Motherhood comes with a certain level of expected sacrifice—a natural shift in priorities that most moms will say happens as soon as a baby arrives. But how many of your personal goals should you put aside in order to be a present mother? DJ Lindsey Caldwell has been walking along that tightrope for a year. The DJ spoke with mater mea about reshaping what her career can look like as she balances being a great mother to her incredibly sweet 1-year-old son, Henry.
A needle hits wax, and with a pop and crackle, the soothing voice of everyone’s favorite silly old bear comes through loud and clear. Henry, 1, sits on his knees and rocks slightly, transfixed by the spinning vintage record his mother, Lindsey Caldwell, has put on a just-right sized portable record player directly in front of him.
As the voice actor of Winnie the Pooh tells the story of the Three Little Pigs, Henry’s right hand reaches out for the record. He firmly moves it back and forth, and familiar scratching sounds cut into “I’ll blow your house down” and the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”
“You scratching?” DJ Lindsey Caldwell asks her expressive son, with a laugh. He nods in three quick successions. It must run in the family—Caldwell is a professional DJ herself. Music is never far from her Town & Country-perfect home tucked away in woodsy Shoreham, Long Island, whether it’s classic Hip-Hop playing from her laptop or on the TV from the popular children’s show “Yo Gabba Gabba” (Henry’s favorite).
For the last two years, DJ Lindsey Caldwell and her husband Myles—an entrepreneur who manages his family’s two thriving restaurants in Long Island—have made a home in the picturesque village. But now the family is packing up the house, Henry, and their pitbull mix Keisha to move to Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood.
“I need to get back into the city so I can start working again,” DJ Lindsey Caldwell explains. “Our lives are so different because of Henry. More often than not, it’s for the better, but there are certain things where it’s never going to be the same again.”
One of those things has been Caldwell’s career as a DJ.
“That’s the hardest part, trying to balance career and being a mom when my career isn’t where I want it to be yet,” she says. “What I wanted it to be before Henry, and what it can be now are two different things, and that’s something I’m still trying to figure [out].”
Caldwell, or DJ Lindsey as she is known to countless revelers, put her name on New York’s crowded cultural map in the early 2000s with her monthly residency at APT, a club in the Meatpacking District. Negroclash—a night celebrating “African-American innovation in electronic music”—became a must-go-to dance / be-seen party. In the mid 2000s she was a senior associate editor for the FADER magazine, and was beginning to position herself to become a bigger name.
“I was looking to maximize the amount of money and the amount of time I worked,” DJ Lindsey Caldwell recalls. “I wanted to up my profile as a DJ and not be this under the surface club DJ. [I wanted to] be more of a bigger name. I knew well enough to know I couldn’t just play one genre of music underground and be successful, and so I knew I needed to meet people in the industry and I needed to do more high-profile gigs.”
DJ Lindsey Caldwell tried her hand in producing her own music and singing, and was a touring DJ alongside her husband, jumping between Colorado and Arizona for around seven months. At the height of her career, motherhood was something DJ Lindsey Caldwell couldn’t even begin to fathom, she says.
“For a long time I [thought], ‘I do not want kids, I do not like kids. I don’t think I am cut out to be a mom. I’m too selfish, I’m too immature,’” she says with a laugh. “[But] love is a hell of a drug because I met my husband and then at a certain point we were both like, ‘Let’s have a baby.’”
While Henry’s birth in 2011 didn’t bring her career to a screeching halt—she still plays a few gigs here and there, though ones that don’t end at 4 in the morning, she explains—DJ Lindsey Caldwell says she’s conflicted about what her idea of success can look like now that she’s a mother.
“There was no way for me to really understand until I had to give up my independence completely,” she said. “Working in nightlife especially, once he came, everything had to change. Because I was still DJing, I had to cancel a gig from the hospital. I was acting like I was superwoman; I was booking gigs all the way up to a week before he was due.”
Though DJ Lindsey Caldwell describes the first three months with Henry as being “in the trenches,” the pair have their routine down pat. While Myles works long hours at his restaurants, DJ Lindsey Caldwell and Henry laugh together, play music, and hang out all day long. After devoting a year to near full-time mothering, Caldwell is ready to take on the next stage of her career.
“It’s so hard. I feel like for my personality, and what I want to do with my life professionally, it’s been a challenge,” DJ Lindsey Caldwell admits. “But then I wake up in the morning and he’s there, and none of that matters whatsoever. It’s an afterthought. It’s how can I make [DJing] something that allows for me to give him the best life possible. As opposed to before, it was ‘How can I be the best DJ there is? I’m better than that DJ. Why am I not doing x, y, and z?’
