How I’m Being Present for My family, While Missing My Band: a Guitarist Dad’s Quarantine Experience

by Earl Henrichon

My name is Earl Henrichon and I play in a Hartford, CT-based band called The Professors of Sweet, Sweet Music (POSSM). Yes, you heard right, that is the actual name of our band. We thought it would be hilarious if people actually had to say that out loud in the off-chance we were able to play shows in public.

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Earl Henrichon & The POSSM

A few years later and we’ve won several Best of Hartford awards, a New England Music Award nomination for Best Band in Connecticut and we’ve co-created the Hartbeat Music Festival (a day-long event showcasing local musicians of all genres). I guess now we are stuck with the ridiculous (but hopefully charming?) name.

And now the world has gone to shit in a period of three months, and we are all in quarantine. Suddenly my band is not getting together and playing music, and there are no shows to practice for. This time has given me an opportunity to reflect on a lot of things when it comes to music, its impact on my life, my teaching and my family. I figured what the Internet needed most was the perspective of dad who was getting older and plays in rock band…so here we go!

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Earl & family

I am a high school Health and Physical Education teacher, husband of 14 years and father to an awesome (and sometimes totally insane) 7-year-old daughter. I also love to surf and have an unhealthy relationship with fantasy sports. My wife Jane is clearly an amazingly supportive, patient and understanding human being (talk about a rock mommy!), and as a result my life is immeasurably better for having had so many fun and exciting experiences. Jane has been staying at home since the birth of our daughter, and what we lack in income we have gained in family time. Everyone has their own situations, but for us this has been a tremendous positive…at least so far.

I came to music late in life. I listened to The Beatles, Guns and Roses and a lot of other rock bands growing up, but I didn’t understand what was involved in creating the sounds I was hearing. It wasn’t until I had been listening to Jack Johnson for years, and couldn’t get those sounds out of my head that I finally picked up a guitar. That was about 8 years ago.

Almost immediately after learning a couple of simple chords, I started writing music by ear. At the time I thought was creative and insightful but I look back now and realize how truly terrible most of it was. But not having the requisite shame one should have about publicly embarrassing themselves, I quickly assembled a group of (luckily more talented than I) guys and convinced some fellow teachers it would be a good idea to come out and see our band in action after school once in a while. The beauty of music, probably for all of us, but especially for me, has been the connections that it helps create with other people. From the start we always had other teachers sing songs with us, and later people from other bands would jump in on songs or for join us for entire shows. This helped created a community because of which my life will always be better off and for which I’ll always be grateful.

There are many things about performing music live that actually don’t fit my personality at all. As an early-rising teacher I am not at all at late-night guy. In a perfect world, my favorite place to be is at home with my family, watching some Netflix and getting to bed at a decent time. We don’t play tons of late gigs as a result, we are always glad to open up for other bands, and I usually leave before the rest of my bandmates when a show is over. But I enjoy the hell out of being on stage, sharing the fun moments with others, and being a part of something that brings some joy and laughter into others’ lives.

Having my daughter grow up around music, the guys in the band and all of the positive experiences that have come from that is something I will look back fondly on forever.

Over the last few months as I’ve been teaching from home, my day is very different. I did 30 days of yoga with my wife, hiking constantly to try and wear out the dog, the 7 year old (and if we are being honest, the 43 year old — me!), and now protesting has become something we participate in as well. This new rhythm is giving me the opportunity to go back and spend time with music in a way I haven’t before. Not having the pressure of getting ready for the next show, booking future shows, having people rely on me to set a lineup or finishing up something for a recording has been freeing in a way I did not expect.Earl_daughter_1

When I first learned guitar I didn’t take proper lessons or even take time to learn anything properly before finding reasons to start playing it in front of others. Since then I’ve mostly been practicing for the next show. Now I am finding the time to learn the scales on the guitar better, how to play a solo that doesn’t sound forced, and how to create voicings of chords I hadn’t considered before. I’ve even starting to learn a bit of the piano — which has helped all of the theory make sense.

I am aware that everyone’s quarantine is different, and that many of the rock moms and dads are feeling run ragged by working, homeschooling, feeling financial stress etc…but there is also a reset button that this time is allowing us to have. I suspect that many of us will find when things go back to whatever normal is going to look like when it happens, that we will miss some of things about this time as well, and to enjoy some of that while we are there.

If anyone of you are interested in checking out our music, we are releasing a new single on all streaming platforms on May 29th, and we can be found on all social media platforms as The POSSM, and at thepossm.com. I hope the rest of the quarantine treats you all well, until we are all rocking out in front of audiences again!

Earl Henrichon is a father, teacher and guitarist for the Connecticut band The POSSM.

Steve Rodgers and the Art of Rebuilding a Music Scene

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

On a warm, overcast Friday in early June 2020, Steve Rodgers might have been strumming his guitar and thinking about set lists for a string of summer concerts. But instead, the indie rocker dad was hard at work building a new chicken coop out of the wood he salvaged from his daughter’s old toy chest. 

“It’s for five chickens, which is the legal limit in Hamden,” says Steve, who has already built an impressive array of wood- and recycled-materials projects over the last few years, in the home he shares with wife Jesse, daughter Fable, 16, and son River, 10.

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Steve Rodgers

The act of repurposing good materials into something new and needed is actually a fitting metaphor these days: In the summer of COVID-19, as Steve and other musicians have been blocked from playing indoor concerts, it’s become necessary to figure out new ways to get live music to the masses.

And he’s doing a pretty good job, so far. In May, Steve — who is still best known for his role as the singer from Mighty Purple, the band he co-founded as a teen — was one of the first artists tapped by the International Festival of Arts & Ideas to start playing live, acoustic outdoor “backyard” sets. It’s one of the few options at the moment for safe, live music right now as most nightclubs are closed and concerts have been postponed or cancelled.

“I played two gigs in one day — one in a two-acre backyard and another on Court Street in New Haven,” says Steve. “There were, literally, on every porch, a family or friends and their roommates. Every time I finished a song people were clapping … they hadn’t seen any live music for two months. It was a good day for me and my fiddle player.” 

And while it isn’t the summer he imagined, it’s an absolutely fitting experience for a guy who’s had to adapt and think outside of the box to survive. 

Humble Beginnings 

When I first met Steve Rodgers, he wasn’t a 40-something dad of two, a music director in a church, or a nightclub owner. He was just 20-year-old dude from Hamden who started a rock band with his younger brother Jonny. 

Mighty Purple officially formed in 1992, with Steve on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jonny on vocals and lead guitar, Adrian VandeGraff on bass and Will Mix on drums, and quickly grew into one of New England’s more popular regional acts, opening for the likes of Dave Matthews Band and Bare Naked Ladies. Their music spans multiple genres — folk rock, psychedelic rock, funk or even hard rock. The common through line is the Rodgers brothers’ earnest, powerful harmonies and the band’s high-energy performances. Even today, the band’s influence on the New Haven-area arts scene is still evident — nearly every musician I’ve met in Southeastern Connecticut has a Mighty Purple story. 

