Rockmommy Joanie Leeds’ New Record and Message of Empowerment Celebrates ‘All the Ladies’

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.

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Joanie Leeds

[SEE RELATED: Singer-Songwriter Joanie Leeds on Motherhood, Her Summer Tour & ‘Brooklyn Baby’]

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.unnamed

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. 

A Summer Playlist That’ll Work for (Almost) Any Kid Under 7

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Pop quiz: What’s the last thing you played in your car? If your answer is Kidz Bop, you’re definitely a parent who wants to make sure your kids aren’t listening profanity-laced tunes while you drive. And/or your name is Nick, and you’re a dad of four who plays the drums. 🙂

To be sure, Kidz Bop puts out some amazing renditions of songs like Cardi B’s “I like it.”

But I sense that what many parents really need more of is good playlists full of adult-friendly songs that you can listen to with the little ones in tow. 

Whether you’re embarking on a family road trip, or are simply tired of hearing “Baby Shark” on repeat, here’s a summer playlist full of seasonal, (mostly) grownup tunes that your kids will love. I can say this with confidence because it’s an actual summer playlist I use for my two sons, both under 7. 

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My son Logan, listening to something on my computer

“Three Little Birds” — Bob Marley

Everything about this song makes me happy. If you’re not burned out on “Legend” from your college years, also download “No Woman No Cry.” 

“Believer” — Imagine Dragons

My littlest one loves the thundering drums and been easily singing along with the chorus. 

“Rock Party” — Kids Imagine Nation

This fun song from the Orange California kind rock trio Kids Imagine Nation calls for some serious dancing. 

[RELATED: The Most Danceable Kiddie Record for Ska- and Punk-loving Parents is Coming in September] 

“Miserlou” — Dick Dale

This surf song is one of my all-time favorites, even without “Pulp Fiction.” Kids will totally dig it too. RIP, Dick Dale.

[SEE RELATED: “How Meeting Dick Dale, My Favorite Guitarist of All Time, Changed My Life”]

“We Will Rock You” — Queen

Stomp, stomp, clap! Stomp, stomp, clap! While some might be offended by this song’s lyrics, my kids love it (and they only remember the first verse anyway). 

“ME!” — Taylor Swift

T-swift’s new one is catchy and uplifting. If you haven’t over-played “Shake it Off” like me, add that one to the list too. 

“Message in a Bottle” — The Police

Who doesn’t love this song? I mean, really? 

“We Are The Dinosaurs” — Laurie Berkner

You might think that this is a children’s song, but trust me, you won’t get the refrain out of your head: “We are the dinosaurs, marching, marching!” 

“How I Love You Sun” — Jessa Campbell & The Saplings

If you like this song, the video is even better! 

“Pony Boy” — Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights

This isn’t a grown-up song, but it’s a super cute little country ditty. And that makes me happy. 

[SEE RELATED: Singer-Songwriter Joanie Leeds on Motherhood, Her Summer Tour & ‘Brooklyn Baby’]

“No Hablo Espanol” 

Backstreet Boys singer Howie D’s first children’s record navigates his unusual upbringing. My kids are obsessed with this song. 

“Firework” — Katy Perry

This song makes me think of the Fourth of July every time.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Singer-Songwriter Joanie Leeds on Motherhood, Her Summer Tour & ‘Brooklyn Baby’

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.

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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? Brooklyn_Baby

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.