Ben Rudnick: How My Daughter Inspired My Favorite and Best-Known, Musical Project

by Ben Rudnick

As a songwriter, I aim to be like my good friend Jeff, who plays harmonica and mandolin in an internationally famous Canadian rock band. The band had a big hit in the late 1980s and my pal is now a “micro celebrity.”

Inspired by Jeff and his Canadian rock and roll cool as the measure, I place myself in the sub-micro-celebrity realm. My band and I have played over 900 shows, recorded twelve CDs, accumulated seven Parent’s Choice Awards, have a play based on characters I’ve created in songs and have recently started releasing digital singles.

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Rock daddy Ben Rudnick of Ben Rudnick & Friends (Photo credit: Susan Wilson)

It’s also safe for me to say that this fun and rewarding ride never would have happened had I not sang silly songs with my daughter Emily when she was very young.

When we were crossing the street to go to preschool, we’d sing “I need a hand, when I’m crossing the street.” Pretty straightforward and to the point for sure! We’d sing it over and over and skip our way to school. Good times indeed. With that seed I wrote a song called — wait for it! —  “I Need a Hand.” That song went on our first CD, Emily Songs, and was a runner up in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Yoko liked it!

[RELATED: Stay-at-Home Rockin’ Dad Gunnar Madsen on Parenthood & New Projects]

At some point Emily and I were coloring and started singing about the colors we like. Ultimately that led to us dancing around the living room naming all our favorite colors. “I Like Silver, I Like Gold” kicked off that first album and has been the most played song in our repertoire. Colors never go out of style!

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Singer-songwriter Ben Rudnick with his daughter Emily.

Another everyday endeavor that led to one of the band’s most-requested songs was making macaroni and cheese for lunch. Or dinner. Or lunch and dinner! Whatever. The point is I made a lot of macaroni and cheese, which led to Emily and I singing “macaroni and cheese is so good to me, macaroni and cheese makes me say please” and the song, “Macaroni and Cheese.”

So okay, I’m an extreme example of where singing silly songs with your offspring can go but the point is it was really fun. The songs we created came from everyday activities. It’s all a state of mind. That it’s given me actual sub-micro-celebrity status is gravy.

Have fun with those kids! Enjoy these days.

Ben Rudnick is a father and the band leader of Ben Rudnick & Friends. See the band perform the 17th Annual Holiday Extravaganza at the Cabot Theater in Beverly, Mass., on Saturday, Dec 8.

Finding Bandmates, Post Parenthood: Why it’s a Real Challenge

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I’ve been in bands easily half my life. Much of the time, they’re formed out of friendships, work/school connections or circumstance, plus being in the right place at the right time.

That’s how Grandma’s Mini, my longest-running Washington, D.C., rock band with my bestie Ann, came together. I met her at a new job, we clicked, I had her over to “jam,” and before the night was over, we’d written five or six songs. The same thing happened when I formed Marisa Mini & The Underage Hotties with my friend Morgan. I started working at the New York City Guitar School, met Morgan, clicked with Morgan, and bam — she joined my namesake band. From there, we started other bands through the NYC Guitar School Connection.

IMG_1717A few other times, I’ve used personals — like when I met my friend Debbie, a drummer and singer, who wanted to launch her own musical project. Or, I’ve met musicians through open mics and the music “scene” — rock shows at bars, mainly. And I met one of my guitarists while he was working at Guitar Center in Brooklyn.

But as a parent, I don’t have time to work the scene, to make friends and connections by going to lots of shows or open-mic nights. I barely have time to go to Guitar Center, or any music stores. I’m lucky if I see one band a month. Much of this has to do with the reality that I live in a suburb, a beach town in Southeast Connecticut. Were I still living in New York City, I’d find musicians left and right.

[RELATED: The Ramoms Take on The Ramones, Mixing Motherhood and Punk Rock in Philly]

At the moment, I’m at the mercy of Craigslist — which weirds out some people — and whoever finds my Bandbox profile, in trying to find a bassist and drummer. Craigslist has given me a few good leads — a bassist who’s also a dad, and a drummer who lives 40 minutes away. But the drummer bowed out at the last minute after deciding my musical interests didn’t match hers, and I have yet to meet the bassist.

Another challenge is that SO many people in my neck of the woods want to start cover bands! Don’t get me wrong — I love playing a good cover or two, and at one point, started my own all-girl cover band. But I want to write, sing and play originals. I want to create, not recreate, a song.

