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.

Ben Rudnick: How My Daughter Inspired My Favorite and Best-Known, Musical Project

by Ben Rudnick

As a songwriter, I aim to be like my good friend Jeff, who plays harmonica and mandolin in an internationally famous Canadian rock band. The band had a big hit in the late 1980s and my pal is now a “micro celebrity.”

Inspired by Jeff and his Canadian rock and roll cool as the measure, I place myself in the sub-micro-celebrity realm. My band and I have played over 900 shows, recorded twelve CDs, accumulated seven Parent’s Choice Awards, have a play based on characters I’ve created in songs and have recently started releasing digital singles.

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Rock daddy Ben Rudnick of Ben Rudnick & Friends (Photo credit: Susan Wilson)

It’s also safe for me to say that this fun and rewarding ride never would have happened had I not sang silly songs with my daughter Emily when she was very young.

When we were crossing the street to go to preschool, we’d sing “I need a hand, when I’m crossing the street.” Pretty straightforward and to the point for sure! We’d sing it over and over and skip our way to school. Good times indeed. With that seed I wrote a song called — wait for it! —  “I Need a Hand.” That song went on our first CD, Emily Songs, and was a runner up in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Yoko liked it!

[RELATED: Stay-at-Home Rockin’ Dad Gunnar Madsen on Parenthood & New Projects]

At some point Emily and I were coloring and started singing about the colors we like. Ultimately that led to us dancing around the living room naming all our favorite colors. “I Like Silver, I Like Gold” kicked off that first album and has been the most played song in our repertoire. Colors never go out of style!

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Singer-songwriter Ben Rudnick with his daughter Emily.

Another everyday endeavor that led to one of the band’s most-requested songs was making macaroni and cheese for lunch. Or dinner. Or lunch and dinner! Whatever. The point is I made a lot of macaroni and cheese, which led to Emily and I singing “macaroni and cheese is so good to me, macaroni and cheese makes me say please” and the song, “Macaroni and Cheese.”

So okay, I’m an extreme example of where singing silly songs with your offspring can go but the point is it was really fun. The songs we created came from everyday activities. It’s all a state of mind. That it’s given me actual sub-micro-celebrity status is gravy.

Have fun with those kids! Enjoy these days.

Ben Rudnick is a father and the band leader of Ben Rudnick & Friends. See the band perform the 17th Annual Holiday Extravaganza at the Cabot Theater in Beverly, Mass., on Saturday, Dec 8.

Rock Dad Zach Parkman on Juggling 2 Bands, Finding Inspiration and Becoming a New Dad

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

It’s not often that I’m surprisingly blown away by acoustic-guitar duos. I’ve seen so many bands, time and time again, and always enjoy live music. But it takes something special to get my attention. 

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Singer-guitarist Zach Parkland with his baby daughter.

Zach Parkman is something, or rather someone, special, I discovered a couple of Saturdays ago, when my band Grandma’s Mini played an intimate set with his band The Darkest Timeline at the Silver Spring, Md.-based Record Exchange. The band, which he started with the equally brilliant D.C.-area local Juels Bland, brings him into the Nation’s Capital every so often, to play melodic, passionate sets at little clubs. 

Shortly after The Darkest Timeline’s 9/22 set at the Record Exchange, I learned that the talented Zach is also a new dad, and plays for second band, Bad Robot Jones, in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife and baby. 

Here, Zach reflects on his musical projects and discusses how fatherhood’s changed his life. 

Rockmommy: Can you tell us about your musical evolution — how long have you been performing and playing? 

Zach Parkman: I started playing guitar in high school, around age 13 or 14. It was the early 1990s, so grunge was king and I was a skateboarder and was really into bands like Operation Ivy, Fugazi and NOFX. At the same time I was listening to my parents LPs from the 60s and 70s, so really being influenced by The Beatles, James Taylor, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, etc. These to competing dichotomies have followed me throughout the my musical evolution right up to today.

Rockmommy: We recently met when your band The Darkest Timeline played in Silver Spring. How did you and Juels meet? How did that band come to be? 

