Family

Musician mums Tami Neilson and Jennie Skulander talk touring and motherhood

These muso mamas are in harmony

By Carmen Lichi
Jennie Skulander and Tami Neilson

To the left, eight-month-old Georgia is screaming inconsolably, exhaling big, racking sobs as she tugs at her rock ’n’ roll bandana, exposing a halo of fluffy blonde hair. To the right, two-year-old Sam looks like he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders, his fist clenched near his mouth, deep in thought, his soulful blue eyes staring intently. Meanwhile, five-year-old Charlie is grinning like a Cheshire cat, jumping up and down with excitement. In short, it’s chaos at our Woman’s Day photo shoot.

Anyone wondering what it’s like to balance being a mum with life as a touring musician – with dodgy motels, excitable fans, glitzy award ceremonies and hours on the tour bus – might want to spend an afternoon with award-winning country singer Tami Neilson, 39, and Devilskin frontwoman Jennie Skulander, 32.

For Tami, who is mother to Charlie and Sam, the juggle was no better illustrated than at the Silver Scroll Awards in 2014, when she scooped the prestigious songwriting trophy. At the time, her youngest was just three months old.

“I wasn’t expecting to win – I was just thinking it was a good excuse to go out with my husband, get dressed up and have a nice dinner,” grins the Canadian-born singer, who has been a support act for country legends such as Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn.

“I quickly fed Sam before I went to the glamorous ceremony and then, at half time, I was off to the bathroom in my glamour-puss dress with a breast pump! Then when I won, it was insane having to do media till 2am and then getting up at 5am to do it all over again.

“That’s what you have to do as a mum. You’re living in a state of exhaustion for years on end! These little alarm clocks don’t have snooze buttons. When they wake up, that is it!”

Tami moved to New Zealand in 2005 after falling for Kiwi policeman Grant Tetzlaff, who is looking after the boys in Auckland as his wife is on her nationwide The Songs of Sinners tour, which kicked off in May and continues until June 18.

Jennie likes to bring little rocker Georgia on tour – and the fans love it, even bringing gifts!
Jennie likes to bring little rocker Georgia on tour – and the fans love it, even bringing gifts!

While performing in her native Canada a few months ago, Tami had the perfect comeback when a male fan asked, “So how come you’re up here and your husband is at home babysitting?”

She replied, “Well, first of all, you wouldn’t pay money to hear my husband sing and, secondly, when you’re the father, it’s not actually called babysitting – it’s parenting!”

Tami laughs, “He was taken aback. As a musician, you always have to be friendly and approachable, but when someone attacks you as a mother, it’s really hard. When I’m away, the boys and I Skype every night before bedtime and we’ll swap little videos throughout the day, so we’re still a part of each other’s lives.

“They’re very resilient and accepting. It’s harder on me than it is on them! Hopefully, I can get to that point where I’m living the dream and can afford to be like Adele, having my family with me!”

Rock chick Jennie nods in agreement. The lead singer of metal band Devilskin had been busy planning her wedding to partner Phil Smathers, an electrical engineer and fellow muso, when she discovered she was pregnant last year.

Despite the curveball, Jennie vowed to keep her band going and has no intention of slowing down. Devilskin recorded their third album Be Like the River in England when Jennie was in her second trimester, and they recently returned to tour with Georgia in tow.

When Tami’s on stage, it’s her boys Charlie (left) and Sam she’s singing for.
When Tami’s on stage, it’s her boys Charlie (left) and Sam she’s singing for.

“After the shows, we’d be asked to party with the other bands, but I’d already got into my sweatpants and mum clothes,” laughs Jennie. “I was like, ‘No, I’ve gotta get back to my kid.’ But the fans have been good. In the UK, people would give me bibs and stuffed toys. One fan even did a whole lot of colour portraits of Georgia.”

The tot’s presence has already proved inspiring for other bands on the male-dominated metal scene, tells Jennie. “We toured with a couple of female-fronted bands and they were like, ‘Wow! That’s so cool you brought your baby.’

“I hope it makes other women in music realise they can do it if they want to. It’s a little bit harder, but it’s doable and even enjoyable. I’ll get back to the hotel now and even if I’m really tired, just seeing Georgia makes it all worthwhile – and it’s a cool experience for her too.”

Nodding, Tami concludes, “As mums, our whole goal is to leave a legacy for our children and make them proud of what we’ve accomplished. My songs are for my boys. This is what I am leaving behind for them.”

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