NYC’s Val Kinzler Reflects and Rocks On

Playing rock n’ roll requires a lot of stamina. So does motherhood. This month, Rockmommy correspondent Rew Starr talks to NYC rocker mom Val Kinzler — a self-described cross between “Janis Joplin & Karen O” — about life, music and finding balance in a crazy world. 

Rew Starr: Hows it going? What have you been doing these days?

Val Kinzler: I’m still adjusting to the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdown. Living on the Lower East Side in NYC with my son and two pugs. I’ve been teaching music virtually — which still feels kind of strange — and hosting songwriting webinars. I work with an LBGTQ non-profit record label. 

Val Kinzler (Photo: Donna Malech, Parkside Lounge, NYC) 

I also participated in a successful livestream fundraising effort to help save The Bitter End venue on Bleecker Street, which was produced by Room Full Of Music and Off Stage Tunes,  and another livestream benefit for the NAACP via Tune Hatch.

Beyond that, I’ve been cooking, cleaning, eating, taking 8- to 10-mile walks with my son to avoid public transportation and trying to squeeze back into my skinny jeans!

RS: How is this different than pre-pandemic life? 

VK: Prior to the pandemic, I co-curated a week long NYC Women Who Rock Fest in conjunction with Mike McHugh and New Century Booking that featured some awesome, 

power house women artists including you! I’m amazed that we were able to complete all of the fest dates just before the lockdown!

RS: What about the kids? What does going back to school look like?

VK: Jesse is thirteen and actually did great with Google Classroom, and is still participating in online distance learning. Recently he informed me that after taking a “mental age calculation test” he is actually 27! So, I kind of feel like I have a “QuaranTEEN” and an adult child rolled into one!

RS: So tell us about your life. So how many bands have you been in? Is it more than boys you have been with or less? (laughs)

VK: This is a loaded question. I dissected and re-assembled the trajectory of my varied band experiences and realized there’s got to be a book penned by me eventually called “Road Kill!”

My earliest girl band was The Sirens, which played classic rock and Grateful Dead covers at Long Island colleges and bars, with a born-gain Christian manager who desperately wanted to “get to know us better,” and I went from there to my excuse for dropping out of college: a punk-pop all girl band called The Technical Virgins (i just received newly rendered live and studio tracks and a pending script/screen play for the “TV’s” that the singer/songwriter/bassist/flute player Susan Neuffer wrote). The TV’s played in the 1980’s at A7, with Marilyn and The Movie Stars and The Bad Brains, at Maxwells in Hoboken, CBGB’s on Valentine’s Day (we opened for the Sick F*cks) and at Queens College (on the bill with ISM) and other rock n roll joints that are long gone. 

Val Kinzler (photo by Alan Rand; The Red Lion, NYC)

We had interest from the Go Go’s producer and I met with Sid Bernstein several times. Sid wanted to change our name. The founding TV’s said no. I still miss him, though. 

After playing piano exclusively for years, I picked up the guitar because, I was moving from squat to squat on the Lower East Side, sometimes sleeping under a friend’s kitchen table.

I had to sell my piano and started writing a lot more on the guitar which proved to be a blessing because, with my limited chops, I was forced to keep my writing simple and more intuitive rather than getting sidetracked by riffing on the keys.

I joined open blues jams at places like Dan Lynch on Second Avenue between 13th and 14th Street where the Holmes Brothers, Joan Osborne, Jon Paris, Grant Green Jr., Harry Holt and others packed the joint. I also backed up some groups as a keyboard player — most notably, The Jive Five, which was really cool because, we’d play the oldies shows with Little Anthony, The Dixie Cups, Ronnie Spector and these singers and their tunes still remain timeless!

Valkyrie and The Vikabillys was my first all original band. But, I was still doing back-up gigs, singer-songwriter open mics and blues jams. 

I played The Lone Star, Bitter End, Village Gate, Kenny’s Castaways, and after recording two projects, one with Popa Chubby (I still love those tracks!) and my debut East Third Street record produced by Genya Raven who also sang backgrounds with me. 

Hilly Crystal (CBGB’s) came in to the studio to lay down the voiceover of the sanitation worker in “Alleyways Of Love,” a song I wrote about a hooker and a garbage man who fall in love when he spots her as he’s picking up the trash. That record landed me some cool gigs, I opened  solo in California for Marty Balin and Chuck Negron at a show where Joe Walsh and Clapton were also booked.

