by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
While Brooklyn is a place where dreams are made for so many creative types — rockmommies included! — Joanie Leeds didn’t ever intend to move to the borough when she began her music career more than a decade ago.
Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
Or, as Joanie puts it, “I was a true Manhattanite — I never thought I’d leave!”
It took a cool man (then boyfriend/current husband Dan Barman), who plays the drums for her band, to convince her to leave the cozy upper West Side digs she called home.
The move to the eclectic ‘melting pot’ of Williamsburg turned out to be one of the best decisions of her life. Six years later, Joanie’s made a solid name for herself — with her band Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights — in a part of the country that is saturated with talented artists. But perhaps the best thing to come out of her big move is the birth of her daughter, affectionately known as “Baby B,” nearly two years ago.
Unsurprisingly, motherhood completely changed everything in Joanie’s world. Still, she managed to squeeze in the time, between parenting and teaching music during the day, to write, record, and release her eighth studio album, Brooklyn Baby (which you can stream here), in May 2017.
While I could talk endlessly about my favorite individual tracks on Brooklyn Baby, the whole record is awesome — and that means a lot coming from someone who listens to children’s music several hours each week. It’s silly, energetic, filled with clever lyrics, and totally relatable — especially to anyone who’s spent time living in New York (it also helps that her voice, on tracks like “Ferry Nice,” reminds me of ’90s rockers like Liz Phair).
At first listen, Brooklyn Baby doesn’t sound like what you might think a kids’ record should sounds like. Joanie’s rich, pretty vocals and musical style give it more of an alt-pop, coffeehouse vibe. Only when you listen closely to the lyrics about stuff like “rainbow bagels from outer space” or hear bubbles and other random effects interspersed into songs like “Pizza” do you realize this would be something you could play in the minivan or on a playdate.
Joanie, who kicks off her summer tour on June 11, sat down with Rockmommy to share about her unexpectedly awesome life in Brooklyn, how motherhood has impacted her craft, and what she’s most excited about these days.
Rockmommy: So, Brooklyn Baby — what can you tell us about this record? What was it like moving to Brooklyn?
Joanie Leeds: Moving here, while it was difficult for me, it was really inspiring because it was a whole different vibe. It was a cool place to live. It was definitely different from Manhattan, and the Upper West Side. Becoming a mom, that in and of itself was really challenging. But I did get a really wonderful community. I’ve been teaching kids and singing to kids for over a decade, but becoming a mom gave me a whole new look into Brooklyn.
Rockmommy: Do you have a set age in mind when you write children’s music?
Joanie Leeds: When I first started writing children’s music, my first CD was called City Kid. I had 2- to 3-year-olds in mind. But as I started growing as a writer, I’ve started expanding on the ages that I write to. The cool thing is that the younger siblings, like the 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds, can listen to a record, and grow into it, while the older kids [get it] too. I put in little humorous, witty jokes … A lot of parents say it inspires some creative conversations, like with ‘Hipster in the Making.’ I think there’s songs I write where I have the kids in mind, and the kids get it. And then there are songs that go toward the parents. How I write is I come up with a concept or title, and I go from there. Like I knew I wanted to write a song about pizza, and I literally got out my recorder, and thought, ‘maybe I’ll make a song about pizza, and make it about things a kid thinks are funny,’ and that’s how I came up with the idea to include sound effects.
Rockmommy: How long did it take to write? What was your creative process like?
Joanie Leeds: I’m not one of those people who sits down every night and strums and writes music. I’m a little more regimented. I really need to be alone. In the past, I’ve gone to North Carolina to a cabin to write. Now with a daughter, I couldn’t go that far. The way that I have to work, now that I’m a mom, is that I have a very small amount of time where I can get things done, so I have to be really focused. I’m always struggling to find the hours to get things done. Writing songs for me is challenging. To get that creative time to do it is difficult.
Rockmommy: The song “Hipster in the making” caught my eye and ear right away, and it’s really funny. What kind of reception are you getting?
Joanie Leeds: Parents are very well acquainted with what a hipster is, but I’m hearing that the kids are listening to this song and they’ll ask their parents, ‘mom, can I be a hipster?’ [laughs]
Rockmommy: You’re a first-time mom, as of two years ago. How has that affected your songwriting or other aspects of musicianship?
Joanie Leeds: I’m always completely amazed when I hear parents say, ‘I did this today’ or ‘I did that today.’ It’s absolutely a work in progress. My husband and I play in the band together, and we have our own creative endeavors. I teach music at a nursery school every day to have some steady income. We have a babysitter who comes a few days a week. And whenever we are out of town, we find ourselves searching for babysitters on the road. For now, since our daughter is so young, it’s hard. My favorite time with our daughter is when we’re on the road. Because all we have to do is the show, and the rest of the time is ‘fun with the hotel’ or ‘fun on the road.’
Rockmommy: What’s cool about being a parent in Brooklyn, or a kid in Brooklyn, today?
Joanie Leeds: Brooklyn really is a melting pot. I think it’s really important to have exposure to every single type of race and religion, so kids can grow up with acceptance and compassion.
Visit Joanie Leeds’ website for summer tour dates near you, or check out her YouTube channel to watch videos with your kids.
— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.