No Small Children
You don’t have to be in a funk just because it’s Monday. Instead, get funky!
TrunkSpace brings you another edition of Musical Mondaze. This week out we’re chatting with No Small Children, a trio of rockers from Los Angeles who have been taking the scene by storm both for their sound and their story. By day they’re educators in a classroom. By night they’re on stage performing as one of the fastest rising bands this side of a subwoofer. But for the next few minutes, members Lisa Pimentel (guitar and vocals), Joanie Pimentel (bass and vocals), and Nicola Berlinsky (drums) are TrunkSpace interviewees.
(We spoke to the trio while they were still at the school where they work prior to the dismissal of the students. Lisa joins us midway through the conversation.)
TrunkSpace: What a lot of bands lack, at least in terms of marketing themselves, is a story. That being said, No Small Children seems to have one of the best stories we’ve heard in a long while.
J. Pimentel: Thankfully it happened on it’s own and we didn’t have to invent anything.
TrunkSpace: And that’s the best way to have a story… to have it come together organically. How much of having that unique story… teachers by day, rockers by night… do you think brings people in and sort of acts as the introduction to your music?
Berlinsky: We’re appreciative that people are interested in our story and if it opens up doors to meeting new people or having new opportunities, we really welcome that. But what we really are happy with is that if people didn’t believe in the quality of our music and worth sharing and talking about it as well, we don’t think that they’d come and talk to us again. So, we’ve been invited back just about everywhere we’ve gone and played and on different TV channels. We appreciate the invitation because they’re interested in our story, but we also feel like people are validating us as musicians as well, so that goes hand in hand. We feel good about that.
TrunkSpace: Is the marketing aspect of No Small Children part of what the band looks at? You seem to have a strong sense of what the brand is, so we’re curious if that is something you focus on?
J. Pimentel: It is. Honestly, it is more work than most artists anticipate that they’re going to have to spend. It’s a very important part of spreading the word. You have to make it easy for people to find you and there’s a lot of things that we do that… some of it was started out of fun and some of it was started intentionally to spark interest, but in the end, it can’t be manufactured. It has to all come from a really authentic place. So, our brand speaks to certain elements of our personalities, our style of our music, our parallel careers… this is all part of it. Our story is part of our brand.
TrunkSpace: Has the brand changed and/or grown from your origins to where you are now? Do you take what you’ve learned, even from a business standpoint, and apply it to the band’s future?
J. Pimentel: Yes. There are some lessons we learned the hard way and some we learned the easy way.
Berlinsky: I think that when we started we said yes to every opportunity and now we have more of a vision moving forward and it helps us make choices. It helps us select when we say no. And, given that we truly are teachers, every opportunity that comes our way, we do have to think about how it fits into the larger context of our reputations as well. Our brand and our story is also with an awareness and protection of our careers as educators in these modern times, so it does help us to find some of the decisions that we make moving forward because our goal is to open opportunities, not to close them.
J. Pimentel: The good news is, we don’t have to do too much of that.
J. Pimentel: Honestly, who you see online is who we really are. It’s not a watered down version of us or re-framed to be appropriate for kids. We’re pretty clear that, like the name of the band, not everything we do is for children, but we can honestly own every single thing that we do.
Berlinsky: What’s matured over time is how we walk that line with confidence so that the opportunities that maybe before we were not quite sure how we would take, we know… for example, we were invited to play the Women’s March in D.C. and we really want to be a band that is inclusive, and by choosing to do that, it’s definitely sending a message. But, it’s one that we can all really stand by in every aspect of our lives.
TrunkSpace: In a day and age where people are so sensitive to what others say and do, and in your case in particular where as educators you deal with parents every day, do you feel like you have to be extra careful with the choices you make, whether it’s politically, lyrically, or other?
J. Pimentel: Here’s the good news. As teachers you get really good at how to phrase things. That’s a practice you get into from the very beginning of your teaching career. And in general, we are just not mean or cruel people. That’s who we are, as I said earlier, in our real lives, so there’s not much watering down or rephrasing that we have to do because just being nice is something we would try to do anyway. We are very, very fortunate that, with the school where we work, we have tremendous support by our principal and the school community. And that includes the parents. It is very clear that not everything we do is for children. Just like any other adults, there are parts of our lives that are completely dedicated to children, and other parts that are completely dedicated to some other interests. So, within the school and with the parents, it’s really appropriate for the parents to be making the decisions about what they want their children to listen to. We do not direct our music at the students. We don’t say, “Go home and tell your parents to buy this album.” We don’t do that. There are parents who do come to our shows and they listen to our music and they themselves love it. And sometimes the kids get a hold of it and they end up loving it, but that’s absolutely a parental decision. It’s not our decision. We are really, really careful about how we approach that.
