Dads Who Rock! Father’s Day Q&A featuring Josh Shriber of Josh and the Jamtones

unnamed (1)Josh and the Jamtones are a Boston-based group known for their killer live performances, and hilarious improvisational banter. Their energetic Roots rock/Reggae style is high octane for little feet, which seem to go at full speed while joining in a dance party led by the group’s charismatic frontman, Josh Shriber.

Prior to the formation of the Jamtones, Shriber started up a program/performance center called “Jammin’ With You!” where about 350 kids per week are introduced to music in a variety of ways. For the smallest jammers, also known as Jamkids, there are in-home lessons on any of 10+ instruments, i.e. piano, guitar, voice, drums, beatboxing, etc. If they feel like jamming in a more public environment with other kids, they can go to the center to join a rockin’ band. In addition, there is Stageplay and StageJam where kids put on a show and learn theater basics, games, singing, and even mic technique.

Since producing their first kindie album in 2012, the Jamtones have soared on to release a DVD movie based on their last album Bear Hunt and have their music and videos play in Chuck E. Cheese restaurants around the country.

These guys are unstoppable and worthy of a prominent placement in your music collection. Look out for their forthcoming album, Rock Steady, due out this summer.

For today’s Father’s Day Q&A, Shriber, father of three, shares some deep, heartfelt thoughts about being a Dad. His answers are so relatable and touching that I got a little weepy when I was reading them. So cozy up and get to know this Dad who ROCKS!

KCG: What does being a Dad mean to you?
JS: Everything! Including never sleeping, changing diapers, getting puked on, carrying 3 kids at a time even when it’s 400 degrees out and at least 2 of the 3 are perfectly capable of walking, sharing your breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, drinks while begging and pleading for them to eat the exact same thing that is right in front of them!

It means loving someone more than you’ve ever loved anything and not knowing it would even be this possible to love someone so much. It means worrying about and praying for things you never knew were important! It means no matter what you “thought” your purpose in life was, you now know for sure without a doubt, and all the little things that were so important instantly hold far less value.

KCG: What is the best thing about being a dad?
JS: All the good stuff and all the bad stuff mush into a blurry blob of “life!” There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my kids. There is no better feeling than getting big hugs and kisses, snuggles, affection, excitement, etc. When they are small and fall asleep on you, it’s the cutest thing in the world, and when they grow up and turn into real people who have real conversations and big time imaginations there’s no match for the pride and satisfaction you feel. When you say “I love you” and they say “I love you too, daddy” it can melt your frikkkin heart!

KCG: How has your work as a musician/artist been impacted by your role as a father? Also, if you are a touring musician, how does that affect the time you spend with your family?
JS: I just passed up 5 shows on the west coast so I could spend Halloween and Christmas with you little punks!

Having kids shines a whole new light on writing and performing. You instantly understand what kids will and won’t “get” at certain ages. You learn that if you are gonna be anything to any kid you better have a goofy side and not take yourself too seriously.

KCG: What are your plans for Father’s Day?
JS: Working! And my kids will be there of course!

I worry about my kids growing up and what they will think of my work when they are teenagers and too cool for school. Right now they are 1, 3 and 5, and they come to every show, hang out at the studio, and are part of my work everyday. I hope they grow up loving music and feeling like they are a part of my work life, inspiring, assisting, cowriting and acting as role models for others. Also, I plan on getting a million awesome gifts including back rubs, foot massages, an extra 7 hrs of sleep, cooperation, no yelling for at least 1 hour of the day, clean rooms, brushed teeth, clean plates, in-assisted dressings and diaper changes.

KCG: What is one of the most memorable moments you’ve had as a Dad?
JS: That’s impossible to answer, BUT, my favorite periods as a dad have been when we are expecting new siblings. When we went from 1 to 2, my oldest (Piper) and I bonded leading up to the delivery, but even more so once her little sister was born. Piper and I had so much time, just the 2 of us, and she was 2.5 yrs old which is the best age ever!! Their language is EXPLODING and they are turning into real deal people. Oh, and there’s also the wicked cuteness factor at that age. Anyway, that bonding period was so powerful for Piper and I and from there our connection has only gotten stronger. The same thing happened when our 3rd (Jonah) came along and our middle girl (Adeline) had to detach from mom a bit and trust that I was as fun and funny as every other kid who doesn’t have to live with me thinks!!  Introducing your kids to their new baby siblings is just the sweetest most precious time and I never want to forget it!  

