A Masked Singer Dilemma: Is it Fair to Expose Fans To Your Possible COVID?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Singing with a mask on isn’t fun. To keep from passing out, one must pace themselves, carefully planning each whisper, hum, or caterwaul. It’s natural for the mask to slip down under the nose. If the singer is playing another instrument, like a guitar, he or she must find the right split second between measures to yank it back up, without missing a beat.

Singing with a mask on isn’t attractive. This is a problem, because we singers don’t like to feel unattractive. We’re the front women and front men in our bands, the Mick Jaggers who wield charisma and high energy as we move our bodies to the beat.

Singing with a mask on also muffles the sound of the singer’s voice — which is the biggest issue that I have with them. 

I know all these things because I sing while wearing a cloth mask. So badly do I want to yank it off during outdoor band practice, inhale the crisp air through my nostrils, hear the even crisper sound of consonants captured by my microphone. I want to enjoy the freedom of breathing, unencumbered, and exhaling sound without feeling like I’m trapped in a sauna. 

But I don’t because of COVID. 

I’m the lead singer of Trashing Violet, a hard rock band based in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and over the summer my bandmates and I have been practicing in each others’ backyards, in front of each others’ kids. I sing with my mask on for up to 90 minutes, taking occasional breaks to take a sip of a drink. Wearing a mask makes my lead guitarist, bassist, and drummer more comfortable. It makes their spouses and kids more comfortable. It makes me feel better because I know I’m doing everything possible — outside of quitting my band — to prevent the spread of COVID. 

While I’m fairly certain I don’t have the coronavirus, asymptomatic transmission is a real thing. And with singing, the consequences are potentially deadly. 

An April study published by the CDC noted that the “act of singing” in a March Seattle-area choir practice had likely contributed to 53 of 61 attendees getting sick with COVID-19 — and two dying. As the LA Times noted in an article on singing and COVID-19, reports have surfaced of other outbreaks after choir performances, including one in Amsterdam that claimed four lives.

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Trashing Violet plays Cafe 9 in New Haven, Conn., in January 2020

Yet these articles mainly address communal singing, and are primarily focused on indoor settings, such as churches. They don’t address the safety of singing outdoors when the singer isn’t wearing a mask.

This raises questions for rock bands like mine, with just one lead singer: If I have COVID-19, what are the chances I could infect someone several feet away (like a bandmate)? Have there been any outbreaks of COVID triggered by an infected singer? Is there any reason patrons in a restaurant need to worry about the outdoor live entertainment?

There are no definitive answers to these questions. We’re still learning more about COVID everyday. As one July study published in the peer-reviewed voice medicine publication J Voice noted, “there is a paucity of data about both how SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted by singing and how to bring communities of singers back together safely.”

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At band practice with Trashing Violet in June, wearing my cloth mask, ready to sing.

Fortunately, we know a few things. 

We know that outdoors is safer than indoors. In Connecticut, where I live, this is why we’re still in Phase 2 with reopening, which limits live entertainment to outdoor settings, and requires that entertainers stand 12 feet away from their audience — and each other. We also know with a pretty high degree of certainty that masks, coupled with social distancing, can help reduce the likelihood of virus transmission.

Meanwhile, in the two months since the NYC tristate area has reopened restaurants, singers and bands are playing everywhere they can. While a handful of musicians are wearing masks when they perform, many are not. When I was in visiting Narragansett last weekend, I saw a singer on the outdoor porch of a restaurant by the peer belting out rock covers, standing possibly less than 12 feet away from the nearest group of patrons. Sights like these are not uncommon. 

I can’t help but wonder how many of these singers have children or live with older relatives. Just the thought of passing on the coronavirus to a dependent gives me the shivers. 

I understand why some singers might not even entertain the thought of singing while wearing a mask. They can feel suffocating, and may distort the vocal output. Working musicians are paid for the quality of their work, and if they can’t execute properly, it calls their professionalism into question.

 

I also understand that life isn’t fair. Working singers — those who need the $500 they make from a gig like a wedding to pay rent — are accustomed to playing in intimate settings, where the distance between the entertainer and patron is closer. 

 

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At least my eye makeup is awesome, right?

I also understand that life isn’t fair. Working singers — those who need the $500 they make from a gig like a wedding to pay rent — are accustomed to playing in intimate settings, where the distance between the entertainer and patron is closer. 

Unfortunately, the safest and best live opportunities for performers in the coronavirus era are inaccessible to most everyday working musicians: I’m talking mainly about the “drive in” outdoor music shows that are happening now, where an entertainer performs on a stage at least 20 feet away from the audience. In settings like these, which feature well-known, original music acts, the big concern isn’t whether the singer is wearing masks so much as the lack of social distance among concert-goers (just ask Chase Rice or the Chainsmokers).

To be fair, I must admit I am not a working singer who relies on $500 gigs to live. Though I make a little cash from playing out with my band and as a solo artist, my main sources of income come from writing and teaching guitar (which, right now, is 100 percent masked and social distanced in backyards).

Yet while I am sympathetic to the plight of all musicians — whether they are reliant on performance income or not — the fact remains no working singer can guarantee that he or she doesn’t have COVID-19 unless he or she is tested. 

While outdoors is safer than indoors, restaurants may want to consider requiring singers to wear masks in all settings when at least 12 feet of distance between performers and audiences cannot be guaranteed. If and when we move into Phase 3, which allows indoor live entertainment, I probably won’t go to a concert where masks aren’t required (unless, of course, we have a decent COVID-19 vaccine). 

And while I am sympathetic to musicians, I’m so sick of the whining about masks or face shields. Singing while wearing a mask is hard, it isn’t impossible. And as performers, it is our obligation to ensure our audience can safely enjoy themselves. 

