Lately I’ve been wondering why more female musicians don’t talk publicly about being moms. Or maybe they do and I just haven’t been paying attention? I suppose that’s possible, but somehow I don’t think that’s the story. I think most of us are perfectly happy to pretend female musicians just aren’t “mom types.” Maybe we like to pretend they’re too rock ’n’ roll for that, or we assume they must care more about making art than about something as basic as procreation, or maybe because we subconsciously identify them as too male (in a sense) for the whole mom gig? Whatever it is, it has me wondering: Can a woman be a mom and a bona fide rock star at the same time?
I’m a touring singer-songwriter myself, and these questions just became a whole lot more pressing a few months ago when I found out I was expecting my first child. One of the first people I told I was pregnant, a man (and a fellow-musician), responded with well, there goes your music career, which both freaked me out and made me wildly indignant. It was eye-opening though, because I realized I didn’t have a very solid retort to that sentiment. And at the same time, I found myself not wanting to tell my music peers or business partners that I was pregnant for fear they would have a similar response and immediately assume I’m hanging up my guitar.
But the thing is, I don’t plan on retiring from music any time soon, and as I started considering what my future musical life was going to look like with a baby on my hip, I realized I was going to need some role models. Surely there were some out there to be found, right? Women who are, you know, doing it all and making good art, too? As soon as I started searching for people to hope on, I realized that there are actually plenty to be found, they just aren’t very public about being moms (in fact some are downright secretive). My guess is that it’s because many of them hold the same beliefs I came into this with — that the world will assume they’re done with music, that no one will take them seriously anymore, that they won’t seem edgy or badass or relevant enough or that everyone will ultimately just be waiting to watch them fail.
From where I stand it feels crucial to me to learn as much about these women’s experiences as possible — no matter where they are on their music and motherhood journeys. Because seriously, how are they pulling it off? Or I guess, first things first, are any of them actually pulling if off? And if so, what does that look like in practice? I know none of their stories will look the same — some are still touring, some have taken long hiatuses, some have created new working models altogether, but I’m setting out to pick the brains of as many pro-musician moms as I can find. The list is longer than suspected (thank God!) and I am thrilled that The Fold was interested in hosting the conversation. I’m equally thrilled to be kicking it off with none other than iconic singer-songwriter Carrie Akre.
Many of you may know Carrie from her years as the front-woman and heart-center of well-known 90s bands Goodness and Hammerbox, but she has also released three powerful solo albums (with a fourth currently in the works!) that helped to solidify her as an individual artistic force. I first saw Carrie perform back in 2001, when my then-boyfriend described her as “a badass man-eater,” and I decided right then and there that I wanted to be her. Carrie has pipes of steel and a gripping rock ‘n’ roll stage presence that landed her multiple major label deals, tours around the world and a large, passionate fan-base. She also happens to be mom to an 10-year-old boy named Orion, and I couldn’t wait to ask her about her motherhood experience thus far. Our conversation was long and thrilling, and could’ve gone even longer, but I’ll do my best to highlight Carrie’s thoughts here.
Hi Carrie! I could go three rounds with you on this.
I know! The main challenge will be where do we start and where do we end?!
Where were you in your musical career when you decided to start a family?
It was (during) my third solo CD, and I had met my husband, and we were pretty whirlwind. And I think when I released the record I played shows until I was about eight months pregnant. But you know, I loved being pregnant. I loved it. I felt like I had a buddy in my belly, and I felt like I didn’t have to worry about my weight, which was amazing. It was like, Yeah! I’m gonna dress this belly up!
Orion was born in 2008 and I played shows up until 2007. Since then I have taken a huge ten-year hiatus, with lots of other twists and turns. I took a turn away from music in several ways. I also got tired of being poor and I took a corporate job with Nordstrom.com and have done tech project management ever since on and off… and then when I whirlwind got married and had Orion, I remember being in the house one day doing dishes and going what the fuck has happened? Like, how did I go from being a rock star and feeling badass to cleaning up after an adult man and doing dishes and just fucking being tired?
Tell me about your 10-year hiatus — did you see that coming? Did you know, if I have a kid, I’ll probably take a break from music or was that unexpected?
I think I truthfully knew that was coming and I kind of wanted it. I was pretty burnt out. I had hit a wall of burnout. Because I had been touring and doing all of that kind of "business" (and it’s unfortunate that I would call it business) for over a decade…so I knew that it was coming. You know, I would go to practices when Orion was like six months old, and I just didn’t want to be there. I was like I don’t want to be in a stinky, windowless room. I don’t care and it’s kind of depressing. And I felt the real pull to be with my kid. My son and I, I feel like, are soul mates. It’s crazy. He’s awesome.
I definitely wanted a family. I felt bad about it though. That’s the turmoil I would encourage you not to have. I didn’t feel like being at practice, I felt like being with my kid. I wish I had just said to myself stop, be with your kid. Although I would miss music, it’s such an empowering thing to do that I also didn’t want to lose that, so there was a struggle there.
I also hit a real burnout on Seattle in about 2010. My history in Seattle felt too heavy to me. And I didn’t feel like I could be new or get out from under that. I felt like everyone kept talking about me in the past. Like I remember when you did that show at Rock Candy, or I remember when you did this, or I loved Hammerbox. And I just felt like saying I’m not dead, people…I’m hitting my prime frankly. All that stuff was great, but I’m still evolving and I’m fucking really good.
So we decided to move and I got recruited to work at Target in Minneapolis, which was total synchronicity. And so we moved to Minneapolis, which was even kind of weirder because I had no history like I had in Seattle, so all of me, of that, is gone. And now I’m just a mom. And on top of that working a corporate job, which is a whole other conversation. I’m going to deter you from that!