Right now, I’m seeing, sniff sniff, things that are so present that we assume will always be there like little mispronunciations, the way she dances or the way he crawls or the way she says the word “breakfast” (Briskit). They fade so quickly!  My wife and co-Jamtone, Patience, keeps saying the days are soooo long but the weeks, months and years are flying. Everyone who’s been through this parenting thing says “Enjoy it! It goes so fastI” and at first you say “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” but all of a sudden they are 1 and then 3 and then 5 and you can start to feel it moving WAYYYY too fast even if the 3-minute nightly teeth brushing routine feels like 17 hours of torture! Patience and I LOVE being parents. It has defined us as people more than anything we’ve ever done in our lives, but if we have a 4th, I’ll have to sell all my guitars and live on a beach somewhere so we should probably not let that happen!
KCG: How often to do you play music with your kids? Do they perform with you?
JS: Patience puts show tunes on regularly. We listen to Jamtones (BY REQUEST!!) in the car nonstop, and well I guess I own a music school or something so they have basically grown up completely surrounded by musicians and music!  Addy and Jonah (3 and 1) come to our Jambaby classes at our JWY! Program and Performance Center a couple of times a week and Piper is now in JamKids and StagePlay learning the actual language of music and the ins and outs of being on stage/in a performance.
My kids come to all our local shows for the most part and they jump on stage when we invite the crowd to come up and go crazy with us. But if I had them up for a performance piece, they’d probably hang all over me and grab my legs and my pants would probably fall down and I’d never work again.  Funny thing is when I pick up my guitar at home, they say, “NO DAD! We wanna sing with the iPod (Karaoke style).” Thanks kids.

 

Video: “Lighter Than Air” – Recess Monkey + Dads Who Rock! Father’s Day Q&A with Jack Forman

RECESS MONKEY HOT AIR.300Recess Monkey just celebrated the release of their 12th album, Hot Air. Man, talk about prolific! Throughout the band’s kindie music career, there has always been a Beatles-esque quality to their sound, and their admiration for the Fab Four can be seen on older album covers and in album titles (see Animal House and Tabby Road).

Their most recent video for the song “Lighter Than Air” contains elements found in classic Beatles songs á la Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Club Hearts Band (think “A Day in the Life”). The arrangement is filled with lush orchestration and infectious Pop-Rock hooks (there is even some megaphone).. There really is no exception to who will get the most out of this recording, and really the entire album. In terms of their audiences’ ages, I guess you could say the sky’s the limit.

Hot Air is a CD/DVD combo containing 15 audio tracks plus a 40-minute beautifully animated story that follows the path of a young boy named Andrew and his adventures with flight, and a penguin. Listen to and purchase the album through Recess Monkey’s store, or from my affiliate Amazon. Make sure to keep up with Recess Monkey through their Facebook page, Twitter or by subscribing to their newsletter (or make it a Trifecta and hit all three!).

Today’s double feature continues with Jack Forman, chief funny man, bass player and beloved host of The Monkey House, an afternoon radio show featured on Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live (ch. 78), as he joins us for the next Father’s Day Q&A. As expected, Jack’s answers are as bright and entertaining as he is. Below Jack explains why laughter is the fuel that runs his familial engine, gives mad props to his wife Ellen and talks about how they find a parental balance, and shares his plans for Father’s Day (which naturally includes rockin’ out).


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KCG: What is the best thing about being a Dad?
JF: Both of our kids have completely contagious laughs that are just impossible not to get wrapped up in – there’s nothing quite like the feeling of one of your kids finding something hysterical. That energy is way up there on the dad-scale: laughter can fuel an entire day for sure. But honestly, it’s getting to be a dad alongside my wife who is an exceptional mom. We do a good job of tag-team parenting, and I’m able to be with our kids a lot while Ellen’s teaching during the school year, but I constantly learn from her when our lives become parallel enough to actually be parents in the same room at the same time. She’s crazy intuitive. Though I love 1-on-1 times with each of our two kids, my favorite times are when both kids are happily playing and my wife and I get to kind of not be parents for a couple of unified minutes. Our kids are young and you take those opportunities when you can!

