Turkey Vulture’s Metal Mom Jessie May on Making ‘Twist the Knife’ While Raising a Baby

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Few musical genres ares more potent and cathartic than hardcore, metal and old-school punk rock. Yet it is these genres that I felt internally pressured to abandon when I became a mom in suburbia (and it took me years to re-embrace them). 

That’s why it was so refreshing to immerse myself in the gutteral, sonic intensity of the band Turkey Vulture, comprising married duo Jessie May and Jim Clegg, who wrote some of the music for their forthcoming album Twist the Knife while cutting their teeth as parents of a baby boy born in late 2020.

Hailing from Milford, Connecticut, Turkey Vulture combines punk, metal, and Americana influences, including the Misfits, Descendents, Guns N’ Roses, and “old timey stuff,” as Jessie puts it. Twist the Knife, to be released in January, incorporates all of these elements, with Jessie’s unique vocals front and center, fluctuating between growls and a more punk, Cherrie Currie Runaways vibe. 

Turkey Vulture’s Jessie May and Jim Clegg

So how did they manage to put together a record while raising a tiny person? We recently caught up with Jessie to find out. 

Rockmommy: Love the first few tracks of your upcoming record. You made it with a little baby in tow. How did that go? 

Jessie Mays: Well, we thought ‘recording an EP this summer’ would be a great idea in January, when the baby was a newborn and slept all day. And in the coming months, he became a little boy who hates naps! Luckily he sleeps at night lol…

Jim is the kind of person who is creative at all times, no matter what — but I’m the kind of person who needs a specific task or deadline. If we hadn’t decided to record this EP, I probably wouldn’t have picked up an instrument since the little guy was born. For instance — I’m a bass player “officially,” but I’ve only played bass this year to write the bass lines for these songs and record them. Jim plays my bass more than I do!

One funny “band parent” experience was taking the little guy with us to do band photos. We set up a tripod at a local park and tried to look really cool on some broken down bleachers. Our kid was in the stroller, wearing a Turkey Vulture T-shirt our friend had made for him. He was not impressed with this weird grownup adventure, but he liked getting strolled in the woods after. And he was definitely the coolest-looking one in the family!

Turkey Vulture’s ‘Twist the Knife’

Rockmommy: What sets ‘Twist the Knife’ apart from your other music?

Jessie May: I’d say one of the biggest differences for this EP is that Jim wrote more of the music and lyrics than in our previous releases. He’s the brains behind the tracks “Fiji” and “Where the Truth Dwells,” going for a heavy punk vibe, a la Fear/Discharge/GBH/Misfits’ American Psycho. We also followed the Misfits trend by writing songs about movies; “Fiji” is based on The Truman Show and “Livestock On Our Way to Slaughter” is about the movie They Live.  

Another difference is that I focused more on writing the second guitar parts this time around than the bass lines; that wasn’t really on purpose, but more a factor of preparing for recording while balancing work and a new baby. There was only so much nitpicking I could do!

Most of the EP was written before the pandemic, but we put the finishing touches on the songs over the past year. However, we do have a couple Garage Band-recorded singles that are directly about it: “The Quarantine Song” (April 2020) and “Christmas Apart” (December 2020). I’m especially proud of “Christmas Apart” and hope to make a pro recording of it one of these years. My little brother who lives in California was supposed to come out for the holiday last year, but tested positive for COVID the day before Christmas Eve. He recovered well and of course it was a good thing he got the test results before getting on a plane, but… That’s what the song is about.

Rockmommy: There aren’t a lot of doom metal or thrash metal/hardcore female singers. It’s so refreshing to hear you growl.

Jessie May: Thank you! I have a lot of fun singing in this band, and being a vocalist/frontperson is a new endeavor for me. I’m glad I took the plunge! By day I’m an elementary school librarian and of course mom of an infant, so I spend most of the time in “cute and cuddly” or patient, “let’s all be our best selves” mode. So getting on the mic and having this aggressive alter ego is a welcome change — and now that every show is a balancing act of arranging babysitting and being a functional parent the next day, we have to really make every set count. This is it! Right now!

Rockmommy: How do you squeeze in recording and rehearsal time, given your new parenting responsibilities? 

Jessie May: It was definitely a balancing act and would not have been possible without loving grandparents. Our parents have been a huge help in many ways, including babysitting so we can rehearse — the thing about being in a band with your partner is that we can’t be like, “You babysit and I’ll go to band practice, then we’ll switch!” My mother, God bless her, also took the baby while we went to the recording studio.

As far as day-to-day practicing, I’ve had to look at it in different ways than pre-baby life. If I can grab the acoustic guitar off the wall and play four or five songs after the baby goes to bed, it helps. The other day I even played a few songs for the baby in the morning, and he liked it!  He laughed at the harsh vocals.

