Singer Nina Stone Says Her New Album Is A Journey Back To Herself

Nina Stone

Celebrity Interview: Nina Stone

How did Miss Nina come to be?

I was pursuing a career in Musical Theatre in NYC – and true to the usual stereotype, I was waiting tables to make money while I was auditioning. I, however, was a terrible waitress!

Not that I was bad with service – I’m just short (5’2’’) and so carrying trays and plates and leaning over to clear tables was always really challenging. I’d always babysat while growing up and had a knack with children, so I found a job at a play space in NYC (no longer there) called Wondercamp, and that kinda changed my life. I loved it. So much so that when I was in Europe, performing in a tour of 42nd Street and living my dream, I actually missed my job at Wondercamp.  That was illuminating although disconcerting at the time.

After some time I went back to university for my Masters degree in Educational Theatre, and after graduating and working as a teaching artist in many companies and for many age groups, I found myself working at Gymboree Play & Music in Manhattan, and once again loved it, just as I had loved Wondercamp.

Everyone there is “Miss or Mister _____”. I was having such a great time and connecting with so many kids and families that on my off time while walking around the Upper West Side I’d hear “Hi Miss Nina! Hi Miss Nina”. So that’s how the name stuck.

I later moved on to teach at a private preschool on the Upper West Side, doing 2-hour “Parent & Me” preschool prep classes, and that’s when I started writing my own songs to facilitate my curriculum.  From there, I started recording CDs to give to the classes as a holiday gift, and then eventually the idea to do an album came. Three albums later, here I am!

Let’s talk about Every Day’s Your Birthday. How does this album differ from previous albums?

The major differentiation is that it’s the first one with my band, The Jumping Jacks.

In my two previous albums I basically had the main idea of the songs – the lyrics and melody and basic chords and song structure. But I didn’t have full instrumentation fleshed out, nor could I develop more “interesting” chords. It was all very basic. And in both cases, I went to other extraordinary musicians  – Doug Silver for Singing & Dancing Together and Kevin Salem for Sha Doo Be Doop – and kinda said, “Here are my ideas, can you help me make an album?” And in both cases, they helped arrange and flesh out the songs.

This time around, I took on way more musical responsibility. The band certainly helped me flesh out ideas, embellished things and brought their amazing skills and musicianship to the table, but this time around nearly every sound – every note on the album was decided on by me. Marc Bazerman (our producer) totally listened to and supported my ideas and helped me to get what I wanted – and Nate Terry (drummer & associate producer) also stepped in and helped with some additional production on a few tracks to make some music I didn’t know how to make on my own. But they both were so great about partnering with me and asking me what I wanted and editing things in any way that I asked.

The harmonies from the band were also important. Previously my songs had a minimal amount of harmony either done by me or on the last album, Kevin Salem. This time, my bandmates Nate Terry, Matt Schlatter  and Joan Chew would hear my ideas for what I was wanting, and would come up with amazing harmonies and backing vocals that I think make all the difference in how this album sounds.

How would you say you’ve grown over the years, both in a professional and personal capacity?

I’ve definitely grown as a musician. I’d always wanted to play and make music but had put that desire away while I pursued my first love, dance. So although I took piano lessons when I was eight and nine years old, I didn’t pick up a guitar again until adulthood.  I’d pick it up, try some chords and then put it down again because my fingers would be killing me! But eight years ago I picked it up seriously and have been at it ever since. Learning music this late in life is both scary – because I feel “behind” – and totally invigorating! This is gonna sound crazy, but when I learn a bit of music theory and understand it, I feel all lit up and totally alive. It’s pretty amazing.

Professionally speaking I’ve grown because I’ve had to learn a lot about business. At the end of the day, when you’re trying to make money doing something, you need to learn about business and marketing. And the world of business and marketing is changing and growing at a very fast pace due to the Internet. So I’ve had to learn a lot. And am still learning.

I’ve grown very much personally because when I first started down the path of music and working with kids I was a single girl living in Manhattan. And now I’m a wife, mother of a 3- year-old, and homeowner in New Jersey. So there has been much personal growth there! Relationships, parenthood, being a grown-up with a mortgage – there’s almost too much to write about.

But what these three pieces of my life have in common in terms of growth is that I’ve learned the most valuable thing that I can do for myself and others is to truly trust myself and my instincts, and to stop second-guessing myself and feeling small. The latter is how – with some hindsight I can see – I used to exist. I knew what I wanted, but then would second-guess. For nearly every decision I had to make I’d poll my friends or my family. So it’s been a journey. But whether it’s about how I’d like a song to sound, or about how to parent my child, or what I want to do in business or in my personal life, I am most empowered and feeling the best when I just listen to my gut and trust myself.