One bright piece of news came across my radar recently is the patent-pending mask that singers can wear so they can more safely sing in groups. I am about to pre-order mine. I have to admit, it looks about as “natural” as condoms probably did in the 1970s, and there’s no doubt we’ll have complainers among us. But this is life. We must adapt to our circumstances (and as we learned in the sexually liberated ’60s and ’70s, asymptomatic individuals can transmit STDS).

Until we know more about COVID, we need to remember that our personal freedoms are less important than the collective good. If we have been gifted with beautiful voices and the opportunity to play outdoor shows, we need to be grateful to our audiences — and committed to protecting them. When I play my only outdoor gig this summer on August 7, I will most likely be wearing a mask or using a face shield/microphone shield.

Like all musicians, I cannot wait until the day when we can experience live music like it’s 2019, when drawing a large-enough audience for a Tuesday night show was my biggest concern. Until then, I will do whatever I need to do to play music and bring joy to others through playing music — even if the sound of my voice is a little more muffled.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Tanya Donelly Shares Her Postpartum Journey Through Music, Parenting, and a New Record with The Parkington Sisters

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

When I call Tanya Donelly for our 2 p.m. interview in mid-June, I’m armed with questions — about her new record with the Parkington Sisters, her journey through motherhood, and her legacy as the lead singer of Belly, one of the most influential bands of my youth. But about 30 seconds into our call, she pauses to ask me a question. “So how are you doing with all this? What are you doing with your kids?”

I nearly drop the phone.

Is this Tanya Donelly, as in TANYA DONELLY, LEAD SINGER OF BELLY, asking me — little me — how I’m coping with everything going on right now?

I’ve interviewed dozens of rock stars, but rarely do any inquire about my children. This isn’t a big deal — yet it’s heartwarming that Tanya Donelly seems genuinely concerned.

Tanya Donelly Press Photo A Hi Res - Photo by Kelly Davidson

Tanya Donelly

That small exchange told me everything I needed to know about Tanya — a bright, twinkling, thoughtful voice that stood out in the angst-ridden, 1990s alternative-rock era. Even with decades of experience in one of the most hard-knocks industries on the planet, Tanya’s nurturing maternal instincts shine through every professional endeavor she pursues, as well as her personal roles as a wife (to bassist/producer Dean Fisher) and mom of two daughters (ages 21 and 14).

Tanya’s instinctual, intimate approach to songwriting and performance shines especially bright in her most recent, collaborative project: a covers album with the Parkington Sisters, a Boston-area siblings trio. The album, which comes out August 14, reimagines classic rock n’ roll tunes (from The Go-Gos, Leonard Cohen and others), through Sisters’ pretty, stringed arrangements and Tanya’s still-high-range, whispery vocals front and center. The common thread, or “connective tissue,” as Tanya puts it, is the Parkington Sisters’ beautiful music, flowing naturally from one song to the next.

The first single, a hauntingly cool cover of The Go-Gos’ “Automatic,” invokes a certain nostalgia for me — but not for the ’80s all-girl group so much as the sunny, summer day when I first heard Belly. 

It was the summer of 1993, and early July, when I headed to RFK Stadium for the HFSTival — an annual, all-day music event in my hometown of Washington, D.C. I remember showing up with a few friends, my nose freshly pierced, to hear Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Bush or some other dude-infused grunge band I (still) can’t recall.

Yet the only memory that stands out after all these years involves Belly: We were walking along a corridor, when suddenly this piercingly sweet voice cut into the air. A surge of electric guitar noise and a thunderous drumbeat reverberated across the entire stadium and — heeding the Siren’s call — we rushed to our seats. On stage, Tanya Donelly with her blonde bobbed hair is armed with her guitar, belting out the verses to “Angel.”

“Wow,” I thought, as I stared at the stage. “That girl is so cool.”

Later that summer, I bought “Star,” Belly’s debut album, at Tower Records. But the cassette tape almost never left my Dodge Omni console. I’d mark my 20-minute trips to my then-boyfriend’s house — from Silver Spring to Lanham, Maryland — by singing the first side, which included hits “Slow Dog” and “Gepetto,” the freewheeling “Dusted,” and the eerie “Someone to Die For.” I’d take my time parallel parking so I could sing along to the sweeping choruses of “Low Red Moon,” which is still my favorite Belly song (closely followed by “Red” from the band’s 1995 follow-up record “King”).

Post-Belly, in the late 1990s, Tanya went solo with Loversongs for Underdogs. Her life’s journey led her to marriage and motherhood, and service work as a post-partum doula, and back to music again for various projects.

Finally, in 2018, Belly reunited for a tour and released their first new music in decades. I’m so bummed I missed it (my kids were 4 and 5, so I missed a lot of things). But had I known that 2020 would kill live music, I would have made more of an effort.

If this were normal times, Tanya and the Parkington Sisters would have spent the summer of 2020 playing shows in support of the new album.

But instead, the singer has spent the last several months shuttered in the home she shares with her husband, daughters, and dog, doing her part to #flattenthecurve. Days are spent caring for loved ones and doing her best to parent mindfully. In her spare time, she’s sitting in front of her Snowball microphone, home recording vocals on GarageBand for virtual projects with her musician friends, which are posted to her Bandcamp page.

She’s also spending her time trying to impart change (for example, by masking up and marching against racial injustice in June, and donating proceeds from Bandcamp sales to charities), while coping with cancelled tour plans.

But that’s just the beginning.

When Rockmommy caught up with Tanya last month, she shared some of her wisdom around parenting, why she’s still hopeful for the future of live music, and how she’s supporting social justice.

Rockmommy: Hi Tanya, how are you doing, right now?