Speaking of vocals, I started doing Melissa Cross’s Zen of Screaming exercises in the car every day on the way to work after my maternity leave ended. I wondered if it would make a difference — and it did! Turkey Vulture is the first band I’ve ever sang in, and I think this EP has the strongest vocals of any of our recordings.

Rockmommy: My favorite is possibly the song “She’s Married (But Not to Me).” What inspired that one? 

Jessie May: Jim and I were close friends for many years before we started dating — our first band together was all the way back in 2008! So being friends and also active in the local music scene, we used to go to a lot of shows together. An acquaintance of Jim’s asked where his “wife” was one night, and he told the guy, “She’s married, but not to me.” A perfect topic for a folk song!

So it started as an acoustic ballad and ended up the punk song you hear on the EP; the verse chord changes and some of the lyrics are inspired by the classic country song “Long Black Veil.”

Rockmommy: What are you most looking forward to in late 2021, band-wise — besides the record — now that the warm outdoor summer gigging season is over?

We’re planning to play December 11th at Cherry Street Station in Wallingford. We bring our own mic and mask when we’re not performing, and we are vaccinated. So we try to keep it as safe as possible while still doing what we enjoy.

Jessie May

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Mama B, aka Jacq Becker, Talks Motherhood and Creating the Whimsical Record ‘Zoology’ with Musician Pal Travis Warner (Uncle T)

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Los Angeles-area musicians Jacq Becker and Travis Warner — the duo ‘Mama B and Uncle T’ — have released Zoology, a children’s record that possesses an enchanting quality, filled with cooing animal noises and waterfall sounds alongside gently plucked instruments and gorgeous vocal harmonies. The record and accompanying videos are incredibly addictive and fun to experience — and there’s no way your toddler (or 4-year-old) won’t want to sing along. My personal favorites are the upbeat “Pink Polka-Dot Flamingo,” a song about enjoying community while appreciating one’s uniqueness, the Beatles-esque “Toucan-a-Rama,” and the adorable “Giggling Gorillas.” 

Mama B & Uncle T

It’s the perfect soundtrack for a Zoo visit with the grandparents, Safari excursion, or rainy fall day — and a tranquil escape from the day-to-day stressors that every child experiences in the post-2020 world. 

We recently caught up with Jacq, who also happens to be a mom of a 3-year-old, to learn more about the record. 

Rockmommy: Hi Jacq! For those who don’t know you, can you give us a bit of your musical background? Who are your influences? 

Jacq Becker: I grew up going to both classical and musical theater camps as a kid and I loved studying and performing all sorts of styles of music. When I moved to Los Angeles after college I fell into performing jazz music and shortly thereafter discovered my love for writing pop/R&B music. I formed a band and started writing and performing my original music around LA before signing to Grammy award winning producer, Redone where I continued to write and perform for several years. My influences are Sade, Norah Jones, and H.E.R.! In the children’s genre, I’m loving everything Daniel Tashian is putting out and of course Raffi is still a staple in our house. 

Rockmommy: What inspired your debut children’s album Zoology, with your pal Travis Warner (“Uncle T”)? 

Jacq Becker: After becoming a mom I was inspired to create a fresh musical soundscape for my son as I felt I could make an impact in the genre. I enlisted the help of my long time friend and collaborator, Travis Warner (‘Uncle T”) who had just become an uncle. Both of his parents are educators — his mother started an art-centric preschool in his backyard when he was born, giving him a unique insight into children’s music and making him the perfect partner for this project!

Rockmommy: I love the video for “Hippopotamus.” Who is the brainchild behind the animation, and how did that come together? 

Jacq Becker: I was lucky enough to meet PJ (planetjanet.tv) through a friend. She is an extremely talented animator and artist who was so easy and fun to work with. I had never produced anything in the animation space before, so with her patience and guidance we were able to create something really special for every song on the album. 

Rockmommy: Why is music such a powerful therapy for children, especially in today’s high-stress world?

Jacq Becker: Now more than ever kids need a creative place to escape into music. We hope this album is one of many ‘Zoology’ editions that will have kids moving, singing and using their imaginations to transform these challenging times into memorable music experiences.

‘Zoology’ by Mama B & Uncle T

Jacq Becker: Balancing motherhood and creative life is always tough as you always feel like you are getting pulled in a million directions. I’ve definitely had to work on letting go of the guilt that comes with work being a working mom but I love that I get to show my son what it looks like to follow your passion and show him that there are many paths to achieving your dreams.