My first Mighty Purple experience, in Fall 1994, happened by accident, as some of the best experiences do: I was to be a freshman at University of Maryland in College Park, where I met Jason DaPonte, who was from Stratford, Connecticut, and lived in my co-ed dorm (Elkton Hall). He knew Mighty Purple from his high school days, and helped them secure a gig at Javaheads, an intimate little coffeehouse-bar hybrid in downtown College Park, which served bottomless coffee and $2 well drinks. It was one of the last places where patrons could smoke cigarettes while listening to alt-rock acts play in a makeshift space by the windows. 

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Mighty Purple

Deciding to go to the show was a no brainer. Forgive me, but at the time I was 18 and full of hormones. I took one look at the flier and saw two guys with long hair, holding instruments. It was like the grunge version of Nelson. I was in.

But it was the music — arpeggiated guitars, bass, and percussion infused with some of the warmest vocal harmonies I’d ever heard — that kept me there. The show was a stripped-down, acoustic set, and the moment Mighty Purple launched into “When Kingdoms Fall,” an epic anthem characterized by its atmospheric effects, addictive hooks, and a singalong chorus, I became a fan.

After the set, I bought their CD, Bohica, and we somehow ended up having an afterparty in my dorm room, where Jason and Steve swapped stories of their youthful antics. I have a vague recollection of drinking and bong hits, but neither Steve nor I can remember that night completely. I did remember that Steve was the chattier, more extroverted of the brothers, while Jonny was the quieter one. I also recall the hours I spent listening to that CD on my walkman for the next 12 months, enjoying the heavier, funkier tunes like “Wail” and “Circle,” and my favorite — “Rose for Caroline” — throughout my entire freshman year.

“My brother and I wrote some songs collectively, and many more individually,” says Steve. “Once a song had a basic framework we would bring it to each other and then to the band. Throughout the various seasons of the Mighty Purple journey, we had many different ways of writing songs. Sometimes we wrote as a full band. Adrian, our longtime bass player, wrote many parts and transitions alongside my brother.” 

Interestingly, it was during that year, within months after seeing and hanging out with Mighty Purple, that I would pick up a guitar for the first time, and learn how to play.

Building a Scene

Steve and I crossed paths again in 16 years later — in October 2010 — because I’d transplanted to Connecticut from Brooklyn by way of marriage, and managed to score a freelance-writing gig for NBC Universal. My assignment: to write mini profiles of the coolest bars, nightclubs, and hangouts in Connecticut — including the best venues for live, original music. 

Unfortunately, I lived in Stamford, a city which felt artistically void, oozing with pop-rock cover bands and dance nights with pre-recored boom-boom pop. Nothing against these diversions, but I pined for cute little coffeehouses, poetry slams, dive bars and the artist-enclave culture that reminded me of college.

“Remember that band Mighty Purple, you met during our freshman year?” said my old pal Jason, who’d since moved to London after we graduated from University of Maryland. “The singer, my friend Steve Rodgers, opened a nightclub called The Space. I think you should check it out.”

Oh yeah, I realized. I did remember Steve Rodgers! 

The next day I hopped on the Merritt Parkway and headed toward Hamden, Connecticut, a college town I’d never set foot in, to check out Steve’s new commercial digs. As I greeted Steve for the first time since the nineties, I almost didn’t recognize him. The person who stood in front of me was no longer the wide-eyed guy the on the cusp of 21, but a man halfway into his 30s, with much shorter hair — and a wife and two young children.

The Space itself was unlike any music establishment I’d seen. On the outside, it was gray-block building that looked like it was plopped down in the middle of an old parking lot, in the middle of nowhere. But inside, it was gloriously cool, with a ‘90s record-store vibe, teeming with knick-knacks and hanging lights, and band posters plastered to brightly painted walls. There was a spacious main floor with a stage, and a cozy little basement-bar area, intended for open-mic nights.

Over the course of two hours, Steve shared his plans to lease a second venue, to be called the Outer Space, which would be tailored to 21+ patrons who wanted to enjoy good beer with their music. He would go on to do this, and then in 2013, add a third, all-ages venue — The Spaceland Ballroom — with an ample, checkered floor space that was perfect for watching all kinds of performances, from bands to burlesque.  

But by mid-2017, after years and years of growth, things started getting complicated. Keeping up with the Spaces’ overhead costs and renovations was tough, and Steve occasionally needed to hold fundraisers to keep business afloat. Some health issues had developed, and he began to meet with a couple of parties who were interested in potentially purchasing the venue. Yet he was still working feverishly every day to keep the club vital.

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The Space in Hamden, Connecticut

The signs that something had to give kept coming. Steve’s doctor told him that his vocal cords were fried, and he’d need surgery for his nodules. He’d also need to quit smoking. In January 2018, Steve underwent throat surgery, which left him unable to speak much for months.

There was one “final straw” incident in particular that shook him. About six months before the Spaces would close, Steve was getting ready to lock up one night and was approached by a man in the parking lot who pulled a gun on him. This incident was traumatizing and was one of the signs that told Steve it was time to sell. 

What happened next, which led to Steve ultimately exiting the Spaces, is a long story involving landlords and lawyers — and you can read the New Haven Register’s detailed account here — but from Steve’s perspective, the timing, although bittersweet, all worked out as it was supposed to. The Space and The Outer Space/Ballroom closed in late December 2018. 

Re-Building a Life, Part 1

It would be remiss to write a profile of Steve Rodgers without acknowledging the role that his faith in God and the church have played in his life. 

The son of an Anglican minister, Steve’s earliest memories are of him sitting in the Cathedral at King’s College and listening to sacred hymns. This tied into his musical upbringing, as his parents — “church hippies” — were songwriters and guitarists who frequently played at services. But in his teens, his parents divorced, and Steve found himself struggling with his feelings about religion. 

“The church establishment has driven so many from the faith because of intolerance, judgmental rhetoric and divisive narrow thinking,” says Steve. “My heart breaks to see the divide the church has created. I embrace all humans no matter who they are and no matter what they believe in.” 

In his 20s, after a decade of constant touring with Mighty Purple, Steve rediscovered his faith and enrolled in a Christian missions training program. His re-involvement grew slowly from there, and soon, he began playing drums in a church band. For the last 15 years, he’s served as the church’s music director (even when he was working overtime at his nightclubs).

“My faith now is about my relationship with God and about the spiritual mindset, which helps me to seek and spread hope, love, joy and peace in my everyday life,” he says. 

Faith also proved crucial when it came to the tumultuous reentry into normal, post-nightclub-owner life in early 2019. In the aftermath of his departure from the Spaces, Steve grappled with lingering feelings of sadness.

“Even though I’ve always been a family guy, I was at work 60, 70 hours a week,” says Steve. “I had no idea what I was going to do after all that stuff went down. Financially, that was a very difficult time. In the six months following the Spaces, my true friends made themselves known.” 