“Now it’s okay,” she continues. “[Now it’s] ‘I want this and this and this for Henry so how can I make this money for [him]?’ Everything’s so different now.
FILL IN THE BLANK: I LOVE BEING A MOM MOST WHEN…?
I’m biased but I think my child is the most fun, the most charismatic, the most funny, the cutest child on Earth. Period. Ever. In the history of children.
I rarely leave Henry with anyone, we are always together. When he’s with the babysitter [and] I come home, he can barely even walk, [but] he runs to me [at] the door. He yells and gives me a big hug. That’s the best feeling. That he reciprocates the love that I feel for him.
WHAT IS YOUR PARENTING PHILOSOPHY AND HOW DO YOU EXECUTE IT?
I’m probably a little overprotective; I just have seen a lot of kids take the wrong route. While I’m here with him every day, before I start to get busy doing other things and he gets older, I just want to give him the best foundation possible without being too overbearing.
I was born in St. Louis, Missouri. [Henry’s] middle name is Jason, after my cousin. Jason was raised in my house like [he was] my brother—we were about the same age. When we all moved to Arizona from St. Louis, he got wrapped up in selling drugs and he was killed. When kids have idle time and the parents are working, it’s hard to keep tabs on what they’re doing. I don’t want it to sound like I’m judging anybody in my family on their parenting—I’ve seen what can happen regardless of the parenting—[but] I don’t want that to happen to my child.
WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY LIKE WITH YOU AND HENRY?
It’s kind of freeform, it’s not like a structured day where I’m sitting over him and teaching him the alphabet. But I definitely want there to constantly be as much love and as much culture as possible. We listen to music, we play instruments, as well as learn colors and the alphabet. His aunt is a drummer so she bought him a baby drum and his maracas, [and] he has a little xylophone. We have a little baby turntable, so we listen [and] do storytime [on the record player]. I bought a bunch of records that I had when I was kid off of eBay, so we do story time [with those] records. He [also] has a little baby keyboard.
WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE YOUR MOTHER, OR THE MOTHERS IN YOUR LIFE, GAVE YOU?
This came before I got pregnant and I was caught up in this career stuff. I was [saying], “I’m not where I want to be, I don’t know if I’ll be able to provide if I get pregnant now.” My mom just kept telling me, “You’re never going to be ready. If you feel like this is what you want to do, then just do it, and everything else will fall into place. You will make a way, just like you make a way for yourself. It’s not easy, but if it’s what you want to do, then just do it.”
It gave me the extra bit of confidence to just go ahead and do it, and I’m so glad that I did. I just think about my life before Henry, and it was so wack. It was good, it was cool. I just partied a lot. (Laughs) And now I get to experience everything all over again. Like, I bought kumquats. There’s no other reason to buy kumquats except to get to see Henry try kumquats for the first time. I’m getting to start all over again because of him, which is awesome.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE HENRY’S PERSONALITY?
He’s hilarious. He’s so fun. I feel like he’s super excited to be here! (Laughs) When he wakes up in the morning, he barks at us because he’s all about animal sounds. (Laughs) He stands up in his crib and he either goes “Hey, hey!” to wake us up, or he barks—“Woof, woof!” (Laughs) When you come [into his room] and get him, everything he says now [ends with] a question mark. He just wants to be in everything. He doesn’t want to sit still or be contained in any area, he wants to explore and understand how everything works, tastes, [and] smells.
We have a dog [named Keisha] and because we’re on a bit of land, there’s raccoons, and tons and tons of deer in the yard, and the neighbor’s dog will sometimes come over here because there’s no fencing. So the dog will hear something, and she’ll run to the window and stalk whatever animal is in the yard. Henry and Keisha [will] stand side by side in that window. Henry barks, Keisha barks, the whole house is crazy!
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START AS A DJ?
I moved to Atlanta in the late ‘90s, and I started a magazine with a couple of friends [called Frank]. It started out just being about Atlanta—there was so much happening at the time. Everybody was performing in Atlanta quite a bit; the whole Dungeon Family, Goodie Mob, TLC, India.Arie, [Outkast, and more] would come and perform a lot, and then there were tons of raves. It was just really rich. There was so much happening. So we wanted to chronicle what was happening just below the surface.
There was this DJ [who] was living in the complex where we were working on the magazine. And I was like, “Man, I really want to DJ.” My parents always listened to music when I was younger, and they had a huge collection of records at the time. I had already started buying records because I was just interested, and he [said], “You should just do it.”