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From my band Grandma’s Mini’s DC gig at The Pinch in September 2017

So I’m hopeful, and I’m open to suggestions. Is there some untapped band-finder resource out there for suburban moms? An online directory of bored drummers who live in New England? Please share in the comments if you have any good tips.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

 

 

Why Singing to Your Babies — Even Black Sabbath Tunes — is Good For Them

By Francesca Farruggio

New moms tend to strive for the most idyllic, natural experience possible, whether they’re eating organic veggies or singing lovely lullabies to their babies. And when it comes to the latter, they know that singing to their infant is crucial bonding time, and can ease their baby into a calm or sleepy state of mind.

However, most of us don’t actually know why lullabies have such magical powers, and are dying to know why after all, music is our forte… am I right ladies?!

So, we did some research and came across an interesting study by cognitive neuroscientists, led by Laura Cirelli of the University of Toronto Mississauga.

As the March 2018 study concluded, lullabies soothe both moms and babies simultaneously, while playsongs increase babies’ attention and displays of positive emotion toward their mothers. To figure out exactly how singing affected both the mother and child, researchers asked participating mothers repeatedly sang “Twinkle Twinkle” to their babies who were sitting in a high chair facing them. The mothers alternated between singing in a playful way or a soothing manner. At the same time, researchers were tracking the mothers’ and babies’ arousal responses, measured through skin conductance and behavior.

[RELATED: Playing a Rock Gig While Pregnant: Advice From Mamas Who’ve Done It]

“When we are excited or stressed, arousal levels increase,” Cirelli explains. “When we are calm, they decrease.”

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Does this baby look sleepy?

The researchers found that the moms’ arousal levels were higher during the playful song, compared with the soothing song. And they found coordinated decreases in arousal for both the moms and babies as the soothing songs progressed.

Cirelli points to past studies showing that when people move together in synchrony, they feel socially connected and are later more likely to help and cooperate with one another.

With that in mind, we can better understand how the brain responds positively to the feeling of being connected to another person through the rhythms in music.

Now, does this mean you have to belt out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?” Not necessarily. If you prefer to sing Ozzy Osbourne lyrics or croon Frank Sinatra tunes, that’s fine too!

 

According to my very own rockmommy, I was never satisfied when listening to the basics, both before and after I was born. She believes this is large in part to my dad being a diehard blues instrumental fan and musician. From the moment they first saw my heartbeat, my parents couldn’t help but get into a routine of playing their favorites to me, including many songs by Eric Clapton. They viewed this as a way to feel close to each other, but what they didn’t know at the time was how much it was affecting me, even though I wasn’t out in the world yet.

I arrived just like any other baby, screaming and crying. My parents did what any other parents would do: They cradled me and spoke softly in my ears to help me feel comfortable and safe. But guess what? It wasn’t until my dad pulled out his guitar and started strumming some familiar cords that finally calmed me and I gave them my first big smile… And to this day, I find peace of mind by hearing similar blues-like rhythms.

Nonetheless, the point of this study (and this blog post) is to show you that no matter if you’re singing the Bruno Mars song you’ve got stuck in your head, a lullaby classic like “Hush Little Baby,” or strumming some chords on your guitar, science has proven that it’s music, as a whole, that will bring you and your baby closer together.

And with that… ROCK ON mamas!

Francesca Farruggio is a contributing writer for Rockmommy.

The Green Orbs’ Heather Hirshfield on Music, Videos and Raising Teenage Girls

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

The Green Orbs’ music is infectious and silly, as in laugh-out-loud silly — and that’s exactly what the band, made up of brother-sister duo Heather Hirshfield and Eddie Rosenberg III, want you to do. Don’t believe me? Just watch the carnival-worthy “Mr. Mustache,” and you’ll agree. We sat down with Hirshfield, a piano teacher and mom of three, to get the scoop on the band’s upcoming release, Thumb Wrestling Champions (out September 7). 

Green Orbs_ukes_photo credit Nicole Michaelis

The Green Orbs

Rockmommy: You have an amazing musical background! What did you listen to growing up?