How would you say that your background in dance and theater prepared you for being a children’s musician?

Oh man – my background gave me everything I need! To entertain the very young child, you need to be able to really perform, keep your energy up, and almost treat the experience like an Improv show! Everything I learned from acting about staying in the moment and listening, and everything I learned about keeping my energy up when performing applies to being a children’s musician.

What does your daughter Piper think about her mom’s cool career?

You know – I’m not so sure! LOL! I think she’s in a difficult phase where she likes to participate in the music and be with me, but she also doesn’t want to have to share me. So sometimes she’s cool with being at a show, and other times, she just can’t deal.

How do you balance your work life with your professional life?

Do I wish I had an answer for this! I search the Internet constantly to see/read what others do. I love reading about people’s morning routines to try and learn to get this balance!  I’m learning that for now – with my daughter being three – if I want to have any personal time to myself – to work out, or journal or do whatever helps me to feel balanced – I’ve got to get up and do it early. Way before she “might” wake up. So the aim has been getting up at 5:15 am.

However, I have to balance a few days of that with a few days of “sleeping in” (which might mean simply 6:30 am when Piper will arise).

I know that the more sleep I get, and the more time I make for fun and enjoying my life, the better I am in all ways and all areas of my life. But I definitely struggle with making the time for myself.

So making sure I have time for fitness, some quiet alone time, some fun, and enough time to also get some key emails done and stay on top of things is what I strive for. But for now – if I only do one of those listed things a day, I feel like I’m doing well. If I get a little of each in every week – I’m the better for it.

What do you want parents and kids to get from your music?

First off – fun! I find it hard to find time for just pure fun. Which is why I value it so! I KNOW that all it takes is a little music and dance to lighten my mood and change my attitude – or to make a good time a great time! And as simple as it sounds, I think it’s hard to remember and even harder to practice.

In our society now that favors busy-ness and working and being 100% available 100% of the time – I think it’s important that we teach and model for our children how to have fun. Fun without the need for an outside substance to alter our mood. How to just turn on some music and dance and have fun. The good time is always inside you, ready to be had!   To know that and have access to that, especially later in life, is gold.

Secondly, but in combination with the above, I feel it’s super important to create opportunities for parents and children – and people in general – to connect. With so much screen time these days and so much pulling our focus, we need to practice being together and engaging with each other just like we practice anything else. Because connection to others is vital to our personal health and happiness – and to our communities’ health and happiness as well.

You mentioned that making this album was therapeutic for you in a way? How so?

Well – Piper was born during the PR campaign for the last album. My water broke at 2 am on March 3rd, 2013 and Piper was finally born exactly 72 hours later on March 6th at 2 am.

I won’t go into the details of how grueling that labor and delivery was. But I will say that it started as a home birth and ended as a C-Section in the hospital – and that the experience devastated me physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Bouncing back was not easy.

And there wasn’t really anything to call it. It wasn’t postpartum depression. But I was just wrecked and the healing process was slow and long. It’s still occurring. We felt robbed of any of the joy of a new baby. Everything felt terrible, stressful and life or death.

Everyone says that having a baby changes your life – and of course it does! I was ready for that change. But something about what we went through also made me feel, like, emotionally crippled by love for Piper.

I still can’t put words around this all.  Then, after having this grueling labor, I received very little support from my employer. When negotiating my salary and contract for the following year they offered a huge pay cut. Just, like, at the absolute worst time.

I decided to not go back, because to agree to that pay cut would have left me in a disempowered position, and I would have felt disrespected and resentful at work. I didn’t want to have a job where I felt that way.

But then l had nothing to do all day but nurse my baby and be at home. So, three things gave me a reason to shower and a purpose to move forward: my commitment to my weekly video show, guitar lessons, and writing new music for the next album.

Within all that, and all the emotional, physical and spiritual healing that I was doing (and am continuing to do) I had to practice what I know – that only I can change is the way I feel. Not matter what happened or what I felt was “done to” me or us, I knew that only I have the power to change my attitude. That if I want to lift my spirits I need to exercise, or dance or sing, learn some music theory or write some music. That if I want to feel alive again, I need to connect with others.

It wasn’t magical or overnight – it’s been a daily practice. But writing the songs – taking the time to work on something creative and having something I was feeling hopeful about in the future was definitely like a soothing balm. And although I loved motherhood, it was nice to remember that I was not just a mother and that I could do other things.

Practicing with the band and slowly expanding more and more into a functioning human again was all a part of the process. So, although now I feel pretty close to my old self again, I can see that the making of this album was my journey back to me.

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