Making the Most of Summer and Rocking Out Safely

by Marisa Torrieri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trashing Violet

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted more.

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

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

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

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

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

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.

Balancing Band Life and Raising Boys: How Much is Too Much of a Good Thing?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

Five years ago, having a few moments to myself to strum my guitar — without getting interrupted by a toddler — was a bit of a miracle. 

Fast forward to 2020 and my two young sons are no longer toddlers. They’re 6- and 7-year-olds with their own interests who need me less and less. This is bittersweet: While I don’t want to repeat the baby years — the diapers! the sleepless nights! the 2-hour nursing sessions! — I miss our constant time together. I miss reading to them big chair, snuggling on the couch, pushing the double stroller to the park while clutching a mug of coffee. The whole bit.

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Baby Nathan, sometime in 2013, and my guitar.

One positive development that’s come out of their independence is my ability to nurture interests of my own again — namely music.

[SEE RELATED: New Year’s Goal #1: Making Time for More Joy and Spontaneous Jam Sessions]

After Nathan was born in 2012, I pretty much put #bandlife on a shelf, save for teaching guitar and the playing occasional solo gig or reunion show with my longtime D.C. pop-punk band Grandma’s Mini. But in 2018, I was ready to fire up the old Fender Stratocaster — and the new Gibson SG — and play out again. The only thing I was missing was bandmates. So I asked the universe to help me find them.

The universe granted my wish. In November of that year, my guitarist pal Anna and I met with rock daddy bassist (and guitarist) Doug E. through Craigslist, scored rehearsal space in a studio, and soon after, brought my friend Jason’s brother Nick D. into the group to play drums. Several rehearsals after that, our band Trashing Violet became a living, breathing, gigging machine. 

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Me, rocking out with my band Trashing Violet at Cafe 9.

Yet amid the sheer joy of playing songs every week in our rehearsal space, never in my wildest dreams did I think we would actually play shows — not just occasionally, but ALL THE TIME. About a month ago, we were asked to play so often that I started getting that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach when I’d have to ask my husband, yet again, if he minded that I got booked for yet another show. 

As I explain in this interview (below), filmed over the weekend at our gig at Sage Sound Studios, the fact that my bandmates and I found each other in a similar time in our lives was nothing short of pure serendipity. That I could find bandmates with intense day jobs and parental responsibilities who understood that I’m a #mommy first and a #rockmommy second was amazing. 

 

But of course, as we rehearse weekly and gig weekly, my sons are undoubtedly seeing less of me. I’m not there 2 nights a week to tuck them in. My older son, who is especially independent, is OK with this; my younger son gets a little clingy each time I leave (he’s been known to shout “band practice is dumb,” according to dada). It was a bit of a wakeup call when I realized this morning, while scanning photos on my phone, that I have taken more pics of my bandmates than Nathan in the last two months. As I gazed into his dark-chocolate brown eyes, my heart swelled, and I felt a tinge of guilt: Am I playing out too much, and missing out too much on the little things?

[SEE RELATED: ‘I Started a Band with my Toddler’: The Nap Skippers’ Julie Rustad on Life and Gigging with a Wee One]

I realized then that achieving absolute perfect balance in every area of my life would be impossible. At the same time, there are limits. I need to make sure I’m considering the feelings all of the people who need me before I overcommit myself. Time is more precious than ever. Every minute I spend away from my loved ones better be worth it because it’s a minute I’m missing out on being with them.

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My younger son Logan, playing the keys at the local movie theater.

So, yes — I can play consecutive shows if the opportunity arises. I can practice once a week with my band because it makes me happy. I can go on tour for a weekend or even a few days … should the right opportunity arise. But I can’t rehearse every single night and play every Friday and Saturday — nor can (or should) I say “yes” to every opportunity that comes my way. 

When my kids are 14 and 15, I might find that I’m needed even less, and there’s more time to pursue music goals. Maybe I’ll go on a two-week tour. Maybe I’ll do a lot of things — travel to Greece, surf in Hawaii, learn how to play the drums.

But in the immediate future, I need to pause and reflect, and see things through the lens of motherhood: Is a gig I’m being asked to play good for me and my band? Is it worth taking time away from our families? Does it fill my heart with joy?

Putting my family’s needs first is important, even if it means saying “no” once in a while to creative endeavors. And it makes the stuff I say “yes” to all the more special. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.