Kids Imagine Nation’s New Concept Album Brings the Drama of a Broadway Musical to Kindie Rockers

I’ve spent too long away from the theater, because the moment I heard the first track off California kindie-rock band — and Disney favorite — Kids Imagine Nation’s new concept album, I felt compelled to listen to the entire thing. And I’m an adult mom — not a kid! 

Best Day Ever takes the listener on a journey through a series of songs about the adventures of three friends (played by KIN performers Rachel, Aaron and Beatz) pursuing their passions in science, theater, music. Is today really “the greatest day”? What are the trio going to do outside? What will they do when they take a wrong turn (and need to break out the compass)? You’ll have to listen to find out.

Fortunately all questions and more are answered in KIN’s Best Day Ever (available on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon), a super-fun album made for family road trips. And if you get a chance to catch them live, do it!

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

We recently caught up with KIN founding member Aaron Bertram to find out more. 

Rockmommy: It’s been a busy year. Can you tell us how KIN came up with the idea for a concept album, a musical of sorts, that takes the listener through the adventures of the three central KIN characters as students? 

Aaron Bertram: This year HAS been busy! We have already performed over 600 shows at Legoland California just in 2021!  When we were ready to put this album together, we wanted to do something different than our previous musical endeavors. Over the years, Kids Imagine Nation continues to evolve, and we wanted an album that is the representation of that evolution with music, interactive elements, and most important, storytelling. What better way to show it than with a musical radio play!? We started with the songs, then wrote a brand new adventure around them, bringing in characters from our web series, and having prominent voice over artists playing some new characters!

Rockmommy: Have you performed this album? What were performances like over the summer of 2021? 

Aaron Bertram: We haven’t performed this album live yet, although we definitely plan to! We have performed some of these songs here and there in other shows; however, we plan to perform them all together, along with the storyline from this album. We can’t wait to bring this entire musical to a live audience one day.  

Performing live again after a year was one of those things… for us and for the audience, where you weren’t quite sure how to navigate everything at first. We were masked, and that was an adjustment initially, but as soon as we got the hang of it, it was super easy!   And it was a freeing moment, because on stage is where we thrive! We did 4-5 shows a day at Legoland. We’ve basically performed 7 days a week for the past 6 months, after not performing an in-person show for almost exactly one year! Talk about going from 0-60!
We wrote a brand new summer show just for Legoland that took advantage of their big stage and huge video screen above us. That included 3 brand new songs (“Summer Of Fun,” “Future Dinosaur,” & “Tyrannosaurus Rocks,” some of our new favorites!)

Rockmommy: You do so many things, from virtual learning performances to live shows. How do you continue to generate content that resonates with young listeners that feels fresh and relevant? 

Aaron Bertram: Thank you so much for your kind words. We are very passionate, ourselves, about the idea that we, as human beings never stop learning and exploring. We love to travel and to explore the arts in all of its many forms. We personally thrive off change and creation… so we feel like: finding new outlets for our love for music and theatre and dance and visual arts and video production keeps our own lives fresh and interesting… as well as provides our friends who come to our shows and consume our content with something new that we hope they can resonate with, or just have fun with.  

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

NYC Kindie Rocker Mom Esther Crow on ‘Being Green’ and Making Music ‘All Together Now’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Singer-songwriter Esther Crow had a solid legacy as the front woman of The Electric Mess — a fun, punk-rock-ish band — before becoming a mom, and playing on the NYC kindie rock circuit. 

Today, she still rocks hard — but with lyrics and themes that fans of all ages can appreciate. Her latest album, “All Together Now,” celebrates a variety of sounds and subjects, with environmentalism and social issues taking center stage. Her puppets, created by Jeff Lewoncyzk, also play a prominent role on the album, and weave comedy, and kindness, into some more serious topics.

Esther Crow (photo by Dan Crow)

We recently caught up with Esther to talk about making music, city life with mandolin-playing son Vincent, and more.

Rockmommy: Hey Esther! Musically, “It’s so easy being green” has a kinda acoustic Iggy Pop vibe, but the lyrics are catchy and easy to understand. How did that song come about?

Esther Crow: Wow, I don’t think I’ve gotten Iggy Pop [comparisons] for any of my kids material — only The Electric Mess (my “adult band”). So thanks! You know, I can’t really recall even writing the song, but I think it started with the title because it’s sort of a play on Kermit’s famous song (“It’s Not Easy Being Green”), but I reversed it. I knew I wanted to do a song about being more environmentally conscious, and a song that would be easy for the very young to digest with easy, everyday activities they could take part in.

I had already written a few songs about animals, but wanted to start writing songs with a focus on the climate crisis, and this was the first of that batch.