KCG: What is the hardest thing about being a Dad (especially if you’re a touring artist)?
JF: Our son Oscar is just now getting to the age where he notices me being away from home when we go on tour as a band. Skype is a total lifesaver. It’s kind of lucky that we paid a lot of band dues before my kids were born- we get to be a lot more choosey about the shows that we play now, and can strike a better balance of time on the road with time for our families. Out of maybe 110 shows on the books for this year, about 90 of them will allow us to sleep in our own beds. That’s a huge deal and a big stress relief.

KCG: How often do you play music/sing with your kids?
JF: I’m constantly singing or listening to music with our kids- most recently Oscar’s been a die-hard Pop Ups fan and Bea kind of growls along with songs and butt-dances when we have music playing at our house. They both come to a lot of shows of ours- Oscar watches Korum drumming intently, and Bea just grooves on the floor, doing a “baby twist” dance move. We’d call her “Chubby Checker” but we don’t want to give her a body image problem.

KCG: Do your kids join you on stage during performances?
JF: Both kids are big music fans but neither has become a part of our live shows in Recess Monkey- Beatrix is so “Gerberiffic” that she really would help our band’s cuteness factor too… It’s a real missed opportunity. Oscar’s an aspiring drummer and we think Bea’s going to dance. No idea if they’ll ever be in bands of their own, but music will surely play a role in their lives as they grow up.

KCG: What are your plans for Father’s Day?
JF: Ha ha… What else? SHOWS! Summer is our crazy season in Recess Monkey and we’ve booked ourselves 75 shows between now and August. We have two on Father’s Day, but the first is right around the corner from my house so the kids and my wife Ellen will probably come to that one. The only request I’ve made is to sleep in until at least 8am, which I can guarantee you will not actually happen. Our mornings are really fun right now- Pjs until at least 11am, but for Father’s day we’re going to push for noon! This family runs on coffee.

Dads Who Rock! Father’s Day Q&A with Adam Marshall of The Bazillions

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The Bazillions are a Minneapolis-based kindie band that brilliantly weaves educational concepts into their songs in a fun and accessible way. Mathematical concepts and figures of speech are explained through stories featuring relatable characters (see “Similes and Metaphors” below).

The band’s entry into kids’ music started in 2010 when Adam and Kristin Marshall were teaching at Kenny Elementary School. From their very first days in the classroom, the couple found themselves writing songs for and with their students, which rapidly became regularly requested hits.

61LPcZbXGVL._SY606_There is another dimension to The Bazillions that has always grabbed my attention, and that is their awesome music videos.Pairing up with the design/animation team of Eric Kreidler and Gretchen Blase Kreidler (collectively referred to as eg design), this crafty crew has put a ton of thought into creating powerful visuals that provide even more depth and insight into the concepts they cover. And with over 2,200,00 views on YouTube, I’m clearly not alone in my devotion.

In honor of Father’s Day and school being out, today’s feature includes a Q&A with Adam Marshall, as well as a video for “No Homework.” Ok, and I had to include one of my favorites “Similes and Metaphors,” because it is outstanding and I love the story they tell to help clarify the difference between the two. I needed this when I was in school!

Keep up with The Bazillions at their official site, and look out for their forthcoming album, On the Bright Side, which will be released on July 17, 2015. It’s a gooooood one, folks!

Purchase the DVD: The Bazillions Rockin’ Video Collection through their online store or watch through Amazon Instant Video.


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KCG: What does being a Dad mean to you?
AM: I’ve embarked, along with my wife Kristin on the most wonderful, challenging, surprising and hilarious journey I could ever take. Good or bad, there’s something new everyday.

KCG: What is the best thing about being a Dad?
AM: The laughs. My kids are funny. Sure, sometimes it’s unintentional, but either way they’re funny!

KCG: How has your work as a musician been impacted by your role as a Father?
AM: Although I’ve only written a couple of songs that were directly about my kids (“Lookout Man” from Rock-n-Roll Recess was about my daughter Naomi), they are always in my head. I can imagine them as the characters in many of the songs I write. A song like “Front Seat” which is about the day a child gets to ride in the front, passenger seat of a car is not about my kids directly, but as I’m writing the song I can see and imagine them making the transition to the front seat of the car. The lyric may formulate itself because I can imagine how they’d react in that situation. The same would go for a song like “You’re Embarrassing Me.” The story in the song is fictional but I’m sure I thought about my kids when I wrote it. So in a way they’re in a lot of the songs.

KCG: How are you planning to celebrate Father’s Day?
AM: Give my wife and kids a huge hug and then go to record stores and get some vinyl!

