My mum is a rock star

Musicians are my favourite people to interview and to be around. Here I give you four incredible mums who have fulfilled their dream to become rock stars. Award-winning songwriter Amy Speace (Amy) has made the most revealing album of her career (her ninth) with There Used to Be Horses Here – recorded in Nashville in just four days. Beautifully uplifting and deeply personal, the album sets Amy’s majestic voice to symphonic arrangements, yet her songwriting remains intimate and emotional. London mum LuLu Ash (Lulu) has just finished recording her debut album Circles about all feelings of confusion, sadness & self-doubt within us, that eventually we overcome to appreciate our own worth & strength, and with that comes the closure of the circle, a sense of peace.

Glasgow singer (now London-based mum) Melanie Masson (Mel) shot to fame on ITV talent show The X Factor back in 2012, after a heart-rending, roof-raising performance of Janis Joplin’s Cry Baby. This is when I first contacted her. She has had a solo career and toured all over the world ever since.

Nini Matessi Schou (Nini) is a vocal coach, a songwriter and punk rock performer based in Denmark.

You might not know their names yet, but watch this space as they are absolutely fabulous.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

What first got you into music?

Amy: The family rumour is that when I was 3 I sat down at my grandmother’s piano and plunked out Mary Had A Little Lamb. I studied piano until I was 16. In junior high I was given a solo in a Choir Musical as I had innate musical ability. After a summer programme for the arts during high school I decided to be a professional singer. I wrote my first song when I was 25, then I started playing NYC folk clubs and was bit by the bug.

Amy Speace

Amy Speace Photos by Stacie Huckeba

Lulu: I have always loved to sing. My father was an award-winning choirboy in Ireland and sang at home, so I went to a musical school. When my mother died, a few years ago, I struggled to find ways to deal with it. As she had been a visual artist, I began with that, doing a 2-year diploma in Art & Design. I then started to take guitar lessons (by accident really, to try and understand music better in order to help my children with their music lessons) and realised that music connected to something inside me that nothing else seemed able to reach.

Lulu Ash

Mel: I was always surrounded by music from an early age and my family was in showbusiness so music has travelled down the blood line! My musical education encompassed everything from Stax, Motown, Blues, Rock, Musical Theatre, Jazz, Classical, Pop.

Melanie Masson

Nini: I also grew up in a home with a lot of love for music. My father was a drummer for a love of jazz music. I was on stage for the first time at the age of 4 with my father’s good friend, a Danish folk singer. I sang in the school and then church choirs

Nini Matessi Schou

Later, in my teens, I started playing drums in high school but then swapped to vocals, and at the age of 17 I formed an all-girls punk rock band.  

Who inspired you to make music?

Amy: My grandmother and my teachers from high school through my adult life. Judy Collins who discovered me in 2006 and signed me to her record label inspired me to be the best songwriter I could be.

Lulu: My guitar teacher, Norbert Schek. He encouraged me to sing along to the pieces I was playing. I had to stop the guitar because of joint problems but carried on singing in choirs and bands. Later, Norbert & I worked together as an Acoustic Duo, gigging and writing songs together. This then started me on my own song-writing journey, something I love and have found to be wonderfully cathartic.

Mel: I feel connected to classic soul, rock and blues. Aretha Franklin blew my mind and really informed my musical preferences and passion. After school, I gained a degree in Dramatic Art but music was always my first and only love.

Nini: My family as well as Iggy Pop and Patti Smith along with all the wonderful people I have played with.

How would you describe the music that you typically create?

Amy: When I started writing, I was listening to a lot of Kate Bush, Matthew Sweet, Tori Amos. Lately, I’ve been devouring Randy Newman. Because of my voice, I’ve been described as Contemporary Folk, but I also exist in that space between Folk and Americana.

Lulu: “Cinematic soundscapes, written from the heart”. My inspiration comes from real life (either my own or people I know of or hear of on the news), so it is key to me that my songs are emotionally relatable. But I am also a spiritual person, and I want to bring that into the sound I create. My producer, Niko Tsonev, and I create the harmonies, multi-layered instrumentation and sounds that give my music a full, slightly ethereal feel, allowing it to transport the listener to another time and place.

