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! 

Oneonta, N.Y.’s Mountain Jam Guitars is a Treasure Trove of Beautiful Instruments

It’s not every day you stumble upon a small-town, independent guitar store on a Main Street in America — especially these days, with so many online music outlets. But on Saturday, that’s exactly what happened, when my family decided to take a stroll through the picturesque town of Oneonta, N.Y., about 20 miles south of Cooperstown, N.Y., and stumbled upon Mountain Jam Guitars.

Mountain Jam Guitars in Oneonta, N.Y. (photo: Marisa Torrieri Bloom)

With no specific agenda except to window shop, we came upon the guitar hub almost by accident. I almost missed the nondescript silver sign, that marked the entrance to a guitar player’s candy store — stringed instruments of all shapes, sizes, and models, from the Gretsch G9201 Honeydipper Metal Resonators to cream-colored Fender Strats. Psychedelic pedals and ukuleles in rainbow hues filled out the space beautifully.

John, the owner of Mountain Jam Guitars in Oneonta, N.Y.

John, the owner and a self-proclaimed Deadhead, encouraged me to plug into a 30-watt Orange tube amp and test out one of his favorites: the D’Angelico Premier Series Grateful Dead Limited-Edition 50th Anniversary Semi-Hollow Electric Guitar in satin walnut, featuring Seymour Duncan humbuckers and artwork inspired by the Grateful Dead’s epic record American Beauty (the album that features beloved tracks “Sugar Magnolia” and “Ripple,” among others).

The tone was so beautiful that I forgot to check my tuning before launching into one of my originals, followed by an attempt at “Uncle John’s Band,” which I’d memorized all the lyrics to, but not the music.

The D’Angelico Premier Series Grateful Dead Limited-Edition 50th Anniversary Semi-Hollow Electric Guitar

My kids were getting antsy to go to the gaming store for Pokemon cards and trinkets, otherwise I would have stayed longer. But I bought a couple of packs of guitar pics and strings for the road.

I hope that Deadheads, guitar players and would-be musicians frequent these stores the next time they’re ready to invest in a new instrument, amp, or pedal. While I love online outlets like Sweetwater as much as anyone else, nothing can replicate the experience of plugging in and playing, soaking in the aura of a music shop, and engaging in a shopping experience that feels personalized and reflects the passion of its owner.

The the visit to Mountain Jam Guitars (145 Main Street, Oneonta, N.Y., 13820) made my trip to Oneonta, N.Y., a memorable one, and restored my faith in the small businesses that make small-town America so charming.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Flor Bromley Keeps the ‘Fiesta’ Going in 2021 with New Music and an Earthy Vibe

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Children’s music artist Flor Bromley loves blending so many genres of music that it’s hard to describe her sound. It’s jazzy, with a touch of island calypso, a dash of pop, and a folksy vibe. 

But we can all agree it’s pure, universal sonic happiness, even when the rest of the world is crumbling. Flashback to just one year ago, when, in the midst of the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, the Peruvian-born artist released her album Fiesta Global, and the catchy single ‘Fiesta de los Globos.’ It brought much-needed mirth to the long, drawn-out homeschooling days.

Flor Bromley (Photo by Carmen Stevens)

[RELATED: Bilingual Music Mama Flor Bromley Brings Virtual ‘Fiesta’ into Your Home]

“Musically, I want to share the Latino-American experience through my songs with a new generation,” Flor tells Rockmommy

So what’s next for 2021? We recently caught up with Flor to find out. 

Rockmommy: What were the biggest challenges you encountered in the last 12 months?

Flor Bromley: Finding a time to create and allow the process to “just be” has been challenging. I also teach music classes and do live concert shows virtually, and even though the tech aspect has been manageable, Internet connections are not the most reliable. I’ve had a couple of ‘live online’ shows that have been interrupted, and I had to scramble my things and go to my neighbors or do the streaming from my car. I will never forget what 2020 has made me do lol. 

Flor Bromley (photo by Sightseer Studio)

Rockmommy: How did 2020 influence your music and creative process? 

Flor Bromley: I dared to release an album in 2020. I’m really proud of what we were able to do with Fiesta Global, even in a pandemic year, thanks to Waldmania PR. The album was given great publicity and is on several “Best of 2020” lists by kindie bloggers/publications, and my virtual show “Fiesta with Flor” was mentioned on the grammy.com list of music shows to watch during quarantine. 

Rockmommy: Any recent or upcoming projects you’d like to share? 

