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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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, aBoomerang. 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’sdrummer — 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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
“Just one more bedtime story, then I’ve got to get to practice.” Good night family, hello “band family.”
That’s what we tell our kids on the one night a week we hang out for the purpose of working on old and new tunes and connecting with one another. We represent the girl power of The Not-Its! We’re tutu-wearing, 40-something rocker moms. We play what’s known as ‘kindie rock’ — if you’re not familiar, that’s independent rock for kids and their grown-ups.
And our bond in this band is so strong; we are lucky.
We’re raising pre-teen girls (Sarah with two and Jennie with three), maintain day jobs, and have our own start-up businesses on the side – Lugabag(Jennie), a travel seat for toddlers that attaches to a rolling suitcase, and Rockaboo (Sarah), a preschool music, movement and mindfulness program.
As we juggle year-round show schedules, travel, writing songs, recording albums, practicing, The Not-Its! is what we like to call our “jobby”— somewhere between a job and a hobby. It’s a job because we work really hard. It’s a hobby because it doesn’t pay the bills, but it brings us great joy.
We get to create music with dear friends, see new places, connect with incredible kids and families, and contribute to communities in a positive, soulful way. We’re often asked how the heck we have the energy to do what we do. And the thing that makes most sense is that we believe in and do what we love, and that keeps us young at heart.
Our bandmates are also parents: Danny, Michael and Tom also manage day jobs along with their “jobby” with the band. Our Not-Its! kids are a lucky bunch — they always get free snacks in the green room, stage access, studio play, and cool trips (we all went to India a few years back).
But as moms we’ve struggled. There are the daily worries of being spread too thin, vacations cut short, missed soccer games, the perennial “to do” lists stacking up. We know every mom can relate. Yet over the years we’ve been able to let it go, recognizing that we only get one shot at life — we have to do what we love knowing everyone around us will benefit. Our girls see us challenged, making mistakes, determined to get it right, working hard. We know they’re watching and learning.
It’s easier now than when the girls were toddlers and it was a constant balance of parenting while playing. Either the girls were rocking out or tugging at our tutus (“Can’t ya see I’m singing here, kid?”). There are too many sweet moments to count. Sarah had a song where she’d call her oldest to the stage, pull her in her lap and sing about a story they made up together. Sometimes the kids would cry the entire show because they should have been napping, or make their way on stage for more crackers. After one show we found Jennie’s daughter literally asleep in her open bass case backstage.
And as the girls have entered middle school, being engaged looks just a bit different. Being older and more independent, they share ideas that we eagerly mine as gems for content. Now and again they slide us a new lyric, brainstorm song content, grab the mic during sound check, act silly (but cool) with their friends at a show.
Our songs have to connect with both kids and parents – no matter what age. As an example, “Curriculum Night” (off our latest album, Ready or Not), evokes that feeling of parental excitement (tinged with a bit of anxiety) in meeting your kid’s teacher. The lyric about “grown-ups squeezing into tiny chairs,” is a memory we can all relate to… every year from Kindergarten on. Kids laugh, parents get it. Item number one in our band’s manifesto (even though we don’t really have one) is to make music that we want to hear with lyrics that are not dumbed down — and our kids are a good “first test” audience.
We see a toddler boldly walk on stage as if they were a part of the band, or a family dancing together. We hear from fans that they played one of our records over and over on a road trip and it didn’t drive them crazy (or secretly share that they play our tunes even when their kids are not around). Stories like these give us a great sense of lift and gratification. Rocking out family-style at a live event or to a favorite record builds stronger connections and inspires what we do. There’s nothing better than experiencing music together, no matter whose family it is.
Our worlds are not perfect, but they sure are rewarding — and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jennie Helman (bassist) and Sarah Shannon (lead singer and former member of the Sub Pop group Velocity Girl) live and work in Seattle. The latest album by The Not-Its!, Ready Or Not,was chosen as one of the top albums of 2018 by the annual Fids & Kamily poll. Catch the latest news about The Not Its! and their upcoming concert dates at www.wearethenot-its.com and view their new video “Hide and Seek” on their video page.
As a songwriter, I aim to be like my good friend Jeff, who plays harmonica and mandolin in an internationally famous Canadian rock band. The band had a big hit in the late 1980s and my pal is now a “micro celebrity.”
Inspired by Jeff and his Canadian rock and roll cool as the measure, I place myself in the sub-micro-celebrity realm. My band and I have played over 900 shows, recorded twelve CDs, accumulated seven Parent’s Choice Awards, have a play based on characters I’ve created in songs and have recently started releasing digital singles.
Rock daddy Ben Rudnick of Ben Rudnick & Friends (Photo credit: Susan Wilson)
It’s also safe for me to say that this fun and rewarding ride never would have happened had I not sang silly songs with my daughter Emily when she was very young.
When we were crossing the street to go to preschool, we’d sing “I need a hand, when I’m crossing the street.” Pretty straightforward and to the point for sure! We’d sing it over and over and skip our way to school. Good times indeed. With that seed I wrote a song called — wait for it! — “I Need a Hand.” That song went on our first CD, Emily Songs, and was a runner up in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Yoko liked it!
At some point Emily and I were coloring and started singing about the colors we like. Ultimately that led to us dancing around the living room naming all our favorite colors. “I Like Silver, I Like Gold” kicked off that first album and has been the most played song in our repertoire. Colors never go out of style!
Singer-songwriter Ben Rudnick with his daughter Emily.