Rockmommy: Any words of advice for the new mamas who play and record music, perhaps those whose careers are on pause because life is hectic? 

Jacq Becker: I have learned to take it easy on myself and trust that things will fall into place in the timing they’re supposed to happen. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Tiff Randol, aka IAMEVE, on the ‘Unnerving’ Emotions of Pregnancy and Creating a Musical Motherhood Community

By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

“I can hear you … I can feel you breathing,” Tiff Randol, the artist known as IAMEVE, sings with bittersweet longing, her voice filling the airwaves with goddess energy in an epic, windswept electronic soundscape. These are the first few minutes of “Unnerving,” a song and the video about bringing her child into a beautiful, dystopian world. I am spellbound, but I can relate. 

It’s a mixed blessing being a parent in the pandemic century, amid melting ice caps, forest fires, and climate displacement. 

Musician Tiff Randol, also known as IAMEVE, with her young child.

Listening to “Unnerving” brings me to those thoughts, while evoking memories of my youthful EDM days with its au natural, euphoric digital vibe. We recently caught up with the new mom and Mamas in Music founder on how the transition to motherhood’s going – and what’s next.  

Rockmommy: Hi Tiff! For those who aren’t familiar with your music, how would you describe yourself as an artist (and do you prefer IAMEVE)? 

Tiff Randol: With IAMEVE, musically I tend towards a lot of ethereal, spacey, cinematic sounds with a combination of electronics, voice, and live instrumentation.  I am very visual and love creating stories and painting with sound.  My tendency with IAMEVE is to deep dive into the spirit and psyche, and the world of mysticism with my writing. This particular EP is called “Archetype” and explores spirit archetypes, like the inner child and Mother. Outside of IAMEVE, I’m also composing and work on a variety of projects for film and TV, along with 360/VR projects.  

Rockmommy: Can you tell us more about the song “Unnerving” (which you wrote when you found out you were going to be a mom)?  

Tiff Randol: I wrote and recorded “Unnerving” shortly after our previous president was elected. At the time I was newly pregnant and feeling so incredibly vulnerable and emotional. Hearing the trajectory of our planet with climate change and recognizing the dangers that the little human growing inside me would inherit, in conjunction with watching this disturbing rise of hatred and nationalism in our society, was a chilling moment. When I wrote this song it was very medicinal for me because the fear was (and is) so real and I really need to breathe into that fear instead of looking away to let healing happen. The song is a direct reflection of that interplay moving from those dark places to an overflowing unconditional love and hope. 

IAMEVE

Rockmommy: Mamas in Music is a great outlet! I love that other mom besides me are making niche community sites. Can you tell me about the vision for Mamas in Music? 

Tiff Randol: Likewise! I love that you are creating visibility for mama artists and curating inspiration and content for us through Rockmommy — thank you! 

Right after having my child, I had the realization that there is virtually NO support for new moms in the entertainment industry and such a heap of stigma to confront. So I reached out to another new mama, Mary Leay, and we teamed up in dreaming of ways to create resources, programs, structures and start conversations to support moms in the music world. Ultimately the goal is to advocate for mamas in music and be a voice for change in the industry, so that more mamas are being seen, heard, hired, and supported — and to disrupt old stereotypes. 

Rockmommy: What are your plans for creating music, performing, or growing Mamas in Music? 

Tiff Randol: With Mamas in Music, we have a number of things in the works, but mainly at the moment, we are focused on connecting with other moms and creating a supportive network and working to build partnerships and teams to help the initiative grow. Musically, I’m excited for the release of “Archetype,” I’m doing some composing/scoring and have another release I hope to have out by the end of the year.

Rockmommy: How’s it going with balancing motherhood with work? 

Tiff Randol: The balance of being an amazing mom, keeping my mental and physical health intact, and work has been tricky. Especially during a pandemic, while moving around the globe for my husband’s job. It’s a lot of stop and go, finding new ways to make things work, but also so, so, so worth it even on the toughest days because the snuggles, laughs, sweetness, and heart-melting unconditional love makes me expand in ways I never knew was possible.  

Without a doubt, yes, becoming a mother has changed everything for me. Certainly, those days of sitting endlessly at the computer and tweaking away into the night with no one to care about but myself are over. Time is quite precious and so everything I do has to be really worth it. But in a way, I love that because it’s teaching me to prioritize, work quicker and be savvier. I don’t have time to muff about and drive myself crazy getting things perfect. The importance I used to place on things is just less now because I have this gorgeous being that is more magnificent than anything else I will ever do.   

It’s also caused me to experiment with being more minimal and limiting myself with tools, schedules, and knowing when to call it a day instead of endlessly obsessing over things. Also, I just don’t care as much about what other people think anymore, which takes so much pressure off. So while I may have less time and feel exhausted, I also feel freed up in so many ways. Ultimately, it’s making me a better human and a better artist.  