Flor Bromley: I’m releasing my third family album in late Summer 2021. This one is a dual language album (English/Spanish) and will be called “Pachamama” which means Mother Earth in Quechua, the language of my ancestors. This album has a lot of Peruvian influences, in sound and themes. It’s a Peruvian music mash-up, where I bring elements from my culture and mix them up with Hip-Hop, Pop, Bachata, Country, Tango, and more. The theme of the album has to do with valuing nature and taking care of our planet. If there is anything this past year has shown us is that we have no planet B and we need to appreciate all of the little (and big things) Mother Nature gives us everyday.

Rockmommy: What advice do you have on balancing parenthood with creative life? 

Flor Bromley: Every day find a time for yourself to do something you really like by yourself. It could be listening to song in your car and singing while you go grocery shopping, eating a piece of chocolate by yourself without having to share with the littles, running, reading, watching a TV show.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy

Tracy Bonham’s New Children’s Record, ‘Young Maestros Vol. 1’ Explores Music, Movement and More

by Marisa Torrieri 

Singer-songwriter Tracy Bonham gained international fame for her iconic ’90s rock song “Mother Mother” — the post-grunge-era anthem for so many young adults getting their first taste of the real world. Fast forward to 2021, and Bonham’s now a mother herself (of a 10-year-old son), navigating the daily struggle of work-life balance and channeling her expansive musical talent into new projects. 

Tracy Bonham (photo by Shervin Lainez)

This month, the singer-slash-guitarist-slash-violin player debuts her very first children’s album, with Melodeon Music House: Young Maestros Vol. 1, an energetic 11-song record for kids of all ages. It’s available now on all media platforms (iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, etc.), and CD. 

Bonham fans — including older millennials and Gen X’ers of all ages who fell for her soaring vocals and angst-ridden rock in the pre-aughts — will be delighted to share this set of super-fun, danceable songs that highlight musical concepts the whole family can appreciate. The first single, “Me Symphony,” is my favorite so far, with its fun animation, big band vibe, and rhymes that linger in the listener’s mind, hours later: “I lost my tuba in Aruba/I lost my piano in Indiana.” 

Tracy Bonham and Melodeon Music House ‘Me Symphony’

My kids love the joyful, silly ‘Let’s Take The Subway,’ which might be the only song I’ve heard that cheerfully name-drops the NYC C Train, B Train, and the elusive G train (which I’ve still never managed to catch). 

We recently caught up with Bonham to find out what’s next: 

Rockmommy: Hi Tracy! How did ‘Young Maestros’ record come about?

Tracy Bonham: Everyone was forced to stop during the pandemic. I don’t like being told what to do so I was pretty mad at the world. I would say F**k COVID to myself… often. During this time my bassist and collaborator, Rene, and I were figuring out how to create a business plan for my music education music curriculum and remote classes. I had been teaching my original curriculum at the Brooklyn Preschool of Science for a number of years, and little did I know it would become a laboratory for this new endeavor! 

In October, I had an incredibly uplifting conversation with my manager, Patrice Fehlen, where we decided that we would jump head-first into releasing an album of my music education songs.These songs had been laying around for years and thankfully they had already been recorded and mixed a few years prior with my dear friend and founder of Gowanus Music Club, Josh Margolis. Josh is a musician, a teacher, a business owner and another music enthusiast / music theory nerd. We recorded and mixed these songs over the course of six years knowing that someday it would become something really cool. However, my career as a singer-songwriter, and being a parent, would always kick the project to the back burner. Once Patrice and I put it out into the universe, that early October day, the whole thing started to take shape. Rene became my business partner and we started creating Melodeon Music House with the first album release, and accompanying music education program, called Young Maestros Vol. 1, slated for release on April 16, 2021.

Rockmommy: The video for ‘Me Symphony’ is so fun, and all the songs on this record are so great! Did you ever think you’d make a children’s album/family record in your pre-parenting days? Is it wild to think about that? 

Tracy Bonham: It is totally wild to think about. I have never been one to follow trends and I probably would balk if someone told me (pre-parenting) that I would follow the ranks of artists who make children’s albums after they become parents. When I started writing these songs, they were meant to be teaching tools.

Rockmommy: So my rock band Trashing Violet covers “Mother Mother.” It’s one of my favorites. Is it a blessing or a burden to have one iconic song because you have so much other great music?  

Tracy Bonham: I would rather have one iconic song than no iconic song! Thank you for saying that about my other songs, but if they didn’t have ‘Mother Mother’ as the beacon, they might not have reached so many people. That song was iconic because it touched a universal nerve. Pretty much everyone can relate to it in some way. I don’t think I nailed that kind of transparency and universality with any of my other songs. 

Rockmommy: What are you most hopeful for in 2021?