Tanya Donelly: Like everyone, we’re coping. With our kids, you know, we’re finding ways for them to have some normalcies. Our youngest one is 14, and she’s the one we’re most focused on. My older one is 21 and is here with her partner and they have each other, and Dean [Fisher] and I are here, so we’re trying to focus on letting [our younger daughter] keep her friends … see some people at a distanced way. Fourteen is a tactile age too, they’re just hanging off each other all the time. I keep saying to her, ‘you are allowed to feel sorry for yourself.’ This is a safe, nonjudgmental place for you. We’ve been going to the protests, too, so there have been long conversations around that too. It brought up these whole other conversations because we unanimously decided to go to them but the logistics was challenging.”

Rockmommy: You recently covers album with the [siblings trio] Parkington Sisters. Can you tell us about how this record came about?

Tanya Donelly: So when Joe from American Laundromat approached me, in reaction to how well Juliana Hatfield’s cover albums are going with them …and asked if I wanted to do something like that, at first I felt like, ‘I don’t want to have a hodgepodge of songs, that are all sort of fragmented, sewn together, a Frankenstein sort of situation. But then, I thought of the Parkington Sisters. I’ve known them for years and I’ve always wanted to do some collaboration with them, and I just thought, ‘if it sounded like a Parkingtons album, I would be so excited to do this.’ I wanted all of the songs to feel like a real album, with cohesion and some connective tissue since it was such a mixed bag. They’re some of the most talented people I’ve played with so I knew that they would kill it. It was one of the few times, when I listened to it when we finished, I was like, ‘wow! It sounds like I thought it would.’

Tanya Donelly Press Photo B Hi Res - Photo by Kelly Davidson

Tanya Donelly

Rockmommy: How did the recording process go?

Tanya Donelly: The Parkington Sisters and I picked all the songs out, and we were all recording together. About 90 percent of this album was made in Brick Hill Studios in Orleans on the Cape. The sisters are from Well Sweep, and the guy who owns this studio is a former touring musician, who’s toured with Tori Amos, Paula Cole, and others. He opened this beautiful studio. It’s sunny, and there were cats and dogs running around … and there was a baby.

Rockmommy: How did you select the actual songs, though? Was that hard?

Tanya Donelly: These are just songs that run through my head all the time for whatever reason. They just are kind of on the playlist at all times, and I think part of that is because I’m attracted to a great or interesting vocal performance. Though, once we picked them, in my mind, I was like, ‘Oh my God, these are all songs that are perfectly sung,’ so I set myself up for an anxious experience. The Sisters are singing with me and they brought a newness with them.

Rockmommy: Your voice is unique in rock. So I have to ask: Do you have a secret low range you’re not letting out?

Tanya Donelly: ‘I have a new middle-age low range [laughs] that I’ve found. On the Belly reunion tour we had to drop a couple because I was not going to get there. It’s a tradeoff — for every high note, I’ve got nice, low raspy notes. My oldest daughter and I went to see Stevie Nicks and she doesn’t even try to hit those notes… she has backup singers, and she has this new timbre. It’s nice to see that embraced.

Rockmommy: Can you talk about early motherhood, and some of the work you do with other mothers, as a postpartum doula?

Tanya Donelly: Both of my kids had different postpartum experiences, and the second one, I felt like, ‘oh I got this — I did this,’ But it was a brand new experience. I hadn’t planned to use a doula or become a doula but as I started to talk to women who had and read a book my friend Rachel Zimmerman wrote about it, I became more interested in it. I also decided that I was a time in my life that I wanted to do something that wasn’t about me, aside from parenting. I wanted to be helpful and it fit the bill and it was good work in terms of my music and touring schedule. I’m a postpartum doula and I can work that around music work. Everything about it was so appealing and so I trained and started doing that, and slowly I became the ‘music themed’ doula. Most of my work’s been word of mouth.

Rockmommy: Do millennial moms know who you are?

Tanya Donelly: Most clients have no idea who I am, but I have had people who do. When I started ten-ish years ago, there were more people who knew, but now they don’t. I’m 54.

Rockmommy: They definitely need the support!

Tanya Donelly: They really do. As much as you can hear that it’s going to be a challenge, you don’t believe it will be until it happens. And both of my kids were different feeders, and I needed an LC for both of them. I’ve been with clients who will be talking about feeling isolated and not having support, and I will witness them turning help down. I don’t know if it’s a purely American cultural thing, but I do feel like there is a pervasive ‘I got this’ culture.

Rockmommy: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in having a music career when you became a mom?

Tanya Donelly: Whenever I do talk about this, but I have to be clear that because my husband [Dean Fisher] is also in music, I have more support than others might. But when my children were little I had to make an effort to carve out the time to work, and the main thing was that an album that would have taken six months from writing to finished would take two years. I think the timing is what changed most radically for me… having come from years and years where the process of putting out an album might have taken a year — would suddenly take much longer. I had to reframe my expectations when I had [my first child] Gracie. And in some ways that really pulled me and grounded me. Some people are self-grounding and don’t need the birth of a child to get there, but her appearance on the scene brought me to my own life and my own skin and family.

The more profound changes in my life were not music related. I wouldn’t leave them to tour, but we took Gracie on the road when I would tour, but that was just kind of exhausting for three of us back then, and by the time Hattie [my second child] came along, we weren’t doing that kind world touring anymore.

Rockmommy: Are your kids into your music?

Tanya Donelly: They’re curious about it. Because every project I’m doing is different, they’re curious as to what the new thing will be. They were definitely excited to come to the Belly tour [a few years ago] so they could come to London and Paris. But if we’re playing in Boston or doing a local tour, they’re not usually there — they have musical interests but they’re very different than mine. They’re both theatrical … and they dabble in instruments, but they’re not interested in being [professional] musicians.

