by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
Lots of musician parents dream of their offspring rocking the stage one day, perhaps after their kid finishes high school. But for drummer mom Julie Rustad and her guitarist husband Jon, their son Syver hadn’t even hit kindergarten before he started showing an interest in the big stage!
Today, the Tucson, Ariz.-based Rustads — Julie, Jon, and 5-year-old son Syver — rock out, family style, at all-ages events across the country with their band The Nap Skippers.
And for moms like me, who play guitar and sing, it’s pretty inspirational to watch.
Recently, mama Julie Rustad chatted with Rockmommy about what it’s like to start a band with your musically inclined toddler — from practicing to playing a gig in front of lots of other families and little ones. While creating a family band might not make sense for every rocker mom — especially if your child, like mine, hates performing — it’s pretty neat to see how the Rustads make it work.
Rockmommy: How did you get started as a musician?
Julie Rustad: When I lived in Philly I would play [drums] on cardboard boxes, and took one basic drumming class at Drexel. My first kit was a digital Yamaha kit because I lived in an apartment.
My first band started when I moved to Tucson about 13 years ago and it was an all-girl rock band. It got started because the band, a three-piece, they needed a drummer. We called it Sara Bellum. I was out one night, and mentioned I was a self-taught drummer, and this guy I knew mentioned the band, and said, ‘these girls I know are looking for a female drummer. You should hook up with them.’ When I got in the band, I got an acoustic kit.
Rockmommy: How did things change when you became a mom?
JR: My son will be six in September, so he’s over five and a half and he’s my only child. Before I had him, I was in a band called Mozart Sister, and the HypnoGogs with my husband, Jon, and up until 8 months pregnant I was playing shows. Once I had my son, I realized it’s really hard to have an adult band with your spouse — you’ve got to get a sitter, because you’re going to be out, and practice is really hard because of the baby. The family band came as a natural way to do music. So things really shifted from “rock and roll” to family friendly music.
Rockmommy: How did that make you feel?
JR: It’s really fun because our son’s a natural, to see him thrive is really fun. As for me, I do miss rocking out and that kind of thing. So it’s a balance of feelings.
Rockmommy: How old was he when you got started?
JR: He was 2 or 3. He’s the lead singer, and so … I think it was his second birthday we had a party at the Children’s Museum, and we said, ‘hey, let’s just play some music, some kids’ songs.’ Everyone loved it and that’s how our band was formed. If you go on napskippers.com, you’ll see live videos — he’s the lead and he sings all the songs, and plays different instruments — none obviously, he’s super proficient in — but he’ll strum guitar, or play harmonica. And the first song he wrote was when he was about 3 was called, “Cowboy Kitty.”
Rockmommy: How do you sit down and write a song with a three year old?
JR: I credit Jon, who would kind of sit with Syver, and make a tune while Syver would talk about the words, [like] about this cowboy kitty who’s riding a horse. Jon would come up with the melody and they would come up with it together. It’s almost like normal band practice when you’re writing music when you’re older and doing it too. He’s really humorous!
Rockmommy: Can you tell us about the name ‘Nap Skippers’?
JR: The funny part is he took naps up until the beginning of summer because he started camp, so he had been an awesome napper until he was five, so it’s kind of a joke. But the play on the name is that it sounds a little rebellious [like rock and roll].
Rockmommy: How often do you practice, and play gigs?
JR: We practice maybe every two weeks. When we have a show, we’ll practice more. We play shows, and we’ve played for our county fairs. Why it took off is that there’s all these family-friendly venues that love having entertainment but family-friendly entertainment. Kids can relate to Syver because he’s a kid! And because he’s a kid, no two shows are ever the same. Sometimes he’ll come up with a weird joke, or do some new move.
Rockmommy: Does he have stage fright?
JR: He does not have any stage fright. We once played for 500 people in North Dakota. The more the better for him. That’s what I mean about him being a natural. I’d be such a shitty parent if I forced him to ‘do it’ or ‘go out there.’ But he loves it!
Rockmommy: Don’t you have to have structure at shows?
JR: He reads the order of the songs we play on paper. We’ve really kept the set kind of the same for a long time. He does like knowing the order of stuff, and we keep it pretty consistent, so if I try to switch the order he knows.
Practice is disjointed, but when there are people there, he feels like it’s a performance [and takes it seriously]. That’s what does it for him — having an audience. Once, when were going to audition for “America’s Got Talent,” one of the talent guys said, ‘send us a good video,’ so we kept recording us playing songs. But when I saw the videos I realized something was missing. Syver seemed kind of ‘blah’ so I asked one of his classmates and her family to come to our studio … and that’s the video I ended up sending to “America’s Got Talent” — it was better when he had someone to play to. That’s what does it for him. He loves having an audience.
Rockmommy: Does he want to play any instruments?
JR: He says he wants to learn guitar. He’s five and a half, so now we think he’s ready to learn some of the chords.
Rockmommy: If someone wants to play music with their kids, what advice do you have?
JR: Jon always has a guitar in the living room. I would say, definitely, keep your instruments out and allow for jamming and being spontaneous. Keep them accessible. And make it fun. Band practice is so random, it’s short and he’s all over the place. He’ll jump from the banjo to the ukulele — and Jon and I will hold down the guitar and drum parts — but, you know, he’s a kid. You’ve got to treat it loosely.
— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.