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Girls Girls Girls’ Nikita Seis and Tawny Lee on Reviving the ‘Crüe,’ Partying with Tommy Lee (and MGK), and Gigging in 2021

NYC-based Mötley Crüe tribute band Girls Girls Girls plays such a high-energy, awe-inspiring live show that phone calls and email requests to play private events are pretty much the norm (as are fangirls like me).

So when the band received a random email in late 2018 about playing a private party in Los Angeles, GGG bassist Nikita Seis was hesitant to celebrate. It just seemed like another fan request.

Girls Girls Girls, NYC’s Mötley Crüe tribute band, partying with Tommy Lee in 2019.

I just got the typical email that I always got about possibly ‘playing a private party in LA in March,’” Nikita tells Rockmommy. “I was on my way to see The Struts with a friend and told her about the email, and how nine times out of ten those are just some random person asking us to play their party and they never pan out.” 

But her mindset changed a few hours later as she pulled in to the driveway of the suburban Nashville home she shares with her husband and kids, and the host of SiriusXM’s Hair Nation confirmed the date for the release of Mötley Crüe’s biopic The Dirt, for March 22nd.

“At that point I realized there was a chance the two could have something to do with each other, and the next day, when I spoke to the woman in charge, it was confirmed,” Nikita tells Rockmommy. “She told me the filmmakers wanted us and it was contingent on all four members of Mötley Crüe signing off on us.”

After dusting off their instruments and scrambling over the next six weeks to bring on a new singer, rehearse like crazy, and try to stay sane while balancing job responsibilities and parenting, the band pulled off a visually and musically epic rock set at LA’s legendary club Whisky a Go Go — to the delight of an audience that included none other than Tommy Lee and Machine Gun Kelly (who plays Lee in the movie), front and center.

Girls Girls Girls rocking out. (Photo: Drew Osborne)

It’s a moment and a memory bassist and rock-n-roll mom continues to savor, especially now, as the excitement around live music’s return is being tempered by the delta variant, and the summer 2021 window for worry-free gigging is starting to close.

But she — and the rest of her Crüe-playing bandmates, including lead singer Trixxx Neill, guitarist Denise Mercedes Mars and the drummer better known to GGG fans as Tawny Lee — remain hopeful, even in the midst of uncertainty.

We recently caught up with Nikita and Tawny to talk about the tribute band’s 15-year legacy, and how they balance rock aspirations with work pressures, motherhood (Nikita’s kids are 11 and 9), and life on life’s terms. 

Rockmommy: I’m so psyched to interview Girls Girls Girls! What’s the coolest thing you’ve done in the last two years?

Nikita Seis: This is probably obvious, but getting to play the afterparty for the ‘Dirt’ premiere at the Whisky [in Los Angeles] was probably the coolest thing we’ve done in the last 15 years!

The show itself was very surreal, playing ‘Kickstart my Heart’ and then watching Tommy Lee and Machine Gun Kelly walk down the stairs and come over to the side of the stage and start rocking out. I felt like the whole thing happened in slow motion and I’m not sure how I even hit the right notes. It was like I was just sort of out of my body, because I did spot them when they started coming down the stairs.

That’s the side of the stage I usually play on, and we’ve had several fans over the years tell us we’re “wrong” because our Nikki [Sixx] and Mick [Mars] are reversed, but we decided to switch for that show. If we hadn’t, I’d have been right next to Tommy. Denise [our guitarist], as always, was so engrossed in her playing she didn’t even notice him! 

Tawny: OK, obviously playing at the Whisky afterparty with Tommy Lee air-drumming up front was the coolest thing we did in the last two years/ever. The second-coolest thing, on a personal note, was playing Toronto in January 2020. 

My sister, GGG backup singer Hurricane Yoshi, had just moved to settle in Toronto the month before, after over 10 years of living in NYC, so being able to perform with her in her new hometown was pretty sweet and helped dull the pain of the slap in the face that is losing your sister to Canada (or any other country, to be clear).

Rockmommy: How did the Motley Crüe movie experience come about, when you went to LA?

Nikita: I’m not sure how they found us, but I just got the typical email that I always got about possibly ‘playing a private party in LA in March.’ I was on my way to see the band The Struts with a friend and told her about the email, and how nine times out of ten those are just some random person asking us to play their party and they never pan out. 

But when I got home from the concert and pulled in to my driveway, I heard on SiriusXM’s Hair Nation ‘Mötley Crüe has announced ‘The Dirt’ will finally be released on March 22nd.’ 

