Shout Sister Shout: Briana Cowlishaw (IWD 2024)

April 08, 2024

Motherhood & Music – Not just the Lullaby

Approx. 7 minutes to read

Briana Cowlishaw is a new mum to baby Kaia. 8 months into motherhood and getting back into the swing of things at work, Briana tells me about juggling her portfolio career as a performing musician, singer/song writer, visual artist, educator and Music Therapist. 

Briana Cowlishaw. Photo credit: Creswick Collective

Sonia de Freitas: Hi Briana, how are you and where does our interview find you today?

Briana Cowlishaw: Hi Sonia! I am a mum of an 8-month-old baby girl, Kaia, very sleep-deprived, but very much in love with being a new mum. I live on the Central Coast, NSW, just down the road from some of my favourite beaches (Wamberal, Terrigal and Avoca).

SdF: Can you tell me a little more about your life as a mother and musician?

Briana and daughter, Kaia, in studio.

BC: After 6 months of maternity leave, I have just gone back to working as a Registered Music Therapist and a singing teacher at two local schools, along with leading and collaborating on a number of projects. For my solo folk/jazz/pop project ‘Fetherstone’, I write and self-produce my own music, as well as paint watercolour artworks, which I release and share in tandem (I have a song and card pack coming out this Mother’s Day, 12th May). I also love to collaborate with other women and musicians, and that sees me co-leading and performing alongside Sam Walton and Trish Delaney-Brown in our vocal harmony project ‘Lyhra’, as well as performing as a freelance vocalist at venues in Sydney and the Central Coast. 

As you can tell, that’s a lot of things to try and squeeze in around mumming, and I am definitely still finding the balance with how much music and work I want to do around making space to just exist and witness my little girl grow, crawl and explore the world. My husband and I are new on the Central Coast so still finding our community here, but we love going down to the beach for swims and soaking up all the beautiful nature. It’s a saviour for me and so key to my wellbeing.

SdF: What, if anything, may have changed for you in relation to the way you thought about music and your ambitions as a musician once you became a mother?

Briana performing at her album launch

BC: Becoming a mum has allowed me to start to tap into what I am really passionate about doing at this time, what makes me feel like me, and what I need to do to express myself in the world. A huge part of that is sharing artistic experiences with other people, which is why I cherish my musical collaborations so much. I write music to understand my emotions and the world (which is what drew me to Music Therapy) so that is crucial to my process as a musician. The challenge is finding time (and alone time) to do that despite being so whole-heartedly consumed by becoming a mum, bonding with Kaia and finding a new relationship and parenting flow with my husband. To say it has been a learning curve and an adjustment is an understatement, but we are less than a year into this new parenting ride and I am beyond grateful to have the opportunity to learn through life with my bub. People told me becoming a mum would be a huge self-identity shift, but I couldn’t appreciate that until experiencing it (how could you!). I will say that as a mum, time feels more precious than ever. Sitting around waiting for the right time to do something no longer exists, so it’s making me think less and do more, which I love.

SdF: How does the experience of motherhood influence your creativity and composition process?

BC: My experience of motherhood is informing everything I am doing creatively at this time. When Kaia was 3 months old, I wrote a song on the ukulele while she slept on me in the carrier (music always lulls her to sleep – how good for me!). The song is about learning to slow down and soak up the stillness, peace and calm that exist in the spaces between activities. I have decided to record the song and paint a poppy flower (Kaia’s birth flower) for a new card series for Mother’s Day, 12 May 2024. The inspiration behind these creations feels so genuine and it’s filled me with joy making them.

My compositions have always been inspired by my life experiences, which make it an unknown, exciting journey of discovery. I never know what I am going to create next as I never know what I am going to experience next. 

SdF: What challenges have you faced in balancing the demands of motherhood with the demands of a music career? Conversely, can you share any unique opportunities brought about by motherhood?

BC: So far for me, the main challenge is sleep deprivation and the lack of focus and drive that comes with that. Some days I can show up with energy and positivity regardless of the night’s sleep. Other days, I can’t imagine how I am going to get through the week let alone look ahead and plan a project. I know sleepless nights are temporary (let’s hope!) so I’m trying to just take things as they come and make space for recovery when needed, and creativity when the opportunities arise. Motherhood is testing me to do less and stop squeezing so much in, which is the opposite of my pre-pregnancy self, but something that I need.

Motherhood has also brought me closer to a lot of mum friends and mum musicians (and dads too), as there is a shared experience and understanding of the wild ride that is parenting. Somehow as a mum, each moment I get to connect with my art and music practice feels even more precious. I am not just doing it for an outcome, but to be present in the process of making. 

SdF: What role do societal expectations and stereotypes about motherhood play in shaping the public perception of musicians who are mothers?

BC: It’s hard for me to answer how the general public sees musicians who are mothers, as I am sure this varies depending on what style of music you play and what the community is like around your industry. But for me, I see a large handful of contemporary musicians who are mothers performing, gigging, composing and being involved in collaborative projects. I am so inspired to see mums on the road touring, releasing music, doing what they love and expressing themselves as creatives. I know that if I stopped creating, performing and connecting with people through music I wouldn’t be able to give my full personality and energy to my daughter. I want her to see me doing what I love, and encourage her to do what she loves. 

Lyhra- Briana Cowlishaw, Sam Walton and Trish Delaney-Brown

Being involved in my vocal project ‘Lyhra’ has been an amazing experience, as both vocalists Sam Walton and Trish Delaney-Brown are mothers with prolific and busy music careers. Interestingly, I feel like the people who gravitate to our music and our project (our audience) are drawn in by our personalities and experience as mothers who are professional musicians.

SdF: How can the music industry evolve to better accommodate the needs of musicians who are navigating the intersection of motherhood and their music careers?

BC: So far as a registered music therapist and singing teacher, I have felt very supported in having safe and comfortable places to breastfeed and express milk when at work. There have been some venues I have performed at that do not have parental facilities and it can be very tricky when this is the case. It’s quite a lot to juggle, fitting in feeds and expressing milk in set breaks at gigs, and having somewhere safe and convenient to go is so important in making your experience as a working musician enjoyable. So, I think this is a must for all venues that book musicians.

SdF: Is there anything else you want readers to understand about motherhood and music?

BC: Being a mum for me involves singing and making music daily. Singing to Kaia brings the biggest smile to her face, probably because it makes me happy too. Being a musician who is a mum makes so much sense to me and although sorting the details out and getting the balance right can feel challenging, it’s worth the effort.

To learn more about Briana Cowlishaw and Fetherstone visit: 

To hear and purchase Briana Cowlishaw’s music visit: 

For more information on International Women’s Day visit: 

Sonia de Freitas – Author
Photo credit: Cathy Kirkpatrick

Keep an eye out for my next instalment of Shout Sister Shout: Motherhood & Music – Not just the Lullaby series where I reflect on all the interview in my Epilogue

Did you miss the previous Shout Sister Shout instalment? Read Caitlin Yeo’s interview here.

Thank you to Eastside Radio for making the Shout Sister Shout: Motherhood & Music – Not just the Lullaby interview series possible.

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the many lands on which I am privileged to work, learn, teach, create and perform. I extend my respects to all First Nations People. 

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