Rockmommy: When you say you had to ‘carve out time’ for creativity, what does that mean?

Tanya Donelly: I’ve always had a relatively blue collar approach to music work … obviously when a song comes to you, it comes to you whether you are sitting down with a guitar or breastfeeding… but once the inspiration piece has been filtered, then I had to be much more ‘9 to 5’ about working, and how that fit into the kids’ scheduling. Dean was working and touring, too. As a parent, he’s very hands on. With any solo work that I’ve done, he’s in that band, so that’s how we made it work for a while — we’d both be making the same record and touring the same tour. And then as he started playing with other people again, by then the kids were old enough that I could handle working from home and taking care of them. Also, if I go on tour with Belly, he’s here with them fulltime. Or if he goes on the road with Juliana [Hatfield], I’ll be here.Cover Art - 3600 x 3600

Rockmommy: Speaking of touring …

Tanya Donelly: Yeah, we just rolled out the reopening phases here [in Mass.] and entertainment, you could barely see it. Like, you need binoculars to see it. I’m so deep-tissue worried about this. Behind the scenes, musicians are having these conversations like, ‘oh we can play in a park or on the wharf, but I also want to support the clubs, and say, ‘when you open I will be there.’

Rockmommy: Let’s talk about recording. What are you using?

Tanya Donelly: I play guitar through an interface directly into a laptop. And a Blue Snowball. I love that thing and it sounds amazing.  That company in general — I’m a big Blue fan. Just for home recording, it’s ridiculous how good those things sound. I’m doing everything on GarageBand with my laptop and my Blue Snowball and the simplest possible interface and it’s pretty much that simple for everyone I’m working with too! Everyone’s got a disclaimer attached to their part. Mine is, ‘you can hear my dog on every vocal I do. She’s either sighing, or she’s barking she’s on my lap.

The proceeds of the songs we’re releasing are going to different charities, like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

The more pressing loss right now is that I love being in a room making music. I love bringing new ears into the system. It’s an invaluable relationship and it’s hard to replace that, but the DIY piece has been great.

So is there any hope for a show in the next few months?

Tanya Donelly: That’s something the Parkingtons and I were talking about because we had to cancel everything we had planned, but we had been talking about the possibility of doing something on the Cape. But I think everybody is still in the stage of waiting and seeing, with some firmly held hope that by Fall some modified version of a show can happen.

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

Jazzy Ash’s Festive New Tune Reminds Us to ’Be Outside’ on Independence Day, Even if We Need to Mask Up

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

While Americans entered the most uncertain spring in modern history, Jazzy Ash was on fire with creativity. In June, the New Orleans-bred, LA-based musician and Black mother of 2 boys released her first new track/video in three years — “Teddy Bear” — with her band, complete with a video featuring families at home showing off dance moves. 

And she was only getting started.

Today, on July 4, 2020, she debuts “Be Outside,” a song and video that is exactly what the world needs right now — especially on Independence Day.

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Jazzy Ash

Loaded with funky beats, horns, keys, strings and Jazzy’s rich, soulful vocals, “Be Outside” is pure, instant happiness. When I heard the song, which she says is inspired by daily walks with her dog, Retro, my heart swelled with joy. My sons literally ran upstairs into my office, asking, “who’s that, mommy?” They, too, felt the urge to move. And for a moment, we were no longer sheltered in our homes, riding out the coronavirus pandemic. We were just family, enjoying the present moment.

We recently caught up with Jazzy Ash (aka Ashli St. Armant), to chat about her forthcoming collection of soulful new songs, making time for music, and coping with the state of the world during these challenging times. 

Rockmommy: Ash, I just listened to “Be Outside” and felt an instant surge of happiness. How did that track come about?

Jazzy Ash: I’m so glad this resonated with you! I actually wrote this song a year ago! Whenever I’d get ready to walk my dog, he’d get super excited and I’d chant this phrase to him. “You wanna go outside? I’ll take you outside!” Eventually I heard melody, and I thought, “this is catchy!” So we ended up recording it the next time we were in the studio. If you listen carefully you can hear dog chains in the recording…

Now here we are a year later, and I had no idea how significant the idea of going outside would be. Who knew we were taking that for granted? The song has definitely taken on new meaning.

Rockmommy: I also loved “Teddy Bear.” Can you tell me more about your music — do you write songs with families/children in mind, or play music with a ‘vibe’ in mind?

Jazzy Ash: Both. I have projects in music, literature, and theater, and I almost always have a young audience in mind when I write. And, depending on the project, I always think about what I want the music style to be. For this upcoming EP, which includes “Teddy Bear” and “Be Outside”, I’m definitely paying homage to mid-century Soul and Doo-wop music.

Rockmommy: How are you and your musician friends getting through these tough times?

Jazzy Ash: I know that right now, musicians and artists everywhere are leaning into our craft in an intimate way, in order to cope. It’s really been tough not to preform for audiences, but it’s also been really special to play for ourselves, with no expectations — just for the love of it. That’s been really therapeutic.

Rockmommy: How are you doing, personally? What’s it been like for you, as a mom, coping with everything going on in the world?

Jazzy Ash: I have a friend who referred to the feeling as “wavy”, and I can really identify with that — a lot of highs and a lot of lows. A black person, a queer person, and a mother of two black teenage boys who look like men, I’ve felt a heaviness I can’t describe. But this season has also brought some really joyful and exciting things to my life. So yeah, all the feels!

Rockmommy: What are you and your family doing to get through it?

Jazzy Ash: Meditation, nature walks, and planned family time have all become super important for us. I’ve done a lot of writing, including music. And I’ve also taken up pottery!

Rockmommy: Where is the first place you want to play music again, once it’s safe?

