I’ll never forget the first time I heard Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians in the late-late ’80s, when Casey Kaseem played a video clip of “What I Am” — highlighting the ditty as one of the week’s hot movers on the Billboard 100 chart. I was young, and loved pop music like Debbie Gibson — but also loved Guns N’ Roses — and Edie Brickell was unlike anything I’d ever heard (my parents played the Beatles, The Zombies and Elvis, but never any Jimi Hendrix, Eagles, Grateful Dead or Woodstock-worthy rock).
Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians in Portchester, N.Y., on 11/08/18
I was instantly hooked on the dizzy, slide-guitar tune from the six-piece band that I wanted to use my allowance on the band’s debut record, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars. I’ve never looked back. The hours I spent listing to “The Wheel,” “Nothing,” “Little Miss S,” “She,” “Circle,” and — of course — “What I am” were well spent.
But I’d never seen Ms. Brickell (who some refer to as Ms. Simon, per her famous husband).
Turns out, she was busy being a mama (of three kids, no less), and dabbling in musical side projects all of these years. So when I found out her band was coming to my area, I went nuts!
Thursday night’s performance at the Capitol Theater in Portchester, N.Y., was epic. Yes, Edie’s voice has changed (the timbre is a little different), but she sounds terrific. And the New Bohemians, with their drums-percussion-keys assault, play in perfect harmony. I loved every second of it, from the classics to the new tunes off the just-released album Rocket like “Eyes in the Window.”
I’m hoping for more great shows like that in the future!
— Marisa Torrieri is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
Before we became moms and memorized the lyrics to nursery rhymes, many of us had other musical ambitions. But only a handful of us enjoyed rockstar-like experiences and a bit of commercial success.
Book of Love’s lead singer Susan Ottaviano is one of the lucky ones.
Susan Ottaviano of Book of Love
In 1986, the year that brought the world “Top Gun,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and the sexy-fun Robert Palmer hit “Addicted to Love,” Book of Love emerged from the underground NYC club scene with its self-titled album.
The band, which, in addition to Susan Ottaviano, includes co-founder Ted Ottaviano (songwriter/keyboards/vocals), Lauren Roselli (keyboards/vocals), and Jade Lee (keyboards/vocals), quickly gained a cult following in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
But for Susan Ottaviano, another type of creative endeavor eventually took center stage, when, in 2003, after nearly two decades of steadily making albums, and accumulating a string of hits like “Boy” and “I Touch Roses,” she became a mom to her own little boy. The period after that was, in many ways, a creative blur, as Susan tried to find balance between raising her son, engaging in her artistic and musical endeavors, and working as a freelance food stylist.
In early August, Susan took a break between sold-out Book of Love gigs to chat with Rockmommy about music, creativity, and motherhood. I found her to be warm, personable, and filled with an immense amount of wisdom — see for yourself, in the exchange that follows:
Rockmommy: You’ve been performing on and off with Book of Love for 30 years! How are things going?
Susan Ottaviano: “We’ve gotten back together a bit over the years. We did an album back together in 2000 … and different comebacks felt differently. Sometimes it felt like, ‘do we need to keep doing this?’ or ‘Is this what the world wants?’ or ‘Is this really moving forward?’ You always want your life to be going forward, whatever that means. During some of the ’80s revivals it didn’t feel as good for us. We might have just been lumped together with some of the bands from the time period and that didn’t feel good for us, so we had some stops and starts. This time around we were much more focused about what we wanted to do, and it’s the fans who really inspired us to get back and do this.
Rockmommy: Is it new material and old that you’re playing?
Susan Ottaviano: “We’re doing our classic songs and we’re updating them in the show, and doing a lot of songs we hadn’t performed for many years. In this new album that we have out, it’s a ‘Best of,’ but we have two new songs in it. And we have a new single called ‘All Girl Band,’ which is inspired by our roots and how we got started making music 30 years ago.”
Susan Ottaviano and her son.
Rockmommy: How has the crowd changed — or has it? — since the 1980s/1990s? Are you pretty much playing to fans in their 40s and 50s, or their kids?
Susan Ottaviano: “We have a very devoted cult following, and they’ve really come back. The fans are mostly over 40 — a lot of them are getting a babysitter and coming to a show. People are coming out and making a night of it. Clubs are interested in selling food and liquor — so it’s a little bit of a different concert than one a 19-year-old will go to. When we were young and didn’t have any money, the idea that I’d buy more than one drink was just impossible! A lot of these places are looking to turn the tables over.
Rockmommy: I read an interview with your bandmate Ted Ottaviano on writing new material. He said, ‘we ended up not really over-thinking it, we just went and flew our own freak flag.’ Would you agree?
Susan Ottaviano: “We basically just wanted to do the music that we wanted to make. As an artist, that’s what you have to contribute anyway. Do what you love, and hopefully others will love it as well. Just do the best that you can — your personal voice is what you have to offer.”
