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Moms rock!

Musician-mothers learn to balance boundless energy and tireless creativity
By DENA RIEGEL  |  May 5, 2010

Salli Wason, of Hatchetface, Man-Witch, and Hessian. PHOTO: Claire Harbage

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Some moms decide, from heartbeat one of ultrasound, that they aren’t going to let a small (i.e., life-changing) thing like motherhood get in the way of their art. The Rock Mom is a specific variety of arty parent, never in control of her own schedule, but no longer driven just by set times and studio availability. Used to staying out until five, now she comes to, clinically sleep-deprived, at five for breastfeeding. She used to procrastinate and somehow make albums while partying on tours, on the scene, and in the blur of young resilience. Now she makes music in the precious, carved-out cracks between mealtime, nap time, softening tantrum time, and somehow sustains her affair with music within the downbeat of her rapid family-run pace.

You’ve seen her around: perhaps mid-30s, maybe tattoos, louder than some, head held high. And you are a bit surprised, pleasantly so, when her kid walks to her side, and she whips a tissue from some magic mom pocket, holds up the Kleenex with guitar-callused fingers, and just like any other mom, says “Blow into the tissue, honey.”

But how, when so many parents understandably complain about a schedule strung tighter than a violin, could they fit in something so self-indulgent, so frivolous — and fulfilling — as music?

Faith is a powerful thing. Music is something of a religion among these moms, and they don’t turn their backs on the big Song In The Sky once it’s given them salvation. Some people experienced this and “grew out of” their music “phase.” Maybe they found something else to fulfill them, or maybe they somehow decided that people just aren’t in bands after turning 30. But it’s not a matter of choice for the mothering musician. As singer/guitarist/mom Hannah Tarkinson of isobell says, “It’s do or die.” The principles of these women’s households are familiar: they’re driven by love, respect, and coffee. Their households are similar to most, wherein it’s (hopefully) self-evident to brush your teeth before bed and wipe your feet at the door. But in these households, it’s also self-evident to rock!

Salli Wason is a Portland mother of two precocious teenage daughters. She breeds her many bands as lovingly as her kids, having helped form Hatchetface, Man-Witch, and Hessian. She looks a bit like a biker chick, but not the kind who rides behind anybody.

”My father describes me as a redneck with a classical education,” she laughs.

The most amiable tattoo tapestry you’ve ever met, Wason is Portland’s most skilled and best-humored barista when she isn’t, as a mischievous song of hers proclaims, “kicking your face with a fistful of rock” at shows. But you can be sure that on Family Saturday, she will be up to “shenanigans,” as she says, with her “clan.”

“I definitely think my enthusiasm for music is contagious and they are bemused by my ongoing exuberance regarding it. It’s a role reversal, really. I think they get a kick out of . . . ridiculous kitchen debates regarding the attributes of the Misfits vs. Samhain.”

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