Recess To Rock Shows, No Small Children Is The Rock Band Of Elementary School Teachers

This band went from recess to rock shows. No Small Children is the band that goes from day of teaching to band practice and jamming out. With their album What Do The Kids Say? right around the corner, they discuss the dedication it takes to be educators and musicians, the importance of listening to students in a post-Parkland High School shooting world, and the meaning of punk rock.

Comprised of Nicola Berlinsky, Lisa Pimentel, and Joanie Pimentel, No Small Children bring a unique perspective to the music world. While it isn’t uncommon to find musicians working a day job, these musicians find themselves wholeheartedly working a career in teaching and music.

No Small Children. Photo retrieved from their website gallery.

Teaching for No Small Children is just as important as recording music and playing live shows. And their music is a testament to that, being largely influenced by their experiences as educators.

In this interview, they talked about how the band came to be as well as the dynamics of their crazy schedule. Their upcoming album is also about listening to what “the kids,” say. Although the album was done before the events in Florida at Parkland High School, they stressed the importance of listening to students and younger children. The album will be out May 18.

Antonio Villasenor-Baca: Can you talk about balancing that schedule and what it’s like being rock stars by night and teachers by day?

Nicola Berlinsky: The good thing is that we all work together at the same school. I teach fourth grade, and Lisa and Joanie teach music. So one of the good things is that all of our schedules all align.

Joanie Pimentel: All fifteen minutes line up. That was Lisa. [A door was heard opening and closing.]

NB: We’ll find that we’ll touch base at school about band things but then at band practice we’ll often find ourselves brainstorming ideas for students. So they melt one in to the other. Honestly, you have to be pretty organized to be a teacher and a musician actually, so they help each other out.

AVB: And can you give insight into the conversation that started the idea of becoming a band?

Lisa Pimentel: Well Nicola and I were on the playground and it gets crazy at recess time. Let’s just say that. And it was a Friday before Mother’s Day. And it was just a lot of Mother’s Day celebrations going on. Nicola and I who don’t have children, small children, stepchildren- we all have these varying degrees of children. But we just felt like we needed to get out of here. The teacher, kind of, punky ‘let’s just get out of here,’ but obviously we can’t get out of here, we have classes coming in. We love our students but we decided to start a punk rock band we’ll write songs about eating salad. We’re se rebellious! You know? That was really the conversation. I remember it so clearly.

NP: Yeah, me too! We were kind of like consoling each other. It was kind of a dark moment and so it was just a way of [doing this] but never thinking we’d actually start doing it. Then a week or two later we were like, ‘yeah, why don’t we try it?’ We got together and started writing songs and it was a little rough at first but we just kept at it; not because we wanted to be huge rock stars but because it was just fun to be creative with your friends outside. I mean the beautiful thing about punk rock- I wouldn’t really consider us a punk rock band but the idea of punk rock lives in our veins in the fact that where you can get in a place where you-are you allowed to swear on this? – just don’t give a shit. And it’s really hard to find that space when you’re a teacher and probably when you’re a parent too, but just where you do not care what comes out of your mouth.

Drummer Nicola Berlinsky. Photo retrieved from their website gallery.

And so you feel just like you’re truly and totally raw and not even caring if it sounds good. And that’s the takeaway from punk rock: that you’re not worried. You’re not worried about what everyone’s going to think. And that’s my takeaway from it. At the beginning it felt very punk rock. I don’t know how punk rock, quotes, we were, but that’s how it felt. And that became the beginning of the huge endeavor where we just started developing and honestly a lot of putting yourself out there, where you make fool out of yourselves a lot of times like that at clubs. We just kept at it because we love and here we are. It’s better than ever. It’s the best band ever, for me. At the beginning, and then Joanie joined us, and we went on tour, then in our first three months we literally played 55 shows around L.A. So how do you balance that and being teachers? Lisa once said, it was kind of that feeling of falling in love. You’re just riding so high from that energy that it feeds back into the classroom, and the classroom feeds back into the band. But now we actually don’t actually say yes to weekday shows. We have the luxury of being able to say no to things so that’s another way we balance it out.

AVB: Do you plan to keep doing both at the same time, or is music the end goal or is it the pastime?

JP: That’s a great question and what I typically say to our students about things like that is that the cool thing about music is that you’re never done right? The coolest thing about learning in general is that you’re never done. So I think for us, it’s not like we have a day job and music is our real intention. These are parallel careers. We are passionate about teaching. And we are passionate about rock music. A day may come where we’ll have to make a difficult decision, but thankfully teaching is a very, very long career. We’re going to maintain it as long as we come. And what a wonderful problem to have? If it should become that. We do have to be really disciplined about our time. That’s where teaching comes in handy, actually. We’ve gotten pretty good at planning out lessons and making plans long term. Our rehearsals are pretty strategic and we have a plan for what we want to do. So right now we are managing to balance the two with a lot of coffee and trying to be organized.

LP: A lot of texting too. I’m not going to lie, I’m getting kind of tired.

NB: If something awesome were to come our way, we’d consider taking some time off to go do it. We can always go back to teaching.

AVB: How aware and integrated are parents and students with your music careers? What have been their reactions to having rock star teachers?

Photo retrieved from their website gallery.

