Ramona Muse Lambert is an artist, educator, and performer in Des Moines who, as she says on her website, “often injects humor and playfulness” into her art “in an attempt to make it accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages and backgrounds.” She taught for years at the Des Moines Art Center and is now raising and sharing art with two children alongside her husband Derek, a musician and frequent collaborator. You may have seen her colorful bottle label designs for Exile Brewing or crossed paths with her at the Children’s Art Zone she creates for the Hinterland Music Festival.
I’ve always appreciated the confluence of Ramona’s music and visual art and loved watching her bands Ramona and the Swimsuits, and the Slimdudes, and the Sometimes, and of course her work in the brilliant stage shows of Leslie and the Lys which, to my mind, is the quintessential Ames band of the last twenty years.
The Informer reached out to her to catch up about quarantine creativity, teaching art to young children, and how the late-aughts music scene in Ames set the stage for her to become a Ly.
You are very active around Iowa, you’re always making and presenting art. But now, like many people, you’re stuck at home. Have you been able to stay creative through this crisis? What are you working on?
I have been staying very busy during this time with two small children. It has been a matter of carving a little bit of time here and there to make anything. Also, I must admit that at the beginning of my isolation in March I was very motivated to make things, keep going, and as time has passed I’m losing that momentum.
I have been making coloring sheets for free download on my website, I have also been hosting a weekly drawing show on Instagram live with my four-year-old son. My husband and I were doing a weekly zoom entertainment show for adults after bed. We did bingo, pub quiz, and a joke party. That’s slowed down too.
I am honestly just trying to be outside, on walks or doing yard work, right now. That has its own sort of creativity, if not just a recharge. I’m studying my neighborhood and home in a way that I haven’t before, in anticipation of spending the fall and winter in my house.
Could you share some advice on teaching art to young children?
I think you have to have a lot of patience and enthusiasm when teaching art to young children. My son is four years and three months and draws all day long. I drew and made art with him for the first four years of his life and he held minimal interest. I was losing hope, then suddenly it all clicked! He went from circle heads with two lines for legs to three months later drawing five fingers and fingernails! It’s been the most incredible thing to watch. I was drawing all the time as a child, and so I remember a year ago I said to my mom, “What if he just hates art?!” to which she laughed.
Anyways, patience and SELF-CONFIDENCE. Do not doubt your own drawing skills, none of this, “I can’t draw, I’m not creative.” Your children pick up on it. I have watched so many parents pull their phones out to use as a reference for how to draw something. It’s really important that you just guess what you think a tiger looks like, then celebrate whatever disaster you came up with.
What music have you been listening to around the house? What kind of music are the kids into?
Oh, I have been listening to podcasts when I’m alone (on a walk), as it’s nice to hear adults talk. We have been listening to They Might Be Giants, The Beatles, The Hives, The Strokes, Jimi Hendrix, and Big Thief. There are more; my four-year-old is obsessed with guitars, so I feel like we are into guitar-heavy stuff right now.
Oh, and Raffi.
You’ve always combined music and visual art so well. For instance, you’ve often used costumes and set design in your performances; there was a book of illustrations to accompany a Ramona and the Slimdudes album; and I’ve noticed that you’ve often drawn and painted artists and performers. What’s your approach when making music visual?
When making music visual, I don’t really have a plan. I think of myself primarily as a visual artist, that is how my mind sees and projects things. So I think of the music as an extension of that. And it is all just me. My husband helps write the music, it’s all in my head. It’s a lovely gift to have him translate it to music. So it’s all just woven together.
We went to Iowa State University around the same time, playing and going to shows around Ames. Performers at the Practice Space and the Boheme were big influences. What are some artists you remember fondly from that era — do you still listen to any?
Oh, wow, yes. The Practice Space was everything to me. I loved the people and the place so very much. The Boheme was a favorite spot as well.
Bands I saw at the Practice Space that changed me: The Blow, Mirah, Kimya Dawson, Karl Blau, Adrien Orange, Lake, Calvin Johnson, and so many more incredible bands from out of town. But I think the Poison Control Center and Joe Terry’s Sound is Moving Thing changed me most.
The two bands that I’ll never forget watching at the Boheme: In an extreme blizzard with 10 other people, I watched A Pollinaire Rave, which was Kevin Barnes (from of Montreal), his brother, and wife in an incredible audiovisual performance that absolutely shook me. Also, my friend Hope suggested we hit up open mic night at the Boheme to watch her high school friend Leslie perform. That was my first time seeing Leslie Hall and I laughed SO HARD!
You ended up playing in the band for years, touring all over the country. When did you join Leslie and the Lys, did you first connect at that Boheme show?
I was just in love with Leslie’s comedy that first Boheme show. I laughed so hard and was in awe of her showmanship.
I’m not sure when I met her, but we really connected when I organized a show for her in the Friley basement for [student radio station] KURE. I started hanging out with her just after I had graduated from ISU with a bachelor in fine arts, was rejected from five graduate schools for art, was living with my mom, looking for my place, and she invited me on tour to be a merch girl. I loved being a merch girl and a few days in she had me throw on the suit and be a Ly. I toured with Leslie for seven years, and we were really good at it! Now I am home with two kids and I am SO grateful for that experience. Traveling coast-to-coast in a van with my best friends, how did I get so lucky?
Do you have some favorite tour memories you’d be willing to share?
Sold out shows! Specifically the big cities like Portland, we would be singing and couldn’t hear anything in the monitors because the huge crowd was singing it all right back. It was electric.
One time in Jacksonville, Florida, it was a wild crowd. There was a huge bouncer at the door (that wasn’t the usual). Scrappy (Karen Lewis, an amazing artist, and another Ly), put her foot in the middle of a guy’s chest and kicked him as he tried to climb up on stage. My grandparents (mid-80s) were at the show, and my grandfather was so proud of her for doing it so seamlessly.
Boone County Comedy Troupe (Leslie and me as different characters), performing as an opener to a few people at tables. Then Leslie and the Lys performing to a packed room. Ha.
One time I confessed my love to the drummer, behind a quilt, while we were hiding behind puppets we had to maneuver. We got married and had babies. Pretty special.