Tracy Bonham: I am really hopeful the vaccine will give people their lives back. I hope the people of the world can heal and rise out of this pandemic in a more thoughtful and mindful way. I especially hope that in 2021, the United States and all of its inhabitants, from whatever political affiliation, can heal in a psychic way. The patriarchal system is being challenged and I am so excited to experience the age of femininity taking shape. 

Rockmommy: What is your advice on balancing parenting and creative life?

Tracy Bonham: My advice to any creatives out there who are new to parenting — do not freak out thinking you will get writers block or lose your creativity. First of all, you have just done the most creative thing there is to do in the history of creation! You have created a family. 

For both men and women, your creativity is on fire! It is what you do with it from this day forward that matters. Whether it is creating a loving environment and an inspiring relationship for the child to thrive in, or whether it is taking care of your individual muse by creating loving boundaries for your art to cultivate on it’s own, these things you CAN do and will do if you believe you can. Of course, it is incredibly hard to find the time and energy when you are a parent of a young child. But what I found was that creativity FOUND me as long as I stayed open to it. 

I would be changing a diaper, singing to my son, and a new melody would come out of my mouth. Of course, I would be singing the word “diaper, diaper baby, diaper, diaper baby” but I was creating a future melody for a future song. I always kept my iPhone nearby so that I could hit record on the voice memo app and save the fleeting but inspired moment for when I had a half hour to myself (yes, that is possible) to go back and listen and create something out of it. I guess what I am saying is, please don’t think creativity goes out the window just because you have a new focus. Remain open to possibility. It may come in different forms. But creativity will always be available for you if you are available for it. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy. 

Cyndi Dawson of NYC Band The Cynz Talks Rock, Poetry and Supporting the Music Scene

The first time I listen to NYC band The Cynz, I’m in rock n’ roll heaven. Front woman Cyndi Dawson’s aggressive, low vocals soar over layers of delicious, distorted guitars, bass and drums. It’s fierce, it’s intense, and suddenly I’m fired up! Ready to go! Let’s do this.

Then I remember that we’re in a pandemic. And damn. It’ll be a while before I get to bathe in the manic fury of loud, live rock n’ roll in the city. None of us do. But hopefully, God willing, soon. 

Cyndi Dawson (photo by Alan Rand)

Until then, we can only dream. 

Recently, our friend and fellow rockmommy Rew Starr interviewed Ms. Dawson, on what’s next for the author of Outside Girl (Poets Wear Prada Press)— and what we can expect in the post-pandemic future. — MTB

Rew Starr: How’s it going? What have you been doing these days?

Cyndi Dawson: It’s been a tough year as you know. Trying to save a business, keep a band together — between no gigs and some personal stuff going on with various band members) has been a creative equation we are continually trying to resolve. We are writing new songs, recorded some early on and trying to help others with fundraising events. 

Rew Starr: I know you are the Queen of decorations, how long does it take to put them all up? Put them all away? What’s the next one?

Cyndi Dawson: It takes me a full week of working every day for hours to put it all up and probably the same to take it all down. That’s not even counting the outside decorations. I kind of am over it by New Years so basically I decorate September until January.  


Rew Starr: What are your kids up to these days? 

Cyndi Dawson: I have one human daughter, who is on her own already, a Yorkichon named Bowie and a litter of three once feral cats I took as a unit — two boys (Bob and Bree) and a girl (Puck, who was named Puck because I thought she was a boy. Now I call her MISS Puck!) 


Rew Starr: Your daughter is beyond gorgeous inside and out. What do you see of you and what do you see that’s all her?

Cyndi Dawson: She’s artsy and creative — more so than me — and she’s very musical. She plays several instruments which I could never figure out. My brain cannot comprehend notes and stringed things. I’m rhythmic so I’m a good dancer; I feel music in terms of beats. She is great at yoga which is way too slow for me. Her sense of humor reminds me of me but her sarcastic bent is my mother all the way. 

Rew Starr: I remember the first  time it hit me you looked exactly like [Barbara Eden of] I DREAM OF JEANNIE. How long have  you been hearing that?

Cyndi Dawson: Probably since I was 18! 


Rew Starr: I know gymnastics, dance, acting and poetry came first, so how did it all begin and what led you to being a ROCKSTAR?

Cyndi Dawson: My first band was when I was 17 — an all-girl band with great backing and management waiting for us. Great concept — Kamikaze Kitty and the Attack Kats and all the songs were based on mysticism and Kitty vibes. Unfortunately it didn’t last because of our key members moved back to the South. How I ended up a front woman SINGING is solely due to Henry. I’ve always fronted s band doing poetry. Henry said I should sing. I thought he was nuts. 


Rew Starr: We met when you came to ‘ReW & WhO?’ and it was all kizmit from the start, do you follow a spiritual path?