At that point I realized there was a chance the two could have something to do with each other, and the next day, when I spoke to the woman in charge, it was confirmed. She told me the filmmakers wanted us and it was contingent on all four members of Mötley Crüe signing off on us. This was right before Christmas, so she said we might not have an answer immediately.

This was okay for us because we hadn’t played in three years at that point and didn’t really have a permanent singer, so it bought us some time to find one. We auditioned Trixxx Neil and one other girl via video. The show confirmed right around February 1st and we had about six weeks to prepare for the show of our lives, with a singer we’d never performed with and with a band member (me) living in a different state. To have pulled it all off felt like a huge achievement!

Rockmommy: What was the last gig you did in the “before times” in early 2020? 

Nikita: We were so fortunate to have played a couple of gigs in Canada in January/February 2020. COVID was just hitting the news, and we had to answer some questions on whether we’d traveled to China recently while going through customs. I remember seeing that a few cases had been reported in Atlanta, and I was flying through there, but it still felt like it was just hype. We got to play a club in Toronto and a casino in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Rockmommy: When the pandemic happened, what did you do? So many people played acoustic shows on FB Live, but that’s hard to do with a full band! 

Nikita: I never really felt a need to put GGG out there during the lockdown. We’re best as a live band, with the makeup and the outfits and the energy of the crowd. Personally, my bass stayed in its case from when we got back from Canada until we booked our most recent show that we just played. 

Tawny: On account of unfortunate timing, I moved to a new apartment during the height of the NYC pandemic, and I’ll admit I went into full lockdown mode and put my drums into various storage spaces — under the bed, on closet shelves, in ceiling storage, down in the basement — and didn’t dig them out until our Maryland show [in summer 2021] was booked.

Rockmommy: Speaking of Maryland, what was that like? Was there a renewed appreciation for what you’re doing? 

Nikita: It was great to be out there again, but there was also sort of a weird cloud hanging over things, with delta sort of starting to emerge. Like the first “welcome back” thing that happened was showing up to the grounds and finding out we had a different sound man because the person I’d been talking to all week was now in the ICU with COVID. And the day before I was supposed to leave, both my husband and son got sick. They tested negative for COVID, but I had the stress of possibly having to cancel the show. I was grateful that it was an outdoor show. We all want to return to normal but it still doesn’t feel totally within reach. But the bikers and fans at the show were awesome and it did feel good to be on stage again!

Tawny: The members of the Hell’s Angels we met were among the sweetest, most respectful guys we’ve met on the road. It had been so long since we played that it felt brand new again, meeting the other bands on the bill, doing sound check, meeting people from the audience… It was great.

Girls Girls Girls! (From left to right: Denise Mercedes Mars, Tawny Lee, Nikita Seis, Trixxx Neil)

Rockmommy: So all-girl tribute bands have grown, but good ones are rare. Do you get compared with Mötley Crüe a lot? Are people shocked (or not surprised at all) that girls can KICK ASS playing like the pros?

Nikita: We’ve been together almost 15 years now. I do kind of feel like back in those days we got a lot of surprise at the fact we were girls kicking ass, but thankfully we’re hearing that part less these days.

Rockmommy: GGG’s members have tons of personal responsibilities. Like kids, spouses, and jobs. How do you make time for music?

Nikita: It’s got progressively harder for me at least. My kids are 11 and 9 now. It’s easier now than when they were younger, but it is still hard to find the time to practice. Thankfully, since I’ve been playing these songs for so long, it’s really just minimal upkeep. I have a very supportive husband who steps up when I have to fly out a few days for rehearsals or gigs. 

The last gig that I played in the same city as my family was in 2016, and my son was 5. At that time I didn’t want to have him at the gig because I felt like I’d have a hard time being Nikita and not being Mom. Now I’d like for my kids to see me play at least once, so I’m waiting for the right show so they can see me. They’re getting to the age where I’m not cool anymore, so hopefully I can change their minds!

Tawny Lee: I have zero kids, and it’s still hard making time! So big props to Nikita and all the other musician parents out there. My career has always been pretty demanding, but GGG is important enough to me that I will always make time, even if that means working in the van with no internet or plugging in at a hotel “business center.” Which has been tricky at times, given that historically my work has had no idea about my side gig. It can be tricky to reasonably explain why I’m driving to PA and then OH and then upstate NY in a three-day stretch, or why I’m visiting Alaska in January.

Rockmommy: Any upcoming shows for the fall, or tour dates?

Nikita: We have a few upcoming shows we’re scheduling that we haven’t announced yet! Hopefully with the pandemic they all go off without a hitch!

 Rockmommy: What is your favorite Motley Crüe song?

