How these Philly musicians mix motherhood with rock and roll
RunHideFight and Thorazine are two of several Philly rock bands made of musicians who were active in the 1990s rocking once again.
Once music takes hold of you, can you ever leave it behind for good?
Geeta Dalal Simons, Christine Weiser, and Jo-Ann Rogan couldn't.
All three women were players in the Philadelphia rock scene in the 1990s. Simons, then known as Geeta Dalal, fronted Rockula and played guitar in bands such as Swisher and Dr. Bob's Nightmare.
Weiser wielded a bass in Floating Dogs, Suffacox, and a string of acts in which she paired with singer Lynette Byrnes, including Mae Pang, Gal Lombardo and The Tights. And Rogan fronted Thorazine, the punk-rock outfit named after an antipsychotic drug (whose manufacturers SmithKline Beecham, now GlaxoSmithKline, sued the band, and gave them lots of publicity, in 1995).
But as the millennium turned, all three women had children, and put rock-and-roll aside. Ryan, the first of Rogan's two boys, was born in 2003, the same year Weiser gave birth to her son, Dexter. And Simons has two daughters, Devi, 8 and Rani, 7.
But they found that they couldn't leave their gear stashed away in the basement. The Rock Moms had to return to action.
Simons and Weiser are playing together in RunHideFight, a quartet showcasing Simons' songs, such as "Mom of the Year" and "Eat My Heart Out," the latter about "grief eating" for her late mother, who died in 2015. The band name, Weiser says, is about "standing up for what you believe in, whether it's political or any form of adversity."
The band includes drummer Jon Kois and guitarist Brother JT, aka John Terlesky of 1990s rock standouts Original Sins. The quartet impressed mightily opening for punk legends Pere Ubu at Johnny Brenda's in November. They play their third gig ever at the Barbary on Jan. 20, opening for glam band Creem Circus. They are also playing the Alternative Gallery in Allentown on Feb. 10.
And Rogan is back leading Thorazine — along with her guitarist husband Elliott Taylor — who reformed in 2014. The foursome, which includes original drummer Dallas Cantland and one-named bassist Hoover, have toured steadily since reforming and are recording their first album in 20 years, set to be released later this year.
The players in RunHideFight and Thorazine are just two of many bands featuring musicians who were '90s regulars in Philly clubs like Chinatown's Firenze Tavern, South Street's J.C. Dobbs, and Old City's Khyber Pass Pub and Upstairs at Nick's (where Rogan tended bar and her husband-to-be was the sound man) that are rocking once again.
Among them: Poppy, the Kate Campbell-fronted hard-edged trio, that includes her bassist husband Brian Campbell and her brother Craig Heim on drums. Campbell also plays with Rich Fravel (formerly of Uptown Bones and Latimer) in Mt. Vengeance, which just released its bracing debut album Covered in Dust. Heim also plays in Scram, the reformed punk-reggae trio featuring brothers Matt and Greg Mungan, which had a gig scheduled at PhilaMOCA this weekend.
In many cases, the grown-up rockers had put their instruments aside after becoming parents, only to find the urge to rock was insistent.
"When I picked up the bass again, I realized just how much I missed it," says Weiser, 51.
She stopped playing after the birth of her son, and channeled her considerable energies elsewhere.
Weiser was sitting with Simons in the third floor of the West Philly house Simons shares with her restaurateur husband, Stephen, that's been colorfully transformed into a child's wonderland when we spoke. Weiser says that what she missed about music was the sense of "creative community" she had lost while writing novels — she published roman à clef Broad Street and sequel Come as You Are — in isolation.
"I forgot how great that was. I guess I didn't realize that I was sacrificing that much," she says. Weiser played benefits for a friend with cancer in 2015 and 2016, and got the bug. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I am not alone.' "
"That's exactly it," says Simons, 42. "A live show, when things are working, there's just nothing like it. The least alone I've ever felt is playing a live show with other musicians and you can see you're reaching people because you're in that same space."
Rogan echoes those feelings. "As my kids were born, that's when I really missed it," says the singer, who lives in the Wissahickon neighborhood of Philadelphia and works as a social media director for a Idaho software company.
She also was a long time bartender at McGlinchey's in Center City, a job she returned to because she needed to be with her home-schooled young children during the day. Ryan, 14, is autistic (he's also a competitive swimmer who recently made the Junior Olympics) and Aaron, 12, has anaphylactic food allergies.
"I had no community," says Rogan, 51. "I started blogging instead."
She wrote about motherhood at her blog PunkyMama. "That helped me get through for a couple of years."
Being married to a musician in the same band as you also presented challenges, Rogan says. "You have to get a babysitter," she says. "It's expensive."
As her kids have gotten older and can stay home alone, it's gotten easier. And music "is an outlet, a place for that rage and that anger," Rogan says. "And it lets me be more than a mother. Because you know you get put in that Mommy Box. And no one's going to put me in the Mommy Box, that's for sure."
Weiser and Simons have known each other for over 20 years — Weiser's husband Creem Circus drummer Rob Giglio, also played in Rockula. Weiser says, "I was kind of looking for other women because I still have the schedule challenges and I thought it'd be fun to get together with another mom, so we can be friends and talk about the many hats we wear as mothers and artists."
Chris DiPinto, who fronts Creem Circus and owns Fishtown's DiPinto Electric Guitars & Basses, pointed Weiser Simons' way after he made a 24-string double-necked guitar with a checkerboard pattern — "Because I still love Cheap Trick," says Simons — for her.
The timing was right. Raised in Morgantown, W. Va., to Indian immigrant parents, Simons grew up on a musical diet of Bollywood soundtracks, 1960s country music, and the Pretenders and Blondie. She got turned onto punk when bands like Naked Raygun and Bikini Kill came through town, and moved to Philadelphia to go to the University of Pennsylvania. "Music was always a form of pushback and protest for me," she says.
In the early aughts, she moved to Los Angeles to have a go at rock stardom, and got as far as auditioning for Courtney Love's band. The left coast rubbed her the wrong way, though. She moved back to Philly and put her axes down for 13 years.
She worked for a time as a producer on WHYY radio shows such as Voices in the Family, and has been a stay-at-home mom for five years. Despite tendonitis that made it difficult to play, she started to write songs again last year, working in a first floor former playroom space decorated with fliers from '90s Philly rock shows and votive candles from three patron saints: David Bowie, Stevie Nicks, and Dolly Parton.
Not playing music, she says, made her question herself. "'Who am I?'," she wondered. "I felt so empty."
"There's a lot of guilt that you feel, more so for moms than dads, about doing things that take you away from your children," says Weiser. "But you need to be all these things. And I think you're better parents as a result."
Now that she's making music again, Simons says, people wonder if she's gotten divorced or gone though some personal crisis. "I'm like, 'No!' I love my family, I love my children. It's just I was in there somewhere, like in a closet, shut away. I'm just back now, too."