Another everyday endeavor that led to one of the band’s most-requested songs was making macaroni and cheese for lunch. Or dinner. Or lunch and dinner! Whatever. The point is I made a lot of macaroni and cheese, which led to Emily and I singing “macaroni and cheese is so good to me, macaroni and cheese makes me say please” and the song, “Macaroni and Cheese.”
So okay, I’m an extreme example of where singing silly songs with your offspring can go but the point is it was really fun. The songs we created came from everyday activities. It’s all a state of mind. That it’s given me actual sub-micro-celebrity status is gravy.
Have fun with those kids! Enjoy these days.
Ben Rudnick is a father and the band leader of Ben Rudnick & Friends. See the band perform the 17th Annual Holiday Extravaganza at the Cabot Theater in Beverly, Mass., on Saturday, Dec 8.
It’s not often that I’m surprisingly blown away by acoustic-guitar duos. I’ve seen so many bands, time and time again, and always enjoy live music. But it takes something special to get my attention.
Singer-guitarist Zach Parkland with his baby daughter.
Zach Parkman is something, or rather someone, special, I discovered a couple of Saturdays ago, when my band Grandma’s Mini played an intimate set with his band The Darkest Timeline at the Silver Spring, Md.-based Record Exchange. The band, which he started with the equally brilliant D.C.-area local Juels Bland, brings him into the Nation’s Capital every so often, to play melodic, passionate sets at little clubs.
Shortly after The Darkest Timeline’s 9/22 set at the Record Exchange, I learned that the talented Zach is also a new dad, and plays for second band, Bad Robot Jones, in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife and baby.
Here, Zach reflects on his musical projects and discusses how fatherhood’s changed his life.
Rockmommy: Can you tell us about your musical evolution — how long have you been performing and playing?
Zach Parkman: I started playing guitar in high school, around age 13 or 14. It was the early 1990s, so grunge was king and I was a skateboarder and was really into bands like Operation Ivy, Fugazi and NOFX. At the same time I was listening to my parents LPs from the 60s and 70s, so really being influenced by The Beatles, James Taylor, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, etc. These to competing dichotomies have followed me throughout the my musical evolution right up to today.
Rockmommy: We recently met when your band The Darkest Timeline played in Silver Spring. How did you and Juels meet? How did that band come to be?
Zach Parkman: So, I’m in a couple of projects. The Darkest Timeline is an acoustic duo (sometimes electrified foursome) with DC area songwriter Juels Bland. While living in Takoma Park, Md., a suburb of Washington D.C., I found myself at one of Rob Hinkal’s many open mics and saw this dapper and dour songwriter get up and just blow everybody away. We briefly introduced ourselves to one another and nothing else was said, but we both kept running into each other at songwriter showcases and open mics and bonded over our shared taste in music and geeky pop culture. Fast forward a year, Juels was starting a band and I asked if he needed a guitar player and the rest is history. Needless to say our sound has evolved over the years from more of a blues-based electric band to a more brooding, melancholy acoustic sound with harmonies and themes about space and murder. My other project is a band called Bad Robot Jones, which is a sci-fi rock/indie-prog trio with bassist Doogie Whittaker and drummer Joey Jenkins (who was the original drummer for The Darkest Timeline and also drummer for ilyAIMY). This is a much heavier band, drawing influences from punk, prog and metal.
Rockmommy: Is it hard to play when you both live in different cities in different states?
Zach Parkman: Juels and I have been playing together so long that we can jump into a set without much practice. It is difficult adding new material to the set and of course traveling to gigs can be time consuming (and an added crunch to an already full schedule with a new baby). We usually try to book an equal number of shows in the NYC and DC areas to keep things egalitarian and fair. With Bad Robot Jones things are a little more complex. First off, it is an electric band, so equipment comes into play. Secondly, Doogie and I are both fathers so schedules can be tough to sink up. Third, Joey is a full-time musician in several bands, so that can be a challenging hurdle. I usually schedule as much into my weekend travels down to DC as I can (i.e., if I have a gig with The Darkest Timeline on Saturday, I will try to schedule a rehearsal with Bad Robot Jones for Sunday). All in all we make it work. I love making different kinds of music with different kinds of people.
Rockmommy: You recently became a dad. What’s that been like?
Zach Parkman: I can’t even begin to describe the amount of joy or daughter has brought into our lives. The dividing line between life without children and life with is pretty drastic and severe. I think I was frightened for the longest time of having children (lack of sleep, no more “me” time, causing them irreparable harm), but at some point the desire to share in the upbringing of another human being with my wife outweighed that fear. I’m so glad that it did. When I saw my daughter for the first time I felt molecularly changed. Everything about my perspective shifted. I’m still the same jack-ass that I was before, but I’m an elevated jack-ass. I’ve leveled up.
Rockmommy: How do you find time to practice? Any tips?
Zach Parkman: Every other year, starting in 2013, I write a song a week (so 2013, 2015, 2017 and next year 2019). This has really helped me to break out of the “only writing when I felt inspired” habit. It’s forced me to sit down and focus on being creative, which was alien to me. Now, regardless of how I am feeling, I can sit down and start the writing process and get myself into that creative space without having to wait for it to appear magically. It’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised. That has really helped with my musical and creative discipline. I find it very easy to write or practice in the small increments of time that a busy life in NYC allows or the small increments of time that a baby allows. I highly recommend finding some kind or ritual or regimen like that. It may seem daunting at first, but stick with it and after time it becomes second nature.
For more information on Zach’s upcoming gigs, visit The Darkest Timeline’s web page (or go here for info about Bad Robot Jones if prog-rock with sci-fi themes is your thing). To hear more of Zach’s solo stuff, visit his personal bandcamp page.