New Zealand Rocker Mum Claudia Robin Gunn on Embracing Change and Finding Your Inner ‘Wild Child’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

When singer-songwriter Claudia Robin Gunn became a mom — or “mum” as they say in New Zealand — she had 20 years of pop-rock chops under her belt, including multiple musical projects and nightclub gigs. Yet transitioning to a more folksy pop style came naturally. Of course, it helped that the songs she wrote could double as lullabies. 

“My songs definitely helped them sleep, and I think perhaps it helped me to relax and just slow down to their pace too,” says Gunn. 

Her latest album, a collection of pretty, vocally textured, nature-inspired tunes, is no less dreamy.

We recently caught up with Claudia to talk her latest record, released in late 2020, motherhood, crafting songs, playing music, and more. 

Rockmommy: Can you tell us about the inspiration for your record that came out recently, ‘Sing Through The Year – A Little Wild Childhood?’

Claudia Gunn: All these songs started off in life, and then my imagination took over.

When you’re a kid, I think it’s hard to judge the passing of time — isn’t that awesome how timeless it feels? — and I think it’s interesting how the changing weather day to day, and the natural signs of the different seasons progressing through the year is a tangible way for children to grasp the idea of time, and how the months and years turn.

My kids have always calmed down and become these magical, adventurous non-quarrelsome beings when they are in a garden, or out in the woods making branch forts. 

As a parent, time slows down and speeds up in weird ways as we go through the seasons of parenthood and our children grow, sometimes it’s so slow and sometimes a blink of an eye and they’ve changed before our eyes. So capturing some of the bright moments along the way is something that I love to try and do with songs.

Process wise, I have a lot of songbooks, some of them are digital, some are actual notebooks, or paper scraps, or cardboard from cereal packets, and basically as the years have gone by since [my children] Ella and Dylan were born, the songs kept on stacking up, like a diary of our adventures through the years. 

Last year during the Covid lockdowns there was suddenly a whole lot of time not rushing around the world, and I ended up performing loads of unpublished songs inside the kids treehouse (that they’d now grown out of) for a series of lockdown livestreams. I got the chance to press play on recording a stack of them and making the songbook thanks to a grant from our arts funding agency Creative New Zealand.

Rockmommy: How have you evolved, or changed as a musician, over time, from pre-parenthood to now? 

Claudia Gunn: I’d say I’m determined — I’ll never give up on a song, though I’ll give it space to breathe and some songs need time to mature or change before they are ready to meet the world! That said, I’ve been writing for nearly 30 years — showing my age — and some songs have had LONG arcs to find their time in the sun.

When I started playing in bands, I was always dedicated to a project as long as it lasted, to the point I wouldn’t take a job in another town or even take an O.E. since I was always sure we were about to break through (an O.E is what we kiwis call our overseas experience — a rite of passage most of my friends did in their early twenties, travelling and working for a few years overseas after finishing university).

My electronic band Substax has lasted the longest time, albeit with pretty much a 15 year break in between shows, as we all had kids and went into sort of hibernation with the project.

Now the kids are bigger, we are now at the point we have a bank of songs, have just re-released the original album on streaming for the first time, and have new songs lined up to release. I also just got Substax to remix one of my kindie tracks, and a couple years back I got the band together to play with me on a bunch of kids tunes for the Auckland Kiddie Limits festival, so it’s kind of fun getting my musical worlds to mesh sometimes! 

Rockmommy: How long have you been playing banjo and guitar?

Claudia Gunn: I play the banjolele, ukulele and the guitar — I’m self taught, starting to pick up my mum’s instruments at about 18. She wrote down 3 chords for me on a piece of paper, and then told me to go for it! 

Rockmommy: What, or who, are your musical inspirations? 

Claudia Gunn: I’m a 70’s baby, 80’s kid, 90’s teenager. My formative musical heroes were really all the female artists from my parent’s record collection, along with my mum herself, who sung in bands, often playing shows  3 or 4 nights a week when I was small. I grew up knowing songs by heart from artists like Tracy Chapman, Annie Lennox, Neneh Cherry, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Joan Armatrading, Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield, Dolly Parton, Texas and Phoebe Snow. 

Rockmommy: I love that you wrote children’s music to put your babies to sleep. Did they go to sleep? How old are they now (and do they play music with you)?  

Claudia Gunn: Yes it definitely helped them sleep, and I think perhaps it helped me to relax and just slow down to their pace too. When they got older, the lullabies were more just to help them calm down. Even now I’ll get asked for a song occasionally. One of the songs called “Goodnight Moon” on Little Wild Lullabies was composed for Dylan when we would go say goodnight to the moon by either walking the block in his pram in summer or driving the block in the car in winter (desperate times). 

My kids are now 11 and 14, and the youngest Ella learns guitar and singing, and she wrote a few songs with me when she was 8 or 9, we put them on a Christmas EP in 2019. Dylan learns the drums and plays the tenor drum in a pipe band — he was always more about rhythm, from kitchen pots and pans when very small to bashing sticks on trees (sorry trees!) to make music on bush walks.

Rockmommy: Any advice on balancing motherhood and musician life? 

Claudia Gunn: I’ve had times when I just put music kind of on the shelf for a bit as there was so much going on to try and get used to being a mum, and then other times when I had a clear goal and just stayed up really, really late to steal time to make it happen. For years I’d keep on writing songs, because you can do that in your head when you’re feeding babies, doing laundry, buying groceries, commuting to work, making dinner (I write lots of songs in the kitchen), but not getting them recorded or performing live because either I didn’t have physical space to have gear set up, or mental headspace to plan and book shows.

