Maureen “Moe” Tucker, drummer for the Velvet Underground and one of a handful of female fixtures on the late ’60s/early ’70s rock scene, once told a reporter that her career was short-lived for the simple reason that she was a mother.
“Nappies, bath time, picking up kids from school — it’ll never sell,” Tucker said. “It just ain’t rock and roll.”
Of course, that was 40 years ago, and rock and roll has since evolved to accommodate a much more family-friendly lifestyle — these days you’re more likely to read stories about “Hot Moms Who Rock” than about some musician’s hotel room overdose. But even if raising kids is no longer antithetical to a music career, touring still presents a major sticking point for most musician parents.
“In the past, I’ve gone on tour without really thinking about it,” said Claudia Gonson, the drummer, keyboardist and vocalist for the Magnetic Fields. “It was like, ‘Of course, I’m in a band — this is what we do.’ ”
This time, as she finalized plans for the band’s current 66-day tour, the Brooklyn-based single mother was becoming frantic as she faced more than two months on the road with her 1 1 / 2-year-old daughter, Eve, in tow.
“Touring is such an endurance test anyway,” Gonson said. “And when I’m exhausted, I get very weepy and weird and paranoid, and I shout a lot. I’ve learned this the hard way.”
Seeking to stave off seemingly inevitable fatigue familiar to any working mother, Gonson reached out for guidance to a fellow musician mom, Kori Gardner of the band Mates of State — who made her first foray into touring family-style when her first daughter was 10 weeks old.
Recognizing how difficult it was for many artists to find competent, creative caretakers, Gardner, along with three other partners — all 30-something women, and each with an intimate connection to the music world — launched chARTer Nannies, a travel nanny agency that places heavy emphasis on the “ART” part. Between them, they share a remarkable constellation of creative pursuits, child-rearing skills and entertainment business connections — not to mention a killer list of playgrounds in proximity to commonly played clubs.
“You have to have some connection to the art community and want to support it, to understand why families — and moms in particular — would even want to do this,” said Gardner, who writes candidly about raising kids on the road in her blog “Band on the (Diaper) Run.” “It takes a certain kind of person to respect that.”
For years, Erin Austen Abbott was precisely that person for bands such as Mates of State, OK Go and the Flaming Lips, as well as NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon, among others. Abbott, a Mississippi-based artist and Charter Nannies partner, logged thousands of miles as a travel nanny, sometimes spending nine months out of the year on the road.
“It’s definitely a 24-hour adventure,” Abbott said. “It can also be a learning experience. But not everyone is cut out for it.”
Abbott, now married to a musician, is eagerly passing on many of her real-life lessons from the road to the agency’s growing roster of new recruits. She recalled one particularly challenging day during a Flaming Lips tour when the bus broke down, cutting into critical zoo time for Steven Drozd’s two young toddlers.
“We’d been stuck on the bus for 15 hours already, trying to entertain the kids, and it was nighttime by the time we arrived in Portland,” Abbott said. “Of course, the kids didn’t understand — all they knew was they weren’t at the zoo.”
It’s a scenario she frequently lays out for potential hires to gauge their ability to make adjustments on the fly.
“I have a degree in childhood education, but I never wanted to be confined to a classroom. So the main thing we emphasize with our nannies is the need to be flexible. We want to provide our clients with a nanny who can foster the same creativity the kids would have at home.”
Gonson originally considered hiring from a pool of people she knew in Park Slope, but she balked when she realized they probably weren’t prepared for the realities of touring.
“Regular babysitters responded with ‘Wow, on the road! Hanging out on the road! Free travel opportunity!’ Those people would be sorely bewildered by the experience of hanging out in the hotel all day,” she said.
Enter Julia Knapp, also a Charter Nannies partner, who possesses all the characteristics that make her “the crown jewel” of travel nannydom: She’s an artist (she sells a line of baby carriers on Etsy); she knows how to keep kids entertained (she works as a stylist for the hip kids TV show “Yo Gabba Gabba!”); and, thanks to her flexible production schedule, she was able to hit the road with the Magnetic Fields this month as Eve Gonson’s nanny.
Knapp has seen first-hand the sacrifices that working moms, particularly those engaged in creative pursuits, are often forced to make; when her sister, a professional musician, became pregnant, she promptly lost her record deal with RCA.
“There was a time when you just resigned to ending your career,” Knapp said. “That movement, that boldness, for women to just go ahead seems pretty recent. So that’s where our service comes into play — it’s affirming that choice and helping to make it possible.”
Although plenty of successful musicians have managed to balance careers with kids, there are other less successful artists whose careers might have flourished if they’d had more options. That’s precisely why Charter Nannies provides services on a sliding scale whenever possible.
“I can definitely think of people who I saw slowing down,” Gardner said of other musician parents in her community. “I don’t know if they saw it that way, but I would be like, ‘Wait, you could be doing so much more!’ ”
For Saskia Lane, bass player and vocalist for the popular children’s music band Dan Zanes and Friends, such a service is a godsend — especially when she’s had to turn down work for the lack of one.
“You would think playing with the most famous kid band in the country, it’d be easy,” Lane said of touring with her 2 1 / 2-year-old daughter, Luna. “It’s totally not easy. It takes weeks of planning, and e-mailing, and interviewing. Basically, I’ve had to wing it.”
In some ways, the Charter Nannies concept is a modern upgrade to a child-rearing ethos from an earlier era: Indeed, it still takes a village — but now it takes Google Docs, too.
“This couldn’t have happened before the digital age — we’re all so spread out,” Knapp said. “But the four of us is this perfect combination. It’s like finding the perfect members of a band.”
Before diving into the maelstrom of the SXSW music conference in Austin, where the Magnetic Fields made a much-lauded inaugural festival appearance, Gonson acknowledged that with Knapp on board, a sense of adventure had replaced some of her initial apprehension.
“Having a nanny isn’t going to entirely fix the issues of being a mom and a musician, but it has an enormous impact. . . . Julia is saving my life,” she said. “I’m hopeful Eve will tell her friends in high school, ‘When I was a baby, my mom took me on tour.’ ”
Cynthia Joyce is a freelance writer living in Oxford, Miss.
play the 9:30 Club on Monday, April 9.