 

Rockmommy: There are so many great musicians in the NYC area, and the indie-music scene — and they all seem to know Lucy Kalantari or my friend REW! What do you love most about NYC family life? 

Esther Crow: Truthfully, 2020 really bonded a lot of us, even though it was mostly virtual bonding. I feel that I got to know so many kindie musicians across the globe via social media, and some Zoom meetings. A few weeks ago I went to a Juneteenth event in Harlem and got to meet a few in person for the first time. In terms of NYC musicians, it’s a wonderfully diverse mix of people and genres. 

I recently met Fyütch, a fantastic hip hop artist from Nashville who lives in the Bronx, Flor Bromley, a wonderful Peruvian-American performer who lives just outside the city, further North. And I finally met Joanie Leeds, who lives just across Central Park from me on the Upper East Side, at her great Brooklyn Botanic show in May.

I met Lucy Kalantari a while back at her wonderful Symphony Space show, which she did the winter before Covid struck. I took my son, Vincent, and we loved it. Falu Shah is another favorite. Could not love her music more, and love that she (and Lucy) include family in their live shows. I think it’s impactful for kids to see other kids performing.

Esther Crow (photo by Dan Crow)

[SEE RELATED: Fyütch’s Earth Day Rap Song ‘Pick it Up’ Celebrates Recycling, Reusing and ‘Zero-Waste’ Goals]

Rockmommy: For your latest record, did you consciously decide to write about nature and the environment, or did you write a few songs and notice you were on a roll?

Esther Crow: To be honest, I had written a few songs about animals a few years back, and then it finally dawned on me that I should write a few more and record an album. BUT… I wanted the next few songs to be more socially [and] environmentally conscious. So the first, as I mentioned, was “It’s so Easy Being Green.” And then I started doing research on animals that were environmental helpers/heroes, and it turns out that in addition to bees, which most people know are important helpers, bats and beavers were also crucial. That’s how “Bees, Beavers and Bats” came about.

I don’t think I consciously set out to write a jazz song, but it happened! I think it’s the one and only jazz song I’ve ever written — and certainly the most lyrically-packed song on the album. Which means it kind of needed a skat-type delivery. Well, I immediately thought of Lucy of course! And she could not have been more gracious or easy to work with. And that voice…THAT VOICE!! I feel very lucky. Next up: a Schoolhouse-Rock type video — with animation by Elena Fox — is comin’ down the pike!  

Rockmommy: How’s everything else going? Have you been playing out in the “new normal” music scene? 

Esther Crow: I played the Make Music New York Day — as you did — which was fun! We lucked out with a show 4 blocks from us. Vincent, my son, accompanied me on mandolin. It was great. 

He’ll also be playing with me — as will my husband, on bass — at our Pier 1 gig on Thursday, July 15th at 10 a.m. in Riverside Park at 70th Street. Excited for that one! 

Other than that: I’ve been playing a lot of virtual shows — mainly via the Brooklyn Public Library — and have a few more of those coming up.

Rockmommy: What’s your advice for balancing parenthood with everything else — including creative life?

Esther Crow: I think the best advice I have is to be honest with yourself and know when you need to turn down opportunities. I’m trying not to book anything in August, for example, as we’re taking a week in Maine (aaahhhh, vacation!). Parenting needs to come first — or close to first — whenever possible. It’s a hard juggle but I’m also grateful my son gets to perform with me, so we’re lucky we can spend time together, creatively. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

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.

Want to Hear Songs Inspired by STEM? Download Turtle Dance Music’s Latest Album

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Does your little one love to dance with her friends? Or is he or she literally shell shocked with shyness? If you answered the latter, Turtle Dance Music wants to schedule a performance in your town.  

The New York City-based musical performance troupe recently reached out to Rockmommy with the news that its live show, which emphasizes — yes! — science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), is coming to town. And honestly, as someone who reviews kindie music all the time, I can definitely say this is the first time I’ve encountered a STEM kindie music act. It’s kinda neat! 

The group, which offers “45- to 60-minute long sensory-friendly performances” geared for Pre-K, grades K-5 and students on the Autism spectrum,” kicks of its 2019 summer tour — “Space: The Cosmos for Kids” — on July 21 in Hartford, Conn.

The group is also releasing its sixth studio album — Add to the World  — this weekend. 

I’ve listened once and already have a few favorites: “One Note,” a math song that kinda reminds me of early Daft Punk. There’s also a super-cutesy song about colds called “I only Sneeze in Threes” and the guitar-laced “Jump and Count” — which is literally a math-inspired remake of “Twist and Shout.”

Want more? 

Check out a video of the group’s performance (for viewers of all ages!) or visit their website for more info. 

