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.

Rissi Palmer’s Revival: Motherhood, ‘Color Me Country’ and Raising Girls

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Rissi Palmer’s song “Seeds” — the first track off her album “Revival” — grips the listener in the first 20 seconds, coming on with whisper of a plea, “don’t believe what you’ve been sold,” over muted acoustic guitar riffs as her voice builds toward momentous, soaring chorus.  

The song on its own is nothing short of profound. But in the context of its music video, produced by Emil Gallardo and Ed Massey, experiencing “Seeds” is life changing. 

As Rissi sings, “they can bury your body, but never touch your soul,” the young, Black man walking causally down a dusty road is stopped and threatened by a policeman pointing a shotgun at his face, before the footage cuts to Rissi, strumming her guitar in a more traditional front-porch country montage.

Because I watched this video in early 2021, on the heels of 2020’s racial reckoning in the United States, and the global, and pivotal, push for social justice, I assumed the song was new. It captured this moment in history, through music, in such a compelling, and urgent way. It made me want to take the streets (again) and protest for change.

Rissi Palmer — Seeds

Yet the sad irony is that the song wasn’t new.

“Seeds” was actually penned nearly six years before the murder of George Floyd, on the heels of another eerily similar tragedy in Ferguson, Mo., the Aug. 9, 2014, shooting and killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. 

And as I pushed “play” again, letting the lyrics, music, and visuals soak in, I knew I needed to hear more from the artist who has spent the better part of 20 years navigating the ups and downs of an industry traditionally associated with white men in pickup trucks. Whether it’s her cheeky (but serious) breakout hit “Country Girl” or the intimate, string-heavy “Soul Message,” Rissi Palmer’s music tugs at the heart and inspires change. 

We recently sat down with the mom (of two young daughters) to talk about her second full-length record, “Revival,” and her new radio show Color Me Country Radio with Rissi Palmer, which debuted on Apple Music in August 2020. 

Rockmommy: Hi Rissi! For those who are not familiar, can you tell us a little bit about your music career?

Rissi Palmer: I came up in the 80s and 90s, so I listened to artists like Trish Yearwood and Faith Hill. I loved Dolly Parton. We listened to a lot of country, a lot of R&B and a lot of pop growing up so my influences are pretty diverse. And I love stories. I was a big storyteller when I was a kid, and I used to tell these long crazy stories that would make my friends laugh. What I love about country music is the songs, the storytelling.

Rissi Palmer (Photo Credit: Chris Charles)

Rockmommy: Which musical storytellers are you drawn to?

Rissi Palmer: Wynonna Judd is one of my favorites. I loved her song choices — she didn’t always write all of her songs but I loved her song choices — and I loved her strong, strong voice. Especially what she did with The Judds, with her mom. Also, she’s a vocal beast … she can pretty much sing anything and it would sound amazing. 

Rockmommy: Fast forward to the early 2000s… pre-2007. What was it like getting into the country music industry? 

Rissi Palmer: Here’s how the story went. I grew up in St Louis, and I went to college in Chicago and while I was in Chicago I started working on my demo. Midway through my freshman year of college, my managers were like, ‘we want to shop you for record deals but we need you to be available for meetings.’ So that means you’re going to have to leave school. So I sat down my parents and said, ‘if you let me do this now, when I’m young, if it doesn’t work out in two years, I’ll go back to school.’ And their philosophy was, ‘you’re only 18 once.’ They knew this is what I always wanted to do.

Rockmommy: So what happened next? 

Rissi Palmer: Then when I turned 19 I got my first publishing deal in Nashville, so I started spending way more time there, although I didn’t move officially to Nashville until I was 26, seven years later. My publishers would treat me awesome. I would stay with them, and I would stay for, like, a couple weeks at a time.

I’ll say this: Those that were in the trenches with me … my publishers and the other writers, they were wonderful. But because I was the only person of color — I didn’t know of any other people of color doing country music — I felt this self-imposed need to fit in. I didn’t want to stick out for any reason, I didn’t want my songs to stick out. 

Then, when I started taking meetings, I realized, it wasn’t going to be, ‘oh you’re Black, you’re cool.’ One of the meetings I took before I had a publishing deal… the producer played my demo, while I’m in the hallway, listening to their reaction. They’re like, ‘OK, nice … what’s the catch?’ So then I walked in, it was like, ‘oh my God, oh my God.’ And then it turned into, ‘well, we have to find songs for Black girls, for someone like you.

Rockmommy: I can’t believe they would say that! 

Rissi Palmer: They would get stuck on ‘how do we make her relatable?’ and ‘how do we present her to our listeners in a way that’s palatable to them?’ I learned early on there obviously must be an issue. It was hard not to take it personal. And for a long time I did. It felt like it was me, like I was the problem. It’s taxing on you mentally on ways you don’t really think about.