What Steve did appreciate was having significantly more time with his family and friends — and himself. He spent the first three months after the Spaces closed building miniatures, including miniature train sets and fairy homes. And as his voice continued to heal, and he acclimated to a more balanced home life, inspiration struck again, and he started writing new songs.

In April 2019, Steve Rodgers released “Count it All Joy,” a full-length album that leans closer to country — and further from rock — than a Mighty Purple record, with mellow melodies and multiple stringed instruments. It’s clear the songs are the work of someone who’s faced incredible challenges and emerged a better person. My favorite, so far, is “Why Are You Here?”, a song about the way humans seek spiritual comfort in the wake of hardships. Even after the imprint of 27 years of smoking, Steve’s voice soars brightly in songs like “Love Will Conquer You.”

The album features Ben Dean on fiddle, Jonny Rodgers on acoustic guitar and Seth Adam on bass, and Fred Delione playing keys for a couple of song.

“‘Count it All Joy’ means ‘no matter what trials and tribulations … there’s always something you can find joy in,” Steve tells me. “Get excited about the things you do have and throw yourself into something.”

Re-building a Life, Part 2

Steve and Jesse chose to homeschool their own children years ago, because they wanted their kids to have a more personalized and nurturing learning environment. So the past three months of mandated “distance learning” are nothing new, except that his kids can’t gather with their friends.

However, their approach to homeschool may seem a little unorthodox by some parents’ standards. For example: While some parents try to educate their kids with a structured schedule, the Rodgers let the inspiration of the day guide learning. So if 10-year-old River would rather paint a mural at 9 a.m. before doing math, he paints a mural. There’s always time to do math later on.

“I know a lot of people are really struggling right now, but we’ve been really family closening,” says Steve. “This experience has helped us get a lot closer and understanding each other more.”  

After our conversation about homeschooling, I found myself questioning this approach. 

I’m a creative person, but I’m also a mom. When the urge comes on to write a song, I can’t just drop my income-generating work or childrearing to write it down. Without structure, how will my kids accomplish anything that isn’t fun? 

But over the course of several hours, I came around a bit in my thinking. I realized that it’s important to take inspiration when it comes. If my 6-year-old son feels like stapling papers together and “writing” a book, he’s still learning. Maybe that’s more important than forcing him to add numbers at a pre-designated time. 

Also, inspiration frequently comes at inopportune times — when we’re focused on other things, or when we’re experiencing pain or loss.

“My last show before coronavirus lockdown was March 6,” Steve recalls. “It was in this little coffeehouse in Vernon, Connecticut, and I sold 30 CDS, which is huge by today’s [streaming] music standards, and I had a lot of momentum building. But I can’t let this time discourage me. I had 20 gigs cancelled, and some really good ones, like a festival in Massachusetts. But instead of getting bummed out, I started spending 10 or 12 hours a week in my basement, learning recording software. Musically, I’ve just let any idea come out. If it feels right, I write something — I don’t let any genre or ideas about genre limit me. I’m not sitting down writing songs called ‘Coronavirus Shut In,’ but I’ve been writing stuff about coming together and healing.”  

In March, he channeled his despair and hope into the song, “Invisible Forces,” which is universally relatable to everyone suffering in the pandemic. The song is mixed by local producer Vic Steffens, and video is not for the faint of heart, with images of spiked COVID balls spinning aimlessly through space, masked pedestrians strolling briskly past one another, and a haunting scene filled with empty children’s chairs. But it’s a cathartic visual experience, and proof that music can bring us together, even when we’re apart.

On June 13, Steve will participate in his second round backyard concerts with the New Haven Arts & Ideas Festival (you can still book a slot here). 

“Really, this summer, what I’m looking forward to is doing some more shows, outdoors and stuff,” says Steve. “I’ve also taken up home recording, and am learning how to use software. Some of my music friends are busy with their own stuff, so you know what? I’m playing bass now. I’m playing lead guitar — which I’ve never really known. I’ve taken this time to learn.” 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Ben Rudnick’s New Song ‘Monster NO!’ Helps Kids Embrace Handwashing & Sing Away Coronavirus Anxiety

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Singer-songwriter Ben Rudnick has had to cope with the same annoyances — from cancelled performances to the closure of live-entertainment venues — as the rest of us. But instead of moping, the rockdaddy is staying busy, and recently penned a clever little tune that encapsulates this strange moment in history and parenthood. His latest single, “Monster NO!” — a folksy tune that’s perfect for kids who are experiencing serious coronavirus anxiety.

 In the song, Ben sings of washing your hands with soap, doing a silly dance, jumping up and down, or even talking like a frog — “Ribbet ribbet croak and keep the monster away!” (Download “Monster NO!” on his Soundcloud page here).

[SEE RELATED: Ben Rudnick: How My Daughter Inspired My Favorite and Best-Known, Musical Project]

We recently caught up with Ben to talk about parenting, music and staying safe this summer.

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Ben Rudnick

Rockmommy: What’s been going on lately, music and otherwise?

Ben Rudnick: Well… The band had a busy summer planned. Lots of shows; big, small and in between. That’s clearly compromised but we have been asked to do some virtual shows. The loose plan is to set up on my front porch and play for the neighborhood while a neighbor pal handles the streaming end. I hope it works! We can be safe and still get to play a bit. How fun will that be!? At this point, LOTS!

Otherwise, musically, a few years back I visited Jorma Kaukonen’s (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio and have been taking workshops with Jorma ever since. Besides learning how to fingerpick Jorma tunes, there’s a whole community around the place that has been wonderfully supportive. I got proficient enough at it to a) start a band called Don’t Tell Jack which plays those tunes I’ve learned and b) know that I’ve got a long way to go to really be good at it. All that said…. I’ve been fingerpicking like crazy these days and will be taking an online workshop with Jorma in a week or so. Fingerpicking is something of a meditation for me and it certainly keeps me busy.

Otherwise, not musically, lots and lots of gardening and cooking. I also hike with my beautiful golden retriever Lucy around five miles in the early morning. Every morning. Sun, rain, snow… you name it. There’s a wonderful wooded park close to where I live which at this point in history, might be one of my favorite places of all time.

I’m close to home and busy. That’s the deal.

Rockmommy: How did you come up with the song, “Monster NO!?

Ben Rudnick: Monster NO! came about from an acquaintance who was looking to connect with me on Facebook and found someone else who happened to be a doctor with the same name. The doctor, a fan of ours, asked if when she found me, would she ask me if I could write a song about the current situation for kids. At first I thought, “nahhhhh…” but then it seemed like a pretty good idea. It’s surely not as epic as some other songs I’ve written but hey, it doesn’t have to be! Plus, I wrote it so that I could use my new mad, fingerpicking skills!

Rockmommy: Are you generally finding new creative inspiration during this challenging time?