If you’re in Connecticut, see them in late July or August at one of these gigs:

Space: The Cosmos for Kids
7/25: Milford library, 57 New Haven Ave.; 6:30 p.m.
8/2 Cheshire library, 104 Main Street; 10 a.m.
8/2: Meriden library, 105 Miller St.;11:30 a.m.
8/14: Weston library, 56 Norfield Road; 3:30 p.m.
8/14: Harwinton library, 80 Bentley Road, 6:30 p.m.
 
Autism Friendly Music, Bubble and Comedy Show 
8/21: New London library, 63 Huntington Street; 1 p.m.
 
Songs That Count
8/21: New Canaan library, 151 Main Street, 10 a.m.

Kindie Rocker Jessa Campbell Shares Her Secrets for Staying Creative While Raising a Toddler

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

If kindie rock musicians were planets, Jessa Campbell would be Mother Earth. The Portland, Ore.-based singer loves hiking through the tranquil forest, pondering life, and basking in the warmth of a summer day. In fact, her latest single with band The Saplings, “How I Love You Sun,” which debuts this month on Rockmommy, is all about her hot friend. 

But these days there’s another kind of sunshine that’s capturing her heart: Her real-life, three-year-old son. 

Here, Campbell talks about carving out the“me time” she needed to make her latest album, the Pacific Northwest music scene, and finding work-life balance. [Watch the video here, and download the single on Spotify]

Rockmommy: Your voice is amazing! When did you start singing?

Jessa Campbell: Music was a part of my life right from the start. My father loved bluegrass and would often play his guitar and sing around the home. My younger sisters and I could often be found harmonizing from our respective rooms! The first time I remember actually learning a song and singing it for my family was in 1st grade. Mrs. Williams introduced Raffi’s song, “Evergreen Everblue” to the class. That song instilled in me a desire to protect the planet, while also showing my parents that I could carry a tune! I remember singing it for them at a little family picnic we had in our backyard and seeing the surprised looks on their faces.

Rockmommy: Can you tell us how your music has changed since you became a mom (or has it?)

Jessa Campbell: Oh yeah, it’s changed quite a bit! Long gone are the glorious days of hiking through the tranquil forest, pausing now and then to ponder the journey through life! Let’s just say that I wrote a lot of music before having my son. But now, I think I write better music. As you know, moms have very little “me” time. I have to fiercely protect the limited time I’ve carved out for myself. It’s within those incredibly small spaces that the plug is pulled and the songs burst through. With going sometimes weeks or months without having that space, there is a lot of pent-up creativity! The space slowly refines the songs within. Once a moment arises for them to emerge, they can’t get out quickly enough! And there’s no time for crap ideas at that point. I know when a song just isn’t right. In the old days, I would give it space and coax it into being. Now, there’s another song right behind her!

How I Love You Sun image

“How I Love You Sun” single available now (Photo courtesy: Jessa Campbell and the Saplings)

Rockmommy: What inspired your new song and video? 

Jessa Campbell: I was thinking about some of my friends in Indonesia! It was actually quite early in the morning, like, 4 a.m. early. I had been woken up, by my 3-year-old of course, and was unable to fall back asleep due to the laundry list of things that needed to be accomplished the next day. I starting thinking of friends who were already well into their day. I used to sing on a cruise ship and have a lot of Indonesian friends from that experience. The melody was originally written for a song I was crafting called “Indonesian Sun”. I started thinking about how incredible this jewel in the sky was and began researching facts about the sun! The song practically wrote itself!

Rockmommy: What inspires you about the Pacific Northwest’s music scene? 

Jessa Campbell: I appreciate the collaborations and support I’ve received through the community. It’s the kind of place where artists really are there for one another. My bandmates both with the Saplings and in other projects I play with have been my support system! Folks of LDW, the Talking Heads Tribute Project I’m in, were cool with me bringing my toddler to rehearsals. He’d rock out with his little headphones on while mama sang. One incredible organization that I first received some help from and now have the pleasure to work with is Local Roots Music. Local Roots Music NW was founded in 2013 by local musician and entrepreneur Robert Richter. What began as a weekly Sunday night radio program showcasing NW Music on KMUZ-FM in Salem now includes a number of programs promoting local music with most events held in the Portland area.

Jessa headshot 2019

Jessa Campbell

Rockmommy: When you see little ones respond to your music, how do you feel?

Jessa Campbell: It’s the best feeling in the world! From the wide-eyed wobblers to the “twirl-around- the-room-like-a-fairy” 8-year-olds, I cannot get enough of it. Each show is so different, and I play to the ages and energies in the room. There was a recent show with a little boy who was quite shy, hiding under the table. I decided to turn that into a game and play our song about the moles in the ground, pointing out that he must have known what song was next! He lit right up once he realized he was doing something pretty awesome!

Rockmommy: What are some of the challenges of being a musician and a mom?