Zach Parkman: So, I’m in a couple of projects. The Darkest Timeline is an acoustic duo (sometimes electrified foursome) with DC area songwriter Juels Bland. While living in Takoma Park, Md., a suburb of Washington D.C., I found myself at one of Rob Hinkal’s many open mics and saw this dapper and dour songwriter get up and just blow everybody away. We briefly introduced ourselves to one another and nothing else was said, but we both kept running into each other at songwriter showcases and open mics and bonded over our shared taste in music and geeky pop culture. Fast forward a year, Juels was starting a band and I asked if he needed a guitar player and the rest is history. Needless to say our sound has evolved over the years from more of a blues-based electric band to a more brooding, melancholy acoustic sound with harmonies and themes about space and murder. My other project is a band called Bad Robot Jones, which is a sci-fi rock/indie-prog trio with bassist Doogie Whittaker and drummer Joey Jenkins (who was the original drummer for The Darkest Timeline and also drummer for ilyAIMY). This is a much heavier band, drawing influences from punk, prog and metal. 

Rockmommy: Is it hard to play when you both live in different cities in different states? 

Zach Parkman: Juels and I have been playing together so long that we can jump into a set without much practice. It is difficult adding new material to the set and of course traveling to gigs can be time consuming (and an added crunch to an already full schedule with a new baby). We usually try to book an equal number of shows in the NYC and DC areas to keep things egalitarian and fair. With Bad Robot Jones things are a little more complex. First off, it is an electric band, so equipment comes into play. Secondly, Doogie and I are both fathers so schedules can be tough to sink up. Third, Joey is a full-time musician in several bands, so that can be a challenging hurdle. I usually schedule as much into my weekend travels down to DC as I can (i.e., if I have a gig with The Darkest Timeline on Saturday, I will try to schedule a rehearsal with Bad Robot Jones for Sunday). All in all we make it work. I love making different kinds of music with different kinds of people.

Rockmommy: You recently became a dad. What’s that been like? 

Zach Parkman: I can’t even begin to describe the amount of joy or daughter has brought into our lives. The dividing line between life without children and life with is pretty drastic and severe. I think I was frightened for the longest time of having children (lack of sleep, no more “me” time, causing them irreparable harm), but at some point the desire to share in the upbringing of another human being with my wife outweighed that fear. I’m so glad that it did. When I saw my daughter for the first time I felt molecularly changed. Everything about my perspective shifted. I’m still the same jack-ass that I was before, but I’m an elevated jack-ass. I’ve leveled up. 

Rockmommy: How do you find time to practice? Any tips? 

Zach Parkman: Every other year, starting in 2013, I write a song a week (so 2013, 2015, 2017 and next year 2019). This has really helped me to break out of the “only writing when I felt inspired” habit. It’s forced me to sit down and focus on being creative, which was alien to me. Now, regardless of how I am feeling, I can sit down and start the writing process and get myself into that creative space without having to wait for it to appear magically. It’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised. That has really helped with my musical and creative discipline. I find it very easy to write or practice in the small increments of time that a busy life in NYC allows or the small increments of time that a baby allows. I highly recommend finding some kind or ritual or regimen like that. It may seem daunting at first, but stick with it and after time it becomes second nature.

For more information on Zach’s upcoming gigs, visit The Darkest Timeline’s web page (or go here for info about Bad Robot Jones if prog-rock with sci-fi themes is your thing). To hear more of Zach’s solo stuff, visit his personal bandcamp page. 

Getting Emotional Over Rockstar Dave Grohl’s Daddy Moment

David Grohl is a rockstar in every sense of the word. I learned this firsthand when I finally got to see the Foo Fighters last night at a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden. He growls, yelps, roars and plays guitar like a motherf*cker — he also drops plenty of F-bombs, which is OK for him because, you know, he gets paid to drop them. It’s part of being Dave Grohl (I’ll try to remember that next time I feel guilty for cursing at my son’s daycare).

I could write a prolific review of his band’s sensational performance last night, a set that spanned the band’s 23 years of making music. But you can fetch a well-written review on plenty of other sites like this one.