Heather Hirshfield: I listened to a wide variety of music growing up. My parents had a really cool domed-top deco record player and a huge collection of records and 45s that we listened to on a daily basis. The Beatles were very popular in the house, but we also listened to Billy Joel, Paul Simon, The Beach Boys, Beethoven, Mozart…..gosh, really so many great artists and composers to list! When I received my own record player as a present, I listened to a lot of musical soundtracks like Grease and Annie, and also Disney storybook records. My sister and I loved to put on The Monkees and dance around our room. We really were constantly listening to music. Music was, and continues to be, a huge part of my life.

Rockmommy: Before the Green Orbs, did you play other music? What was that like?

Heather Hirshfield: As a kid, I played piano, and played marching trombone in the marching band. I enjoyed both immensely, but I gave both up when I went to college which in hindsight was a huge mistake. After having my children, I started playing piano again and remembered how much I loved it. I did not really perform anything, though, until my brother and I started The Green Orbs.

Rockmommy: I read a bit about how you and your brother got started — can you tell me about how your latest collection of songs came about? Was there an inspiring idea/theme?

Heather Hirshfield: Our new album “Thumb Wrestling Champions” is the end result after many, many years of work. We were just writing different fun songs over the years, until we realized we had enough for an album! There is no overarching theme, but many of the songs were inspired by my girls, either through stories that I told them when they were little, or by something that they may have said.

Rockmommy: Let’s talk about video for a second. In the era of YouTube, having a video that connects to your audience is super important. How do you come up with the concepts for the video? Do you and Eddie sit around and brainstorm? Do you seek feedback from little ones on what connects?

Heather Hirshfield: We have been talking about videos a lot for this album! We haven’t had a brainstorm session specifically for videos … we just share ideas as they come to us. Personally, OK Go’s videos have been a huge inspiration for what is possible in a music video and I hope one day to be able to create a video as epic as theirs! As far as feedback, our niece and nephews are our sounding board right now.

Rockmommy: What are your most popular songs? is there a particular age group that connects with your music?

Heather Hirshfield: We have played some of our songs from the album for school children and “Doug the Bug” is always a huge hit. “The Suction Cup Shuffle” is also well-liked because it gets everyone up and dancing. We also have a group of songs in the YouTube Audio Library, and an instrumental song called “Splashing Around” that my brother wrote is hugely popular!

I think that kids 3-12 will really enjoy “Thumb Wrestling Champions,” but, of course, we hope that anyone who listens to it will enjoy it!

Rockmommy: You have three daughters! How old are they? What are some of the challenges you have with balancing motherhood and making music and everything else?

Heather Hirshfield: My girls are now 18, 16, and 13, and it is still a struggle finding time to do anything! I am so fortunate to be able to work out of my home as a piano teacher and musician for the last few years so I am here when they need me. On the other side of that, though, I really had to work on setting boundaries with them and letting them know that I can’t drop everything to get them a snack when I am working on something on the computer. It was also hard for me to realize that what I was working on was important and that I didn’t have to be at my kids’ beck and call constantly.

Rockmommy: What advice do you have for other rock n roll playing mommies (and daddies)?

Heather Hirshfield: My advice would be to always do what you love and remember that it is important that your kids see that you are passionate about whatever it is that you are doing, whether it be work or a hobby, so that they will have the desire to go out and find their own passions.

For more, check out the band’s social media feeds: Facebook, Instagram & Twitter

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Should Rocker Moms Change the Way They Dress After Having Kids? I Say No.

On the cover of my album “Sex & Guitars,” which I released more than ten years ago, I’m wearing a vinyl miniskirt, leaning back in a bed, guitar in arms, eyes seductively gazing into the camera. 

marisa-mini1I still love seeing this photo of me in my pre-kids, pre-marriage days — although (sadly) I don’t wear the vinyl skirt much anymore for lack of opportunity (it doesn’t feel quite right for a PTA meeting or mommy-and-me gym class). Perhaps I shouldn’t be sad: The black vinyl skirt represented a sexy, racy moment in 2008 that resonated with the album’s theme — love, careless flings and heartbreak. That moment felt amazing to live, and is wonderful to remember. 

Fast forward to 2018, and I’m a mom of two very young boys. And while I still rock a tight dress, I feel a little weird when I put clothes on that are provocative and un-momlike, at least in the traditional sense. This is true whether I’m going out with my girlfriends or playing a gig. 