KCG: What is (one of) the most memorable moment you’ve had as a Dad.
AM: Other than the day they were born; when my daughter was 2 she grabbed the mic at an open jam party we were at and sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. When she was finished everyone clapped. She waited for the clapping to stop then asked if they wanted to hear “ABC.” I guess she was prepared to do a whole set!

KCG: How often do you play music with your kids? Do your kids perform with you?
AM: Since we rehearse in my house, my son Felix will often sit in with the band. He gets his ukulele out and plays along as we rehearse. He just rocks out with us. He has all the moves and looks like one of the guys. It’s awesome. Also, anytime we’ve recorded something new I’ll play it for them. Usually in the car. It’s great to see what they react to, and it’s really great when they start requesting certain songs over and over again. It’s like your own personal focus group.

Interview: Alison Faith Levy

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Alison Faith Levy is a rock star! She has had a prolific music career in both the kids and adult genres, touring national stages with each band she has been in. Alison first entered the kids’ music scene with the Bay Area band, The Sippy Cups, a kids’ rock band filled with sounds that harken back to the 60’s and 70’s.

The Sippy’s ended up taking a hiatus and Alison continued on, releasing two solo albums. Her debut, World of Wonder, was released in 2012 and is the main inspiration for the play she has been developing.

Recently, Alison released her second solo album, The Start of Things, which showcases her powerful voice and songwriting skills. Many of the songs encourage self-expression and empower kids to reach for their dreams. It’s a wonderful record, and I love how it feels as though Alison is sharing pieces of wisdom and whimsy from her own personal experiences. The Start of Things brings us closer to Alison as a musician and a person, striving to bring the best out of herself and others. If you can imagine classic rock icons like Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane or Carole King singing for kids then you’ve got some insight into the soulful sounds of Alison Faith Levy.

I have come across many women who rock in the Kindie genre, who are also moms, and their ability to find a balance between work and home life has always inspired me. Alison is one of those rockin’ mamas. She also happens to have a 13-year-old son who has already been in the press, including NPR, for his artistic talent.

In the interview below, Alison graciously offers some insight into her time as a touring musician with her adult band and then with her Kindie band, The Sippy Cups), how family has influenced and inspired her, and what’s next on the horizon – including the production of her play.

You can download and purchase The Start of Things (which I definitely recommend), on CDBabyiTunes, and Amazon.


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KCG: You have had a long career in music, what are some significant things that stick out from your career as a woman in music throughout the years?

AFL: I spent most of my early career in music being the only woman in the band. I actually enjoyed that, since from a very early age I felt like I could really talk music so much more with the guys, and that the girls I knew didn’t really want to dig that deep and “geek out” with me in quite that way. Of course, now I have so many amazing women friends who are musicians and music lovers who can geek out with the best of them, and I’ve played with some really awesome women in bands. It just took me a long time to find them!

KCG: What was your previous experience with adult music?

AFL: I have been playing in bands since I was in college. I was in two or three little indie bands before I started making solo albums – very piano/singer-songwriter/chanteuse kind of stuff. As I was working on my solo career and starting to play more shows, I was asked to join The Loud Family, a band I was a huge fan of already. I made two albums with them, and we did two national tours, which was amazing. After the second tour, my husband and I decided to have a baby, and so I took some time off from music to be a mom.

KCG: When did you change to Kindie music?

AFL: After I had my son Henry, I wasn’t sure what my next move would be in regards to music. I was enjoying the breather, and not really knowing. Henry and I started taking Music Together classes with Paul Godwin, who said he really wanted to start a cool psychedelic rock band for kids called The Sippy Cups. I was like “I am all about that!” And the rest is history!

KCG: How has your process changed from making music for adults vs Sippy Cups vs solo?

AFL: After being in the Loud Family, which had a very definite bandleader/songwriter (Scott Miller), I came into the Sippy Cups which was a bit more open and just developing their identity. Originally we just played covers (Beatles, Pink Floyd, T. Rex) and at some point I came in with a song I had written, Magic Toast, and from then on we started writing our own songs. It was very collaborative as a project, which was so cool. We were really building something big and unique together – both musically and theatrically – and it took off so quickly! After several years of touring and working together, we all needed to spend more time with our families so we agreed to take an extended hiatus.