Once I was signed, we started doing the radio tour and that sort thing. Radio tour is not fun. It can be at times, but for the most part it’s not. You’re sitting in this room and the radio people are judging you and deciding whether they want to play you, and sometimes it has nothing to do with the song, but how they feel about you personally. I had some great people in radio but then I had some horrible people, people who said to my radio promoter, ‘don’t even bother bringing her in because we’re never going to play her.’ It was a lot.

Rissi Palmer (Photo: Chris Charles)

Rockmommy: Just wow. Are there still assumptions about what country music fans want among record producers today? 

Rissi Palmer: In the industry at large, I still think it’s a pretty pervasive thought. I think there are innovative people and people that want to try to do different things as evidenced by the fact that Darius Rucker has a career … one of each of those people signed to a major label for every 15 blonde girls or 20 guys in baseball caps. You can’t have 20 Mickey Guytons.

Rockmommy: Because of this dynamic, are Black, indigenous, and/or Latinx artists afraid to try to make it in country? 

Rissi Palmer: There are tons of artists of color, and the moment I started the show (Color me Country), my inbox flooded. In the very beginning, artists of color are the same as white artists. When they decide to go into a career in music, they do it because they love it. They’re not thinking about the odds against them.

Then once you get in, you see the hurdles behind the scenes. A lot people think that racism is a white hood and torches and a cross, that things are blatant. When you don’t see it blatantly, you think everything’s fine. It’s only when you add up little things, the little micro-aggressions, the little oblivious things people do, it starts to weigh on you. I think that after trying to climb the mountain for so long, and seeing no return on investment, that’s when you see people quitting, and changing their trajectory.

Rockmommy: How did you decide to start your show, Color me Country

Rissi Palmer: I started doing interviews with artists in [Spring 2020], when quarantine started, with plans to start a podcast. I wanted to talk about my experience in country music… and talk to others about their experiences in being ‘the other’ — a [forum] where people could tell me things they might not necessarily tell a journalist because they know that I’ve been there.

I didn’t know George Floyd was gonna happen, that we were going to go through this reckoning. Suddenly this little thing I had planned to start, this podcast, was included in The New York Times. Then another friend of mine introduced me to Apple Music, literally the week before I was supposed to launch the podcast on my own. They offered me a deal to do a radio show, which meant I would be able to include full songs. 

Still, mission is exactly the same, to make stories public to raise awareness. I hear people discovering the show, saying, ’I didn’t know Black people sang country music!’ I’m trying to normalize this, because we’ve been a part of this since the beginning. This whole story that country music is white man’s music is patently false.

Rockmommy: Can you tell me about the song ‘Seeds’ came about? 

Rissi Palmer: ‘Seeds’ was actually written in 2014: I grew up in St. Louis, watching how everything unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri, after the murder of Michael Brown. I felt powerless, because I wasn’t there. I was in North Carolina. But I saw this quote, ‘they try to cut us down, but they don’t know that we were seeds.” So I thought, ‘OK, this is the great place to start for the song.’ 

Rockmommy: Can we talk about ‘Revival?’ Is that a revival … of you?

Rissi Palmer: Yeah! This is a revival of me. I did a project in 2014, of back porch sessions, and this is the first full-length album I’ve done since my debut. I’m older … I was the same age my mom was when she died, right when the template [for being a mom] was about to become obsolete. When we started recording the album, I was pregnant with Nova. Every song of that album is a snapshot of my marriage, where I was as a mother, where I was as a Black woman.

Rockmommy: How has being a mom influenced your work, or challenged it?

Rissi Palmer: It’s really funny to approach this now, and see just how my perspective is different. When I started out, everything was very focused on me. Everything is very ‘me, me, me’ when you’re an artist. You’re very much into your look your sound. Now that I have the girls, I have to prioritize, of course, [their needs]. I approach motherhood a lot different then some people do because I lost my mother when I was very young. My mom passed away when I was 7. She was sick for the last two years of her life, in a hospital in another state. So I knew that if I ever had children, they would be my first priority, and make sure that whatever I did would revolve around them, rather than them revolving around me. 

I’ve tried to find ways that my music and my art can be something that we can all do together, that they can do with me. That’s why I did a children’s album in 2013, because I wanted to do something to commemorate my daughter’s birth and do something we could enjoy together. All my music I do with, in my mind, ‘my girls are going to hear this.’ It doesn’t necessarily stop me from saying things, but it means I am very truthful.

They’ve made me, in turn, become a more intentional artist, and make smarter decisions, in regards to my time and what I can do and what I can’t do. They make me mindful. I suddenly went from being this very self-focused artist to thinking, ’how can I change this corner of the world that we’re all in together?’