Ben Rudnick: You know, I’d love to say “yes” but I’m gravitating more toward sharpening up some skills and filling in some blanks. For me, that has always paid off with new music further on up the road. It’s part of my process so we’ll see what comes out of it.

I did take a few ZOOM lessons with an amazingly talented guy named Joe Craven. I’m familiar with Joe as he played in David Grisman’s band for 15 years, which encompassed the Grisman/Garcia work. Joe got me to write a tune that is way more jazzy than I would have written otherwise. I can’t wait to set the band loose on it when we can finally reconvene on a regular basis.

Rockmommy: What are your best coping tips for pandemic parenting?

Ben Rudnick: I’m not sure I’m the best guy to ask about this but I’d say to parents, ‘remember to take care of yourselves.’ A calm — okay, a mostly calm — parent who can get some alone time and come back even slightly fresher to the kids and family really is good for all.

The other tip is, of course, listen to a band’s music. There is a lot of it! Each album is a world unto itself that you can get happily lost in. Speaking for my own music, me and my band put a lot of time into all of our songs and it can pay off for you and the family. Our discs have always been a happy glue that can make your family life better and now is a good time to let them work for you. Really! Let Ben Rudnick and Friends help you get through the pandemic.

Rockmommy: What’s your advice for making time for yourself?

Ben Rudnick: I only know what’s worked for me and that is, it always felt important for me to model ‘do stuff I’m passionate about’ behavior for my daughter. I thought if she saw me making time for things that were important to me, she may end up having the same ability. I hoped it might make her more independent. It worked out. She’s a self-starter and I’m proud of her. So, I would say, give yourself permission to make some time for something you want to do that’s important to you. That’s easy to say of course, but if it can be done, it’s worthwhile for the parent and in my experience beneficial for the kids in the long run.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Dustin Sclafani on Fatherhood, Freedom and the Making of Shame Penguin’s New Single ‘Live In Technicolor’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Everyone’s talking about what they can’t wait to do once the great quarantine is over. I have my own list, and one thing is certain: I need to see Shame Penguin play live!

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Shame Penguin, “Live In Technicolor”

I live in Connecticut, in a part of the state that’s dominated by rock n’ roll cover bands. So when Dustin Sclafani, lead singer of the New Haven, Conn., indie-punk quartet, reached out to send me the band’s single “Live In Technicolor” I was absolutely blown away. I listened once, then again, letting the funky, jam-rock vibe fill my head, while Sclafani’s soulful, bellowing vocals commanded my attention. But it was the lyrics I loved the most:  

So I throw my hands up 

And I’ll put my hood up 

And I’ll resist till I can’t breathe 

So we’ll stand up 

And we’ll rise up 

Till we’re truly free

Having grown up in DC, with bands like Black Flag and Bikini Kill setting the tone for my love of activist and resistance rock, I felt at home listening to Shame Penguin’s single. “Live In Technicolor” filled me with nostalgia for my ’90s favorites, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers — music interspersed with prominent baselines and twinkling guitar riffs and beautiful vocals. But while Shame Penguin’s music flows like old-school RHCP — mixed with a pinch of Misfits-era Glenn Danzig, and a dash of Dispatch’s folksiness (minus the bro harmonies) — the lyrics call out to more urgent, pre- and post-2016 social issues, like racism, homophobia, and nationalism.

“This song started while walking thru the streets of New Haven as the tensions over Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner continued to grow and I started seeing the rifts that have now almost cemented them back into American culture,” Sclafani tells Rockmommy. 

As it turns out, Sclafani, who writes the band’s music with guitarist Tristan Powell (and bassist Jon Ozaksut and drummer Kenny Maraczi), has a lot more in common with me than a love for inspiring punk lyrics and cool melodies.

When he’s not making music, he’s a busy dad raising three sons — 10-year-old twins Milez and Joey, and 13-year-old Cash. What’s more, he’s a single parent, a job that’s become even more challenging in early 2020’s homeschool-quarantine period. Yet he still manages to pop onto my social media feed, belting out soulful, heartfelt originals and covers, armed with only an acoustic guitar and a desire to break through the noise. 

We recently caught up with Dustin Sclafani about Shame Penguin’s forthcoming album, (produced by Vic Stevens of Horizon Studios), songwriting, recording ‘Live In Technicolor’ and more.

Rockmommy: So how did you get into music?

Dustin Sclafani: I was born to a single mother in suburban Long Island. Because she had me at a young age, I grew up more [alongside] my mom, which made our relationship more then just a child-parent relationship. 

I started singing with my mom at a young age. I remember as far back as kindergarten doing harmony lines with my mom to House Of Pooh Corner and Teach Your Children before I knew the ABC song. 

The only constant in my extremely colorful and chaotic life has been and will always be music. I started writing and playing shows acoustically when I was 16 even did an original song at my senior variety show. Performing music on stage is the most I ever truly free and truly myself. I tell people all the time “you never really knew me till you see me live.

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New Haven indie-punk quartet Shame Penguin (photo courtesy of Dustin Sclafani)

Rockmommy: What inspired you to write “Live In Technicolor?”

Dustin Sclafani: This song started while walking thru the streets of New Haven as the tensions over Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner continued to grow and I started seeing the rifts that have now almost cemented them back into American culture. We have lost all of our cultural heroes — The Marvins, The Malcoms, The Lennon-Onos … our music wasn’t saying anything in a time where I felt we needed it the most, so change comes from within and I penned the verses and never feel on a hook I liked. Until Shame Penguin started in my living room last March (2019). Tristan, my guitarist, has this amazing way to understand my meaning without ever hearing my words. The driving chorus brought the anthem out of me.

Rockmommy: What’s it like balancing kids and music — especially now?

Dustin Sclafani: I don’t balance kids and music, but I am a different case — I am raising my three sons in this lifestyle. It makes for late nights and early mornings. But the weirdest things are giving my sons the freedom to develop their own likes, even if it is generic pop music. It’s a constant, “really you literally call people ‘uncle’ who are better artists than that crap.’” But I try and let them discover themselves. It’s also interesting because my sons think our life is like other people’s. When the younger guys were in 3rd grade they would be surprised that their friends’ dads didn’t take them to the studio or do Instagram music clips.

Rockmommy: Do any of them love a certain kind of music because of your influence, you know, taking them to the studio and stuff like that?

Dustin Sclafani: It’s interesting because, especially with Milez and Joey, since I got custody of them, music has been part of their everyday life. Ray Charles “Shake your tail feather” from the Blues Brothers movie helped teach Milez how to talk — he was born with two congenital heart defects, and during surgery at 2 weeks old one of his vocal chords got nicked and it now moves slower than the others. So at 3 and a half his speech was only 33% recognizable to the average ear. So I started playing Ray Charles and Tom Waits and showed him sounding different is OK. But Milez’s favorite band is New Haven’s own Phat A$tronaut — he sat in on Djembe with them when he was 7. Joey loves musicals and is big ‘Greatest Showman’ fan. Cash is 13 so he actually is really into Shame Penguin and loves showing it off to his friends. But Cash really respects Tristan, our guitar player, who is an aspiring visual artist with anime influence — just like him. Tristan is also a big Red Hot Chili Peppers fan and Cash made sure his mom got him a RHCPs T-shirt in this year’s new school clothes shopping trip.