[RELATED: Johnny Clay of Ants Ants Ants Discusses Making Music and ‘Soaking it All In’]

Instead, I’ll touch on what I found to be the most heartwarming part of the Foo Fighters’ performance: Daddy Grohl inviting his 12-year-old daughter Violet Grohl onstage to sing backup for several new songs: My favorite, by far, “The Sky is a Neighborhood”:

It is abundantly clear that Grohl is over the moon for his oldest little girl — between the hugs and his constant praise of her performance (he called her “the shining light and love of my life” during Monday’s set at MSG!). And it’s also pretty clear that she looks up to him, curse words and adult reminiscing of stoner days be damned. They had this funny exchange in the second half of the 2.5-hour set, where she was rolling her eyes at him, and he was embarrassing her with praise.

Here she is on the big screen:

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Violet Grohl, singing backup for the Foo Fighters on 7/17/2018

As a mom, I can only hope things are this great when my kids are 12!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Rockdaddy Johnny Clay of Ants Ants Ants Discusses Making Music and ‘Soaking it All In’

Each month, Rockmommy talks to parents who make music about life, work, play time and more. Today, we chat with rockdaddy Johnny Clay of Ants Ants Ants, a fun (and family friendly) musical project. Scroll down to check out their new music video for “Pinwheel” Ants Ants Ants

Rockmommy: When you think about fatherhood, what do you love best about being a dad?

Johnny Clay I love seeing them experience things – it definitely takes you back to being a kid and remembering what it was like. Hearing their perspective on things too. I’m lucky in that I get to walk my daughter to school every morning, and our walks are filled with her questions and observations about the world around her. I hope she never stops wondering about the world and asking questions.

Rockmommy: Tell me about your latest musical project — how did it come about?

Johnny Clay: It’s been a long time in the making. Friends have been encouraging me to write a kids’ record since our almost 8-year-old was born. But it wasn’t until we starting seeing clips of classic Sesame Street songs and School House Rock songs that I really got inspired to do it. Such wonderful music. And when I saw “The Point” by Harry Nilsson again, that put it over the top.

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Rockmommy: Has your music changed since you became a dad? If yes, how so?

Johnny Clay: Well, I certainly wouldn’t have gone down this path as a songwriter had it not been for the kids – both our soon to be 8 year old and our 5 year old daughters are constantly inspiring new song ideas. The way kids think about things and notice things is just so amazing.  Whether it’s pointing out the “helicopter leaves” falling on the way to school, or asking what the biggest animal in the world is (and not believing how big a blue whale really is), their curiosity about the world around them is just so cool.

Rockmommy: What’s it like trying to balance music with parenthood? Are there other factors in the mix — e.g., time with a spouse or partner, a day job to pay the bills, etc.? Is your partner involved in the music project?

Johnny Clay: It’s definitely an adventure. I’m very, very fortunate in that music is my full-time job, so the kids are growing up with music constantly in their lives. They both feel comfortable hanging out in the studio with me and they see how songs get put together. I love seeing them sit down at the piano or the drums or whatever and play the instruments, see what they sound like. It’s not all on a computer. My wife Christi is a musician as well and so music is definitely a constant in our lives.

Rockmommy: What’s your advice to other rockin’ dads?

Johnny Clay: Probably the same advice I was given years ago: just to try and soak up this time with the kids, because it really does go by so fast. And of course keep rockin’!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Stay-at-Home Rockin’ Dad Gunnar Madsen on Parenthood & New Projects

This month, Rockmommy talks to rocker dads about music and work-life balance. Here, we chat with Gunnar Madsen about his new projects (including a new video co-created by his 15-year-old son) and parenthood. I Am Food Cover 300 Square
 

Rockmommy: What do you love best about being a dad?

Gunnar Madsen: I love working on being a better dad all the time. The idea that there is no end to parenting used to scare me – in school or in work, every project has a due date, or a production, or has a finished product. But the growth of a child is never-ending, it presents constant new challenges, things I could never have imagined. And the learning goes on and on, no due date, no completion. That’s an amazing teaching to get ahold of.

Rockmommy: Tell me about your latest musical project,  “I Am Your Food”  — how did it come about?

Gunnar Madsen: I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for all of my son’s school years (he’s 15 now). Parenting took up much of my time, but in spare moments I dreamed of my next album, and I had the idea that it could be about food (which I love). I wrote some of the songs from this album over the course of many years. It’s only in the past 2 years, as my son matured and required less of my time, that I was able to focus on bringing this album to fruition – finishing up the writing of the songs, recording them, and preparing to launch the project.