After joining a heavy metal band called ICU (Intensive Care Unit) for a brief time, I then joined Blue Lagoon, a hard-hitting blues rock band, as their lead singer.

Eventually, my music evolved when I met Joe Vasta, who also became my romantic partner. Joe and I originally connected through Thommy Price, who I’d worked with in the 1990s.

My main band now is the Val Kinzler Band. David White whom I met and played with in King Bee and The Stingers, Joe Vasta, and Jon Ihle. We recorded our debut record “Nothing Sacred About Hatred” in Oklahoma for a Christian label. The label’s owner was busted for embezzlement but, we got a great record and two videos out of the deal! I refer to VKB as my grown-up band because we’ve all been there, and are done with “THAT!” I’ve also joined several other all-female groups.

Val Kinzler Band

RS: We met in the Dirty Mothers. You had a newborn. How were you so able to try anything even at that vulnerable state?

VK: Yes! I also remember Joey Zero years earlier when I was playing at Sun Mountain in the West Village insisting that I must meet his friend REW!

Joey booked us both at The Continental and after seeing you perform for the very first time, I totally understood why Joey wanted us to coordinate!  I was totally psyched to learn that Kelly Britton and you had teamed up! Jesse was under a year old. I was not yet healed after having a cesarean section. But, it sure was a blast and I loved playing all of our original songs.  We each had a slightly different style but the vibe was in sync. I had no immediate family to help me with Jesse when he was an infant. Also, took me two years to get back into shape physically because I gave birth at 46!

I used to take Jesse to rehearsals and wherever I needed to be. But, there were times when I had to pull out of gigs because I didn’t have a sitter or money to pay for child care and it became really strenuous carrying my guitar on my back and the diaper bag while having the baby harnessed to my chest using public transportation.

There were also rehearsals when Jesse was sleeping in the harness on my back and we’d turn down low to keep rehearsing. I literally couldn’t put him down at times or he’d fuss. I think he wanted to be close to the music! Luckily, certain musicians (like you and Kelly) were also parents and were cool with me having to bring my baby! 

RS: I love your twist words. When did this start? Ever think of making a Val dictionary?

VK: I think my “oops” with words comes from a learning disability known as dyscalculia and perhaps a touch of dyslexia. I used to write everything backwards in elementary school out of boredom I thought but, as the years progressed, I began to reverse how I saw numerical equations and it’s become such a part of me that I simply create new words automatically.

I read signs in reverse and it can really screw me up at times if I’m not concentrating.

Like, if the teacher gave an exercise with two rows of words, and instructed me to take one word from each column to fuse together sensibly, I’d write “road rail” and incorporate it into a sentence rather than “rail road.” 

Songwriting for me is challenging because it’s like inventing and solving a crossword puzzle simultaneously.

RS: Are you making any new music?

VK: My most recent single “Some Bitch” is on Spotify and desperately needs a video! 

It’s a quirky tune about cyber cheating. “Some Bitch is dancing topless on your lap top, I can smell her perfume from out here… etc.”  I also wrote a quartan-tune inspired song called “In the Rain” and am still catching up on half completed songs my band was working on for our forthcoming record.

RS: What about playing out? have there been opportunities?

The only live show I did recently was in Tompkins Square Park for the anniversary of the riots. 

It held meaning to me due to the history of The Lower East Side, the squatters, the musicians and artists and Monika Beerle, who became my muse in “Broken Ballerina.” Also, it is so important to join other musicians and artists right now as these are uncertain times and music is the universal language of healing and inspiration!

I am scheduled to play at Porch Stomp, 2020 as part of Kat Minogue’s Stage on Governor’s Island on October 10th. Violizzy, Rigel Mary and Jesse will probably join me.

RS: What’s the greatest part about being a rockmommy?

VK: All of my personal achievements can now be applied to reinforcing life skills in my own child and the students I teach. 

To me, being a rockmommy means dissecting and recycling stressful moments creatively by incorporating my love for music! Jesse and I always turn on the radio in the morning and wind up dancing to our favorite tunes. Pain in life is inevitable, remaining stagnant is no longer an option. 