Rockmommy: Why is music so important now?

Dustin Sclafani: I love music and culture, thru out history when the arts thrived civilization thrived. But besides now we are at the most polarizing time in my life, echoes of our hate filled history ripple thru us daily. It is our job as the Troubadours and Heralds to deliver substance and feeling. To take all the darkness in the world and put all thru our individual kaleidoscope and project it back into the hearts and minds of the masses. We are the voices of the voiceless whether the bitterness of reality or the spoonful of sugar needed to swallow it.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Why Musician Randy Kaplan’s Version of ‘Hugs for My Family’ is the Virtual Embrace We All Need

By Randy Kaplan

Hello there! I just released a digital single: “Hugs for My Family (Coronavirus Version).” My pal Marisa — a fellow rocker parent and the editor of this blog — invited me to share the song with you and tell you a bit about its inception. So here goes.

[SEE RELATED: Randy Kaplan and 4-Year-Old Son Record Love Song to Wife/Mommy . . . About Candy, Protein, and Crime]

In 2018, I participated in Steve Denyes‘s 20-Songs-in-20-Days challenge, in which Kindie Music fans created titles and Steve (and a different one of his colleagues each day) wrote songs with those titles, one per day for 20 days. On the morning of February 4 (Super Bowl Sunday), I was given the title “Hugs for My Family, High Fives for My Friends.” I cooked up a song about that season’s flu epidemic. It became a SiriusXM Radio Kids Place Live hit, and I donated a portion of the royalties to Happy Star Melodies, a charity that brought musical instruments and musical experiences to kids facing long hospital stays. (The charity has since closed its doors.)

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Randy Kaplan and family

Last week, during our quarantine and lockdown here in Michigan, I thought about that song and how that terrible flu season seemed like the good old days compared to this current scourge. I took a look at the lyrics and saw that some changes were necessary if I were going to sing the song again. In the original version, the narrator has hugs for his family but only high fives for his friends. Now it would be luxurious to high five a friend. So I had to change that lyric along with some of the other no-longer-relevant passages. The coronavirus version was thus formed.

I also changed some of the symptoms from those associated with flu to those associated with COVID-19. And I had to add lines about handwashing and hand-sanitizing and the dry knuckles that result from all of that abrasion. Some interesting rhymes resulted:

So now that I’ve donned these gloves I’ve got on

and rolled down my sleeves, I’m not quite as skeeved.

But it’d still be nightmareful if my hands touched a hairful

or a handful of germs from your palm or some derm-

atological surface; we gotta be careful

not to cough or sneeze droplets and not breath in airfuls

of air that are filled with this novel corona-

virus that’s high-risk, so I sit here alone. A

slick surface like metal can host this corona thing.

It’s really unsettling. I just want my phone to ring

‘cause sitting here reading online is too much for me:

percentages, ratios, CNN, CDC.

I also worked in some terms in the news, terms we’re all well-versed in by now: “social distancing,” “flattening the curve,” “asymptomatic transmission,” fomites … okay, nobody but me and the infectious disease doctors know that last one. But you’ll know it too as soon as you look it up. [Side note, for the kids: Hey, when I was your age, I had to use an actual dictionary with weight and volume. It was much more onerous!] Anyway, “fomite” rhymes with “poem might,” so I had to use it.Randy.Kaplan.Hugs.for.My.Family.(Coronavirus.Version)

I have gotten a lot of nice feedback on the song. It seems to make people feel better to hear someone express a range of emotions they feel but may not have expressed. There’s anxiety in the song, yes, but there’s also hope, humor, and solidarity. The overall message, seen most clearly right there in the last quatrain, is the same as it was two years ago:

For now, yes, it’s scary, but we’re in it together.

This ton-of-bricks heavy’s feeling light as a feather

‘cause talking to you keeps me safer for longer.

The long and the short of it’s that together we’re stronger.

I’m certainly looking forward to high-fiving you when this quarantine ends! Until then, see you in cyberspace!

Listen for free (for now) at SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/randykaplan/hugs-for-my-family-coronavirus-version

Coming soon to iTunes, Pandora, and all the rest!

Randy Kaplan is a father, musician, teacher and author.

Blues Rockdaddy Marc Broussard on New Lullaby Album and Balancing Musician Life with Family

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The life of a touring musician isn’t one for the faint of heart — it’s awesome, but frequently tough on mind and body, whether you’re gone for 10 days or 10 months. You’re always on the road, often far, far away from your home base and removed from your loved ones for long stretches. When parenthood happens, it’s even harder. Little ones are counting on you to be there for them — so when you’re home, you need to make every moment count.

For Louisiana bluesman Marc Broussard, the struggle of balancing kids and a full-time career as a touring musician isn’t always easy — but it is always worth it.

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Marc Broussard

“Having kids gave me priorities outside of myself for the first time in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful,” he tells Rockmommy. 

And speaking of kids, my own two little men (ages 6 & 7) love Marc’s latest studio album — A Lullaby Collection SOS III, which features a wealth of fun, reimagined classics (like “Danny Boy”) and lush, soulful scores (like “Bedtime,” our favorite).Broussard is also making his debut as an author with I Love You For You, a children’s book about inclusion, affirmation and appreciation for the special traits that make each one of us unique.

The best part of all: A portion of proceeds from the album and the book will be donated to Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

We recently caught up with him to talk about making the record, supporting important causes and carving out time for creativity.

Rockmommy: The lullaby record is so sweet and dreamy. How did it come about? Was there a moment when you envisioned creating this? 

Marc Broussard: Rebekah Phillips and I have been friends for years and we’d spoken about doing a book together many times. In fact, it was on the plane home after our last visit with Rebekah and her husband that I got inspired and wrote the book on the flight!

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Marc Broussard: A Lullaby Collection S.O.S. 3

Rockmommy: Lots of artists make records for younger audiences. How did you come up with the right “vibe” for an album for kids? (high energy vs. lullaby). 

Marc Broussard: I had been looking for an opportunity to support this particular children’s hospital, Our Lady of the Lakes, and even though I knew I wanted to make an album for kids, I didn’t want it to be just for kids. I wanted to make a record that kids would like listening too that could also make the parents smile.

Rockmommy: You’re on tour now. How has your music evolved and shape shifted as your life has changed, since becoming — and growing as — a parent? 

Marc Broussard: Everything about me is different than before I had kids, so much so that my wife has made comments about reflecting on my past behavior and snapped herself out of it with the thought, ‘Marc would never do that to me!’ Having kids gave me priorities outside of myself for the first time in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Rockmommy: You are involved in a number of philanthropic ventures. Can you talk about how you decided which organizations should benefit from sales of this record — A Lullaby Collection SOS III ? 