I wasn’t sure if I would continue with kids’ music, as I had already started my new “grown-up” band, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, with my friend Victor Krummenacher of Camper Van Beethoven. We toured with Cracker, and opened for Rosanne Cash – it was going pretty well. But I missed playing for the kids, and started writing kids’ songs again. I remember a very emotional conversation with my wonderful friend Charity Kahn, where I expressed my anxiety about jumping back into the children’s music world after The Sippy Cups, and wondering if people would respond to me as a solo artist. She was instrumental in building my confidence and making me feel like it would be okay. She convinced me that if I felt strongly that I still had something to say with children’s music, then I should say it. I’m so glad I listened to her!

KCG: You just released a new album, how much of a reflection is on that on where you are in your career now?

AFL: When I released World of Wonder in 2012, I was just getting back into playing music for kids again, and was still figuring out my identity as a solo artist. With this new album – I have been playing shows with my Big Time Tot Rock band for a few years now, as well as teaching music to preschoolers, so I feel very comfortable with my place in the genre of children’s music. I know so much more what I want to say, and what kids relate to, and what kind of music I want to make. This album really achieves that in a big way.

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KCG: What does this album mean to you?

AFL:  I have always wanted to make a children’s album that reflects the kind of music I loved as a child – really well-written pop songs, with great arrangements and production, that came from an honest, emotional place. Not necessarily kids’ music, but fully-realized music that crosses the generations. That was my goal with this album – to write great songs from an honest place that expressed my truth, and spoke to kids on their level, too. It’s a tall order, but that was my intention and I’m really happy with how it turned out. There is some silliness too, of course – because you gotta get silly sometimes with kids!

KCG: You’re in the process developing a play. Was there crossover between developing the play and writing/producing the record?

AFL: Yes, the song “Little Dreamer” was actually written for the show (World of Wonder: The Musical), but I thought it fit really well into this batch of songs and decided to record it for the album. The musical has been in development for awhile – we’ve taken it so far as a reading with actors, and a feedback session with a theater company that is interested in producing. It takes a long time to get a musical off the ground, though, so I just keep plugging away at it!

KCG: I really love “Rainbow Tunnel.” Can you talk about your inspiration for this song?

AFL: The Rainbow Tunnel is actually called The Waldo Tunnel, and runs between the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito. It’s a regular old tunnel but has a rainbow painted around the edge of it, which makes it instantly magical! You drive through it to get from San Francisco to Marin – and I have such vivid memories of driving through it as a child, watching the fog dissipate as you crossed over into sunny Marin county. We were driving through it about a year ago and I thought – I should write a song about this! So my producer Allen Clapp and I collaborated on the song, and decided it give it a very Burt Bacharach “Do You Know the Way To San Jose?” kind of vibe. I love the song, and it seems to be a lot of people’s favorite track on the album. The Waldo Tunnel is going to be re-named The Robin Williams Tunnel, which is such a sweet and wonderful thing.

KCG: As a mom and a musician did you or have you ever felt/feel a challenge between filling the role of the two identities?

AFL: Yes, for sure. When I was in The Sippy Cups, it was extremely challenging and hard on my family. I was traveling a lot, and Henry was only 5 or so years old. And when I wasn’t traveling, my life was 100% Sippy Cups all the time. It was a very hard thing to balance. After that experience, I have been able to set much more realistic goals and boundaries for my solo career, and it has worked out really well for my family. I play shows mostly in the Bay Area, I teach at local preschools, and I make sure to be available and home for my son as much as possible. It has made a huge difference. My family is everything to me – so they always come first. I am just getting ready to do a little touring, which is exciting, but I am going to be very careful and choosy about where and when I travel for work. It has to be worthwhile on all fronts. I am excited, though, to finally have worked my way back to that position of being able to play out of town shows!

KCG: Henry is also involved in music. Did you involve him with The Sippy Cups or other musical endeavors?

AFL: When I was in The Sippy Cups, Henry was really little, and pretty much every song I wrote was based on a conversation I had had with him! He was always interested in the weirdest, funniest things, and he really inspired me to see things from that whimsical perspective.

Now that he’s 13, and an extremely accomplished musician in his own right, I play new songs I’m working on for him, and get his feedback. He loves to listen to mixes and make comments on the production – he is always spot on.

KCG: What does Henry think of your role as a family/Kindie musician? How do you think Henry has been influenced by seeing his mom as a career musician?