I’m grateful that my son is tenacious and driven. We both use music, dance and exercise to keep a positive mental attitude. I love my close relationship with Jesse especially when we have opportunity to jam together. Taking him to rehearsals, gigs and not sheltering him from my artsy friends has lost me some people along the way. I was definitely mis-judged as being reckless at times.But, interestingly, those particular ex-friends never had children of their own. 

Rock n’ Roll is all encompassing and celebrates uniqueness and survival!

I’m definitely a survivor and passionate about inspiring hope in Jesse and others.

Rew Starr is an actor, musician and rockmommy who lives in New York City.

NYC Rockmommy Rew Starr and Filmmaker Daughter Harlee Ludwig on Making the Perfect ‘Imperfect Girl’ Video

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

ReW STaRR, one of New York City’s most beloved local singer-songwriters and off-Broadway actors, knows all about trying to be perfect. Whether she’s trying to adjust her wardrobe for TLC or meet songwriting deadlines, the pressure of achieving a certain standard is real for Rew. And her daughter Harlee Ludwig, a budding filmmaker, can identify, having come of age in the era of #metoo.

The twosome recently embarked on a fun, grueling and timely project – making the ‘Imperfect Girl’ video – which is exactly what the world needed on International Women’s Day. We recently caught up with Rew and Harlee to talk about the video’s significance. For those of you who couldn’t make the debut show at Branded Saloon in Brooklyn tonight, check out the video and Q&A.

Rockmommy: How did Imperfect Girl come about — the song & video and execution?  

Rew: I was actually asked to write a song called ‘Jewish girls.’ I literally couldn’t do it and ‘Imperfect girl’ was born… I don’t believe in organized religion just spirit but that explains some of the references in the song like ‘Jesus’ and ‘religion.’ Harlee heard the song one day on her Spotify and said “mom I know what song I want to make a video to … I think ‘imperfect girl’ has caught up to the time or the time has caught up to ‘imperfect girl.’

Harlee: The song was recorded years ago to a very almost chill and luau-type vibe definitely well produced. [For] the video we took a really low-fi approach because we wanted to really grasp the feeling that is sometimes achieved in Jim Jarmusch films where the focus isn’t supposed to be on some huge pay off or result, but more so the documentation of everyday occurrences that get taken for granted. This video specifically is set to show how much women go through every day without a necessary “pay off” or “appreciation” for it. But they do it all anyways because they have to.

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Rockmommy: Why do you think the song is so timely? 

Rew:Harlee thought with #metoo and all the significance to the women’s marching and movements happening these days this song is meant to finally to be heard.

Harlee:I think in the age of movements like #metoo, black feminism, gender fluidity, women fighting for equal pay and treatment, there is really no time like now for this song. So many of these movements have helped to show that women should not be held to this standard of “perfection” or whatever that means in a patriarchal society. We are all imperfect and for that reason we are all perfect. We do not need to be perfect to be respected. We just need to be people.

Rockmommy:What’s it like working together, mama and daughter?

Rew:Best best best… we got to spend so much time together filming all the inspirational people and I feel like being able to have this opportunity it was just the most beautiful thing in the world!!!

Harlee:It’s a fun experience because we can share the responsibilities. Since we both have different approaches to interacting with people and different tastes of what is powerful it left the door open for us taking and experimenting with various scenes and actions for all the beautiful actors and volunteers. It was also easy for us to almost telepathically communicate when anyone was running too long or if we had to stay on schedule with more shootings helping the entire thing go much more smoothly.

Rockmommy:Any challenges in making the video?

Rew:The challenges were mostly people wanting to be in it and too many conflicts with time. Other than that, none except for [an experience with an] Uber driver [on] one day — but I’m not sharing that skeleton!!!

Harlee:SCHEDULING!! When people are helping you on a volunteer bases it can become extremely difficult making a schedule and getting everyone to stick to it!

Rockmommy:What message or feeling do you hope people will get after seeing/experiencing “Imperfect Girl?”

Rew:That everyone is passionate and perfectly imperfect!!! Harlee really loves the idea of people being absolutely amazing just doing what they love to do … not the BIG GRANDIOSE things but the actual thing you do that gives you purpose and joy. That is the message I hope people will get … real is beautiful!

Harlee:I hope to find out 🙂 But in general I hope people realize how many little things they get done a day and how when you isolate those little moments you realize that even the days you feel you are wasting and not doing anything necessarily productive, you really are doing so much by just existing as an imperfect girl.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.