Miami-raised, Brooklyn-based Joanie Leeds has seven albums for kids and families under her belt, and one month from today (May 19) she's releasing her eighth, Brooklyn Baby. The title's got layers -- Leeds moved to Brooklyn a few years back from Manhattan, she's raising a kid there now, and there are approximately eleventy-billion preschoolers in the borough -- but it's also a celebration of the many parts that go into making her adopted home, home.
Given the themed nature of the album, I thought it'd be fun to talk with Leeds about Brooklyn and the meaning of "home." So while you listen to a world premiere stream of Leeds' bluesy track "Subway" from the forthcoming album (including a totally unintelligible track announcement), read on for Leeds' thoughts on "home," the changes in Brooklyn, and tourist advice in NYC and Miami.
Zooglobble: What does “home” mean to you? How has that changed as you’ve grown older, become a parent?
Joanie Leeds: Home is comfort. Home is where you can put your feet up on the coffee table and snuggle up on the couch without feeling like you are intruding or acting too casual. My true home will always be Miami, where I was born and raised. However, the landscape has changed a lot since I grew up there.
My current home is Williamsburg, Brooklyn and after living here for six years, it's starting to feel more like home now that I have a daughter. We have a ton of mommy friends with kids the same age and see many familiar faces when walking outside. It's a nice community! My daughter isn't yet two, but when we walk down the street I can let go of her hand on the sidewalk, and she points to our building and says "home" and walks right up the steps. While "home" can be a bit fuzzy for adults, home is very clear to her. She feels safe and comfortable there and that's so important.
Did you have the idea to do a “home”/Brooklyn-themed album first, or did you have some songs that you noticed were coalescing around that theme and wrote some more?
The theme came first. Actually, I had the album title long ago and wrote the songs around the title. I rallied around the idea of a Brooklyn-themed album after watching our neighborhood go from abandoned industrial warehouses to endless scaffolding covered sidewalks to a co-op infested neighborhood speckled with families and dogs virtually overnight. When I first moved from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Williamsburg, it took some getting used to. I would walk around for days without seeing a child. Just hipsters, graffiti on every building, and pockets of the neighborhood that were just holding onto their culture before many homeowners sold their properties to real estate investors. It was all planned by our previous Mayor Bloomberg, to revitalize our neighborhood, but no one knew it was going to happen as fast as it did.
It was a shock, even to me. With change (and gentrification) comes good and bad. The streets are safer and cleaner for my daughter, and there are a ton of families now, but the neighborhood has lost some of its flavor as a result. I wanted to tell the story of the good and the bad. The amazing melting-pot culture, how people get along no matter where they are from and no matter what language they speak. I wanted to paint the picture of sitting on the stoop and eating a slice on a typical Sunday afternoon. Explain hipster culture (and maybe make fun of it a little, too). Taking the East River Ferry is the most beautiful way to see the city, and Brooklynites love libraries, farm-to-table non-GMO eating, pizza, Yiddish phrases, taking the subway, and bagels. I wanted to explain it all to the world and give it my twist.
Why was it important for you to do this type of themed album?
A few years ago I made an animal-themed album called What A Zoo. It is one of my best sellers, so I wanted to write another collection of songs. It didn't take long to pick Brooklyn. It's the fastest growing city in the country, right up there with Oakland, California and there is a reason people are migrating from Manhattan (and all over the world) to the Brooklyn borough. It is more than getting priced out of other places, it's the hip, cool Brooklyn mentality. Brooklyn has become a brand.
Tour buses packed with people from all over the world now come through my neighborhood searching for the recognizable spots from Broad City, Girls, High Maintenance and tons of movies too. The megaphone-toting tour leaders point to hipsters, and Europeans take pictures of them against painted walls. I give directions to confused tourists on a daily basis. There are lines around the block for the rainbow bagels that swept the nation just a few blocks from my apartment. Now I can't get in the door to buy a bagel! All these Williamsburg folk have procreated over the past few years, and now there are little “Hipsters in the Making” taking over the neighborhood. It is inspiring, funny, and interesting, and I wanted to share these stories with the rest of the wondering world.
Do your NYC audiences get a big kick whenever you sing a city-themed song?
New Yorkers ALWAYS love talking and singing about their city. The familiarity of the landmarks, stores and neighborhoods I mention draws in an audience and creates common ground. I try to visually paint the picture through the lyrics so listeners can really feel like they are inside the song.
You do a fair bit of touring -- what do you appreciate more (or less) about Brooklyn after seeing other places around the country?
Touring is the best. I love meeting our fans all over the country and getting to know the people, small towns, and cities in which we get to perform. As foodies and coffee lovers, eating and seeking out the greatest coffee shops is a big part of touring, too. We love farm-to-table food and try our best to eat organic, staying away from GMOs. In Brooklyn I practically trip over some of the best restaurants and coffee shops within two blocks of leaving our apartment. In other cities and towns, we have to do some research, so we are constantly asking the people we meet for advice. We also Yelp a lot and read reviews like it’s our job. As BBQ lovers, touring the south and midwest is always welcomed :) I find we take better advantage of going to parks, museums, and hiking while on the road, too, because when we are home, even if the day is free, it's usually filled with work. This makes Brooklyn my work place and the rest of the country my playground.
Whats one place should families from out of town visit in Miami, Manhattan, and Brooklyn to understand what it’s like to live there?
If you have kids, in Miami I'd say a bike ride to Matheson Hammock Park through the twisted, drinking mangroves to the beach. It's a beautiful view and very kid friendly. I went there with my parents when I was a kid and just recently took my daughter there for the first time in December. Wynwood wasn't a thing in Miami when I was growing up, but we spend a lot of time there now visiting the Lynwood Walls and the shops surrounding the walls. It reminds me of Williamsburg.
In Manhattan? Obviously Times Square. JUST KIDDING. Don't go there! I'd say Central Park. You can get lost there (in a good way), and you can see everything from crazy dancing roller skaters to concerts. Bring a blanket and have a picnic or count the statues and fountains. I love the Ramble and the beautiful row boats upon the lake.
Brooklyn is massive so I'll list a few spots. On a nice day, Prospect Park is the perfect place to visit and set out a blanket, toss a Frisbee, or monkey around at the playground. The best place to see music is with Rock and Roll Playground at Brooklyn Bowl. The Brooklyn Public Library is not to be missed, and don't forget to take the East River Ferry from North Williamsburg down to Brooklyn Bridge Park for pizza and ice cream, then visit and ride the beautiful antique carousel overlooking the water.
Photo credits: Shervin Lainez