Mark Broussard: As I mentioned before, I had been looking for an opportunity to support this newly opened children’s hospital from the moment I knew of its existence. It’s a fairly simple process, really. Identify an organization doing incredible work and support them. I don’t see that changing much in the future.

Rockmommy: It’s really tough for rock moms (and dads) — especially those who need other income — to balance being a musician and a parent. What is your best advice for them? 

Mark Broussard: Money is nice but it can’t buy time. A singer friend of mine many years ago gave me some advice about getting some home-time. “Go home when you can, even just for a day. Go into debt if you have to.” I took that advice and made sure I got home as often as possible.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Balancing Band Life and Raising Boys: How Much is Too Much of a Good Thing?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Five years ago, having a few moments to myself to strum my guitar — without getting interrupted by a toddler — was a bit of a miracle. 

Fast forward to 2020 and my two young sons are no longer toddlers. They’re 6- and 7-year-olds with their own interests who need me less and less. This is bittersweet: While I don’t want to repeat the baby years — the diapers! the sleepless nights! the 2-hour nursing sessions! — I miss our constant time together. I miss reading to them big chair, snuggling on the couch, pushing the double stroller to the park while clutching a mug of coffee. The whole bit.

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Baby Nathan, sometime in 2013, and my guitar.

One positive development that’s come out of their independence is my ability to nurture interests of my own again — namely music.

[SEE RELATED: New Year’s Goal #1: Making Time for More Joy and Spontaneous Jam Sessions]

After Nathan was born in 2012, I pretty much put #bandlife on a shelf, save for teaching guitar and the playing occasional solo gig or reunion show with my longtime D.C. pop-punk band Grandma’s Mini. But in 2018, I was ready to fire up the old Fender Stratocaster — and the new Gibson SG — and play out again. The only thing I was missing was bandmates. So I asked the universe to help me find them.

The universe granted my wish. In November of that year, my guitarist pal Anna and I met with rock daddy bassist (and guitarist) Doug E. through Craigslist, scored rehearsal space in a studio, and soon after, brought my friend Jason’s brother Nick D. into the group to play drums. Several rehearsals after that, our band Trashing Violet became a living, breathing, gigging machine. 

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Me, rocking out with my band Trashing Violet at Cafe 9.

Yet amid the sheer joy of playing songs every week in our rehearsal space, never in my wildest dreams did I think we would actually play shows — not just occasionally, but ALL THE TIME. About a month ago, we were asked to play so often that I started getting that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach when I’d have to ask my husband, yet again, if he minded that I got booked for yet another show. 

As I explain in this interview (below), filmed over the weekend at our gig at Sage Sound Studios, the fact that my bandmates and I found each other in a similar time in our lives was nothing short of pure serendipity. That I could find bandmates with intense day jobs and parental responsibilities who understood that I’m a #mommy first and a #rockmommy second was amazing. 

 

But of course, as we rehearse weekly and gig weekly, my sons are undoubtedly seeing less of me. I’m not there 2 nights a week to tuck them in. My older son, who is especially independent, is OK with this; my younger son gets a little clingy each time I leave (he’s been known to shout “band practice is dumb,” according to dada). It was a bit of a wakeup call when I realized this morning, while scanning photos on my phone, that I have taken more pics of my bandmates than Nathan in the last two months. As I gazed into his dark-chocolate brown eyes, my heart swelled, and I felt a tinge of guilt: Am I playing out too much, and missing out too much on the little things?

[SEE RELATED: ‘I Started a Band with my Toddler’: The Nap Skippers’ Julie Rustad on Life and Gigging with a Wee One]

I realized then that achieving absolute perfect balance in every area of my life would be impossible. At the same time, there are limits. I need to make sure I’m considering the feelings all of the people who need me before I overcommit myself. Time is more precious than ever. Every minute I spend away from my loved ones better be worth it because it’s a minute I’m missing out on being with them.

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My younger son Logan, playing the keys at the local movie theater.

So, yes — I can play consecutive shows if the opportunity arises. I can practice once a week with my band because it makes me happy. I can go on tour for a weekend or even a few days … should the right opportunity arise. But I can’t rehearse every single night and play every Friday and Saturday — nor can (or should) I say “yes” to every opportunity that comes my way. 

When my kids are 14 and 15, I might find that I’m needed even less, and there’s more time to pursue music goals. Maybe I’ll go on a two-week tour. Maybe I’ll do a lot of things — travel to Greece, surf in Hawaii, learn how to play the drums.

But in the immediate future, I need to pause and reflect, and see things through the lens of motherhood: Is a gig I’m being asked to play good for me and my band? Is it worth taking time away from our families? Does it fill my heart with joy?

Putting my family’s needs first is important, even if it means saying “no” once in a while to creative endeavors. And it makes the stuff I say “yes” to all the more special. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy. 

Rock Dad Mark Pires on Going Solo with The GigBox — and Why Timing is Everything

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Dressed in nice pants and a button-down shirt as he walks his kids to school, Mark Pires looks like your average working parent. But strip away the business frocks and hand him an acoustic guitar, and you realize Mark’s not so basic: In fact, he’s part of a rare breed of dads who can strum an axe like Dave Matthews. Listen a little longer, and he may start finger-picking a tune that will induce a state of musical bliss.

Pires Family

Mark Pires, creator of The GigBox, with his family in Fairfield, Conn.

But while learning to play guitar was easy for Mark, now a dad of 3, there was one glaring challenge that used to stymie him when he tried to start his solo gigging career: a drummer, or rather, a lack thereof. 

While he’s a whiz with looper pedals and can make his guitar sound like practically any recognizable instrument, Mark spent much of his adult life dependent on drummers and percussionists to round out his rock n’ roll tunes, which tend to capture the mood of Matthews’ music, with clear Grateful Dead influences. And while anyone can play a song with just a guitar, having drums changes the entire vibe of a set, filling it out or making it more rock n’ roll. And a fuller sound can often make the difference when transitioning from the open mic scene to bigger stages and crowds.

But as Mark would tell you himself, everything happens for a reason. And one day in 2011, when his percussionist cancelled on Mark last minute to play a higher-profile gig, the idea of building a cajón tailored to the needs of a solo guitarist came to him in a vision. 

A few years later, The GigBox ™ was born. 

GigBox

The GigBox

Fast forward to 2019, and Mark’s patented invention for solo artists has gained an impressive following. The GigBox has received media attention that would make a public relations pro swoon — like broadcast segments on Fox News and News 12, plus lots of clips in community magazines and newspapers — and is a popular diversion at conferences like NAMM. It’s available at a handful of retail locations too, although the bulk of GigBoxes are ordered online (and made to order). 

[RELATED: Inside the Loog Guitar: Not Your Typical Preschooler’s Instrument]

As expected, Mark can easily bang out tunes on The GigBox, using his heels to tap the sides of the hollow box in timed intervals to create high hat, snare, and bass drum beats. 