[RELATED: “Baby Clothes with Guitars and Gender Roles”]

I’m not necessarily surprised by my feelings. Women are frequently slut-shamed for how they dress, and still expected to carry on differently when they become wives and mothers. I’ve heard more than one comment from certain relatives that I should give up bikinis in the summertime, although I find one-piece bathing suits uncomfortable. As such, there’s a tiny voice on rock show nights that asks, “Marisa, is that really appropriate for a mother to wear?” 

So today, as a favor to myself, I’m posting this photo of me in my favorite black mini dress, the stretchy one I tend to wear onstage these days, my parental status and age damned. I work out and eat healthfully — why shouldn’t I wear what I want? But even if I didn’t work out and eat healthfully, I should still be entitled to wear what I want. 

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From my band Grandma’s Mini’s DC gig at The Pinch in September 2017

I wholeheartedly believe in self expression: Anyone, regardless of their size or shape, should be able to wear the clothes that most resonate with their spirit, and makes them feel most beautiful. While there are certain events that dictate style — for example, I wouldn’t wear a vinyl skirt to a church service or a crop top to a parent-teacher conference — why should having kids mean I have to stifle my self expression on stage, when I am performing?

Of course, some have said my kids may feel weird as they get older, seeing mom dressing like a 25-year-old in a concert hall. But maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe we should challenge ageism and the idea that women who flaunt their bodies should cover up the minute they get pregnant, never reverting to their carefree youths. Maybe challenging flawed ideals will help our children embrace their own inner rockstars, however such self-expression manifests itself, when they are performing or creating art. 

OK, that was a mouthful. 

In all seriousness, I’d love to hear from my readers in the comments: Should rocker moms dress less provocatively after becoming parents? If so, to what extent? Are there any limits to self-expression in parenthood?

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy

Finding Time to Practice in the Midst of a Busy Life

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Most days, I wake up way too early, work out, rush to get my kids off to school/camp, and before I have three minutes to meditate, have to rush off again to do something again (like dishes, writing or some other paid freelance assignment). I’m super lucky, being able to make money as a creative person, while balancing motherhood and wifedom.

But until recently, I started losing track of my real #lifegoals — to play guitar like a goddess, play shows at clubs and write original music (I also want to write and publish my science fiction novel in progress, but that’s a different blog for a different day!).

Needless to say, it’s easy to get too busy one day and neglect your art, and before you know it, the days add up. I’m super close to saying f*ck it — why bother trying to make a rock video (a big life goal), play a show with a full band (like the one I left behind in NYC), or record an album? I’m too busy mothering/working/playing covers with the only female musician I know who lives two blocks from my house.

[RELATED: Me Time = Learning the Guitar Riffs for a Western Classic]

But about a month ago, I started feeling that spark again. I don’t know how, or why, but it hit me: I live to play music, and to create.

So I’ve decided to try something new: Three or four times a week, I have been spending 40 minutes to one hour in the morning working on music. And I’ve clocked in two hours a week working on this blog and my novel. Sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated, which is why I’m doing most of my creative stuff in the mornings (unlike lots of sexy rockstar artists, I’m a morning person, not a night owl like rockmommy  Jennifer Deale of Camp Crush). And I must say, while I feel like a dork for doing creative stuff at the crack of dawn when most of the good rockstars are sleeping, it feels phenomenal and fulfilling to create again.

[RELATED: 5 Great Signature Guitars Designed for — and Inspired by — Female Rock Guitarists]

I’d love to hear from you gals (and guys) out there. How do you carve out time to be creative? Are you a night owl, or do you force yourself to wake up early/skip other stuff like cleaning to make it happen?

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Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Camp Crush’s Jennifer Deale on Parenthood, Music, Feminism and Carving Out a New Sound

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Camp Crush, the musical incarnation of husband-wife duo Jennifer Deale and Chris Spicer, pushes out powerful, soaring, synth-driven pop-rock songs with such conviction that you’d think they’d been doing this forever. 

But as it turns out, when they burst onto Portland, Ore., music scene ten years ago, they were a pared-down folk-music act with a large local following. They could have continued on like that indefinitely, but a few years ago, something shifted. “I started getting really into synth and pulling in vintage pads, old patches, and new iPad patches,” Jennifer recalls. 

Shortly thereafter, the decision was made to let go of their old project and create Camp Crush. 

And while every musician remakes herself now and then, staying relevant and migrating an established fan base to a new sound — while raising two young children — wasn’t an easy feat. Jennifer felt out of balance and overwhelmed as she struggled to juggle a full-time job at a high-tech company with family life, music, and learning the ropes of parenthood. 

