June 17, 2019

‘Rockabye Baby!’ Lisa Roth Talks Transition From Nutritionist to Music Executive

Photos by Allison Roth (www.allisonrothcreative.com)

If you are a rock fan with a young child, you owe a lot to Lisa Roth. Her “Rockabye Baby!” series – which has produced lullaby-style interpretations of songs by Metallica, The Beastie Boys, Beyoncé, Adele and The Beatles, to name a few key artists – has produced more than 80 albums, with more than 1.8 million CDs sold and more than 500 million tracks streamed to date. In other words, Roth has helped make children’s music as palatable as possible for listeners of all ages.

Lisa Roth is not only the executive producer of the “Rockabye Baby!” series, but also the vice president and creative director of the CMH Label Group. This has also entailed work with the Vitamin String Quartet, which has produced more than 100 albums of string renditions of pop and rock hits. Interestingly, Roth came into the CMH Label Group after 20 years as a nutritionist, which is in addition to her production work for the Discovery Channel and National Geographic.

I had the pleasure of speaking to her  by phone about “Rockabye Baby!” and plenty more. A transcription of the first eight minutes or so of our chat are below, while the rest of our conversation will be airing as part of a future edition of the Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz podcast via PureGrainAudio.com. To say the least, she was simultaneously funny, insightful, pleasant and relaxed.

Making Roth’s story even more interesting, the “older brother” referenced in the question about kosher food is none other than “Diamond Dave” himself, David Lee Roth. Her uncle Manny Roth — who I unfortunately did not have the chance to ask about — was notably the owner of New York hotspot Café Wha?, which was instrumental in the careers of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Richard Pryor. An impressive bunch, those Roths…

Jewish Journal: With regards to the success of the Rockabye Baby! series, were you yourself ever a musician?

Lisa Roth: I played in the marching band in high school. I wanted to stand next to the drummers, who were very hot, so that was the extent of my musicianship. I was a ballet dancer so I had music in me, but I can’t sing to save my life. I can’t carry a tune. I don’t consider myself terribly musical.

However when I first started working at this label, I went shopping for a baby shower gift for a friend of mine who loves music… I didn’t see anything out there I would be excited to give as a gift. I had just started working at the label and I went to the boss and I said, “We should get into the baby business and create a product that’s for the parents as well. Maybe something like ‘Baby’s First Sex Pistols’ or something ironic and a little humorous.”

We started having meetings and our art director at the time, Valerie Aiello, offered up the concept “Lullaby Renditions of Metallica.” The project was greenlighted. She became the primary artistic director for the first year and a half, and a little over a year later I took over. With our creative team we’ve continued to refine the look and sound and have developed it into an international brand.

JJ: What was the first title you came out with? Was it actually The Sex Pistols?

LR: We released three — Metallica, Radiohead and Coldplay — and we thought if we released three at once, we established it immediately as a series. We covered various genres of rock and the series was initially a rock series… Black Sabbath is a little funnier than “Lullaby Renditions of James Taylor”…

This has been going for 13 years now. Over the years we’ve opened it up to other genres, because they always say every genre has its rock star, but that’s a little bit of the history.

JJ: I remember reading in your interview with Billboard that you were hoping to one day work with the Jimi Hendrix camp on a title.

LR: You know, that is so funny. I was just talking about that 20 minutes ago, maybe it’s an omen. His estate is notorious for not wanting to do these kind of things. I was just thinking today, it’s been about 10 years since I approached them. Maybe it’s time to do it again because I am a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix, his music, his aesthetic… The guy was the O.G. of rock and I would love to make it happen and you never know.

JJ: So at this given moment how many titles or ideas do you have in the works?

LR: Well we have released over 80 [titles] and we continue to release annually four to six albums… It’s a wonderful brand because you never run out of subject matter.

JJ: Going back to that earlier part of the story, was there anyone who told you this idea can be done? That you’d never be successful?

