For years, Nicola Berlinsky had been a fan of her colleague Lisa Pimentel’s music. A musician in her own right, Berlinsky — a fourth grade teacher at the Oakwood School in North Hollywood — had seen her friend perform live, which inspired her to dust off her drum kit. One Friday afternoon, just before Mother’s Day in 2012, the duo decided to join forces creatively.
“When you’re a woman of a certain age and work at a school, you’re surrounded by mothers and children enjoying the excitement of Mother’s Day, but it can also feel exclusive,” Berlinsky says. “We were on recess duty joking with one another about that, and we decided to form a band on the spot.”
“It was born out of a feeling we had in that moment.” adds Pimentel, the band’s singer-guitarist.
The duo decided to call the project No Small Children, an ode to the fact they didn’t have young kids of their own. They also decided on a sound. “We wanted to be a punk band,” Pimentel recalls enthusiastically. “Then we just kind of went from there.”
Prior to her career as a music teacher, Pimentel was the drummer of Boston-based, all-female punk outfit Heidi. The band was signed to Warner Bros. Records in 2001 but, like many fledgling groups, their music didn’t find an audience and they were subsequently dropped. In the interim, Pimental, who had relocated to L.A. after the band was signed, decided to stay and apply for teaching jobs, eventually landing a gig as a music teacher at Oakwood.
Three years since forming, No Small Children — which includes Pimentel’s sister Joanie, also a teacher, on vocals and bass — have released three albums on top of continuing to teach at the private school. They gig consistently, even during the school year, and they manage their time tightly in order to squeeze in recording sessions at Pimentel’s home studio.
They recently released their third album, Hold Tight, I’m Flying, which melds the best qualities of dirty vintage punk and ‘90s alt-rock into an effortlessly catchy sound. Since they don’t have to to worry about their next paycheck, the trio’s laidback vibe allows them to soldier on making music as a “fun little project.”
In their earlier days, the group ambitiously attempted to play as many shows as possible, whether or not it was a school night — 55 in their first three months. But the energy and excitement of playing gigs followed them into their classrooms the next morning.
“It was so much fun that came from taking the music out of the studio and starting to be part of the L.A. underground scene and meeting so many amazing people,” Berlinsky says. “But the next year, we started limiting our shows.”
Outside of the Oakwood grounds, the trio meets three days a week for practice and to hash out new ideas and songs. And these days, they only play shows on Friday and Saturday nights.
“Having two parallel careers means you have to be disciplined about your schedule,” Joanie Pimentel says. “We didn’t want to just work hard but also work smart.”
As much as they love performing as No Small Children, the trio was hesitant at first to share information about their afterschool activities with their students — though over time, parents have discovered their music. Surprisingly, they say, many of those parents are now frequent visitors to their sets. Now, Berlinsky’s students ask her to play the band’s music during recess.
A number of famous musicians' kids attend Oakwood, so it would be understandable if the trio asked their students' parents for career guidance. But that is a line they firmly state they will never, ever consider crossing. They consider themselves to be educators first and rockers second.
“We never want to put any family in an awkward position of feeling they have to help us,” Berlinsky says. “We’ve kept really quiet on that aspect, and we find it exciting when the parents find our music on their own.” Even so, some supportive and well-connected parents have taken it upon themselves to help the trio license their music to various television shows.
Despite the band’s busy schedule, the trio insist that they remain passionate educators who care about their students. And they’ve been teaching for enough years that they have a system down where they can pace their energy over the course of a given day.
Unlike other bands who seek fame, fortune and stardom, No Small Children is a labor of love. Berlinsky and the Pimentel sisters don’t intend to leave their jobs. That said, they don’t plan on giving up their side gig either.
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“It’s been kind of growing and growing and all along, we find out a little bit more about ourselves,” Berlinsky says. “It’s crazy and it’s fun. We’re very serious about having a good time.”
No Small Children play an album release show at El Cid on Saturday, Aug. 15, with GayC/DC and EZ Tiger.