Rockmommy: Has your music changed since you became a dad? If yes, how so?

Gunnar Madsen: I think the things I’m learning from fatherhood, like patience, generosity, and a greater awareness of myself and who I am, are coming through in my creative life. I’m still writing funny, sometimes goofy, songs, but I sense a different spirit in them.

Rockmommy: What’s it like trying to balance music with parenthood? Are there other factors in the mix — e.g., time with a spouse or partner, a day job to pay the bills, etc.?   Is your partner involved in the music project?

Gunnar Madsen: The main shift in my music career came when our son was born. It was not reasonable to go on tour and leave my partner at home alone with the care of a baby. And I didn’t want to be away, — the gravitational pull of fatherhood kept me at home. I continued performing locally, but over time my desire to perform diminished. I found that I was happiest just writing music at home, and left the stage. Luckily, being a stay-at-home composer and a stay-at-home dad work pretty well together. My partner is not involved in my music – she’s has a store she runs with her mother, antiques and fine things for the home and such, which has paid the bulk of our bills over the past years. But I trust her opinions very much, and share everything I’m working on with her to see what she thinks.

Rockmommy: What’s your advice to other rockin’ dads?

Gunnar Madsen: If you’ve got to rock, you’ve got to rock. It’s not like I made a decision to become a musician. It was a calling, a fire burning inside, that wouldn’t allow me to do anything else. It has maybe saved my life, it’s a joy, and it’s also caused a heap of trouble and pain. I can imagine a whole lot of easier ways to get through life, but this is the only way I know how to do it 🙂 In the end, I’m grateful for having such a passion.

Gunnar Madsen on Fire (1)

— Marisa Torrieri is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

NYC’s Danny Lapidus, of Hot Peas ‘n Butter, on Fatherhood and Making Music

This month, Rockmommy talks to rocker dads of (mostly) young children about life, music and more. Here we catch up with father of two Danny Lapidus, lead singer for the super-fun Brooklyn band Hot Peas ‘n Butter. Their new album  features guests artists Laurie Berkner, Dan Zanes and Peter Yarrow! Catch them in Union Square Park in NYC for a free show on July 12.

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Rockmommy: What do you love best about being a dad?

Danny Lapidus: When I stop to think about being a dad (which is not often because….I’m a dad!! who has time to think about anything?!) there are many things things that I love about it. One thing that will seem obvious to people who have kids, but may sound strange to others, is that there is actual joy in realizing you are no longer the center of the universe! It hits you like a ton of bricks! There is someone here who is more important to me than anything else and even myself!! Makes me appreciate my dad even more. Another thing that I absolutely love about being a father to young kids is that they think I’m the strongest person in the world, literally. 

 


Rockmommy: Tell me about your latest musical project — how did it come about?

Danny Lapidus: My latest musical project is a new album with my band Hot Peas ‘n Butter called Back to the LandIt started with an idea of trying to go back to musical roots. I wanted to explore everything from bluegrass to Gospel music… real Americana, because that is what I grew up on and what feels so sincere to me. I honestly thought the album would contain mostly new arrangements of traditional music, but then I started writing with my partner Steve Jabas, and we realized that that the songs all had similar themes of unity, equality, and protecting our environment. We immediately felt we had something special.

 
As a New York City studio Producer and Mixer, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing musicians and as we wrote I realized I could ask around and see who would join us on the album. I never expected to get Peter Yarrow! (Peter, Paul & Mary), Laurie Berkner, Dan Zanes, a gospel choir led by Marcelle Davies-Lashley and all the other amazing musicians who helped us bring this album life. This was the most fulfilling album I’ve had the pleasure of working on so far.


Rockmommy: Has your music changed since you became a dad? If yes, how so?
 

Danny Lapidus: Maybe the music has not changed so much but the songwriting definitely has. I think the main difference now is that I feel like I always want to say something in my songs, to have a positive message, and even to take a stand on matters that mean something to me, because, I want my kids to know I stand for something.
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Rockmommy: What’s it like trying to balance music with parenthood? And are there other factors in the mix? 

 
Danny Lapidus: Wow, now you’re asking the hard questions. YES there are many factors in the mix these days! It’s extremely hard to balance music with parenthood but I wouldn’t change a thing;)
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.