The decision to let go of the day job wasn’t an easy one, but for Jennifer, it was absolutely essential to her entire being. In putting motherhood and music first, everything shifted, and today she parents two kids (a son and a daughter) and creates music with refreshing zeal. 

In March, Camp Crush premiered “November Skin,” the first track off their brilliant EP She’s Got It (out May 18) which gives me serious nostalgia for my college goth-club nights. 

Recently, Jennifer sat down to chat with Rockmommy on rebranding her sound, being a mom and living your truth.

 

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Camp Crush

Rockmommy: So let’s talk about the evolution to Camp Crush. How did this come about? 

Jennifer Deale: So Camp Crush is my husband and I and we’ve been playing music together for 10 years and we obviously fell in love and started out playing music, and have done it in so many iterations — we had a folk band for a while, a blues band for a while — but Camp Crush is the band that we’re most connected to, that’s what’s most authentic to us. Chris has been a drummer since he was five, I’ve played piano since I was five. I started getting really into synth and pulling in vintage pads, old patches, and new iPad patches, and we’re trying to play these… and it was getting to a point where we’re like, ‘we’re folk but we’re 80s synth too.’

Rockmommy: Was the rebranding hard? 

Jennifer Deale: So we took a month off and rebranded everything. It was really hard because we do most of our stuff DIY so it was all about working crazy long on weeknights and doing Photoshop and making a music video. We lined up a brand new website, brand new merch, and did everything to get ready for our [debut]. You have to apply for Facebook to change your page, so once they flipped the switch, we went live with our new band. 

Rockmommy: What was that like? 

Jen Deale: It’s really cool because we spent so much time being intentional in what we wanted this band to look like and sound like. Taking that time off to focus on all of those pieces was great. As a musician I just want to think about the music, but from a fan’s perspective … I want the whole package. We put out a single called “Take me Back.” Then we did a follow-up single called “Hometown Glory.” 

Rockmommy: So How do you do it all? And you’re a mom to grade-school-age kids, right? 

Jennifer Deale: We cancelled our Netflix a long time ago. Before I went full in the music thing, I had a big corporate job in Amazon. And I got to the point where I was like ‘I can’t pursue music to the level I want to pursue it and do this job.’ Being a mom is my priority — it’s a huge part of my day. So when I left my day job I was like, ‘I’m leaving a lot of money behind.’ But it’s a dream to get to do music. It’s a lot of late nights and we read Harry Potter and they go to bed at 8, and Chris is like ‘alright, what do we have to do?’ Chris will look at the calendar and go, ‘we have a free day on this day — we’re going to go on a day trip.’ We know there are big corporate jobs we could go back to, but this feeds us. 

Rockmommy: I didn’t realize you’d have to give up so much to do this. 

Jennifer Deale: Yes, absolutely. But I chose to be a mom. What am I trying to teach my kids in life? To take the most secure path? Or to follow your dream? It has been a lot less secure and a more of a scrappy lifestyle, but I see my kids a lot more.

Rockmommy: What inspired the subject matter in your music, your latest songs? 

Jennifer Deale: As a woman in the music industry, I’ll play a show and with three or four bands on the bill and I’ll be the only female onstage the whole night. And ‘November Skin’ was inspired by an experience after a show, when a man pulled me aside and said, ‘I really think you’ve got it!’ And then he went on to tell me things I should improve on to get further into the music industry. So I wanted to talk about this unrealistic expectation of people for women to be something specific.

Rockmommy: How do your kids respond? Are they into music? 

Jennifer Deale: I think the kids are understanding all of these things … but they don’t necessarily think it’s super cool what I do. My kids both go to an arts-focused elementary school. They both sing and do the school choir. But my daughter is a visual artist, and my son is a coder. And that’s cool. Music is definitely part of our everyday life — we have pianos everywhere — it’s part of the essence of our home. I know when I was their age, you couldn’t pull me off the piano! My kids aren’t like that about music but they are like that about art and technology. 

Rockmommy: What advice do you have for other musician or artist parents? 

Jennifer Deale: Obviously as a mom you want to spend as much time with your kids as you can. But motherhood is also about being someone your kid to look up to. It’s not just about the quantity of time, but about you giving an example of being a more authentic version of yourself.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.