AFL: Henry is definitely on his own path as a musician and an artist. He has always made music, and done his own home recording, and found his own way in his tastes and style. I think that seeing his mom play music professionally, and his dad make films and teach, has given him a feel for what living a creative life can look like. That’s always been important to us, but we never really specifically said  “You will be an artist.” He just came by it naturally and organically, which is really nice.

KCG: Do you have creative conversations with your son?

AFL: Oh yes, constantly. That’s pretty much all we do. Dissect music and film and television and art and scientific and philosophical ideas. The best times are our drive to school – it takes about 15 minutes to get to his school and we have the deepest, most interesting conversations in the car. Henry loves to talk and question and debate – it’s awesome.

KCG: Do you learn from each other creatively?

AFL: Henry is so beyond me now, I really do believe. His music comes from such a pure and mysterious place – when I hear him sit down at the piano and just improvise, I can’t even believe what’s happening. He is truly gifted in a way that takes my breath away. I just write pop songs. ;-)

KCG: Now that your album is out, what’s on the horizon for you? Or is there any other creative endeavors you’d like to engage or try?

AFL: I am proud to have gotten to where I am right now, on my own terms. I really love what I’ve created for myself as an artist, and I feel like the kids and families that I teach and perform for really appreciate and value what I do. I get so much love every single day of my life. Hugs and high fives and little kids shrieking “Teacher Alison!” joyfully when I walk in the door. It’s wonderful.

I would like to move into more large scale original theatrical productions for children – really getting the musical off the ground is my biggest priority. To see my show produced in a fully realized theatrical setting with top-notch production values – that would be the ultimate! 

Other than that, I did kind of start writing a YA thriller, but it’s a daunting task. I work on it every once in awhile, but I have no idea what I’m doing! 

I also dream of starting a big, gritty soul band, with a horn section, and just ripping it up and belting it out like Tina Turner or Sharon Jones. A gal can dream…

Interview: Warren Brown and Adam Goddard creators of Big Block Singsong

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Toronto-based visual artist Warren Brown and composer Adam Goddard (aka Goddard/Brown) are the craftsmen of an animated series called Big Block Singsong. Their catalogue of videos includes fun 2-minute episodes featuring colorful singing blocks, each one having its own distinct personality: A block with a german accent singing about hair, a monkey singing about a “Two Banana Day” and a cave man pointing out that an erupting volcano is a hot mess are just a few of the priceless gems you’ll find in their collection.

Touching upon topics such as animals, sleep, and social emotional themes like conflict resolution and being brave, these highly original and well-produced shorts are aimed at educating and entertaining preschoolers. Although, their clever sense of humor will quickly catch the attention of older kids and adults, both lyrically and visually. They also integrate musical styles such as hip hop, funk, classic rock and even European techno. The first episode I watched with my 6-year-old was the undeniably awesome Princess and from that moment on we have been completely hooked!

Since these episodes currently air on the CBCDisney Jr., and Nick, Jr. in the UK, some of you may already be familiar with the magic of Big Block Singsong. For the rest of you, let me introduce you to the supreme rulers of this big block empire.

In our interview below, Warren and Adam discuss the creation of Big Block Singsong, how their production process is unlike that of a traditional TV show, and why humor is an essential part of their process.

Make sure to read through the interview to find out about their Vol 1. DVD and Greatest Hits album.


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KCG: What is your background and how did you come into the concept with Big Block Singsong?

Warren: Adam and I both grew up in Grimsby, Ontario. Even though we went to the same nursery school and high school we didn’t really know each other back then. I left Grimsby and ended up being a creative director, animator and designer at an animation studio in Toronto. I worked on commercials and motion graphics, and also developed kids’ TV shows. Adam and I reconnected after a mutual friend invited us out to lunch and we talked about the need for some solid music for the kids’ shows I was working on. We ended up working on a couple shows together before I left that studio. Adam was already a freelance composer so we continued to work on things and eventually found a studio space together. We came up with this idea for a simple singing face character shortly after. That was the beginning of Big Block Singsong.

Adam, what is your musical background?

I would say I have an eclectic musical background. As a kid I took piano lessons but also picked up as many other instruments as I could. I played in a band and eventualIy went to university where I studied classical composition and orchestration.

How did you decide on the final concept of singing blocks?

Warren: At first, the idea was a fullscreen singing face. We did a couple of small tests to see if it would work, and found a real connection when this big face sang directly to viewers. We wondered what would happen if we put the rectangular face on a block character. It opened up the possibility of a world, and became the concept for Big Block Singsong. The faces are always the same dimension, the blocks are the same dimension and working with those parameters opened up a lot of possibilities.