Jazzy Ash: I’ve been fantasizing about performing in big, open spaces like The Getty Center in California or Levitt Pavilion in Connecticut. There’s something so magical about gathering in a beautiful, natural setting and letting my voice go as far as the wind will carry it — like a kite. That’s the best feeling in the world.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Making the Most of Summer and Rocking Out Safely

by Marisa Torrieri

On this day one year ago, my rock band Trashing Violet played its debut concert at Otto’s Shrunken Head in New York City, for the club’s Wind Down Sunday Series. 

It was a gloriously hot, sunny day when I settled into the back seat of our drummer Nick’s family van. We spent hours wading through traffic, but our spirits were high as we listened to music and rattled off names of songs we wanted to cover. dz1AwSriQaWTxbNSb0Y4Og

Later that evening, on the small stage in the back room at Otto’s, my absolute favorite hole-in-the-wall Tiki bar, we played a killer set. It felt so good to play again with the first band I’d started since becoming a mom in 2012. It felt even better to be among other musicians, including my “punktry” singer-songwriter friend Rew and Chris Cyanide, a solo bassist who wore these crazy, Mad Max-style masks, who played sets that night. 

That night was a phenomenal inauguration for Trashing Violet — me, lead guitarist Anna V., bassist Doug E., and drummer Nick D — and motivated us to work harder. After months of practice and fine-tuning our sound, we finally hit our stride in mid-January, when we played our first gig at Cafe Nine in New Haven. Between January and February 2020, we played four shows, sometimes on back-to-back weeks, and had a few more dates booked for Spring.

Our last live show was on February 29, with Bad Bad Stereo and Chaser 8. Then Covid-19 happened. 

One day after my birthday on March 10, my kids were sent home for “distance learning” and everything shut down. Our rehearsal studio shut down. Clubs shut down. Bars shut down. Travel shut down. Sports shut down. For several weeks, hope shut down as I tried to wrap my brain around what I thought would be a temporary setback. It wasn’t. 

We’re more than three months into what some people are dubbing “the new normal,” and while I’ve found silver linings in post-coronavirus life, I’m still mourning the life I had in February. My band was on the verge of doing great things. We were talking to producers about recording an album, and getting booked for more shows than we could handle. 

My biggest worry was managing our time, so we could stay present for our kids, spouses, and full-time jobs. Now, my biggest worry is staying healthy as I bide my time, hoping to return to the stage one day. 

[RELATED: What to Do When Goals and Hobbies Become Stressful]

These last few months have tested me in so many ways, and I’ve been adapting pretty well, considering.

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Trashing Violet

 

I played my first acoustic Facebook Live show on March 25, a date I’d originally reserved for a solo acoustic gig at a sports bar in Milford, Connecticut, put together by Bob D’Aprile. Meanwhile, my friend Rew resurrected her live Rew & Who weekly variety show, which featured some of the greatest interviews and live performances by local musicians. Today, the Internet-based Renegade Rew & Who invites performers to share their creations, open-mic-style, to anyone who’s watching.

Many of these “new normal” happenings are actually awesome. Through my Facebook Live performances, I reached hundreds of friends and fans all over the world. It’s so fun and encouraging to read all of the supportive comments and seeing all of the heart emojis flood my phone screen while I strum my guitar. guitar_porch

Another bonus: I’ve spent more time with my NYC area friends in Zoomland over the last three months than I had in the last three years. In the “before time,” I rarely had the chance to venture into NYC, a four-hour round trip via Metronorth. But this spring, I’ve “met” several new rock n’ roll friends via Zoom. Once we get talking, it’s not unlike having cocktails at a pub in the Lower East Side. 

I’m also finding time to learn new things. In May, I bought tons of recording equipment through Sweetwater, including my  Focusrite 2i2 and Warm Audio WA-47JR condenser mic. I’ve spent hours tweaking and testing, and watching video tutorials. I’m using GarageBand in new ways to record songs, and my band and I joined ProCollabs. 

I’m grateful for all of these silver linings. IMG_0023

But with the super-warm summer months of June and July, my desire to play out again has returned with a vengeance. I’m sick of screens. While I love most Facebook Live shows, I need to be in the presence of others — singing, strumming, and connecting.

So on June 21, I played outside on the street in front of my house in the suburbs, for Make Music Fairfield (part of the Make Music Day festivities held in more than 1,000 cities). As I stood on the edge of my front lawn, playing a heartfelt blues-rock set for my neighbor and her young daughter, people beeped as they drove by, and waved as they strolled along the main road. It felt liberating!

I wanted more.

So last week, on a balmy summer evening, I drove 20 minutes to my drummer’s house to get together with three-quarters of my band. Wearing my light green, cloth face mask, I sung into the microphone like I was on stage at a club, while my two bandmates played along. It was so much fun, playing together again, even though our only audience was Nick’s wife and kids. I felt more alive that night than I had in a long time. 50r5RrybQO2G%mFLSmuJiw

It could be said that there’s little point to playing for one or two neighbors, or practicing in a backyard. What’s the point if only the birds and a few people are listening?

But if I’m not playing, I’m losing a part of myself. Even if we have to wear masks, playing music is essential to my survival (and if you and/or your audience isn’t masked up, we have a problem).

Although Trashing Violet is still scheduled to play a gig on September 5, I don’t know what the future holds. But as Foo Fighters’ David Grohl recently wrote for The Atlantic, live music has to come back. It simply must. My sanity depends on it.

