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by Katy Otto

Tony and Yuri are both members of the inimitable Philadelphia band Meddlesome Meddlesome Meddlesome Bells. They are also both fathers, and chatted with me about the balance of playing in an active band while parenting.

Please tell us about both your creative life/practice and your experience with parenting.

Tony: Music has always captured my creative focus. Though I usually end up playing drums in bands, I'd like to think of myself more as a musician than a drummer in a band. It has always been important for me to set up a music studio/rehearsal spot in all of the places I've lived. All the bands I've played with have been loud. I like to record other bands in my little studio(s), and create my own pieces using any instruments/noise. Musically, but less creatively, I also teach drum and guitar lessons, and I'm taking classes to gain a basic music degree with a focus on jazz piano. I also do freelance graphic design, but I don't really see it as creative - just work right now. Currently, I have a beautiful 2-year-old girl, Cora, and she is my first and only, so I'm still new to the parenting thing.

Yuri: I had my first son when I was 22. The year was 2007 and he was born in August. As a matter of fact, BELLS played our first show in September of that year. And that's also when I started performing on a professional(ish) level. So for me, my band and my kids have always kind of gone hand in hand. I made a decision when I knew I was going to be a father that I wouldn't give up music and that I would pursue the dream until its end. After all, what kind of parent can you be if you've laid your dream down to get all moldy? I knew I would be unhappy, and as a result, probably less effective and connected as a parent. Tony said to me once, "I could be a dad that used to play in bands or a dad that plays in bands. Which would you rather have?" I know what I'd pick and I know he made that decision pretty quick as well. Thankfully, my kids mostly think it's cool that I'm in a band, especially my 3 year old, who often informs me that it's his band when I return from practice. Once he told me that his band and my band and the Melvins were gonna do a band, but the Melvins guys were gonna watch and we were gonna play Melvins songs for them. I thought that was pretty cool.

What were some of the fears you had (if any) about how becoming a parent would impact your creative life? Would you say now, in retrospect, that they were well founded?

Tony: It's strange thinking about it now, because any 'fears' I had about the changes in my creative life, weren't really fears - I'd say that some of those 'fears' converted to excitement and an understanding of priorities in life in general. I looked forward to preparing a place for my little goober to grow up in and be creative... with me (and my wife!). I observed many of my friends continue to play music with just as much drive and passion after they became parents. Likewise, I saw several friends sell off their instruments and re-focus their attention to work and career. Even before Cora was born, I knew I could never 'put away' music creation!

Yuri: When I became a dad I knew almost no one with children that I could really relate to, but now that I'm 30 I see a lot of musicians or otherwise creative folks I know having kids, and a lot of them are giving up playing. I think that's a shame, but it does show pretty clearly the difference between the two states of being, and the real trouble with adjusting from one to the other.

What does your creative life look like currently? How is it different from before you were a parent?

Tony: As far as playing shows and rehearsing, it's not much different, but I don't get to practice as much as I used to, and I don't get out to nearly as many shows as I used to. I think my studio is usually messier now too. Any time I get to spend with Cora while she's awake and I'm not working is precious so maintenance and timing are shifted to the evening.

Yuri: When I was a teenager, I'd spend a whole day in the woods, by a lake, or some old graveyard writing music or poetry, just being creatively lucid and riding that. As a parent, I have to squeeze the little in-between moments to make things with. I think of my project BELLS as work but in the best possible way. I have a responsibility to it and I owe it time, which allows me to be lucid within it, and I think we are making the best music we have ever made right now. Not thanks to whole days daydreaming, but thanks to seeking out the moments to write and practice and being committed enough to do it when you don't feel like it... just like work.

How do you carve out time and space for your creative practice as a parent?

Tony: It's so much easier to have a schedule set for all parties involved. It is more difficult to go off on a creative tangent or do things on a whim. I do want to take equal responsibility and make sure my wife has time to do things she wants to do, so I won't just pass Cora off to mom. It also helps my wife and I with overall planning if she knows when I have rehearsals and shows. As I mentioned before, it's always been important to me to have a place to rehearse and record. After we found out that Beca was pregnant, we knew that the best plan for the future was to have a stable home base - the stars aligned and somehow and we bought a place. Though our options were very, very limited with our budgets, I wouldn't even consider looking at houses unless I could designate one of the rooms as my studio! So carving out a space was very planned!

What kinds of adjustments did you make to your creative practices when you became a parent?

Tony: Less practice time, and overall trying not to be as loud every night of the week. Also, dealing with the times when I really really want to be creative, but can't.

How did becoming a parent affect your creative partnerships with other people?

Tony: This one is sensitive for some people. I made it a point continue my creative partnerships throughout, and I've been lucky to have support from my wife. (And a kid who sleeps through rehearsal!) I say it's sensitive because I have had several friends who severed creative partnerships with me after they had kids. I find it hard to bring up or discuss with them, because any "excuse" they use to the reasons they aren't playing music any more becomes null because I (and many other people in bands, who have kids) have the same reasons, but I'm able to maintain an outlet.

Do you think that some of the challenges parenting presents for creative practice are impacted by your gender? Please share any thoughts you have about this.

Tony: This question is a little loaded because the creative thing I do most (play in a band) happens to male-dominated, and the general set up of what [gender] gets to take off of work and start raising a child is female-dominated. So yeah, gender does/did impact creative practices. I can feel the pressure from family, society, and even myself to push the fun and creative things away so that I can focus on taking care of my fam. Likewise, I see my wife sacrifice her time that she could be working on painting or design to put all of her energy into Cora's upbringing. Either way, I think any [gender] involved with dirty/heavy/metal bands are seen as a, "Really? You are 34 years old and you want to spend your time going to loud shows and making music in your garage? Grow up, get a hair cut!" Perhaps it would be different if I was into easy listening indie... but that's a whole different topic. Also, the precedent of "being in a band and raising a kid as a dad" has been set many times over. Though I'm sure there a many examples of moms in bands, I think the expectation would be for the mother to bow out of playing more so than the expectation of a father to stop... It is impacted because of gender issues, but I feel like if I switched places with my wife, the challenges would be more impactful.

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