Jessa Campbell: Carrying gear and a kiddo. I have to make multiple trips back and forth of course. Oh, and then there are the moments when your kid is coming up on the stage to tug on your costume while you try to keep singing and also try to communicate that he needs to stop. Fun times. Thankfully Grandma and Grandpa are here now!

Rockmommy: What advice do you have for rockmommies?

Jessa Campbell: Keep doing it. I thought that as a single mama, my music days were over. Nah. You just have to be creative, super resourceful, and carry extra snacks in the diaper bag for the band members at rehearsal!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor of Rockmommy. 

Inside the ‘Kindie Rock’ Life of Rockmommies Jennie and Sarah of The Not-Its!

by Jennie Helman & Sarah Shannon

“Just one more bedtime story, then I’ve got to get to practice.” Good night family, hello “band family.”Cover for digital

That’s what we tell our kids on the one night a week we hang out for the purpose of working on old and new tunes and connecting with one another. We represent the girl power of The Not-Its! We’re tutu-wearing, 40-something rocker moms. We play what’s known as ‘kindie rock’ — if you’re not familiar, that’s independent rock for kids and their grown-ups.

And our bond in this band is so strong; we are lucky.

We’re raising pre-teen girls (Sarah with two and Jennie with three), maintain day jobs, and have our own start-up businesses on the side – Lugabag(Jennie), a travel seat for toddlers that attaches to a rolling suitcase, and Rockaboo (Sarah), a preschool music, movement and mindfulness program.

As we juggle year-round show schedules, travel, writing songs, recording albums, practicing, The Not-Its! is what we like to call our “jobby”— somewhere between a job and a hobby. It’s a job because we work really hard. It’s a hobby because it doesn’t pay the bills, but it brings us great joy.

We get to create music with dear friends, see new places, connect with incredible kids and families, and contribute to communities in a positive, soulful way. We’re often asked how the heck we have the energy to do what we do. And the thing that makes most sense is that we believe in and do what we love, and that keeps us young at heart.

Our bandmates are also parents: Danny, Michael and Tom also manage day jobs along with their “jobby” with the band. Our Not-Its! kids are a lucky bunch — they always get free snacks in the green room, stage access, studio play, and cool trips (we all went to India a few years back).

But as moms we’ve struggled. There are the daily worries of being spread too thin, vacations cut short, missed soccer games, the perennial “to do” lists stacking up. We know every mom can relate. Yet over the years we’ve been able to let it go, recognizing that we only get one shot at life — we have to do what we love knowing everyone around us will benefit. Our girls see us challenged, making mistakes, determined to get it right, working hard. We know they’re watching and learning.

It’s easier now than when the girls were toddlers and it was a constant balance of parenting while playing. Either the girls were rocking out or tugging at our tutus (“Can’t ya see I’m singing here, kid?”). There are too many sweet moments to count. Sarah had a song where she’d call her oldest to the stage, pull her in her lap and sing about a story they made up together. Sometimes the kids would cry the entire show because they should have been napping, or make their way on stage for more crackers. After one show we found Jennie’s daughter literally asleep in her open bass case backstage.

And as the girls have entered middle school, being engaged looks just a bit different. Being older and more independent, they share ideas that we eagerly mine as gems for content. Now and again they slide us a new lyric, brainstorm song content, grab the mic during sound check, act silly (but cool) with their friends at a show.

Our songs have to connect with both kids and parents – no matter what age. As an example, “Curriculum Night” (off our latest album, Ready or Not), evokes that feeling of parental excitement (tinged with a bit of anxiety) in meeting your kid’s teacher. The lyric about “grown-ups squeezing into tiny chairs,” is a memory we can all relate to… every year from Kindergarten on. Kids laugh, parents get it. Item number one in our band’s manifesto (even though we don’t really have one) is to make music that we want to hear with lyrics that are not dumbed down — and our kids are a good “first test” audience.

We see a toddler boldly walk on stage as if they were a part of the band, or a family dancing together. We hear from fans that they played one of our records over and over on a road trip and it didn’t drive them crazy (or secretly share that they play our tunes even when their kids are not around). Stories like these give us a great sense of lift and gratification. Rocking out family-style at a live event or to a favorite record builds stronger connections and inspires what we do. There’s nothing better than experiencing music together, no matter whose family it is.

Our worlds are not perfect, but they sure are rewarding — and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jennie Helman (bassist) and Sarah Shannon (lead singer and former member of the Sub Pop group Velocity Girl) live and work in Seattle. The latest album by The Not-Its!, Ready Or Not,was chosen as one of the top albums of 2018 by the annual Fids & Kamily poll. Catch the latest news about The Not Its! and their upcoming concert dates at www.wearethenot-its.com and view their new video “Hide and Seek” on their video page.