So until we can play real shows again, I’ll make the best of what I have … safely. I’ll go outside, crank up the volume up on the amp and my new PA, slip on my mask and sing. Maybe it’ll sound a little warbled with cotton barrier in front of my mask. And maybe only the bees and insects will enjoy it. In the end, the act of playing live music in spite of impossible circumstances — and with the consideration of others top of mind — just makes me more punk rock. And I’m fine with that! 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Getting Close with Natalie Schlabs: Nashville Singer-Songwriter Discusses Life, Music and Motherhood in Quarantine

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I love to rock. But I’m also a lover of those gorgeous, stretched-out songs that slow me down, with mellow guitars, unexpected harmonies and a laid-back feel. Artists that come to mind are are Tom Petty, and lately, Nashville singer-songwriter Natalie Schlabs.

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Natalie Schlabs

I got serious Stevie Nicks vibes the first time listened to Schlab’s country-rock songs off her forthcoming album, Don’t Look Too Close. Her series of intimate videos, including one that features her tiny toddler son, are even more heartwarming.  

There’s something about the way her voice rises and falls, like the crest of the wave in an ocean of slide guitars and strings, that relaxes me. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a solo drive on the highway in the summer — though because I’m a mom of sons in the era of the coronavirus pandemic, I’m rarely solo or driving for long stretches. 

Lyrically, though, Natalie’s music isn’t just breezes and sunshine. The title song “Don’t Look Too Close,” for example, focuses on everyday aches and pains people tend to hide from loved ones, while “Ophelia” was written for a friend who lost her daughter. 

Perhaps that’s why I appreciate this record so much, in this precise moment of time, where loss and pain are as common as love and happiness. 

We recently sat down to catch up with Nashville-based Natalie, to talk about how she’s balancing work and motherhood — and coping with the international shutdown and postponed musical experiences.

Rockmommy: I love this album’s ebb and flow. Can you tell me more about how it was created? In what ways did becoming a mother inspire you?

Natalie Schlabs: Thank you so much. Writing and preparing for this album felt very different from previous projects. I wanted to write something that I would want to listen to, something sonically I would enjoy. That sounds strange, but sometimes what naturally comes out isn’t always a style I find myself gravitating to. I think that’s part of becoming an artist. I wanted to steer the sounds and structure towards a slightly more indie direction. I had some great co-writers that were instrumental in this as well (no pun intended). The preproduction for the album started soon after having my baby. My husband and I started making some demos of the songs in our basement and hashing out ideas. There were even times I was recording while my newborn was strapped to me sleeping.

I brought these demos to my friend Juan Solorzano who went on to produce my record with Zachary Dyke at Tracehorse Studio in Nashville. We wanted it to have lots of layered guitars, strong drums, and string arrangements.

Motherhood was the backdrop of the album from songwriting to recording. Many of the themes have aspects of parenthood. I will also add that it was incredibly hard for me to leave my 2-month-old and record for a whole day, but it also felt really good to remember myself as an artist as well as a new mother.

Rockmommy: Who are your greatest artistic influences?

Natalie Schlabs: Like most artists, my influences are spread pretty wide. Honestly, I’ve struggled in the last few months with being excited by the prospect of listening to the newest artist or staying on the bleeding edge of music culture. It can be an unexpected challenge, but at times I find myself struggling with comparison more than simply enjoying the act of listening to music.

The reason I wanted to play guitar in the first place was to cover Lori McKenna and Patty Griffin songs. I’ve been extremely inspired by women in Americana music. When I really started listening to Bob Dylan I was challenged and spurred on to deeper lyricism. I think at their core, these songs are still focused on the narrative and storytelling structures of folk and Americana. More recently and particularly for the album’s sonic influences, I’ve really resonated with artists like Big Thief, Kevin Morby, and War on Drugs.

Rockmommy: You seem to be telling a story in “Don’t Look Too Close” about another childhood — is it yours? Can you tell us more about the track, and how comparing your childhood to motherhood changes your parenting perspective?

Natalie Schlabs: There is certainly inspiration from my childhood in many ways, but broadly it is about being a kid and having no idea who your parents really are as humans and what they are going through. As a mom now myself I realize that parents are often doing the best they can, often in the midst of difficult circumstances. My co-writers and I wanted to communicate the idea that kids will never know how much you will love them, that they likely won’t know what you were dealing with until they are older, and that you hope they don’t really see you mainly for your flaws. There is also the point of view of innocence or losing your innocence as you mature. There is a parallel between parent and child there.

Rockmommy: A lot of moms say that motherhood brings out a different kind of sound, and different songs. Would you agree with that? Why or why not?

Natalie Schlabs: I completely agree. Becoming a mother is incredibly transformative. We learn so much about ourselves and see the world again through the eyes of our children. I’ve felt much bolder in my writing and am who I am as an artist. I was listening to an interview with Sharon Van Etten recently in which she was sharing a similar sentiment. Mothering re-alters your inner and outer life in such an amazing way, you can’t help but be transformed in all your life by it.

VqUQPZdwRockmommy: How are you managing in quarantine? Any highs and lows?

Natalie Schlabs: Part of me loves the limited options I have had. I don’t have the same ability to get hung up on if I should go somewhere or do something. Because of that, I seem to have more room in my brain for creativity. So, even though I’m desperate to be sitting closely with my friends and to be in the middle of a large group of people at a show, I hope to be able to carry some of this necessary limitation with me after the quarantine.

Rockmommy: I understand you have a young child. In what ways do you try to inspire creativity every day?