TrunkSpace: What’s great about music is that it can really bring people together. Often times, two individuals who may have nothing in common can find common ground and come together over the same song or band.
J. Pimentel: And they often do at our shows. At any show you come to for us, you will see a spectrum of people. That is a spectrum of age, gender, race, beliefs… everything. And economics too. People come to have fun and they want to kind of let go a little bit. A lot of our music is edgy and kind of a little reckless and some of our songs are kind of tongue-in-cheek and fun and funny and are meant to be just for fun.
Berlinsky: And just sort of those universal things that everyone can relate to and commiserate with and just sort of poke fun of themselves for taking themselves too seriously. We’ll be the first in line to make fun of ourselves, and it allows other people to laugh at themselves as well. We want people to be in on it, not feel excluded from it.
J. Pimentel: Yeah, this conversation is already more serious than we usually are. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: As far as origin stories for bands go, most of them start with, “we grew up together on the playground.” But for No Small Children, you were already grown ups on the playground.
Berlinsky: (Laughter) You know what’s true though, and what I love about those stories, that it didn’t just happen. It was the labor that went into it. Look at the Beatles just as a classic example and that shredding that went into it. In our first three months together, we played 55 shows locally as an example. And, for years we were nonstop.
J. Pimentel: Shredded… absolutely. And those gigs were in addition to two rehearsals a week on top of our full time teaching schedules. One of the benefits to coming to this group now with all three of us being teachers is that we’ve figured out a way to be very efficient in our rehearsals and also in how we break up the responsibilities of being in a band that are outside of just playing your respective instrument. We have to. We don’t have a choice.
TrunkSpace: We noticed how organized you were. Between booking the interview and getting promotional images… it was so fast and efficient.
J. Pimentel: (Laughter) You should see us at clubs when we show up with actually all of our gear.
Berlinsky: We’re a little early with everything. (Laughter)
J. Pimentel: Club owners are always a little surprised to see us.
Berlinsky: Yeah. And if anybody sort of tries to get away with things that they promised… set times, payment, or whatever… we pull up the emails in half a second. They just can’t get away with it.
TrunkSpace: What about your students? Do they ever feel like they think they can get away with more in your classrooms because you’re “the cool rock teachers?”
J. Pimentel: (Laughter) Well, to them, honestly we’re their teachers first. Sometimes these worlds do collide a little bit, but very, very infrequently. They see us as teachers first and then outside of school, they might hear some of our music or they heard us when they went to see the “Ghostbusters” movie or those types of things. They’re honestly our biggest champions. They love it but they see us as their teachers first.
Berlinsky: They also… we talk to them about how we practice.
J. Pimentel: Right.
Berlinsky: And we talk to them about when we’re personally stuck with something, how do we approach it and break it down. And so we’re talking to them in real time about things that we’re very passionate about. They feel that and respect that.
J. Pimentel: Yeah.
Berlinsky: So it’s almost just the opposite. They’re very good for us.
TrunkSpace: I would imagine that from the student perspective, it must be very refreshing to have teachers who are musicians, especially as many music programs are being cut around the country.
J. Pimentel: It is always a challenge when you work in a place when the arts are cut. And you get that with arts and athletics. And it can be frustrating where that’s not included as an important part of education or part of an overall curriculum. And like I said earlier, we are so fortunate, especially where we are right now… we’re kind of in the entertainment capital of the country… that there is really tremendous support for the arts and progressive teaching styles when it comes to the arts. The example that Nicola gave where she was talking to the kids about our process struggling through something and they respect it… it happens in a general classroom, it can happen in a music lesson, it can happen anywhere. In some ways it gives us a little more credibility with them because we’re asking them to do something that we are doing ourselves. We’re asking them to take a chance. To be vulnerable. To take a risk. To work really, really hard. And the emphasis is put on the work. That’s the part they can own. Not on your talent or your natural ability or anything like that. Just on the work.
TrunkSpace: You mentioned earlier that you played 55 shows in your first three months together. That must have been quite the crash course in learning as you do?
Berlinsky: Yeah. And today what we do is, we get somebody to record it. Not just the audio, but the visual because we are getting our larger stage show ready. We’ve had the fortune of playing some really big stages and we love it, so we just want to be always ready when we hit.
TrunkSpace: Going to the game tape!
J. Pimentel: (Laughter) Yeah. And we learned a lot about coffee during those first few months. Just how important and essential it can be.
(Lisa joins the conversation.)
TrunkSpace: Earlier we were talking about the parents of your students, and if we’re not mistaken, it was a parent who actually opened up the door for No Small Children to get involved in the “Ghostbusters” remake?