Rockmommy: When you had your son [in 2003], where you were in your music career?
Susan Ottaviano: “You can’t help but miss a beat during that time period. That’s what it’s for. Every working mother feels like they’re doing everything a little wrong. It’s very difficult to juggle a lot of things. Sometimes you have to lie and say, ‘yes, I’m on that’ when really, the baby’s crying or something’s going on. It’s kind of tough that way to compete. But what I think is that it continues to get easier. At the beginning I was sort of sucking up every bit of information about being a parent, about being a mom. Now, it seems as he’s getting older, I move away from that a little bit. I’m more interested in other things as well, now — I’m interested in adult conversation, or interested in people doing more interesting things. In the beginning, having a child really dominates your life.
Rockmommy: When you had your son, did you have to put music or other work on the back burner?
Susan Ottaviano: When my son was first born, I barely felt that I would be able to return to work. I remember crying on the phone to my sister saying, ‘Is it ok if I don’t want to be a rock star or a stylist, anymore?’ I just felt, right then, that I couldn’t handle it. I was so tired and it was all so new to me. But, things change very quickly, and it’s very important for new moms to know that they just need to hang in there. It gets better! You eventually get the life you used to have back. But, you also get so much more than you can possibly imagine!
Rockmommy: Do you relate to your bandmates who don’t have children?
Susan Ottaviano: “It’s impossible for people [without kids] to relate or really understand. Even in the beginning days, I would say to Ted, ‘I’m going to listen to something, but it’s going to take two days!’ It takes all of your in-the-moment brain power.”
Rockmommy: So there was an adjustment period for your band?
Susan Ottaviano: “Yes. I am also a part of another group that gets together to discuss these very issues. We are all musicians and performers and we are all-moms! We got together a few years back and are still going strong. We talk about our art and our kids and we help each other to facilitate our goals. It’s been a major support!
Rockmommy: How are things going for you and your son these days? Is he a musician? Artist?
Susan Ottaviano: “He loves sports — he’s into basketball, he’s into rap music. He came to our first show about a month ago, when we played in New York City in the Highline ballroom. He’s a great kid. He sat with his cousins and didn’t say much. I said, ‘a few people might come up to you and say, ‘are you Henry?’ and he goes ‘why would they do that?’ He’s just funny!”
Rockmommy: Did you ever feel like when he was growing up you wanted him to sing too?
Susan Ottaviano: “Maybe I was pushed to do things a little bit more, and take on the music my parents liked. I believe your kid’s job is to rebel against you. What we learned so much in Book of Love in the first ten years we were performing is that each generation, they want their own music. It’s part of their identity. I’m more fascinated with what he can teach me, as opposed to me saying, ‘you need to listen to this kind of music,’ or ‘that is bad music.’ It’s like fashion. I’m more interested in what he’s listening to and what he has to say. He is very creative … I thought I’d have a kid just like me, going to The Met, but it’s not like that. He likes Minecraft.”
Rockmommy: What advice would you give to musician parents — most of whom haven’t achieved as much commercial success as you, and have time management challenges when it comes to balancing everything?
Susan Ottaviano: “I think that it’s a question of figuring out a way to carve your time — try to have some separation, and some time you can spend with [your child]. It’s a difficult thing, thinking about ‘how do I get a babysitter?’ But the kids get older and it happens real fast. My life is completely different then it was six, seven years ago when I was trying to make the doughnuts, and running from work to homework and all of that. If you can try to find people to help you and carve out a little time — try to take on small goals — that helps. Try to do just one thing today. Don’t try to take on the world.Try to just do one thing, such as spending an hour on music.”
— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.
Philadelphia is overflowing with great music shows and one-of-a-kind arts events — so many, in fact, that it’s hard to pin down just one thing to do over the weekend. But if you’re a parent who wants to support other parents — or if you’re looking for something you’ve never seen before — we’ve got the “to do” for you, literally.
RABIES SHOT plays their debut show at this weekend’s First Time’s a Charm Showcase, which benefits Girls Rock Philly.
On Saturday, June 4, punk-rock-influenced band RABIES SHOT — a brand new, four-piece group headed by the mom-and-pop team of Eleni K. and multi-instrumentalist Bruce Howze, along with keys/sax/backup vocalist Yoni Kroll, and vocalist/keyboardist Charles Smith — is playing the First Time’s a Charm showcase, an event that is centered on the contributions of female-identified, trans* and queer folks and people of color in the DIY/punk community in Philadelphia.
The showcase is just what the name suggests: A sonic experience featuring new musical projects by groups who meet at least two of the following criteria: 1. one or more members that identify as female, trans, queer, and/or a person of color; 2. one or more members of a band playing for the first time; and 3. one or more members of the band playing an instrument they have never played before. Proceeds of the $10 event, to be held at PhilaMOCA on Friday, June 3 & Saturday, June 4, will benefit Girls Rock Philly.