Nikita: This is like asking who your favorite child is. But ‘Live Wire’ is sort of the song that kicked off the first album, first video, etc., and it really set the tone for their whole career. Just a kickass piece of music, with a little bit of cowbell!  And ‘Girls Girls Girls’ will always be one of my favorite songs, not just because it’s our namesake. 

I remember being a sixth grade girl watching that video for the first time  There’s a part at the end where Nikki Sixx is summoning a brunette to come to him, and I remember wanting to be that brunette. As inappropriate as that is, that’s the girl who steps on stage now with her bass, even if at home I’m a mom who drops her kids off at sports before going to book club.

Tawny Lee: Yeesh, Sophie’s Choice. ‘Live Wire’ overall, ‘Primal Scream’ for the beat, ‘Ten Seconds to Love’ for the ridiculous lyrics, and…’Public Enemy #1’ because it makes me happy. And ‘Take Me to the Top.’ And…OK I’ll stop.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

Getting Kids to Practice their Musical Instruments is Harder Than I Realized

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

“Logan, can you practice your piano please?” 

It’s a question asked daily, sometimes three times, to my 7-year-old Beethoven-loving son. And the response is almost always the same:

“NOT NOW!!”

To which, I’ll usually follow:

“YES NOW!”

To which, he’ll caterwaul:

“Not yet, mom!”

It’s unbelievably frustrating. I try to be patient, because badgering my kid is not how I envisioned I’d spend motherhood.

I never took piano lessons as a kid. I’d just play with the keys on the baby grand at my grandmother’s house, trying to figure out how the sounds could make a song. I learned “Chopsticks” from Nana, and the tail end of a few other songs from my friend Karina. I didn’t pick up an instrument (other than the recorder) until I was 16, and no one offered me lessons. I didn’t know what “Middle C” was until deep into my 20s.

So when I’m nagging my son to practice piano, I’m frustrated. Why won’t he do it on his own? Doesn’t he realize how lucky he is that I’m paying for lessons? What should I do to encourage him to pick it up (without my asking)?

My son Logan, practicing piano with his bear Ludwig watching.

The irony is that I always prided myself on getting kids to practice guitar, before I became a mom. Since becoming a guitar teacher 2006, I’ve learned to create challenging but manageable practice schedules for kids. While some kids don’t practice at all, at least 70% of my students over age 7 do, at least twice a week.

[SEE RELATED: 6 Ideas for Getting Your Kids to Practice Between Lessons]

But man, being a mom is different than being someone’s music teacher.

I’m keeping this post short because I have to go remind my little pianist, yet again, to practice his keys. I have to remind him that Ludwig Van Beethoven practiced every day, for hours and hours, before he became a master of the keys.

So if you’ve mastered the art of getting your little ones to eagerly play their piano, guitar, or whatever — even when they’d rather play video games, I want to know your secret. How are you encouraging your budding musician to build his or her repertoire and skills?

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

NYC Kindie Rocker Mom Esther Crow on ‘Being Green’ and Making Music ‘All Together Now’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Singer-songwriter Esther Crow had a solid legacy as the front woman of The Electric Mess — a fun, punk-rock-ish band — before becoming a mom, and playing on the NYC kindie rock circuit. 

Today, she still rocks hard — but with lyrics and themes that fans of all ages can appreciate. Her latest album, “All Together Now,” celebrates a variety of sounds and subjects, with environmentalism and social issues taking center stage. Her puppets, created by Jeff Lewoncyzk, also play a prominent role on the album, and weave comedy, and kindness, into some more serious topics.

Esther Crow (photo by Dan Crow)

We recently caught up with Esther to talk about making music, city life with mandolin-playing son Vincent, and more.

Rockmommy: Hey Esther! Musically, “It’s so easy being green” has a kinda acoustic Iggy Pop vibe, but the lyrics are catchy and easy to understand. How did that song come about?

Esther Crow: Wow, I don’t think I’ve gotten Iggy Pop [comparisons] for any of my kids material — only The Electric Mess (my “adult band”). So thanks! You know, I can’t really recall even writing the song, but I think it started with the title because it’s sort of a play on Kermit’s famous song (“It’s Not Easy Being Green”), but I reversed it. I knew I wanted to do a song about being more environmentally conscious, and a song that would be easy for the very young to digest with easy, everyday activities they could take part in.

I had already written a few songs about animals, but wanted to start writing songs with a focus on the climate crisis, and this was the first of that batch.

 

Rockmommy: There are so many great musicians in the NYC area, and the indie-music scene — and they all seem to know Lucy Kalantari or my friend REW! What do you love most about NYC family life? 