Natalie Schlabs: I can be a perfectionist, and that can lead to a lot of discouragement as I’m pursuing music as a mom without consistent childcare. One thing I’ve been practicing is lowering my expectations of what is possible. That can help me start the work without feeling too much pressure. I work when I can— while my son is napping or while my husband switches with me and takes him to the park. When I begin my work I try to start my time with 10 minutes of “Object” writing (coined by Pat Pattison). It doesn’t take long, but it can do wonders for waking up my writer’s brain. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Mary Prankster Debuts ‘Sweet Beet’ Video in Honor of Pride Month

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Today is June 1, so Happy Pride Month! With all of the insanity going on right now, it’s nice to have a reason to celebrate. And in near-perfect timing, my favorite mid-Atlantic-born rocker chick Mary Prankster has released the video for “Sweet Beet,” the second single off her album Thickly Settled. The tune features intoxicatingly sexy horns and a low-key jazz lounge vibe, paired with a simple, sweet message, “I love you the way you are!”

But if you listen closely, you’ll realize the song is actually much deeper than that —and for Mary, much more personal. “Sweet Beet” an anthem for the sister themes of love and acceptance — regardless of your gender identity, “stick or automatic, wedding gown or tux.”

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Mary Prankster

[RELATED: Mary Prankster on Creating ‘Thickly Settled’ & What Lured Her Back Into the Studio]
“I was thinking specifically about transition when the song bubbled up, but it applies to unconditional love across the board,” Mary tells Rockmommy. “It sounds exactly how I feel.”

Check out the video, animated by California trans artist Jacq Kirkman (@jacqets)— and download & stream the record here. “Sweet Beet” is a true mood lifter and adorably family friendly, so your 3-year-old can sing along, even if he or she doesn’t know what “Mx” means. 

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.

Ben Rudnick guitar

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.

Sara Lovell Explores Imagination — and Rediscovering Creativity — Through ‘Night Life’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Musicians tend to be nocturnal creatures, so it’s no surprise many of their children are fascinated by the hours associated with stars and sleep.

But for singer-songwriter Sara Lovell, and so many moms everywhere, night time is also associated with quite a few sleeping challenges. 

Her third family album Night Life explores some of these themes, from sleeping habits (“Night Life Listen”) to wanting to stay up all night (“I Don’t Want to Go to Bed”). Immersed in delicate strings, arpeggiated guitar riffs and folksy vocals, “Night Life” offers perfect end-of-day jams for the kiddos. You’ll also hear a handful of uptempo tunes — from fun, synth-infused tracks like “Nightlife,” to the percussive, playful “Leave the Monkey” — but the vibe is still pretty mellow (which is exactly what you need when you and/or your little ones are trying to get some shut-eye).

Night Life album

Sara Lovell’s “Night Life” is perfect for families and bedtimes.

We recently caught up with Sara, mom to 10-year-old son Gabe, to chat about the creative process around her latest record and making the best of life during the pandemic. 

Rockmommy: Hi Sara! I love the new record. How did you come up with the idea to create a record around bedtime? 

Sara Lovell: Hi Marisa! Thanks so much for listening and so glad you love the album! I was making music for grown-ups in the singer/songwriter genre before starting my family. Then when I adopted my son Gabe, I just started making up songs that came directly from my everyday life with him. Night Life is the third album I’ve created for children and families, and the themes of bedtime came out of a new stage for my son that started about a year or so ago with challenges he was having at bedtime. He started having nightmares, and other kids began telling scary stories to each other, and there was a lot of waking up and a lot of resistance. He’s 10 now and is doing much better with going to sleep, though there have been a few more times with wake ups and I’ve heard from other parents that their kids are also having some sleep challenges with the extra stress from our current situation.

Rockmommy: Why are kids so reluctant to go to sleep? 

Sara Lovell: I’m sure different kids have different reasons for their resistance to going to sleep, but I think the primary reason is not wanting to be separated from the grown-ups they love. Also not wanting to stop doing fun things, not wanting to miss out. Add to that fear of the dark, nightmares or other worries, and I think that about covers it.

Rockmommy: I hear so many different sounds, from 80s synth pop to modern-day folk rock. Who are your musical inspirations? 

Sara Lovell: I’d say that the music I was exposed to when I was growing up and coming-of-age just became a part of me. My parents played a wide variety of music – classical, bossa nova, Dixieland jazz, Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter, Harry Belafonte, some early folk… and my older brother and sister listened to The Beatles and Motown. When I started singing along with playing piano, I learned to play Elton John and Stevie Wonder songs. You mention 80s synth pop – Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush are still favorites of mine. I love so many different kinds of music, which makes the children’s music genre such a great playground because I get to create in the style that’s right for each song. It’s so fun and satisfying to come up with all these varied grooves and arrangements and to sing in that wide range too.

Rockmommy: How can parents rediscover their own powers of creativity by encouraging creativity in their children?  

Sara Lovell: I think this would be an interesting question to ask parents who wouldn’t initially think of themselves as creative. I’ve always wanted to create — art, music, building things. I developed new avenues of creativity when I started making music for kids and families, even began writing separate kids stories in rhyming couplet. I think when parents put out art supplies or instruments for their smaller kids to play with they end up playing with those supplies too, and maybe that helps them to remember when they were younger and felt more free to play, and experiment, and make beautiful messes.

Another amazing adventure in being creative with my son has been making music videos with him! We have eleven videos to date, seven with Gabe starring. It’s been a whole new art form to explore and I’ve had a blast collaborating on concept, design, set-building, editing and producing these individual little movies. I’m so grateful for my incredible creative partners as well. Monica Pasqual is producer and co-writer, BZ Lewis – guitarist/engineer, Josh McClain – cellist and filmmaker (we’ve done eight videos together). I also want to thank Anna Silivonchik whose magical artwork graces the album covers, and her paintings were beautifully animated by Maxim Korol for one video. And Jessica Poon and Sylwia Szkiladz created stunning animation for two other music videos.

Sara playing piano - photo by Andrea Scher

Sara Lovell plays the piano. 

Rockmommy: How are you managing as a mom and a children’s artist in this challenging time?

