I Guess This Is Growing Up: How Musicians Balance Their Careers With Parenthood

July 11, 2010 by Luke O’Neil

I Guess This Is Growing Up: How Musicians Balance Their Careers With Parenthood

Rock music has always been for the kids, but during the past few years, more bands seem to be interpreting that statement literally. They're making music both for the kids (as in young music fans) and also for their own kids. From geek-punk icons THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS to MATT PRYOR of THE GET UP KIDS (under the moniker the Terrible Twos), artists have been creating an influx of children's albums. In addition, scene vets like JIM LINDBERG formerly of PENNYWISE and former LESS THAN JAKE saxophonist JESSICA MILLS have authored their own guides to balancing a music career with parenthood.

Musicians having children certainly isn't anything new—for tangible proof, look no further than family reality shows surrounding rock legends Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons of KISS. But while having children might seem like a hindrance to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, musicians in our scene have been making their kids more of a central focus in their art.

One of the best examples of the new rock parent is the video for FOXY SHAZAM’s “Oh Lord” from their self-titled record. At the beginning of video, vocalist ERIC NALLY whispers reassuringly: “Julian, it's Papa. I know it's really hard sometimes for you and it can be really scary. But if you ever need anything, if you ever need me, just close your eyes and I'll come and get you.” It could be the most touching song written by a father about his son named Julian (the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” doesn't count because it was written by Paul McCartney for Julian Lennon about his disapproval of John Lennon’s parenting).




Raising children while pursuing a rock career can be hard to balance, Nally says, especially when you’re a young parent. He had his first of two boys when had just started playing in bands at the age of 17. “It was scary because of what they tell you in high school,” he says. “You always hear horror stories. It seems like everything you hear about being a young parent is negative. But it wasn't scary at all. It was more inspiring, and it gave me more drive to do what we do and to make it work.”

The main hindrance between parenthood and being a musician is that you’re separated from your kids during long stretches on tour. “Sometimes there's some guilt about being [on the road], because I miss [my family] so much,” says Nally. “But my wife and the kids and their grandparents are so supportive. I wouldn't be allowed to [have my career] without them being so supportive. Some parents aren't as lucky to have people that support them so much. It helps to have people that love you because they know how much the band means to me. It's been my dream ever since I was a kid.”

“Being away from the people I care most about, it’s absolutely horrible. It’s the worst thing anyone can imagine,” say FAR FROM FINISHED guitarist OSCAR CAPPS who has two boys age 8 and 3. The problem isn’t exclusive to younger musicians, either. “It's a feeling that carries over no matter what point you're at in your musical career,” says scene vet DAVE WAKELING of ska pioneers THE ENGLISH BEAT. “I had never imagined combining parenthood and touring life, and, in the end, I didn't make so great a job of blending them.”

That’s a mistake that FRED MASCHERINO of TERRIBLE THINGS (formerly of TAKING BACK SUNDAY) doesn’t want to make. He was 27 when he had his first of three children, and by that time, he was already a seasoned touring musician. “It was super-scary thinking about how I was going to manage everything at home and keep the band going,” he says. “I had so many friends that stopped touring once they had kids and I can't blame them. We had some tough years back then. When I had my son, Scout, I flew home from tour in the morning [and then back to play] a show that night,” says Mascherino. “It was crazy and not ideal but, Taking Back Sunday were growing fast that year, and I felt that staying on tour was best for the band and my family in the long run. I wouldn't ever do that again, but it shows how you have to look at things from another perspective and there's a lot more weight to every decision.”

It's not just the artists for whom rock parenting can be a challenge either, says MIKE CUBILLOS, publicist for Earshot Media. “As a publicist in the music industry, your job never really ends. There’s always a show or event you need to cover, so you oftentimes need to adjust your priorities. Sometimes you may need to skip out on a big event if your kid, say has a game or is in a school play or you need to attend some other school function. It’s not a hard decision for me to make. They’re only going to be young kids once.”

Technology has certainly helped make the role of parent in the biz go more smoothly though. “They can text me at anytime with their list of demands nowadays,” Wakeling jokes. Mascherino (whose children appear on the cover of Terrible Things’ debut album) says Skype and iChat have changed everything. “Especially when I'm touring in other countries, it used to be like, 'Talk to you in a week.’ Now I just have to find WiFi and we're eating dinner together.”

Another way to alleviate the stresses of separation is by bringing your children along with you, or, as the Get Up Kids’ Pryor has done, inviting them to play with the band. Pryor’s eldest son plays percussion in his other project, THE NEW AMSTERDAMS. “He's actually performed at the Fillmore in San Franciscotwice before the age of 5 and both he and his big sister have made appearances with the Get Up Kids.”

Children liking their parents’ music isn't always a given, though. “Kids like the shows when they are under 10, as they are so unselfconscious,” says Wakeling. “Then they like them again when they’re older teens. It’s the bit in the middle when there’s some fashionability doubt that it may not be cool to be into ‘old people’ music. As luck would have it, I get cool again with each wave of ska that comes back into fashion.”

Capps hasn't brought his kids to any Far From Finished shows yet, but his 8 year-old son is developing his own tastes. “I’m looking forward to having him see me play for the first time this summer,” he says. “It won’t be his first show though. He saw Billy Bragg who gave him his guitar pick afterwards. That’ll be a tough act to follow.”

REEL BIG FISH trombonist DAN REGAN has brought his daughter along to a few local shows and the recording studio, but the 2-year-old only really sees it as her father being the same dad she’s known. “I think she kinda takes what I do for granted since I act the same way at home: silly.” It also makes discipline a difficult prospect. “My daughter is well-behaved but, let's face it, I'm in a ska band. I'm a professional goofball. It's hard to pretend to be stern.”

However, children do have a trait that’s invaluable to musicians: brutal honesty. “They are a good sounding board for whether or not other people will like the new songs,” says Pryor. Nally also trusts  his kids’ musical judgment. “I always bounce stuff off of them. There's something really cool about the way a child hears music. Music is all about imagination, and you lose a lot of that when you grow up. It helps me keep that feeling that a lot of people lose when you get older. They help me stay connected.”

In addition, having kids has a funny way of trivializing band issues that once seemed important. “Compared to kids, everything about music isn't that important,” says Pryor. Mascherino agrees. “I definitely think [parenthood] has helped everyone in our band to have that experience of knowing what's really important in our lives. We bond on those experiences and luckily, we've kept things in our band more positive.” Plus, the days of living off of the previous night’s merch sales just can’t fly. “Things go from being about how good I might look to whether or not it puts food on the table,” says Regan.

As for the art, Wakeling believes that becoming a parent is a vital part of life that offers musicians a new perspective on not only their own writing, but life in general. “Having other people to support is a blessing and a curse, but more of a blessing,” he says. “Now [I have] a grandson, too, and another on the way. I watch in wonder as yet another cycle evolves, one that I’m not central to anymore. This can make you sad about your own passing, but to see the pattern of life developing with your DNA as a part of the story is as breathtaking as it is a great leveler. Having kids, burying your parents, watching your kids have kids, it helps all us 'Peter Pan' musicians slowly grow up.” alt

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