Tell us about the first episode?BBSS_101_Monkey_03

Warren: Our very first episode features a monkey singing about having a hard day in the jungle. The idea came to us when Adam and I were in the studio. I brought in two bananas for my lunch and asked Adam if he wanted one. He declined and as I walked out of his recording studio I said, “I guess it’s gonna be a two banana kind of day.” Later that day Adam came back with a guitar and played the “Two Banana Day” chorus. It all made sense.

How do you work together to develop the songs and the characters?

Adam: It’s a pretty homogenous process. We start off conceptualizing together. We come up with a lot of funny ideas and cool words that make sense and work well with the concept. There is a certain point where I’ll go off and write some lyrics and maybe come up with a rough idea with the guitar. Warren then takes it and animates it. We do everything back and forth the whole time until we are both happy with what we’ve got. Our process is unlike the traditional way of making a show where things are done separately.

BBSS_108_Octopus_02Warren: An idea comes maybe from a song or band we’ve been listening to or an era of music we like. We could be into funk one week and want to do something with ‘70‘s funk or we start with a concept like feelings, hairdos or body parts. Sometimes we’ll think about a character first, like an octopus, and work out what an octopus might sing about.

How does this differ from your previous experience in kids’ TV production?

Warren: My experience in traditional kids’ TV production is that you do everything first except the music, which is typically left for the very end, and then someone comes in to score it. Adam and I wanted to see what kind of project we could come up with if we brought the composer in right at the beginning.

When you had this concept developed did you test it out before releasing it?

Warren: We made about five test episodes with different characters. It was an interesting concept that was making us laugh.

One day we were contacted by a curator we knew who was putting together a group art exhibit based on animation as art. Adam and I jumped at the opportunity to put up these test episodes of Big Block Singsong we were working on. We mounted some TVs and headphones to the walls and played Big Block Singsong off of DVDs. People would put the headphones on and stand a foot away from these big singing faces. We were right there in the gallery and could see people’s reactions. Everyone seemed to laugh and smile, both kids and adults.

Later that year one of those test episodes screened at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. At the festival, we showed someone from the CBC the idea and they really liked it and wanted to see it as a kids’ TV series. We didn’t really have an audience in mind back then. That’s when we decided to focus on making music and animations that speak right to preschoolers with hopes that parents enjoy it too.

Are you working with different networks or just with the CBC?

Warren: We’re an indie studio. Adam and I produce the show. Adam makes the music and I design and animate. Big Block Singsong is commissioned by the CBC in Canada. The creative head of kids’ programming there, Kim Wilson, approves our episodes for broadcast but she’s really more than that. She’s our editor, guiding us, making sure we’re speaking to kids. We also have distributors who took the show to Disney Junior in the US and and Nick Jr. in the UK. That was a big leap.

So you have a good amount of creative freedom? 

Warren: We do all the creative and production work in our studio which is really nice. We have a long schedule which lets us produce the episodes more like an album rather than a traditional TV show. That way we get to really develop each episode.

You guys are both dads. How old are your kids?

Adam: I’ve got a 10-year-old.

Warren: I got a 4-year-old and a 5 month old.

Have they inspired ideas for the show?

Adam:  Oh for sure! Both of us are inspired by our kids in a lot of ways. There has been a few specific things that my son has said that’s really stuck. Warren and I will be laughing about the idea and then it ends up finding its way into an episode.

You balance the humor nicely in a way that appeals to both children and adults. Do you make each other laugh when you are working through ideas? 

Warren: It has to be funny to us. If we’re not laughing when we’re working on something, kids probably won’t find it funny either.

Adam: It’s quite surprising because we’ll sometimes get to a point where our lyrics are looking pretty good. We’ll go off and record them and realize that there’s just something in the delivery that’s missing or when it’s paired up with the music it falls a little flat. Then there are other times when unexpected things we’ve just taken for granted are the funniest part of the track.

Warren: I also want my 4-year-old son to get the jokes or words we use in the lyrics. If he doesn’t understand it I want it to be interesting enough that he’ll ask about it. I’ll hear him using those little jokes or wordplay in his own life when he’s playing with his friends or talking with us at dinnertime. Music connects with a lot more people and a broader audience than just regular TV. I think that’s why we have kids and parents who like our music, grandparents who like it and why we have 30-somethings that tell us they have our album on their phone.