Esther Crow: Truthfully, 2020 really bonded a lot of us, even though it was mostly virtual bonding. I feel that I got to know so many kindie musicians across the globe via social media, and some Zoom meetings. A few weeks ago I went to a Juneteenth event in Harlem and got to meet a few in person for the first time. In terms of NYC musicians, it’s a wonderfully diverse mix of people and genres. 

I recently met Fyütch, a fantastic hip hop artist from Nashville who lives in the Bronx, Flor Bromley, a wonderful Peruvian-American performer who lives just outside the city, further North. And I finally met Joanie Leeds, who lives just across Central Park from me on the Upper East Side, at her great Brooklyn Botanic show in May.

I met Lucy Kalantari a while back at her wonderful Symphony Space show, which she did the winter before Covid struck. I took my son, Vincent, and we loved it. Falu Shah is another favorite. Could not love her music more, and love that she (and Lucy) include family in their live shows. I think it’s impactful for kids to see other kids performing.

Esther Crow (photo by Dan Crow)

[SEE RELATED: Fyütch’s Earth Day Rap Song ‘Pick it Up’ Celebrates Recycling, Reusing and ‘Zero-Waste’ Goals]

Rockmommy: For your latest record, did you consciously decide to write about nature and the environment, or did you write a few songs and notice you were on a roll?

Esther Crow: To be honest, I had written a few songs about animals a few years back, and then it finally dawned on me that I should write a few more and record an album. BUT… I wanted the next few songs to be more socially [and] environmentally conscious. So the first, as I mentioned, was “It’s so Easy Being Green.” And then I started doing research on animals that were environmental helpers/heroes, and it turns out that in addition to bees, which most people know are important helpers, bats and beavers were also crucial. That’s how “Bees, Beavers and Bats” came about.

I don’t think I consciously set out to write a jazz song, but it happened! I think it’s the one and only jazz song I’ve ever written — and certainly the most lyrically-packed song on the album. Which means it kind of needed a skat-type delivery. Well, I immediately thought of Lucy of course! And she could not have been more gracious or easy to work with. And that voice…THAT VOICE!! I feel very lucky. Next up: a Schoolhouse-Rock type video — with animation by Elena Fox — is comin’ down the pike!  

Rockmommy: How’s everything else going? Have you been playing out in the “new normal” music scene? 

Esther Crow: I played the Make Music New York Day — as you did — which was fun! We lucked out with a show 4 blocks from us. Vincent, my son, accompanied me on mandolin. It was great. 

He’ll also be playing with me — as will my husband, on bass — at our Pier 1 gig on Thursday, July 15th at 10 a.m. in Riverside Park at 70th Street. Excited for that one! 

Other than that: I’ve been playing a lot of virtual shows — mainly via the Brooklyn Public Library — and have a few more of those coming up.

Rockmommy: What’s your advice for balancing parenthood with everything else — including creative life?

Esther Crow: I think the best advice I have is to be honest with yourself and know when you need to turn down opportunities. I’m trying not to book anything in August, for example, as we’re taking a week in Maine (aaahhhh, vacation!). Parenting needs to come first — or close to first — whenever possible. It’s a hard juggle but I’m also grateful my son gets to perform with me, so we’re lucky we can spend time together, creatively. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

New Zealand Rocker Mum Claudia Robin Gunn on Embracing Change and Finding Your Inner ‘Wild Child’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

When singer-songwriter Claudia Robin Gunn became a mom — or “mum” as they say in New Zealand — she had 20 years of pop-rock chops under her belt, including multiple musical projects and nightclub gigs. Yet transitioning to a more folksy pop style came naturally. Of course, it helped that the songs she wrote could double as lullabies. 

“My songs definitely helped them sleep, and I think perhaps it helped me to relax and just slow down to their pace too,” says Gunn. 

Her latest album, a collection of pretty, vocally textured, nature-inspired tunes, is no less dreamy.

We recently caught up with Claudia to talk her latest record, released in late 2020, motherhood, crafting songs, playing music, and more. 

Rockmommy: Can you tell us about the inspiration for your record that came out recently, ‘Sing Through The Year – A Little Wild Childhood?’

Claudia Gunn: All these songs started off in life, and then my imagination took over.

When you’re a kid, I think it’s hard to judge the passing of time — isn’t that awesome how timeless it feels? — and I think it’s interesting how the changing weather day to day, and the natural signs of the different seasons progressing through the year is a tangible way for children to grasp the idea of time, and how the months and years turn.

My kids have always calmed down and become these magical, adventurous non-quarrelsome beings when they are in a garden, or out in the woods making branch forts. 

