Getting your kids to go to sleep is invariably a soul-crushing ordeal that leaves you in urgent need of a very stiff drink. At the end of a brutal day, the nightly ritual of baths, teeth-brushing and bedtime stories often degenerates into a maelstrom of tears, screams and tantrums. And my kids’ behaviour isn’t much better.
But I’ve (belatedly) found the solution: Rockabye Baby can save your sanity and calmly soothe your kids to sleep. The brainchild of Lisa Roth – the sister of David Lee Roth (!), Rockabye Baby takes the music you love and transforms it into gentle instrumental lullabies that’ll nudge your child into the land of nod. Meanwhile – and this is the really special part – they’ll also allow you to reconnect with your pre-dad self who got to listen to music that wasn’t performed by The Wiggles.
Since starting in 2006, Rockabye Baby have recorded dozens of artists from Metallica to Snoop Dogg and Blur to Johnny Cash. They’ll celebrate their 100th recording next month with something special: lullaby versions of the Wu-Tang Clan.
The Father Hood spoke to Lisa Roth to say thank you and find out more.
The Father Hood: Somehow I only discovered Rockabye Baby last week. I’ve got two young kids and recently, for the first time in three years, my wife and I had a night away. We went to a gig and saw the Pixies – it was amazing, like we were our former selves once again. Anyway. On the way back I was trying to put the Pixies on Spotify and found Rockabye Baby’s lullaby versions of their songs. We tried them out on our kids and it was great because not only did it soothe my baby to sleep, but it was something that I enjoyed too. Now I’m obsessed!
Lisa Roth: Thank you so much. You just described exactly why I created this. I wanted something for the parents – an adult baby product.
The Father Hood: Exactly. Jerry Seinfeld once said, “There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family.” But I feel like your lullabies prove him wrong because while they’re ostensibly for kids, they’re really for adults, aren’t they?
Lisa Roth: There are two things that I’ve always loved about this product: the little sense of irony, like lullaby renditions of Black Sabbath or whatever. But I love the adult aspect more than anything. There are not a lot of baby products that dads can relate to.
The Father Hood: The genius of what you’ve done is that, when you become a dad, you kind of lose part of your former identity. Yet by helping parents reconnect with the music they love, I feel like you’re allowing them to forge this life-affirming connection back to our former selves. Was that a conscious aim?
Lisa Roth: You’re actually verbatim stealing our talking points! That’s what I say all the time. I feel like we provide a bridge between who you were pre-baby and who you are now as a parent because I do think a lot of things get put on the backburner when you become a parent. There’s no job that requires more responsibility, time and effort – a lot of things get put away for a little while. Hopefully, we create a little bridge that provides a touchstone with who you were but that also entertains you and makes you smile.
The Father Hood: You touched on irony before. When I spoke to the creative director behind Lego Star Wars, he explained how humour is crucial to his product. With Darth Vader, for example, you’ve got this really evil character, portrayed in this cutesy, Lego figure. That same comic duality also exist in Rockabye Baby’s music. Is irony key to your lullabies?
Lisa Roth: Yes, irony has played a big part in this. The way it all started was I was shopping for a baby-shower gift for a friend of mine. She loves music and I thought it’d be very easy to find something music- related. But when I looked there was nothing out there. I really wanted to give her something that would make her smile or laugh and in that moment I thought baby’s first Sex Pistols or baby’s first punk rock – something that was ironic.
When we started we initially focused on rock artists, so the irony of it all was very strong. Then over many years now we’ve started producing lullaby versions of all the genres – rock, pop, hip-hop, country, latin music. There are some artists that aren’t as ironic, like Ed Sheeran. But we have our 100th album coming out in April, and to do something very special we’re doing the Wu-Tang Clan. To me they’re perfect for the sentiment behind this brand and that album has it all: the humour, the irony, the danger, the fun.
The Father Hood: So what are the qualities that make for a particularly successful Rockabye Baby lullaby?
Lisa Roth: I’ll just give you the whole process. We have a handful of producers and every year we come up with six or eight releases in advance. Each producer gets an artist and they deconstruct every song on the track list and put it back together using our pallet of instruments, meaning woodblocks, xylophones, bells, things like that. It’s not easy to do a minor chord using the woodblock – when you have heavy metal or something like that, the interpretation is a bit of an art form.
Our producers send their first draft back to myself and my listening partner, James Curtis, and we listen to every note and we send back our thoughts to the producer. They do a second draft and it goes back and forth like that up to 12 times, until we get what I call “the perfect clunk and tinkle”, meaning it has to be soft enough and palatable enough for a baby or a toddler, but still retain the original intention of the artist.
So, we did a Queen album and We Are The Champions is definitely a lullaby. But when you listen to it, I laugh because it still has that strident anthemic whisper in it. I always say when we get it right, my face looks like my hand got caught in the cookie jar.
The Father Hood: Are any musicians off limits because their music is already so sweet and melodic that there’s nothing to subvert?
Lisa Roth: I always use James Taylor as an example. One of his songs, Sweet Baby James was a lullaby he wrote for his nephew. And I love James Taylor, but we haven’t done that yet because it’s just not enough of a stretch.
The Father Hood: I got hypnotised recently for a story to stop me swearing (my kids were picking up my bad langauge). But it made me wonder: do you think that dads could use your music to plant subliminal messages into our kids’ heads and brainwash them into having good taste in music when they grow up?
Lisa Roth: Here’s what I think: dads who love music will love having an opportunity to share these recordings with their baby because it’s also an experience of discovery for them. We’re a whole new thing. You can play the songs you love, but via a whole new brand you can get a kick out of. So I think Rockabye Baby is the very beginning of a process that dads would probably start a little later. Dads who love music are going to share that with their kids. We’re just getting you started early.