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.
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.
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.