As a parent, time slows down and speeds up in weird ways as we go through the seasons of parenthood and our children grow, sometimes it’s so slow and sometimes a blink of an eye and they’ve changed before our eyes. So capturing some of the bright moments along the way is something that I love to try and do with songs.

Process wise, I have a lot of songbooks, some of them are digital, some are actual notebooks, or paper scraps, or cardboard from cereal packets, and basically as the years have gone by since [my children] Ella and Dylan were born, the songs kept on stacking up, like a diary of our adventures through the years. 

Last year during the Covid lockdowns there was suddenly a whole lot of time not rushing around the world, and I ended up performing loads of unpublished songs inside the kids treehouse (that they’d now grown out of) for a series of lockdown livestreams. I got the chance to press play on recording a stack of them and making the songbook thanks to a grant from our arts funding agency Creative New Zealand.

Rockmommy: How have you evolved, or changed as a musician, over time, from pre-parenthood to now? 

Claudia Gunn: I’d say I’m determined — I’ll never give up on a song, though I’ll give it space to breathe and some songs need time to mature or change before they are ready to meet the world! That said, I’ve been writing for nearly 30 years — showing my age — and some songs have had LONG arcs to find their time in the sun.

When I started playing in bands, I was always dedicated to a project as long as it lasted, to the point I wouldn’t take a job in another town or even take an O.E. since I was always sure we were about to break through (an O.E is what we kiwis call our overseas experience — a rite of passage most of my friends did in their early twenties, travelling and working for a few years overseas after finishing university).

My electronic band Substax has lasted the longest time, albeit with pretty much a 15 year break in between shows, as we all had kids and went into sort of hibernation with the project.

Now the kids are bigger, we are now at the point we have a bank of songs, have just re-released the original album on streaming for the first time, and have new songs lined up to release. I also just got Substax to remix one of my kindie tracks, and a couple years back I got the band together to play with me on a bunch of kids tunes for the Auckland Kiddie Limits festival, so it’s kind of fun getting my musical worlds to mesh sometimes! 

Rockmommy: How long have you been playing banjo and guitar?

Claudia Gunn: I play the banjolele, ukulele and the guitar — I’m self taught, starting to pick up my mum’s instruments at about 18. She wrote down 3 chords for me on a piece of paper, and then told me to go for it! 

Rockmommy: What, or who, are your musical inspirations? 

Claudia Gunn: I’m a 70’s baby, 80’s kid, 90’s teenager. My formative musical heroes were really all the female artists from my parent’s record collection, along with my mum herself, who sung in bands, often playing shows  3 or 4 nights a week when I was small. I grew up knowing songs by heart from artists like Tracy Chapman, Annie Lennox, Neneh Cherry, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Joan Armatrading, Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield, Dolly Parton, Texas and Phoebe Snow. 

Rockmommy: I love that you wrote children’s music to put your babies to sleep. Did they go to sleep? How old are they now (and do they play music with you)?  

Claudia Gunn: Yes it definitely helped them sleep, and I think perhaps it helped me to relax and just slow down to their pace too. When they got older, the lullabies were more just to help them calm down. Even now I’ll get asked for a song occasionally. One of the songs called “Goodnight Moon” on Little Wild Lullabies was composed for Dylan when we would go say goodnight to the moon by either walking the block in his pram in summer or driving the block in the car in winter (desperate times). 

My kids are now 11 and 14, and the youngest Ella learns guitar and singing, and she wrote a few songs with me when she was 8 or 9, we put them on a Christmas EP in 2019. Dylan learns the drums and plays the tenor drum in a pipe band — he was always more about rhythm, from kitchen pots and pans when very small to bashing sticks on trees (sorry trees!) to make music on bush walks.

Rockmommy: Any advice on balancing motherhood and musician life? 

Claudia Gunn: I’ve had times when I just put music kind of on the shelf for a bit as there was so much going on to try and get used to being a mum, and then other times when I had a clear goal and just stayed up really, really late to steal time to make it happen. For years I’d keep on writing songs, because you can do that in your head when you’re feeding babies, doing laundry, buying groceries, commuting to work, making dinner (I write lots of songs in the kitchen), but not getting them recorded or performing live because either I didn’t have physical space to have gear set up, or mental headspace to plan and book shows.

Finding other musician mums is key I think, as you can share coping strategies, experiences, ways of doing things to keep your musical life happening alongside your mum life.

And also being persistent, using downtime to listen to podcasts or blogs so you can upskill when you’re on the side lines of a soccer game for example. Being a mum has made me more fearless too, and decisive with songwriting and production, as my time is limited so I just get to work, and don’t let myself sit on the fence indecisively like I probably used to do when I was younger, and had all the time in the world!

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.