We’ve got our eye on RABIES SHOT — which Howze describes as a “heavy, electronic punk band” — because it’s the first time Eleni, who shares son Thomas, 2, and daughter Stella, 5, with him, will play an instrument at a show. It’s also total proof that becoming a mom doesn’t mean you have to quit your creative life!
“Eleni taught herself to play bass after the kids went to bed over the last 10 months or so, having never played an instrument,” Howze tells Rockmommy. “I own a recording and rehearsal studio so we started going to the studio once a week when we had a sitter instead of ‘date nights’ and she wrote a few songs with me on drums and guitar. That stuff is sitting on the shelf.”
Want to hear more?
Check out this stream of the RABIES SHOT demo. The band’s debut EP will be available for download/purchase this weekend!
— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a writer, guitar teacher, mom, and the founder of Rockmommy.
Not too long ago, rock guitarist St. Vincent — also known as Annie Clark — unveiled an edgy new guitar specifically designed to fit a woman’s body and accommodate her smaller hands.
Although pioneers like Daisy Rock have been churning out female-friendly instruments for a while, the news was pretty groundbreaking for a few reasons. Until now, most of the signature guitars bearing a woman’s name are actually designed by men at big-name guitar purveyors like Fender and Gibson. Also, while St. Vincent did get a little help from engineers at Ernie Ball’s California headquarters, she was very much involved in the design and development process for her signature instrument.
So will this set the precedent for more professional shredders to do the same?
We can only hope.
For now, here are five great signature guitars that some of the best female rock guitarists have helped bring to market:
A cool-looking, $1899 guitar was crafted to perfectly fit St. Vincent’s lithe, womanly form, playing technique and personal style in Ernie Ball Music Man’s San Luis Obispo, California factory. Features include an African mahogany body, Ernie Ball Music Man tremolo, gunstock oil and hand-rubbed rosewood neck and fingerboard, St. Vincent inlays, Schaller locking tuners, 5-way pick up selector with custom configuration and three mini humbuckers.
St. Vincent’s Ernie Ball Music Man electric guitar
Halestorm front woman Lzzy Hale is one of the heavy metal’s few chick singers who also shreds — and has achieved major mainstream success. Her sharp-looking, signature $2,299 Gibson axe is super badass, with Alpine White finish and gold appointments, Gibson’s popular 57 Classic and 57 Classic Plus pickups, select tonewoods, and high-quality locking hardware.
Legendary Heart guitarist-singer Nancy Wilson — and rockmommy of two — tears it up onstage (side note: I’ve tried playing “Crazy on You” for years and still can’t do it right!) and in the studio. So it is only fitting that Gibson unveiled the robust signature Nighthawk in her honor. The $1,499 guitar features a comfortable ribcage body contour, rosewood fingerboard, a Nighthawk mini-humbucker and Nighthawk Lead humbucker, with five-way switching. It’s visually stunning, too, with Grade-AAA maple top dressed in a high-gloss nitrocellulose Fireburst finish with Cherry back and neck, and a commemorative “Fanatic” truss-rod cover.
Gibson’s Nancy Wilson Nighthawk Standard
4. PRS Orianthi
Aussie guitarist Orianthi, who has strummed for Carrie Underwood, Alice Cooper, and so many other big names, was on the brink of taking her career to the next level as Michael Jackson’s guitarist for his 2009 world tour, when, sadly, he passed away in June of that year. Her signature guitar features:
Beveled maple top with flame maple veneer and Korina back;
PRS-designed tuners, SE HFS treble pickup, SE vintage bass pickup, and tremolo Bridge; and
volume and tone control with 3-way toggle pickup selector.
Daisy Rock is one of the most innovative, pro-female companies out there, with its huge array of electric and acoustic instruments designed for girls and women of all ages. The Bangles Signature Model, inspired by the quintessential all-girl 1980s band, is a particularly beautiful piece, with its piercingly pure tone, slim and narrow neck suited for smaller hands, and vintage look.
Daisy Rock’s Bangles Signature model
In writing this blog, I’ve learned that while there are plenty of lists for “best female guitarists” and “best rocker moms,” finding a signature guitar that possesses the name of a female guitarist and is tailored to a female’s physical features is a near impossible feat.
Therefore, rock mamas — or heck, even dudes — who are looking for something that is designed with a woman in mind ought to take a closer look at these electric works of wonder.
As I awaited the flesh-and-bones arrival of rock legend Lita Ford at the signing for her newly released memoir “Living Like a Runaway” in downtown Manhattan, I had no idea what to expect.
Me and my friend Kendra at Lita Ford’s 2/23/16 book signing. I’m wearing my CBGB T-shirt signed by the Mother of Metal.