Of course, for the rest of us who aren’t used to playing our own percussion during solo gigs, it’s a little trickier to get a rhythm going. I also had a size issue. I’m 5’2, and in sneakers my heels didn’t touch the ground when I started kicking the box and playing a basic chord progression. But fortunately for me — and others 5’4 and under — Mark has created a smaller, more petite version of his signature model — the GigBox Junior (as well as even smaller GigBoxes for mommy-and-me or daddy-and-me jams). 

It’s a minor issue, because playing The GigBox is awesome. The first time I clicked the side of the box with my heel, I immediately wanted to start singing something new, rather than create a beat for an existing track. But if you want to play a classic tune, Mark offers tons of tutorials on The GigBox website. 

In July, we caught up with Mark to chat about his journey to The GigBox, and how he balances his business with family and other responsibilities.

Rockmommy: So, how did you get your start as a musician? 

Mark Pires: I didn’t even know I had a talent for music until I heard my friend playing ‘Warehouse’ [by Dave Matthews] and that’s the first time I realized it was possible to play someone else’s music. One of my best friends introduced me to Jethro Tull, the Grateful Dead, and then I and started listening to Pearl Jam, the Counting Crows, and other bands.

Six months into playing guitar, I got sick of playing Dave Matthews songs and started writing my own material. In college, I did a lot of theater — my first love was acting — and then when I started writing music, something clicked. Writing Songs that no one’s ever heard in the history of time, that’s unique!

I had a band in 2001 called The Reservoir— and in July 2001 won a big battle of the bands at Calf Pasture beach [in Norwalk, Connecticut] called IndieBob. We were promised two things. A college tour and distribution deal, and a recording session at Carriage House, a studio in Stamford.

So in July 2001 we recorded 11 songs in one day — 9 out of 11 songs were first takes — and then September 11th happened. So then, the record company that was giving us the distribution deal and tour went out of business. But they told us, ‘We just started a little company called CD Baby.’ We’ll give you a one-year membership for free [laughs]. We were supposed to get a college tour and a distribution deal — but instead we got a $35 membership to CD Baby.

 

 

Rockmommy: So what happened next? 

Mark Pires: So in 2004, The Reservoir broke up. We got to a point where we just weren’t going. For a year and a half, we were just a power trio — me, a drummer and a bassist. We weren’t gathering steam, so after that I started my solo tour, which I’ve done until now. I was one of the first guys in the area to use a loop sampler, a Boomerang. It’s like a looper pedal. But the one I was using, compared to the ones today, was a million times harder. If I didn’t have my timing exact, the whole song was off. So I started the process where I went on the Mark Pires Solo Tour, and to fill out my sound, I had all these pedals in front of me… and I also had a guitar synthesizer, a Roland GR-33 to play trumpets, steel drums, whatever I wanted, on the guitar. I ran everything through a PA at whatever venue I’d play. So that was the way it went. The one piece I was missing was percussion.

Rockmommy: When did it first occur to you to create The GigBox ?

Mark Pires: My first son, Oliver was 2, it was 2011… and I was playing Georgetown Saloon [in Georgetown, Conn.] and another musician was backing me up — José Feliciano’s drummer — with a cajón. I never would have thought of The GigBox if he didn’t call me up and said, ‘hey I can’t make it to the show, call someone else,’ and I thought, ‘hey, I need to build a cajón.’ But then I realized the cajón it isn’t built for [guitarists]. It sits underneath us, and I was confused. How do I kick it and play? And as soon as I realized how ridiculous that look, I saw the GigBox in my mind. I thought, ‘what about something that comes through your legs? What if it was wider in the back and more narrow in the front?’ The GigBox lets you sit and completely comfortable.

Rockmommy: So how did you have the skills to build this? 

Mark Pires: In life, we don’t know why we’re good at some things and bad at others. Some of the things I’ve had a knack for include songwriting. I just feel things. I’d say the same thing with The GigBox. I could say I have some experience because my dad is a builder so I’m used to tools. When I’d come back from the road, I’d be working for my dad, and be around carpenters and construction workers. The first GigBoxes were built in my father’s garage.

Rockmommy: How would someone get started playing The GigBox? 

Mark Pires: We have four different models you can choose from — the regular GigBox, the Mini, which is 12 inches tall, the Junior, which is 16 inches tall, and the percussion version is 10 inches wide instead of seven-and-a-half.

Rockmommy: What’s the Learning curve for The GigBox? 

Mark Pires: It’s like playing the guitar. Learning the guitar is a learning curve — when I first started playing guitar, I was having a hard time, and my fingers were killing me. It took me a lot of time to get past that. The GigBox was just the same. The best way to explain learning The GigBox is say you have to try to do it slowly. You get a bass going with your heel [taps heel on left side of GigBox], and then you get going.

Rockmommy: You’re a busy guy. How do you balance being a dad, husband, and entrepreneur? 

Mark Pires: My wife, Lara, is the greatest mom — she runs the GigBox business and its PR while taking care of the kids 24/7. This allows me to focus on both Real Estate — I’m a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway — and allows me to build GigBox orders and broadcast live for my Real Talk show every night. Having Lara’s support allows me to have a successful work/life balance. This is important because my work schedule is not normal. I work 358 days a year — I know this because I did the math, and calculated the number of hours I spend working. And I work every single day of the year, except for vacation. Now there are some busier days than others. I tend to work long hours every day, and at night, I eat, hang out with the kids, quickly shower… and do Real Talk, my talk show, where I talk and play some songs with The GigBox. The balance can be hard. It’s about discipline, it’s about consistency. It’s very difficult, because there are times when I get home and I just want to put my feet up. And you know, The GigBox can give you better life-work balance — because our focus is too much on work, not on the positivity of life. The GigBox is an energy builder, an energy soother. My kid can have a rough day and start kicking and playing and then he has a smile on his face. 

Rockmommy: What lessons have you learned over the years? 

Mark Pires: Twelve years ago, I had a record deal on the table with a subsidiary of Jive Records. And my wife and I were going to get married six months later. I brought it to the lawyer in Darien and he laughed, and said, ‘there’s nothing here for you — it’s like the deal Billy Joel signed, when he signed away ‘Piano Man’ and didn’t get a penny for it’ and we went back and forth and I said, ‘you know what? I’m going to get married. I’ll just hang up the guitar and get a real estate license.’ And thank God I did that. Because the first thing a record label will do is put a band around you. And if that happened, I never would have invented The GigBox. It’s nice to be 41 and know you made the right move at 30.

Use “Rockmommy” in the coupon code at checkout and get 10 percent off your next GigBox.

 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Nashville Pop-Rock Dad Zach Vinson on New Record and Being a ‘Better Man’

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Anyone who’s spent more than a day in Nashville knows that a musician’s struggle to keep up with the scene is real. Nashville-based pop-rock singer, songwriter and dad Zach Vinson can relate. Finding new inspiration is tough, and his latest record And Yet doesn’t fit neatly into any of the more popular album themes (e.g., love, breakup, politics).

