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My music career started in front of a big mirror in the basement of our house in Queens, New York.  I learned all the songs in The Sound of Music; I’d dance and lip-sync to “Little Red Corvette,” play Fleetwood Mac on my Fender Rhodes.  My mom sang Ukrainian opera and danced polkas.  She always encouraged me to follow my dream, and paid for voice, guitar, piano and cello lessons.  She’s still crazy that way! And still remains an avid supporter!

When I was 19, I moved to a small Greenwich Village apartment and soon opened my own rehearsal studio in an arts building on 30th Street. I was on the sixth floor, but I could hear the Ramones rehearsing in the basement. The building was full of music emanating from rehearsal studios and lofts. It was quite a scene, although I wasn’t involved in many bands. I was always writing songs by myself or with a collaborator.

Until I answered an ad in the Village Voice from a band out of Baltimore, Maryland, called Beyond Words, in which Mikel Gehl played guitar. I joined the band, and we earned lots of fans, opened for some big names, had brushes with fame. Beyond Words evolved into Love Riot, a more “alternative” band, possibly because we had a violin.

Love Riot’s high point was being chosen to represent the United States in Yamaha’s Soundquest competition. Here we were, a more-or-less acoustic quartet, with no drummer (though I played a pink Les Paul at most shows), in this beautiful amphitheater in the mountains outside Tokyo. Each band played one song. When they announced we had won, it was just one of those surreal moments. Ten thousand miles from home, with all these very polite and lovely people giving us things.

We came back expecting the music world to throw itself at our feet, but it was more of the same: great shows, great fans, brushes with fame. We released a cassette called Muscle and two critically acclaimed CDs, Maybe She Will and Heaven Can Wait. Songs from these recordings were and still are played on TV and in movies – usually background stuff.  My favorite was a featured song in the TV show Homicide: Life on the Street.  The episode actually featured Love Riot performing the song, called “Killing Time.”  That was an honor, because it was such a great show.

But then the funniest thing happened: I wanted to have a baby. My husband was all for it, and before we knew it, we were expecting. The band went on hiatus (a hiatus that resulted in three more babies for my band mates, including Mikel’s son, Eric), and I concentrated on being a mom. Even before Jesse was born, I was writing songs for her, singing to her; by the time she was a year old, I had a dozen songs –  “ditties,” I called them – that I’d written with Mikel. They were simple songs about being a baby, about the love I felt for her.

We came up with a name for our band by combining our first names (and borrowing an “h”), went into the studio, put out a CD called Happy Songs, and were amazed by how much people liked it. Here in Baltimore, we met people who said they fell in love listening to Love Riot, got married, and were now playing our new music for their kids.  Weird. And wonderful.

We don’t have any kind of rules for how we write Milkshake music. Kids don’t seem to have any rules for what music they like — Jesse loves Sesame Street, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Ali Farka Toure. No peer pressure, no “is it cool?” Writing music for children is incredibly liberating: you don’t have to think about getting airplay; you don’t even have to think about whether the music sounds contemporary.  We can use clarinet, triangle, sound effects — anything that comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be “rock band” cool.  We can write about the silliest things, and as long as we’re real and having fun, kids like it.

But we’re rock musicians, so we bring that to Milkshake — and that’s what parents like, I think: beneath the kid-friendly lyrics, the giddy world view, there’s a rock band playing. It’s noticeable on the new CD, PLAY!, which, like the previous two Milkshake CDs, shows how our music has evolved along with our kids. It took us over a year to write and record; during that time my daughter went from being four to being six. Big difference! The songs got bigger, smarter, funnier, deeper, just like Jesse did. I think our music will continue to evolve along with our children.

My gift as a musician and songwriter comes from using what’s given to me to create songs. When Jesse came along, I was given the biggest, wildest, most complex subject there is:  childhood, and the relationship between parent and child.  I get probably five song ideas a day, but being a mom, I don’t have time to write them all down.


Love Riot’s high point was being chosen to represent the United States in Yamaha’s Soundquest competition. Which they won.

We released a cassette called Muscle and two critically acclaimed CDs, Maybe She Will and Heaven Can Wait
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