Sure, I knew I’d be among aging metal heads and middle-aged, black-clad dorks at a spacious and brightly lit Barnes & Noble. I also and that “Kiss Me Deadly,” her 1989 solo hit, would stream through the speakers at some point. But I didn’t know what kind of woman I’d encounter at showtime.
Would one of the baddest bad-ass women of rock and roll whose guitar shredding capabilities would put mine to shame roll her eyes at my surface-level experiences? Would the rocker mom with gnarly battle scars from the rough and sexist 1970s be approachable? Or, would the “mother of metal” possess a narcissistic demeanor instead of one of humble gratitude?
As I chatted away with one of the dudes sitting near me, Ford emerged from the back of the store in her skintight jeans and black stiletto booties, flanked by female journalist Jeanne Fury, who would engage in a Q&A with the singer. Immediately, I was taken in by her striking beauty. At 58, Ford— with her eyes lined in black and signature blonde hair that flowed behind her shoulders — is breathtaking. And as I would soon learn, she’s outspoken, intelligent, and pretty funny, too.
“It was just like I had this gift from God or something, that I was supposed to play heavy metal,” she told the small crowd after joking with the reporter that it was “first gig at Barnes & Noble.”
Like the new memoir, most of the talk focused on Ford’s rise stardom as the only female guitarist who could hang with the likes of Black Sabbath and would give Jimmy Page a run for his money (in the book she tells a funny story about meeting Robert Plant and being asked to play bass for Led Zeppelin).
She took the audience through her early years, when a-holes at bars would try to spill beer on her or guys from other bands would accuse her of swiping their guitar cables.
One of the best stories was her first memories of experiencing metal at her Black Sabbath show. “I wanted to make the audience feel what I felt at that show that night,” she said. “When I saw them, I thought, ‘that’s it.’ This is what I’m meant to do.”
Throughout Ford’s talk, it was hard to ignore the elephant in the room: The muddled circumstances of her divorce, and separation from her two young sons with whom she no longer has a relationship. It’s particularly heartbreaking to me, as I can’t imagine my tiny toddler boys shunning me in that way. It must be hell living with this aspect of reality, not being able to hold her sons as they grow into young men, or taking part in their day-to-day lives.
But if Ford is an angry woman who isn’t fit to be a mother, as her ex-husband has suggested, I didn’t see it, nor did I sense it (and I have pretty good instinct). Instead, I witnessed a wizened lady enjoying her well-earned fame. Still, I told her I’d think “positive thoughts” and I did. Truly, I hope she gets to see her grown boys again, and experience their love.
Anyway, I’m so psyched to read the rest of this book!
When I got home from the NYC reading — and going home is a two-hour trek, mind you! — I found myself making more time to strum my chocolate-brown Gibson SG (which also happened to be the color and model of the first guitar she bought with her own money). I also felt younger, at heart. For all of the expectations imposed on older women, that we ought to dress in Chico’s once we hit 50, or develop a liking for Opera, I felt excited by the notion that older age doesn’t have to be boring or un-sexy. Cheers to Lita Ford for giving me that feeling!
Hey everyone — I’m back! After an amazing summer (see above), I’m busier than ever — teaching eight students, writing more articles than ever (including several for LearnVest on personal finance), and (finally!) playing a couple of rock shows.
My friend Heidi helped me redesign my website a bit, and it is much more ‘rockin’ than it was before.
And, I’m eating for two. 🙂 So, yes, busy. I’m going to try to commit to three things:
1.) Blogging once a week here
2.) Writing a daily gratitude list
3.) trying my best not to get overwhelmed by the overwhelmingness of it all.
So I’m watching “The Voice,” and I can’t help but feel really badly for CeeLo Green. Christina Aguilera is getting all the good artists, and he is hardly getting any. It’s a shame, too, because he’s so talented. Should I try out for “The Voice?” I’m technically over the hill, age-wise. And my voice is good, but it isn’t drop-dead amazing. Then again, neither is Liz Phair’s or Courtney Love’s…
And speaking of Courtney Love, I’m working on a post I’ll tentatively call “Why I feel sorry for Courtney Love.” I haven’t had much time to work on it, so here’s the short version: tI was this huge Hole fan and Courtney worshipper in the 1990s, but now that I’m a 30-something mom, I find her a little inconsiderate. And a little too needy. She is so ungrateful for a half-full audience at a mid-size club. Yet I would kill to play for that kind of audience.
I guess it’s all relative. I often throw myself a little pity party for all the things I don’t have (parents who live up the street, an amazing relationship with certain relatives, money to just go out and buy a Les Paul, etc.), but there are moms in Bangalore pr Beijing who would do anything to be sitting here with me in my super cozy living room, blogging about not having a Les Paul.
It’s important to remember these things, to be humble and grateful.