LR: No actually, no, not at all. And you know, I’ve never been asked that. It never occurred to me that it wouldn’t be doable…

JJ: I asked that sort of thing because it seems like most music-related ideas that have ever been successful, there was someone who had initially said, “No, that can’t happen.”

LR: I’m trying to think how we knew… It was either right before or right after we released those first three CDs that the New York Times’ arts section did a big article on us, because at the time there was nothing like it and the response broke our website. And I, at that very moment… I thought, “A lot of people like this as much as I do.” There just never was a moment where I didn’t think it could be done or that other people wouldn’t appreciate it.

JJ: Before you started working at a label, is it true you were a nutritionist?

LR: Yeah I’ve had several careers. I was a nutritionist for 20 years in Los Angeles and part-time in New York. And after that I worked in documentary-style television. I was a segment producer for Discovery and National Geographic programming and then I bumped into this position. I never aspired to be in the music industry. Like I said, I can’t carry a tune to save my life, but here I am 13 years later and all is good.

JJ: In terms of the nutrition work, did that lead you to the music business? Or what exactly was the entry into working in music?

LR: As a nutritionist I worked with a lot of musicians and record labels and even toured on the road with artists. But you know, at that time, again I had no aspiration to be in the music industry in any other capacity. I was hired by the owner of this company to give some nutrition lectures to his employees and I thought, “That is really cool that the owner of a company would offer that little perk.” I started with the owner’s partner at the time and he offered me a position here. 

He offered me a position with no title, no description. He said he just knew that if he did, good things would come from it. I think I have a history of convincing people I’m very capable when in fact I’m not qualified at all. But that’s my life story. It’s kind of how I fell into every career I’ve had and have somehow made it work.

Photos by Allison Roth (www.allisonrothcreative.com)

JJ: An interesting thing to me about all of your projects is that they all have a positivity and wellness scene to them. Is something that you did consciously?

LR: You know, I LOVE— you can put that in capital letters — that insight. That is completely and utterly what I value, and that you actually put the dots together and came up with that is amazing. We all have a desire to live a fulfilled life and have some impact, and and I’m no different.

I just had a huge desire to leave a legacy of goodness, whether it’s helping people with their health and well-being, making them laugh and smile, or segment-producing informational documentary-style television. I’m just trying, like everyone else, to make a difference.

On the Jewish Journal end, did kosher food in any way fall into your nutritional path?

LR: Not mine. I was raised in a household where no pork was allowed, although I had an older brother that on the weekends walked up to the corner market and would buy bacon and come home and make it in our kitchen. My father would get furious and it was an ongoing struggle between the two of them. But I was raised to not eat pork.

Beyond that, not kosher. I had grandparents on my dad’s side, my father was raised kosher but he didn’t follow it himself as an adult… But the laws of eating kosher have some real science behind them, which I always found kind of interesting .

JJ: Beyond the nutritional aspect, has exercise focus played a big part in what you do? Or is it just mostly the nutritional backbone of it all?

LR: I was never the nutritionist that you would come to so you would lose five pounds for your high school reunion… For me it was always the big picture, the whole package, physical mental and emotional…

I personally am a very active person. I was a ballet dancer for many years. Our bodies are built to move. We have hinges and joints and I’m a very active person. Personally I know the importance of movement and a sense of well-being, so I absolutely taught that. And even more important to me than teaching people about the physiology of what happens to your body when you eat certain food groups and the importance of the food groups and all that, I was more interested in teaching people the importance of awareness and being present and aware of your habits and your choices, and sitting still quite enough to figure out why you are making those choices

I was more interested in teaching people the importance of awareness and being present and seeing your habits and your choices, and sitting still quite enough to figure out why you are making those choices… That is sort of the foundation of everything we do, being present and aware, and being able to sit still and quiet enough in the midst of discomfort or a difficult time.

More on Lisa Roth and the Rockabye Baby! series can be found online at www.rockabyebabymusic.com.