In every way they make me better. It’s hard. It’s hard to juggle and I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of time that I used to devote to my art.’ My time is very valuable. I can’t be all over the place that I used to be. I’ve had to become really resourceful with my time.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

 

My Top 10 Favorite Liz Phair Songs in Honor of the Rockmommy’s 4/17 Birthday

Indie rock queen — and fellow rockmommy — Liz Phair is one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time, and I’m so bummed that I didn’t get to see her last summer, in what would have been 2020’s most epic grunge reunion tour with Alanis Morisette and Garbage

Liz Phair, rocking out (photo source: UPI)

It would have marked the third or fourth time I’ve seen Phair since discovering Exile in Guyville eons ago, when her music spoke to everything I was feeling, coming of age. But while Guyville got me hooked on Phair, it’s Whip-Smart, whitechocolatespaceegg and other records that kept me coming back.

On April 17, Liz Phair turns 54.

Here are my top 10 favorite Liz Phair songs (and their respective albums). A few of them may surprise you!

#10 “Rock me” (Liz Phair) 

“Just take off my dress/let’s mess with everybody’s mind” is probably the first thought that pops into my head when I’m crushing on someone. And the way Liz sings it, brash and unapologetic, on a record released when she was over 35, is so inspiring to us MILF rocker gals. 

#9: “Flower” (Exile in Guyville)

I’ve fantasized about covering this sexually explicit, lyrically jaw-dropping song for years. The first time I heard it I felt alive in a way I had never felt before — I had no idea a woman could wield power with barely more than a whisper, and express her desires so openly. Of course, nowadays female artists say things much more graphic than Liz Phair did in this song, but in the 1990s and early 2000s, this track was something special. 

[Related: https://rockmommy.com/2019/04/liz-phair-proving-that-there-isnt-an-age-cutoff-for-wearing-miniskirts/]

#8 “Why Can’t I?” (Liz Phair)

It starts out as sweet and sappy, builds up to the chorus and then BOOM — we’re suddenly in the midst of Liz Phair’s relationship angst, with all of its glorious ebbs and flows.

#7 “Extraordinary”

Loaded with roaring guitars guitar hooks, Phair’s voice is clear and confident, transforming this rocking tune into a powerful anthem.

#6 “Polyester Bride” (whitechocolatespaceegg) 

Beyond the addictive chorus and the catchy guitar hook, this song’s appeal lies in its thought-provoking question, repeated throughout: “Do you want to be a polyester bride?” In other words, do you want to surrender to the inevitable doldrums of wife life — or flee that fate to enjoy a life of adventure? Most of us chose the former at some point, perhaps by necessity, but still. 

#5 “6’1” (Exile in Guyville)

This is the first track on Guyville and the first Liz Phair song I ever heard. And it kind of blew my mind. Here was this woman, whose voice wasn’t gravelly and raw like Courtney Love’s, or dramatic and bitter like Alanis Morisette’s. No, Phair’s vocals came out low, and almost monotone. Yet they still packed a punch, as she belted out, underneath the cascade of shimmery guitars, “I bet you fall in bed too easily… with the beautiful girls who are shyly brave.” You only get one chance to make a first impression. And after hearing ‘6’1,’ I became a Liz Phair fan for life.

Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (source: Matador Records)

#4 “Supernova” (Whip-Smart) 

I love this bouncy, wah-pedal, pop-rock track, an ode to her ex. I especially love the part when she sings, “you f*ck like a volcano,” because when it comes to picking a mate, priorities matter.

#3 “Johnny Feelgood” (whitechocolatespaceegg)

I love a good bad boy, and “Johnny Feelgood” is dirty in the subtlest way, a homage to the ones we used to fall for but couldn’t hold down. It’s like she read my mind when she wrote this. Side note: it’s shocking that this isn’t everyone’s favorite whitechocolatespaceegg song, when Liz asks fans to share in Twitter polls. It’s most certainly my favorite on that album, and my third favorite Phair song of all time. 

#2 “Mesmerizing” (Exile in Guyville) 

OK, so this track, sandwiched in between the more popular “Canary” and “F*ck and Run” doesn’t make a lot of Liz Phair favorite-song lists. But I think it’s absolutely brilliant and I never skip over it when I’m listening to Guyville. The song is like sunlight on a foggy day, with breezy, lithe guitar strums, and a perfect lyrical hook, “I want to be… mesmerizing too.” It is so, so good.

#1 “F*ck and Run” (Exile in Guyville)

It’s no surprise that F&R is my favorite Liz Phair song, but can you blame me? It pretty much captures every emotion a woman feels after a one-night, intoxicated hookup, and the universal longing for something deeper, more meaningful, and even more traditional in the midst of it. It’s probably your favorite Liz Phair song too, or is it? 

What is your favorite Liz Phair song? Comment, please!