One of the first things someone said to me when I told him I was pregnant was well, there goes YOUR music career! I'm sure you have thoughts!
Look, no one needs to say that. I mean, I did play music. It’s not like I stopped and never played music or did shows. But did I run or build a dedicated band that met on a regular basis and then planned shows? That I will say is a lot of work and takes a lot of time. Especially when you have a baby. And the formative years of the kid takes away some time away from that. What I didn’t do, but I’ve seen people do, is bring that kid along for the ride. As long as their personality can do that. My son is very introverted. Bringing him to practice spaces or shows is just not gonna happen. It’s terrifying to him. It’s not fun for him. But that’s who he is.
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And here's the truth: There’s a lot of exhaustion when they’re babies. You’re sleep deprived. You’re tired. You can’t do it all. And then I just was like well where do I want to put my energy? My mom also died when I was in Minneapolis, so time spent with people and my family and my kid got real serious to me. Like, what are you doing dickin’ around in a practice space away from your kid?
I got real in the none of this matters space. I mean, he’s only going to be 10 one time. And too much time away from him is not the life I want. But I am a pretty massive nurturer, so I felt a real struggle, a pull, with lots of guilt. And my mind was just sort of like you’ve done a shit-ton of this. You’ve succeeded. What else do you want? I mean it’s not like you’re gonna get in a van and tour. It’s just not the same anymore so what is the struggle for?
But if I could build a life now, which I’m sort of gunnin’ to do, I’d love to have it like okay there’s peak season for playing shows, so let’s make a record and in the summer we go tour around, make a bunch of our money, my kid comes with and maybe brings a friend, and then boom I’ve got six months where I’m hibernating, or I’m working on something else. So there’s lots of ways it could take shape.
But I just wanted to be a mom. I wanted to be a good mom and be there for him. What I didn’t like, and when we were in Minneapolis I said this to my husband, was that if I never spoke about it, or we had no evidence of it, Orion would never know anything about my time in Seattle or my music history. And that’s fuckin’ weird. Like a whole segment of who I am and my life, and he just wouldn’t know about it?
That must’ve been kind of scary.
Yeah. It exacerbated the lost feeling of who am I?
It sounds like you were sort of redefined, which on the one hand sounds great because you get tired of writing your own name a million times a day, and it would be amazing to focus on someone else for a while. And yet, there is the fear of being totally redefined, which is what it sounds like you came right up against in Minneapolis, especially since you had a kid and moved away at the same time. That is scary! But with enough space, it sounds like that’s sort of changing again, like you’re re-energized. Is this new creative energy or new energy to get back into all of it?
It’s more energy around creating the pocket how I want it. I don’t give a shit about chasing KEXP, you know? I just don’t. Because my end game is not to get back into the game. But I know that what I can do is record, I can go get a million musicians in town, I can play killer shows. So I know all the things that are in my control and where I can get my ya-ya’s off.
I instantly get uncomfortable and it doesn’t feel right to start caring about oh I gotta release my record in this month so that it gets the most attention, then I gotta go get people to give a shit about it. All of that, my gut says no. What I do want, I want to sing, I want to enjoy music, I want to express myself…I could go have a big show and fill a room. I can go build a festival at a winery. If I want it, I’ll go get it for myself. I do not like waiting for people to give me permission. I don’t like waiting for approval. I never have.
That all just feels really pure and like you’re in a really free place. And I know you’re still turning this stuff over in your mind, figuring out what next, but it sounds like it’s all coming from a really fresh place. Did you have to practice an insane amount to get back in vocal shape for the new album and shows?
Well, one, I started with choir and training. But also, when I joined Hammerbox, I only lost my voice one time… when I got back from that tour I went and saw Gretta Harley — the first person who ever talked to me about how to sing to rock music. She was also the first person who ever talked to me about what it means to be an artist. It was revelatory.
I know for me lots of dairy and carbonation are terrible, and I also know not to push it too hard. But I swear-to-God that at 52 I sing better than I have in my whole life. Because you know yourself so well. I’ve always been one of those who’s been interested in singing, like a guitar player’s interested in playing the guitar. I think about it that way.
Last question! How have you seen your creativity change? Or have you seen it wane at all? Because obviously that’s the fear with having kids. And I’ve had like three people say to me: Now you’ll have to make a kid’s record!
Oh, fuck off! No. That’s not going to happen to you. It just won’t. Because you’re going to be experiencing things on a different level. You’re going to have thoughts about that. And you’re going to write about it. I mean, this new record, I can’t wait to send it to you. Because it’s a passage record. And what I love about the writing now is that it’s so personal. It’s my own personal private poetry for things that I need to say. And that’s the only reason. And that’s why I’ll never lose. I’m writing for me. And if I’m happy, customer served, you know?
And you write deeper. I’m sorry, but there’s so much more that’s happening to you, you’re gonna write more. You might be a little tired, but you’re going to be an even fuller woman. You’ll know yourself, you will have birthed a human being! And you’re going to be tired, you’re going to have arguments, you’re going to watch someone grow, you’re going to have doubts — I mean, that’s all fodder for amazing lyrics.
See, this is the hope. I don’t need someone to tell me I’m going to be on tour all year, every year, but I do need to hear that I’m still going to make.
You’ll make music, there’s no doubt about it. Just know you’re going to do that. Maybe it’s not the first two years, and that’s fine. It’s been hard for me to go I’m gonna need to not regret whatever it is I think I’m missing. And the truth is, I really don’t think we’re missing shit.
Go see Carrie and band perform Carrie Akre’s Greatest Hits – a retrospective of songs from Goodness, Hammerbox, the Rockfords and Carrie’s solo albums – THIS Saturday, December 8 at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle. More info here!