He sold me his old turntables, but they were just torn up. The pitch adjust was all out of wack, and if you go on one end or the other, it would get all warbly. I bought a cheap mixer off eBay, and stole a bunch of records from my parents. My parents live in Alpharetta, Georgia and they drove all the way to East Atlanta where I was living just to take back a bunch of records! (Laughs) They were like, “Nuh uh, you better give me my Carole King album back!” Before I got my turntables fixed, [a friend, DJ Rashida,] had turntables at her house, and she and I would practice at her apartment. I was just practicing and practicing and collecting records.
I stopped working on Frank [and] moved to New York, because I wanted to work at a magazine. I found a different job that wasn’t a magazine [but] paid for my relocation to New York. In the meantime, [I] started getting gigs here and there.
DO YOU HAVE AN EXAMPLE OF ONE OF YOUR FIRST GIGS AND HOW YOU FELT WHEN YOU WERE DJING?
Oh my God, yes. I remember vividly my first gig because it was not cool. (Laughs) There was this club in New York called Fun, and [one night a friend] said “You could either open or play at the very end of the night.” I don’t think he knew or understood that I would play drum and bass. So I get there and it was not a drum and bass party, but I was like,”That’s alright. I’m going to play my drum and bass, and people are going to be into it, watch!”
No. No. That’s not what happened. It was terrible. I cleared the room.
But maybe that’s why a lot of DJs who have been DJing for a while get so angry at new DJs who buy Serato or they buy Traktor, which is like an interface that mixes records for you. Because people like us who spent the money and time practicing and learning about music and having experiences like I just described to you.
I paid so many dues before I ever got a gig where people actually appreciated the music that I played. I was just a scrub; people didn’t want to hear what I was playing nor did they care who I was. A lot of time passed between the beginning and the beginning of where it started to get good, to where I got to a point where people were coming to hear music because I was playing it.
WHAT WAS SPECIAL ABOUT NEGROCLASH? WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO START THE PARTY?
At the time, mainly in Williamsburg, [Brooklyn], there was a scene around Electroclash. People were making music that sounded like a more modern version of the ‘80s. They had this big Electroclash festival [at Webster Hall] and me and Duane Harriott—this other guy that did Negroclash with me—and DJ Language, were all bitching about Electroclash, like what in the world is going on? Because some of the biggest pop stars [in the 80s] were African-American. Some of the biggest songs in the ‘80s that were electronic were African-American.
So we were like, “We need a little Negroclash in Electroclash. We have to do a party.” So we talked to the people at APT, and they were down. What started off as a reaction to Electroclash, we decided to make more about African-American innovation in electronic music. You would hear [everything] from pop stuff, like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, to Chicago house, Detroit techno, [and] ‘80s hip hop. And our guests were all of the different artists [who] produced that type of music. We had Kurtis Mantronik, Afrika Bambaataa, [and] Fab Five Freddy—he came and riff about what was happening in the ‘80s when a certain song would come on.
It was like a big house party. This was all of the music I kind of grew up listening to. I felt like this is it, this is my thing. At the time I was playing more Broken Beat artists like Jazzanova and 4hero, [but] then I just slowly started to bring out all those records I stole from my parents: old Janet Jackson albums, Cameo, The Police, Parliament, Madonna, Jacksons, Curtis Mayfield, Full Force… That was the kind of vibe that I transitioned into.
WHAT’S THE MOST GRATIFYING PART OF YOUR JOB?
I guess it’s two part. I enjoy discovering good, new music. I feel like as far as my taste is concerned, it doesn’t come around as often anymore. I really enjoy playing classics and I like when someone comes up to me and is freaking out because I’m playing some song that they haven’t heard in years that they absolutely loved and they just forgot. I enjoy digging up those songs, or songs that somebody’s mom used to play all the time. I love mom music. I like Stephanie Mills, I love Teddy Pendergrass. (Laughs)
WHAT KIND OF MAN DO YOU HOPE HENRY BECOMES?
My husband and I have the same philosophy about this: We just want him to be a good person in general. We’re just trying to instill morals in him, so regardless if it’s a situation with a different race [or] a different sex, he treats everybody with the same regard.
I got a lot of that when I was younger. My parents didn’t have much money, and they couldn’t afford to send me to private school, so they sent me to Catholic school. I’m not the most religious person you’ll ever meet, but I will say that what I did learn from going to Catholic school was just basic morals and how to be a decent human being. I definitely want to give him that foundation.
My husband and I [are] both setting a good example for him; he’ll definitely strive to be like my husband and treat women the way he would want people to treat me, and also [from] seeing the way I fight for equality, or as level a playing ground as I can scratch my way to getting.