Mums who Play: Interview with musician Nici Ward
This Mums Who Play Series is sponsored by The Natural Shoe Store, a store who stocks top quality, eco friendly brands that encourage everyday adventures (and lots of fun too).
Professional musician Nici Ward stopped playing music while raising her babies. But when she began taking time to play again, she reconnected with her true self.
I'm 39, and I live in the Perth Hills with my husband Ben and our two kids—Sonny (11) and Kitt (8).
I spent most of my 20s living in Melbourne playing music, but I stopped when my kids were born for about six years. But, in the last few years, a lot changed for me. I got diagnosed with ADHD and started receiving treatment. I feel so much more capable now and my kids have gotten a little bit older. So, I'm shifting back to music again.
I started recording through COVID with a friend, and I had this corner of the house set up where we were writing an album. It was for our duo, Girl Plus Boy. And from there, things evolved.
My husband is a carpenter, so I convinced him to build a recording studio at our house. We've now created a beautiful space that has taken on a life of its own. A little community comes to use the space, and we'll soon be creating accommodation too, because creativity can go late into the night.
I've also started a label and done a little tour with my band, Lonesome Dove. My husband does engineering for the bands that record at our studio, and I work with them too. I also run a small gym for people like me who hate gyms.
Why did you stop playing music when your kids were born?
It was a combination of factors. We moved to a place in Perth that's out of the city. It's a big bush block, and we've slowly renovated the old house. I also didn't have much help since my parents live elsewhere.
Because Ben and I are both musicians, it didn't seem right for us to both be working in the industry when the kids were really young. There are lots of late nights. Plus, I wanted to spend that time with my kids as newborns and toddlers. I wanted stability for them. So, my blinkers went on. It felt good but I also lost myself a bit too. I feel like I'm slowly getting myself back.
I'm fortunate that Ben is very supportive. He worked that whole time. Childcare is so expensive that it wasn't really worth me working, so I took on all the home and kid stuff.
I also didn't feel confident outside my kids for a few years. I think a lot of mums go through that. It's like we're supposed to just be that vessel, and I felt that sensation really hard.
Did you stop playing for fun as well, or just professionally?
I never stopped writing music. And at the time, I was still posting little videos of me playing on social media because connecting felt nice. What's the point of music if no one else can hear it? So, I was still expressing myself, just on a different scale, and it wasn't the main priority.
Did anything about motherhood surprise you?
So many things. My sister was born when I was 14 and I was there in the room when she was born. I looked after her and was like a second mum, so I thought I knew everything because of that experience. But so many things surprised me.
I think the physical connection that comes with being pregnant and then becoming a mum surprised me. It was so different for Ben because he didn't get that connection until the kids were born—it's not his fault; it's just anatomy.
I think I also learned to stop trying to control things all the time—a habit I probably gained as a kid who moved around a lot. And the unpredictable nature of parenting surprised me too. That was a tough thing to get my head around.
What was your childhood like? Did music feature in it?
Yes, so much. I started playing music at around age 3. My mum and dad were both musicians, so it was always around me and always encouraged.
They often travelled overseas and toured, so my childhood was very transient. I was constantly staying with other people, and our family friends were a community of people in a similar boat. They were all in that same kind of industry of artists and musicians. It was very colourful.
I moved around a lot. I moved school every year and moved house all the time. When I tell people, they can't believe it. But I enjoyed it. I'd get to about nine months of being somewhere and ask, "Where are we going next?" I was ready to move.
I was always loved and looked after, and I found ways to build my own stability. My mum said that every time we moved house, I set up my room in the exact same way.
It's interesting because this is the longest I've ever lived anywhere. We've been here for 11 years, and I don't want to go anywhere.
I was never academic at school because I didn't know I had ADHD. I just flailed around, but I loved performing. So that's what I did. I had geography and science teachers that would send me to the drama room because they knew that's where I should be. And I was probably really annoying in their classes.