Sara Lovell: Well let’s just say that it took a lot of resources for me to be consistently writing and producing music, while raising my child as a solo parent before this global pandemic. Now it feels like it requires 10 times more resources when there seem to be 10 times less available. I’ve been letting go of expectations — of distance learning, of screen time, of wanting things to seem more normal when they’re anything but. I’m finding and doing the things that can bring any measure of happiness and connectionto keep emotions as healthy as possible. My child is very relational and physical and having to be so far away from other people he loves is super hard on him so we’ve both been having to learn how to cope. For me, I want to do more creating than managing, to make new music and art, to find beauty wherever I can. Lately that has me spending a lot of time cleaning and clearing up all my spaces, or taking late afternoon camera walks. For Gabe it might be riding his scooter, drawing, baking something, making silly videos, or watching a show or cartoon that makes him laugh. We’re having to find our rhythm of just the right connection time and just the right independent time. I’m also very aware that my challenges are not the same as so many out there and so I am wishing support and more ease for all children and families.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Shelly Peiken: How Motherhood Gave Birth to my Songwriting Career’s High Point

By Shelly Peiken

We often hear women speak of ‘having it all.’ But what does that really mean? What is “all”? Perhaps the definition of “all” changes as your ability to expand your heart evolves.

In the many years before I became a mother my “all” (aside from the given: the health and happiness of my loved ones) was freedom — freedom to move where, when, as much as I wanted to. Freedom that allowed a song junkie like me to stop everything at any given moment and write (yet) another song.

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Shelly Pieken

In 1997 I penned the female empowerment anthem “Bitch” with Meredith Brooks — destination #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and a Best Rock Song Nomination in the 40th GRAMMY Awards. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time.

When my daughter arrived the sound of my “all” shifting was like the screech of a car’s tires coming to a halt. Finally, after years of trying to forge relationships with A-list songwriters, I was the new it-girl. Everyone wanted to work with me. But the thing is if I didn’t want to miss the first raspberry, the first “mama,” the first step, I wasn’t going to be able to take on all those collaborations. It was a rude awakening. I don’t know what had me thinking it might be otherwise. Yet, something kicked in.

I became a pro at the breast pump and learned to quickly trim the fat on lyrics I knew didn’t cut it instead of taking a week to kill my darlings.

My film composer husband and I hired a nanny on a part time basis — 3 days a week from 9am-4pm. I’d only collaborate with those who could accommodate that window, fully aware I’d be passing up opportunities that would lead to a monster smash for someone else. Fortunately, I went to a session that gave birth to Christina Aguilera’s “What A Girl Wants.” It would become the first #1 song of the century. I learned of this mitzvah via a phone call at Layla’s bedtime. I made it quick because Pooh was about to stick his hand into the honey jar. I kept my enthusiasm under control but when she was finally asleep, I burst into a silent scream while jumping pogo-stick-style up and down the hallway.

My it-girl status was extended and the search for balance between rocking the mommy and rocking the music continued. I chaperoned an elementary school class trip on a Monday and was in the studio with Britney Spears on a Tuesday. There were times I had to cancel a co-write because my girl had a fever and other times, I had to tell her couldn’t take her shopping for a prom dress because I had an opportunity that I simply didn’t want to turn down. Seesaw, seesaw.

Shelly Layla

Shelly Peiken and her daughter Layla

My daughter Layla graduated from college last year and moved to NYC. As I write this, she’s sheltering in place in the epicenter of a global health pandemic. I can’t imagine being the mother of small children right now — having to deny them playdates and pre-school for who-knows-how-long — or a parent of hormonal teenagers who can’t leave the house to exercise those hormones. That said I can assure you that although I now reside in an empty nest and have my previous version of freedom back the worry I’m experiencing because Layla is in the hot zone of the pandemic ain’t no picnic either.

Last night, in order to take my mind off that worry I did what many musicians are doing to stay sane — I livestreamed a concert from my home. Gratefully, hundreds of people “tuned in,” later letting me know that it was a lovely way to spend a Saturday evening, pandemic or not. My worry disappeared while I was singing. I felt reconnected to humanity, to music and to my daughter who texted hearts and emojis of clapping hands. Music is medicine. So are daughters.

On the day Layla was born I started documenting anecdotes in a journal — cute little stories about things she did and words she commingled: eucalipstick, hangburger, beffkist. I wrote about the day she came home from school to find her favorite TV star, Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus) in her living room. I wrote about her first kiss. Her disappointments. I’m certain I’d have forgotten a lot of the detail had I not picked up a pen. Middle-aged hard drives get full and memory fades.

A few years ago, while spending a semester abroad Layla FaceTimed me and said she kept dreaming I was dying. I promised her I was more alive than ever but being the songwriter that I am, and because I could once again drop everything, I began a song that started with these words:

My daughter keeps on dreaming that I’m dying
Nothing could be further from the truth
I tell her not to worry
I’m in no hurry
That’s the last thing on this earth I’m gonna do

I called the song “Notebook.” The refrain lets her know where that journal is (on a table next to my bed) so that should something ever separate us she can find it and hear my voice in the pages.

I don’t know what I’d do without her. The umbilical cord is never severed. And as for music — once you’re under its spell it never lets you go. That’s my balance. All the rest — travel, sushi, mani-pedis, cool clothes, weight control, retail therapy, social media following, quality problems…it’s all gravy.

In honor of mother-and-child unions everywhere, I’d like to share “Notebook” the new single from my forthcoming album 2.0 etc….  I wish all the rockmommies of the world the happiest of Mother’s Days. May the balance be with you.

Shelly Peiken is a singer, songwriter, mother, and author. Listen to her new song “Notebook” on iTunes, Spotify and other media outlets. Download her memoir, Confessions of a Serial Songwriter, on Amazon. 

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.