Finding other musician mums is key I think, as you can share coping strategies, experiences, ways of doing things to keep your musical life happening alongside your mum life.

And also being persistent, using downtime to listen to podcasts or blogs so you can upskill when you’re on the side lines of a soccer game for example. Being a mum has made me more fearless too, and decisive with songwriting and production, as my time is limited so I just get to work, and don’t let myself sit on the fence indecisively like I probably used to do when I was younger, and had all the time in the world!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Kids Imagine Nation Swaps High-Energy Live Shows for a Virtual Music Program That’s Fun, Engaging and Whimsical

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

It’s not always easy to capture the imagination — or attention — of a toddler or grade-schooler in a virtual music class. My kids love their music teacher, don’t get me wrong, but they are already weary from singing “This Land is Your Land” over a Google Meets connection. It’s chaotic at best, trying to get them to focus.

Aaron B. and Rachel C. of Kids Imagine Nation, a live performance kindie rock act hailing from Orange County, get that. While virtual (aka, “distance”) learning can work academically, music class doesn’t necessarily translate well. 

But their new online music program might just change that.

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

Like their Kids Imagine Nation live show, the Kids Imagination Kindie Music channel leads little learners through movement exercises, musical instruction, and other hands-on educational activities, which are the perfect supplement to any 2020 distance learning curriculum. 

We’ve only begun to watch them, and I can attest that they’re awesome.

My kiddos and I opted to try out music class, which is live-streamed at 11 a.m. PST on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but available on demand anytime, to check it out. The one we tried — an October 10 Music Class, on demand — kicked off with a yoga-like movement sequence (Aaron growing into a big, strong tree), and featured a singalong sequence, dance time, and a music history lesson on the bass guitar (I had no idea the bass guitar was invented in 1930, did you?!). 

While the music class is designed for learners ages 4 to 8, other content in the Kindie Music program, such as the weekly storytime and crafting classes, are perfect for children ages 2 to 4. All lessons move from one sequence to the next every three to five minutes, to ensure that even the most finicky preschooler can focus. As a guitar teacher, I know this is the only way to keep children coming back for more — especially over a virtual platform. 

We recently caught up with Aaron over email to talk about Kindie Music program, and why it’s a fun way to enhance online learning during challenging times. 

Rockmommy: Tell us about the creation of Kids Imagine Nation’s Kindie Music program. How did this come about? 

Aaron B.: Rachel and I — two-thirds of Kids Imagine Nation — have always been performers and educators. While we created videos and music for kids, we have also been teaching preschool music classes at various schools in Southern California. We would also perform over 200 shows a year at schools, libraries, and The Disneyland Resort. But when Covid-19 hit, and our schools shut down and all our shows were canceled, we needed to adapt.  We took our music curriculum and our love for creating videos, and began teaching online.  It was a way for our schools and students to still interact with us, but it now opened up the possibility that our Kids Imagine Nation fans could participate as well. Right off the bat we offered five music classes, four story times and Friyay dance party every week.  

Rockmommy: One of the biggest challenges I’ve found is keeping kids engaged in music over a virtual connection. How did you curate the content based on kids’ real-life personalities and needs for engagement? 

Aaron B.: This is a great question! There are pros and cons to teaching over Zoom. Being able to see your students is a huge plus, but with that there becomes a lot of distractions, especially when everyone can see everyone else.  We decided right away to present our class like a live tv show.  We know, as early childhood educators, that activities need to be done no more than 5 minutes. So, every 5 minutes we are doing something different, and each section has its own video introduction.  We have the ability to put items on the screen, during class, that we use for games that turns our class into “Active Screen Time.” We also provide a chat feature, where parents can participate, if they choose.  

This allows us to specifically call out names during class. Another tool we use is a polling feature that the kids can use to vote for different things that Rachel or I do at the end of class. We also ask the students to draw pictures that we use during our Fairy Tale Night, where Rachel tells a story and we put the children’s artwork on the screen, live. Because of our years as performers and teachers, we know what to say, and more importantly how to say it, to keep the children engaged, and to make them feel that what they are watching is specifically for them.

Rockmommy: What do you hope to impart with the show? (e.g., life lessons, etc.)? 

Aaron B.: Of course we want to show that music is fun, and encourage the love of performing it, but more importantly we want to provide a virtual place that is safe, inclusive, and empowering.  

Rockmommy: How are you trying to create a sense of community during this isolating time? 

Aaron B.: Because we feature videos and pictures that students submit, and we offer an “interact” section on our site where families can post and comment on other families discussions, a lot of our families now follow each other on social media sites.  Although our live stream network is designed to watch what you want, when you want if you can’t watch the actual live stream, most of our families watch live, and because we talk about what students are doing (because of our chat feature) our students literally refer to the others watching as “friends”.

Rockmommy: What kind of feedback are you getting from your audience? 

Aaron B.: The feedback we receive is overwhelming great.  When we hear from families telling us how our program has affected their lives, it fills our hearts up because we love what we do and we are so glad that other feel the same.

Rockmommy: Any hopes of performing live again? 

Aaron B.: WE LOVE PERFORMING LIVE!  We know it’s coming, and when it does we will be out there!  We are already planning a full country tour once we are allowed to!!!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.