But my dad became very pushy and it kind of drove me to go in the opposite direction. He was putting me through a bit of a Britney Spears boot camp situation, so I decided to do the opposite. I moved to Melbourne, sang country music, and got paid in beer.
Moving to Melbourne was the best thing I could have done, though. I had great experiences, played at Big Day Out, and toured with bands I respected and loved.
Did you learn the importance of play from your parents?
Yeah, I think so. Though, I focus more on using music as a form of joy. Because they didn't have other careers, music was everything to them. So the intensity was really different. I don't think they could play with it as much and that's really important.
You have a recording studio, a label and a band. Do you find that turning your passion into your livelihood has impacted your creativity?
No, it enhances it because I'm exposed to more artists and more inspiration. No one comes in and records the same way—it's so interesting to watch and be part of. I've actually never felt more creative, and I think it's because of that studio space.
Do you notice a difference in your parenting if you don't get time to play?
Playing music gives me a lot of purpose and it makes me feel really confident. So if I don't get to do that, I feel caged in and frustrated. That said, I'm good at finding an outlet. Like when my kids were little, I stopped playing, but I was still writing and finding a way to connect, so I worked out other ways to fulfil myself.
Do you have support systems to help you play?
I think it's just easier now that our kids are older, and Ben and I have worked out a very good balance of our limitations. If we push past those limitations, it's not good though, so we're very careful to keep that balance. Like, we only book gigs on different nights. My husband only saw my band play for the first time in two years about two weeks ago because my mum was visiting and could mind the kids.
Did your ADHD diagnosis change your relationship with play?
A hundred per cent, yes. My guitar playing used to be a bit smashy and I used to say, "that's how I like to play." But once I started taking medication, I could learn. My guitar playing improved so much and I'm so much more satisfied. It made me quite emotional initially because I felt like: wow, imagine how good I would be if I'd had this diagnosis at 19.
My output is also much bigger now because I can focus and get more done.
Do you think mums are expected to stop playing when they become mums?
Yes. Though, things are changing slowly with each generation because we're discussing it more. I'm lucky because many women in my family have made music. My mum was a musician, and my Aunty was in a band called Baby Animals, and she always toured. So, I had really good people to look up to that taught me I'm allowed to do this. But when I talk to other people who are of a different generation, the mentality is that I should stop.
Ben still performed when the kids were young. He was working his arse off and definitely holding his side down, so I don't resent him. But I don't know if I had space in my energy or my brain to do that because I was so focused on everything that I felt had to be done for the kids. And that's a very difficult conversation for me and Ben to have. He never instilled in me a belief that I shouldn't be playing; it's just the way it went. Yet, despite his support and no one telling me I couldn't play, I didn't feel like I was allowed to. I think it's a notion that's instilled in mums, along with all the guilt.
What do you want other mums and carers to know about play?
That it's incredibly important. At my gym, I coach a couple of mums and constantly try to encourage them to pursue their passions. But also, be gentle with yourself. If you don't have space for that right now, that's ok. Babies make you tired for such a long time, and the idea of doing anything else can feel overwhelming.
Do you have anyone that inspires you because of how they play?
Yes, Isabella Manfredi from The Preatures. I find it inspiring to see a female artist and discover they're a mum. I get excited because I know how hard that is. But anyone holding it down and doing what makes them happy is inspiring.
I'm also inspired by women that have achieved things later in life. Plenty of artists broke and became massive before having kids, but it's a bit different for an artist trying to do something later without an established platform and with kids. They're exhausted, busier and have less money to go around.
What lessons are you hoping to pass on to your kids?
Follow your gut and do your best but don't worry about fitting into how society thinks you should be. Be kind to people.
Lunch Lady Magazine partnered with The Natural Shoe Store for this interview with Nici Ward as part of The Mums who PLAY series. For more interviews in this series check out our chats with Lauren Hill here and Zulfiye Tufa here.