Mel: My music is raw, passionate and soulful and is influenced by Northern Soul and Classic soul by Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Etta James, Marvin Gaye, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Dusty Springfield, Tina Turner.

Nini: My love of punk rock is the main ingredient in my songs. Over time that has mixed with electronic popish stuff, experimental noise, garage, but there is always a bit of Velvet Underground somewhere in it.

Would your child say ‘my mum is a rock star’? 

Amy: My kid is almost 3. Whenever I sing around him he puts his hand on his mouth and says, “Mummy, no” and then he sings “Twinkle Twinkle” on his own in perfect pitch, so I know I’m in big trouble. But my 21-year-old niece thinks I’m a big star, only because I’m on You Tube.

Lulu: Absolutely not! However, they are really proud of me.

Mel: Both my children have grown up in a very musical and theatrical family. My husband, their dad, Forbes Masson is an actor, writer, director and they’ve been to festivals, been on tour with me, spent lots of time in the studio when I’m recording, been backstage with me when I’ve been in a musical. My son took one of his first steps onstage at The Royal Shakespeare Company when my husband was performing there. Although at home I’m just mumma, they’re really proud when they watch me perform. They’d say I was a performer. My daughter did a school project recently and made me the subject, saying I was her hero. I did shed a tear or two!

Nini: No! My 15-year old son Salvo knows enough hardworking studio musicians or great musicians in independent music, to not see it as necessarily connected to stardom. He knows that my day job is teaching voice, speech and dialects to actors. But Salvo also knows that I need to make music to be happy. He has a poster of me in his room, and he explains that that is his mum as a singer.

 

Tell me a curious anecdote about being a ‘rock star mum’?

Amy: I have had to bring my son to music conferences. In 2018, I had a showcase at the Americana Music Association Conference/Festival and had a new record about to release, so I had to go to a few schmoozy events with my manager and label, but since my husband works full time, I had to bring my 6-month-old. I put him in a sling and carried the guitar on my back and headed to my Proper Records showcase. My nanny almost didn’t show up, so I was desperately looking for baby headphones, thinking I’d have to keep him fasted to my body on my back while I played my show with my band. Ps. She showed up. He still wore the headphones.

Lulu: I was very touched when my eldest son, who was into “Grime”  music at the time, asked to learn my first song “Everything You Are” on the guitar. He loves my music and that really means the world to me.

 

Mel: The word multi-tasking is often applied to women to right. When my son was a baby, I’d perform a set, come offstage, breastfeed him then go back on again! Also, when my daughter was 7 and my son was 5, they came on tour with me. I was, and still am, never apart from them. My husband was in a West End show and couldn’t come. It ended up being just me and the kids on this brilliant road trip. We drove all over the country, literally from one end to the other and it was such an adventure. I’d be onstage and they’d sit in the wings, just a few feet away from me so I could keep an eye on them while I was performing. I’d do the show, do a meet and greet with the audience after the gig, then I’d get food for the kids, take them to the amusement park then back to the hotel. I’d often be doing interviews on the phone while feeding the kids or learning and writing songs while doing the ironing or recording while helping with homework. All mums are experts at juggling!

Nini: I remember playing Gay Pride in Copenhagen. My son was 3 and was there in the audience with his sound protection on, wanting to know where his juice box was. Between every song, he asked about the juice box, I just couldn’t see what the fuss was about. He was getting frustrated that I couldn’t find that juice box. In the end he got his juice box, and kept dancing. I messed up lyrics, singing “Juice” a lot, because I had that on my mind. The band was called Jukebox baby….

If you could go open a show for any artist who would it be?

Amy: Brandi Carlile. My ‘pinch me’ moment was opening for Guy Clark on a Texas run. As a songwriter, to sit backstage and watch Guy was my ‘hit me by a bus now’ gig.