What it does cover, however, is far grittier and more interesting. Songs like “Better Man” address the challenge of stability, staying steady, embracing the mundane of day-to-day life and not throwing in the towel when life gets tough. It’s also a record influenced by parenting and life with his toddler son.

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Zach Vinson, Nashville pop-rocker, papa and husband

Rockmommy recently caught up with Vinson to talk about all of this (his album drops in April).

Rockmommy: I love the concept of your album — the idea of adjusting to life and staying in love. How did the idea to make this kind of record come about?

Zach Vinson: It wasn’t me sitting down and thinking, ‘Oh, I should write an album about this.’ It was just a matter of writing what I was living. My wife and I have been married almost 10 years now, and the last few have been a journey of realizing a lot of hard things — the baggage we’ve accumulated over our lifetime, the ways we don’t fit together well, the unhealthy rhythms we’ve fallen into over the years, etc. — and having to decide if we were up for the pain and mess and crazy hard work of moving forward together rather than throwing in the towel.

Rockmommy: Your son is adorable in the Instagram pics. When did you become a parent (not sure if you have other kids)? How did that change your outlook?

Zach Vinson: We just have one son, and he’s about two and a half. He’s something else. In terms of our marriage, it definitely provided great motivation for us to work things out. But it’s also easy to fall into a trap of ‘oh, we have a kid, so we need to stay together for their sake.’ I don’t think that’s a helpful mindset. You have to actually do the work to make your home a healthy environment, which I think we’re very much still in the process of doing.

Rockmommy: How did that influence your music?

Zach Vinson: Hmm, that’s a good question. I think having a kid gives some urgency and accountability to my efforts as a musician. In other words, if I’m going to take time away from my family to pursue music, I better be as excellent as I can be. Full-ass, not half-ass (mom, if you’re reading this, sorry for the cussing!). This record is as “all-in” as I’ve been, and I’m really proud of how it turned out, so maybe I have him to thank for that in a roundabout way.

Rockmommy: Is it challenging to balance a creative profession with the rigors of parenthood?

Zach Vinson: Yes and no. The hard parts are traveling, having a less-steady paycheck, and never feeling like I’m “done” with work. And those things add some extra weight to my wife’s shoulders, too, which I don’t take lightly. But on the other hand, my flexible schedule has allowed me to be present for my family in ways that other people with more traditional jobs aren’t able to be, and I love that. As with all of life, there are trade-offs, and I just try to be intentional with the trade-offs I’m choosing.

Rockmommy: What are your favorite kinds of songs to play?

Zach Vinson: It’s so dependent on the audience and the venue. There are songs I love playing in certain contexts that are completely lousy in other situations. But I don’t think you can beat playing a good slow song for a pin-drop-quiet room.

Rockmommy: What advice do you have to other rocker dads/piano dads like yourself who may be struggling with the business of their personal lives in an ever-changing, ever challenging world?

Zach Vinson: It’s a lot to juggle, for sure. You can’t get so focused on music that you take the stability of your family for granted. But I also think it’s important for my son to see me taking my passions seriously and making time/space for things that are life-giving to me.

Rockmommy: I see just three tour dates — any shows this summer in the books?

Zach Vinson: There are a few things in the work. Some festival dates I can’t announce yet, a week in Germany where I’ll be playing keys for another artist, a month-long residency at a camp, and probably a few more solo and full band dates as well. But I realized a few years ago that I didn’t want to be on a trajectory of playing 150 to 200 dates a year with having a family, so I pick and choose my spots to tour a little more carefully.

Listen to Zach Vinson’s singles “Better Man” & “Hold My Son” on Spotify.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Randy Kaplan and 4-Year-Old Son Record Love Song to Wife/Mommy . . . About Candy, Protein, and Crime

By Randy Kaplan

My wife and kid have been slowly but surely muscling their way into my not-JUST-for-kids music racket. And it’s been great!

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Musician and dad Randy Kaplan 

Julie May has an incredible voice and has been writing and performing for decades. Since we joined forces, she’s been releasing her own songs — some on my records, some on her own. She’s also contributed lyrics and music to my songs — “Burpity Burp Burp Burp” and “Every Second Counts” were her ideas.

Julie sings “Goodnight, My Someone” from The Music Man on my record Jam on Rye and “Bye Bye Baby” (the song Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell sing in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and the Pete Townsend rarity “Sleeping Dog” on Trippin’ Round the Mitten.

When our son, Ryland, was going through a stage where he didn’t want to hold Julie’s hand in public, Julie wrote and recorded a parody version of the Loretta Lynn song “You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man).” She changed the song title (and lyrics) to “You’re Still Baby Enough to Hold My Hand.” Good stuff!

But the family collaboration I want to tell you about here is a song I recorded with my son when he was four years old.

Ryland walked into my study one afternoon and announced that he wanted to record a song. “Okay,” I told him. “That sounds fun.”

I went back to grading papers. He stood there staring at me.

“Turn on the thing,” he said.

“You mean you want to record a song now?” I asked.

Indeed he did.

“Uh, do you have something prepared?” I asked him as I lowered the microphone and opened GarageBand on my laptop.

“Yes! It’s called ‘Mommy Love Song.’”

Wow. He had a title and everything.

“Do you want some accompaniment?”

“If you want to.”

“Anything in particular you have in mind?”

“Just do it,” he commanded.

I finished setting up and hit record.

“Can I sing now?” Ry asked.

Since the title indicated that this was a love song about Ry’s mommy and my wife, I gently strummed a Major 7 chord.

As my son launched into his e. e. cummingsish ditty, I made sure to stay in the background. I changed chords now and then and tried to hum some harmonies.

As the song went on, I thought, “The title is a bit misleading.” There was, after all, no mention of love or Mommy. The thing seemed to be about candy, protein, and robbing banks.

When he launched into a punk rock chorus of “I, I, I, I, I, I, Ah,” I interrupted him.

“I thought this was ‘Mommy Love Song,’” I laughed.

Maybe I shouldn’t have cut him off. Who knows where the song would have gone. As it stands, it’s the one-minute-and-thirty-six-second track that ends Trippin’ Round the Mitten. You can hear it by clicking HERE. And here are Ry’s lyrics:

 “Mommy Love Song” by Ryland Kaplan

I can never be when anyone decides
The candy in the world is protein for you
When anyone today could be the nice to way
And I can never do in the middle of the way!

I can never be in the way to other beach
Oh yeah, oh yeah I can never be, today is the way
Every day is the way that no one can be
The candy in the world is protein for you

O yeah!
I can’t do anything in the middle of the night!
‘Cause bad guys be careful cause anyone decides
No one in the world does anything
Robbing a back is anyone to sing

I, I, I, I, I, I, Ah!

Randy Kaplan is a musician, storyteller, teacher, and father.