L Pimentel: That’s it, yeah. (Catching breath) His name is Teddy Shapiro. (Catching breath) I ran here. Sorry.
L. Pimentel: He’s a parent at our school. His name is Teddy Shapiro and he was a composer on the film. We recorded the song and we were like, “You know, I wonder who is working on this film?” And when we found out Teddy Shapiro was working on it, we were like, “Let’s just send it to him and with no expectations and no pressures. Maybe he’ll like it. Maybe he’ll pass it on.” Which is what we always do. As musicians, you’re just constantly passing things off and hoping they have a life and this one did.
Berlinsky: And just to dovetail what Joanie was saying before, so from that connection… he didn’t have to send it on but he liked it enough to send it up to music supervisor Erica Weis. And it’s great now that we have these relationships. She said, “Every time you have new music, send it to me first.” So we just sent those new songs and now she’s always keeping an eye out for placement for us. That’s another factor. We talked a lot about the work, but the other piece is about the relationship.
L. Pimentel: And the serendipitous nature of this business.
J. Pimentel: Well, the harder you work, the luckier you get, right?
L. Pimentel: Totally.
J. Pimentel: So it’s a matter of odds. If you put a million things out there, you get a few that stick.
TrunkSpace: Was there any pressure that came with being involved in such a huge, iconic brand like “Ghostbusters?”
J. Pimentel: It’s funny because when we recorded it, we were just recording it the way we were already playing it. We really didn’t put a lot of thought into the way we played it. And then we played it and people were like, “Oh, it’s great.”
Berlinsky: Yeah. We didn’t try to make it sound like anybody’s expectation of what we were doing.
J. Pimentel: Right. We didn’t have that pressure.
Berlinsky: We did put thought into it about how we’d want to hear it…
J. Pimentel: Yeah.
Berlinsky: But we didn’t have other people’s expectations.
J. Pimentel: We didn’t think about… it didn’t feel like pressure. We were just recording it like we record every song, unlike Fall Out Boy who had the pressure of knowing it was going to be the version. That kind of pressure can be tough, but for us we got really lucky because we did it the way we play and then it just happened to fit what “Ghostbusters” was doing.
Berlinsky: We haven’t even seen this yet, but we just learned that in the director’s cut, Paul Feig talks about us.
J. Pimentel: Somebody who came to one of our shows over the weekend told us that and we had no idea. I’m definitely going to listen to that right away.
(Nicola excuse herself from the conversation to do dismissal duty with the students.)
TrunkSpace: You hear stories all of the time about female-driven bands and how club owners try to book them on bills with other female-driven bands. Have you experienced this?
J. Pimentel: Oh God, yes!
L. Pimentel: There’s one thing that happens at every show. I would say 8 out of ten times they play “Cherry Bomb” right before we go on.
J. Pimentel: (Laughter)
L. Pimentel: Or like the Go-Go’s coming on the house music. (Laughter)
J. Pimentel: Yeah.
L. Pimentel: We feel there are pros and cons to it. We try to look at the pros in that people aren’t expecting us to kick ass. So, in a way, we’re trying to use the low expectations to our advantage. But, for the most part, people have been really cool to us. There’s an occasional honest mistake where someone’s like, “Oh, I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe I just said that. Where’s the drummer?” Even though you’re the one standing there with the drum.
TrunkSpace: Even just in terms of labels it seems odd in that, when three guys start a band, it would be a band, but if three women start a band, it’s a girl band.
L. Pimentel: Well I’ll tell you what, to me, what I find more challenging… cause now it’s become less of an issue. With our kids, there’s as many girls and it’s not even an issue for them. But I’ll tell you what I find to be harder is… being in our 40s is the hard part.
J. Pimentel: Yeah.
L. Pimentel: No one wants to touch a 40-year-old.. people in their 40s… label-wise anyway. We have tons of exposure to labels and people are not interested because they are stuck in that older way of thinking. And at the same time, I feel like our band is defying all of the odds of being in our 40s and being a woman band.
TrunkSpace: It does seem odd that many labels continue to operate with an old school music industry mindset when so much has changed in how people consume music.
J. Pimentel: You tapped on this earlier a little bit, but what we have found is that there is a huge demographic that has gone very much under served… that love our music, that love our style of music, and they have money to spend.
L. Pimentel: Yeah. And they’re honest and pay for music. (Laughter)
J. Pimentel: That’s right. They pay for music and they pay to come out and see shows. That’s kind of something we have felt for a long time in that, at the end of the day, there’s nothing that speaks more loudly than people spending their money.
“I Feel Better,” the band’s latest single produced by Bob Marlette, will be released soon!