JP: In the beginning we tried really hard to keep it compartmentalized. As time went on though, we started to realize that playing rock and roll music made us better teachers and being teachers made us better musicians. So we started to share some of our experiences with kids because we ask them everyday to put themselves out there and to take risks and the band really gave us an opportunity to not just talk the talk but also walk the walk. We began to allude to it. Then some parents, just by coincidence, started hearing about us and coming out to shows and becoming fans. And they would buy our t-shirts and our music. And the next thing we know, kids are showing up at school wearing our merchandise and singing our songs. And so now, the kids are very much aware of what we do and are our biggest cheerleaders. They seriously get behind pretty much everything that we do.

NB: I’m going to add to that. We’re even using our music to help show them our process; to help them see how much work goes into something you love. For example in writers workshop, we’ll have them workshop their writing over and over again and it takes being really vulnerable to read your work in progress and to get feedback. So we’ll do the same thing for our music when it’s in the studio. We’ll bring in a verse and sometimes they’re the first people who listen to a version and we’ll ask for feedback and we can show them a later version and show them the work.

JP: Can you tell that we’re eating lunch?

AVB: Yeah! I heard the kids in the back running around. How long has the album been in the works?

JP: For a while there, we were thinking probably a year ago, we started figuring out how we wanted to release music. So it’s like ‘let’s do one song at a time.’ Because there was a lot of talk of that at the time as people- bands releasing singles instead of releasing albums. So we started to release a couple of the songs that were on this record but the songs were never attached to a record. So then we started working with a new manager and started working with a new producer. Then we wanted to do some sort of release that we could build a campaign behind. We decided to put those on it. I would say we started working on the record about a year ago. A couple were done within the first few months and then some of them over the last so months or so. It’s just so time consuming to make it. We do have a producer but we do most of the work ourselves like the editing and the sessions and all that time. Trying to juggle that with everything we have going on is definitely made for a lot of late nights and early mornings and just trying to get it done.

AVB: Is there a theme or message with the album? What influences went into making the album?

JP:   I feel like the name of the record was influenced by some of the later songs because as the year went on, you know because write songs about what all of us have everyday and you just read into a moment, but as the days go on, and as teachers we’re in the classroom and as of late there’s a lot to be alarmed about. Maybe it’s in cycles historically that people feel this way, but we feel like there’s so much going in such a complicated world. And everyone’s talking about teachers and everyone’s talking about kids and we’re in the room with the kids so we have our finger on the pulse we feel like, between our school and other schools that we work with outside of here. Let’s put it this way. The reason we’re teachers is because we love children and we take them seriously and we believe in what they’re saying and we believe that when they’re given the license, they are super creative and they do the right thing and they have a lot of energy and they’re inspiring. So the idea of ‘what do the kids say?’ and shortly after that, some people are saying that the song ”I’m So Concerned,” basically about being a teacher and just observing what’s going on in the classroom; not just our classroom, classrooms everywhere. You see these teachers getting up and protesting all over the country, and it’s yeah they want to get paid more but they’re also concerned about their kids. Some people say it’s about gun control. The song was written before Parkland, although those issues fit into the umbrella but it’s really about listening to the children. That’s where the good ideas are probably going to come from.

NB: When things feel overwhelming with all these issues swirling around all at once, turning back to the optimism of the kids really does help.

JP: To follow up on what Lisa’s saying, “I’m So Concerned” is a heavy song, but the single right after that, “It’s All For Love,” is just a reminder of that’s what we’re all in this for. Especially where kids are concerned. Actually now that you mention it, “It’s All For Love,” it’s probably the theme for the record.

Vocalist and guitarist Lisa Pimentel. Photo retrieved from their website gallery.

LP: Mhm.

NB: Yeah.

JP: The lyric in that is, “welcome to the never-ending shit show.” But just bring it back to love and we’re good.

AVB: Being elementary school teachers, does the fact that your kids might listen affect making your content? Like in terms of using curse words and stuff like that.

NB: You know, we have decided and we decided a while back that it wouldn’t, because we really wanted to, we just wanted a really honest place. Like Lisa said, we watch our words in a very careful very way in many different aspects of our lives. We really feel like we needed a place where we could just be really direct. But, we don’t really tend to use a lot of curse words just because there’s a lot of different interesting ways to say stuff. There’s also an awareness of, ‘well, will this actually get played on the radio?’ And we do have an awareness at the tail of end of is this a choice we’re going to make or not? So we start from a place of being in the moment and later we make decisions but once a while we’ll have all ages shows. And if our students are there, we make some choices about what to say on stage.

JP: We would make those choices like with any other audience. You shape your set based around the audience that’s there and whether they’re children or I don’t know. This music isn’t marketed for small kids. That’s why we’re called “No Small Children.”

AVB: Getting back to punk: what is your interpretation of punk and how much has it influenced you and which acts specifically if any?

JP: I just feel like there are a lot of know-it-alls in punk rock. Sometimes I don’t even like to say it because I think the word means something different for everyone. I mean you have people who feel they’re authentic punk but maybe they’re just kind of stuck in a time period. When I see this music, for me, instead of a genre, it’s more of an attitude of, like a link to something sort of divine. Of true letting go and true reckless abandon. Reckless abandon but not just to be reckless but to express. Music is expression. Like I hear punk rock in John Coltrane, when I hear A Love Supreme. That’s what it means to me. As far as a genre, to me it’s always been more about the live shows. Like when I was going to punk rock shows, in the 90’s. That’s where I felt it more than just having recordings of it.

By Antonio Villasenor-Baca

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