Cyndi Dawson: I do. Probably a mix of several things I’ve delved into over the years, probably more Wiccan-based than anything. 


Rew Starr: You also are a bar owner. That must be a giant challenge these days. How can people support your bar? 

Cyndi Dawson: Drinking in the bar supports the bar, there really is nothing more complicated to offer, lol! But that is complicated in Covid times. We’ve implemented all the safety mechanisms so it’s a matter of people’s comfort levels whether or not they feel safe in a bar or restaurant. We also built a beautiful beer garden with heaters, which is great when it’s not absurdly cold out. 

Rew Starr: Are you making any new music?

Cyndi Dawson: We recorded and released two new singles this summer which got great airplay. Pretty happy about that. We are also working on finishing other songs we recorded, recording more new ones we’ve started rehearsing and releasing a ‘best of with bonus new tracks’ to be distributed in Europe and the USA.  


Rew Starr: What about playing out? Have there been opportunities?

Cyndi Dawson: Early on [in the pandemic] I did the Thunder’s tribute for Steve Krebs at Bowery Electric but that was with Jesse Malin’s band. Then The Cynz did a fundraising gig for The Brighton Bar in Long Branch. Last week Henry and I did an acoustic set on Facebook Live for Outlaw Renegade Radio to help them out. Just trying to support radio and venues that support bands! 

Rew Starr: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Cyndi Dawson: Oh boy! I’m such an open book online! As a poet I reveal a lot and I’m also a diarist. So I reveal so much. There is a reason I don’t reveal certain things but what I want people to know about me is pretty much out there. I’m a survivor — I also am easily hurt and I have a hard time with rejection or what I perceive to be rejection. I’m not as tough as I try to appear. 


Rew Starr: What’s the greatest part about being a rockmommy?

Cyndi Dawson: I think I instilled a love for music in my daughter. I also hope she gets that life in the arts doesn’t need to end because you aren’t in your twenties or you are a mom. 

[RELATED: https://rockmommy.com/2020/02/nyc-rockmommy-rew-starr-proves-its-never-too-late-to-take-on-a-brave-new-role/]

Rew Starr is an actor and musician who lives in New York City

Should I Stay or Should I Go (Out)?

After a year of being shuttered mostly indoors with my family, I’m feeling a mad kind of spring fever. I want to go out in a big way. Not outdoors, to the beach, or the fire pit, but out out — like I did in 2019. I want my band to play in a bar. I want to sip drinks idly, as I watch live music.

Who doesn’t want all the things?

The author, mulling whether to go out

The problem is, I’m not vaccinated. Not yet.

A few weeks ago, I was informed of a fun, relatively “safe” event — a lip-sync mask “battle” at the Cellar, a cool, indie music bar in Hamden, Connecticut. My fellow musician friend (and parent) Dustin posted a flier and invited everyone to compete safely. Masks are required (except when you’re eating). Performers will wear a clear one. Sanitizer and precautions will abound from every corner of the indoor space.

[RELATED: Is it safe to sing in front of an audience?]

I was “in” the moment I saw the announcement, and began crafting my burlesque-without-the-stripping lip-sync choreography for “Wrecking Ball” in earnest — it’s taking shape, and after weeks of rehearsal, it’s awesome. I’m stoked to perform it later. I’m stoked to be out, with creative people, doing creative things. I feel alive just thinking about it.

But the venue’s event is in its indoor space. My partner is not OK with that.

It’s an indoor bar, Marisa, he reminds me. People at their tables won’t be wearing masks. Once people start drinking, they’ll be mingling. If one person in that room has Covid, you’e f*cked.

coffeehouse vibes

See, as I’m writing this I’m sitting in an indoor space — Candlewood Market in Fairfield. It’s a beautiful, ample coffeehouse with an industrial warehouse vibe, succulents and weathered wooden signage. Photography and botany and sunshine. I love it here. I go once a week, while my sons are in ninja class next door (masked up, of course). The guy at the table next to mine isn’t wearing his mask, so I only pull mine down when I need a sip of coffee.

I always need coffee.

But anyways, it’s hard to be excited about a fun night that really isn’t any more risky than my time at this coffeehouse (sitting exactly six feet away from the unmasked patron, only because I moved my chair) when my partner thinks that I’m taking a gigantic risk.

Which brings me to the dilemma: I’m one week away from my first vaccine. I’ve spent a year working hard to avoid Covid. Is it really worth it for me to go out now and take any risk? Like The Clash sings in its infamous song, ‘if I go there will be trouble, but if I stay there will be double.” (Double, because I’ll regret not doing something really fun that I’ve been excited about, while disappointing my friends who want to come out with me).

Decisions, decisions! What would you do?

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.