November is all about gratitude, with Thanksgiving, and #WorldKindnessDay and all of the other little days in between. It’s also the birth month of some of my favorite Scorpios, like my childhood bestie Karina, my Dad, my niece Luciana, my mother in law Lynne, and my dear friends Emily, Steph and Linda.
But this year I’m feeling especially grateful, not just for my health and my children’s health, and for medical doctors and the recent election. I’m also grateful that my parent band — in spite of all of the parenting/life/moving/health/family struggles, and the loss of our beloved rehearsal space — has stuck together.
Not just stuck together, but managed to home-record our first single (“Eggs”), learn a new cover (Concrete Blonde, “The Vampire Song”), and play an awesome, intimate show in my drummer’s cul-de-sac during the Halloween season. We’re also practicing EVERY WEEK in his bucolic backyard, underneath a canopy of trees and stars, fog or no fog. It’s so inspiring to look up into the sky and feel like I’m being held by the universe.
Yes, it’s getting colder. I don’t know how much longer we can continue to play music outdoors, in the dark, especially when it gets super chilly. With the coronavirus spreading faster than it’s ever spread, we may soon have to shutter indoors again, in a depressing flashback to the days of March and quarantine.
The fact that it’s holiday season makes this potential reality pretty sad (I get teary just thinking about staying home in December, because I have spent every Christmas since my birth in Maryland, my home state).
So it’s essential to take a moment, today, to say THANK YOU to my higher power for the ability to practice and play, sing and strum, even in the world’s darkest hours.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Singer-songwriter Ben Rudnickhas 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).
We recently caught up with Ben to talk about parenting, music and staying safe this summer.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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!
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.
“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.
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!
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.