassionate, kind, and respectful kids. I think that’s because we’ve both been fortunate enough to be stay at home parents. We’ve been fortunate to have a really cool relationship with him. Even with the new baby, I thought, ‘how am I going to have time to be productive?’ But I’ve gotten more done in the last two years than I have in the previous four. I think it comes down to focus and drive. I have less time so I’m more focused on getting things done.

Rockmommy: What is your advice to other moms who play music? 

Jess Penner: Prioritize! I’m not good at letting people help me, but two weeks ago I hired someone to clean my house every other week, and it was so weird for me… I wondered ‘do I need this?’ and ‘Is this a reasonable expense?’ but as I get older and have more kids, I realize my time is worth more.

Rockmommy: This is your first kids’ record. Any plan to tour? 

Jess Penner: My plan is to see what the reaction is. It’s not my strategy to tour to build an audience. My desire is to tour to satiate a need — it’s not part of my business model to go out and make new fans touring. I’m really curious to see what happens with this! I would love to do some live streaming concerts. But yeah, we’ll just see!

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.