Lulu: I have huge admiration for female musicians, as I think that it is a lot harder to break through as a woman in music. I would be over the moon to open for Annie Lennox, Kate Bush, Imelda May and Bonnie Raitt.

Mel: Lady Gaga, she’s the real deal. 

Nini: In 2004 I played a gig with my teen dream musicians, Finnish band 22 Pistepirkko, so that’s done. Well, now I want Iggy Pop!

What would you be doing right now, if it wasn’t for your music career?

Amy: I’d be a full-time writer and a college professor of English as well as a novelist, essayist, poet.

Lulu: I’d probably write books to help children with their mental health. I have two in skeletal form but haven’t got around to finishing them.

Mel: I’ve never had a plan B. As crazy as that sounds, I just always knew I wanted to perform and I’ve been so lucky to be able to have made my living from what I love doing.

Nini: I still make music, but I don’t have a music career anymore. It got pushed back by my other passion for vocal coaching. It had to make a big decision, after being told by a major record label that by contract I couldn’t have kids for the next 5 years. We released the album independently and a year later my son was born.

What is the best advice you’ve been given?

Amy: Judy Collins once told me to just stay true to my writer’s voice (and my voice). Mary Gauthier a long time ago told me that because I have my singing voice, if I came off stage and the first compliments were about my voice, then I have failed as a songwriter.

Lulu: Be authentic in everything you do. Whether it be song writing, giving a performance or even marketing yourself, always be yourself and honour your values.

Mel:  Trust your instincts and don’t take advice from someone you don’t respect.  

Nini: When I was 20 my wise aunt wrote to me: “Look at yourself right now. See that 50% empathy and 50% badass. Make sure to keep that as you grow older.”

Photo by karolina-grabowska via pexels

What advice would you have for your child wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Amy: I’d tell him first to go to college not music school. So that he can experience a broad knowledge and broader conversations than just how to make it in the music industry. It makes for a better writer and a more resilient human. It also gives you an education and intelligence that gives you a backup plan. I’d also say, if you’re going to do this, don’t have a real back up plan. Just go for it. But also, be realistic. The music business these days is so crowded and it’s almost impossible to cut through the noise.

Lulu: To a child I would say, if you want to be a songwriter then learn at least one instrument and try to perform live wherever you can – school, open mics, anything. It will help you gauge your music with an audience and provide invaluable experience. But I also want to say to all the mums out there, now is YOUR time too. It is never too late to do something you have always wanted to do, but which you might have felt was outside your comfort zone. You have nothing to lose. DO IT!

Mel: My 11 and 13-year-old have been in films, musicals, TV and recording since they were tiny. It’s a wonderful industry but a tough one so naturally we were concerned about them getting into it so young. They love performing and I’m happy for them to continue as long as it remains a fun activity. I encourage them to have other skills they can enjoy and earn a living from if and when they need to. Most importantly, they need to love every minute of it. It’s a hard and precarious profession. Always be respectful and treat everyone the same. The crew, the ushers, the people who sell merchandise and programmes are every bit as important as the director or the headliner. Trust your instincts!

Nini: Stay safe and have fun. And remember: 50% empathy and 50% badass. But that goes for life in general. No matter what he chooses to do in life.

 

What’s next for you?

Amy: My new record There Used To Be Horses Here comes out on 30th April and a follow up record Tucson will release in October 2021. I wrote a memoir about the spiritual journey of being a mother and artist at 50 and I’m in the process of pitching it to agents. I’ve continued writing, maybe more than I ever have before, because I’m off the road, and I’m waiting to see what touring will be like in late 2021 and 2022. The pandemic has changed so much, but I’m still making music and releasing records.

Lulu: A video for my latest release Circles and my next release The Bell Jar.

Mel: I have some more singles coming out followed by an album and I’ve just filmed a pilot for a new TV show. My kids are home-schooling at the moment so I’m helping them with that and having lots of family time. And hopefully a few date nights with my husband!

Nini: I just started writing new songs with one of my guitarists. We seem to always return to each other. But it’s been slow during the pandemic, so right now I am working on lyrics.

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