You address social emotional topics in an accessible way that doesn’t feel preachy. “Better Way,” for example, encourages talking it out to resolve conflicts because “taking a frown and spreading it around won’t solve a thing.” What is your approach when touching upon feelings or social emotional topics?

Warren: Adam and I naturally go to sillier characters when we’re coming up with ideas. “Better Way” was a challenge. It was suggested to us that bullying was an important topic for everyone, especially kids. We always want to be fun and want kids to feel happy watching the show so we thought about how to flip it so that it has an empowering message.

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The same approach applied to “Brave.” That song was originally about being scared. We wanted to present it with a positive message, encouraging kids to be brave, instead of presenting something frightening like a boogeyman in the room. We think about what we’d say to our own kids or what we tell ourselves quite frankly.

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Are there plans to create more of a narrative where the blocks talk to each other or is the focus going to remain on singing?

Warren: There will always be a focus on songs for sure. In some episodes there are moments when the characters have a little back and forth, just a couple lines during a pause in the song. We see those moments and think about what having dialogue between the characters would look like. Right now, we approach the show like a band makes an album. We create a bunch of songs and that ultimately makes up a season of the show.

When you’re developing these characters, do you relate to or envision yourself as each one?

Adam: I have to. It’s funny, once in a while Warren will come up with a sketch and right away I’ll hear a certain voice or delivery or attitude that just comes naturally. It’s a bit embarrassing when Warren comes into the studio and I’m belting out in full blast “I’m a spider!”

Warren: We’re in character because of the voice, we’re in character because of the attitude of the music and that helps a lot compared to my other animation experience. Once we know the personality and quirks of a character they end up with a certain way in which they present themselves, whether it’s a monkey or a kooky spider.

Or a princess.BBSS_128_Princess_02

Adam: Well I did the first take on that one but I didn’t do the final voice.

Warren: We worked with a female vocalist, Stacey Kay, for the tracks where Adam’s voice just can’t get up that high.

You made her a tough princess instead of a super girlie princess. How did that decision come about?

Warren: Adam and I were juggling the idea of a princess for awhile but knew we wanted to do something different, something with attitude.

Adam: At one point Warren used the words “electric pink” and I thought “Ok, it’s done! ‘Electric pink’ is so cool it has to be in the lyrics.” An electric pink tutu had to be in there.

Surprisingly Adam you have a much lower voice than I expected.

Adam: (lowers voice) Really? (Warren laughing)

Adam, are you the voice(s) in all of the songs, with the exception of the ones Stacey sings in?

Adam: That’s right, yeah.

BBSS_103_Hair_03In the “Hair” episode you take on a german accent.

Adam: Yeah

(both laughing)

How did you decide on a German accent for that guy?

Warren: We were talking about ‘80‘s European techno music and laughing about the concept and after looking at our list of topics we said “Hair!” out loud. Adam put on the accent and all of a sudden we had the song.

You’ve been compared to Flight of the Concords. I also hear a little Tenacious D and David Bowie in “Space Friends.” 

Warren: I’m just reflecting on that now. We’re both fans of Flight of the Concords and Tenacious D and obviously music in general. I guess what we like about Flight of the Concords and Tenacious D is they sing humorous songs with a certain determination and intensity.

Here in the studio Adam sings the same way.

What are your musical influences and how do they filter into the music in Big Block Singsong?

Adam: I definitely love all kinds of music and often the styles themselves inspire where we end up in Big Block Singsong. We have a tendency to stick towards tried and true Pop and more classic genres of music. The songs work well when people can identify with them to a certain extent. As far as my own personal influences, I grew up on the songwriting and harmonies of the Beach Boys and the Beatles. I have a soft spot in my heart for a lot of that classic stuff so that definitely finds its way selfishly into the music. I also like the challenge of trying something that maybe I wouldn’t normally gravitate to. It’s a lot of fun to dive in and try something that’s way out of left field.

So what’s next for you guys?

Warren: We’re almost finished 20 new episodes for Season 2 and they’ll be airing soon on CBC and Disney Junior. The biggest thing for us right now is seeing how the audience reacts to them. We’ve tried some new genres and new characters and new topics so we’ll see if this new mix is going to be received the same as our first season. We hope people find their favorites in this one too.


Stay up to date with Big Block Singsong by liking the Big Block Singsong Facebook Page and following along in Twitter

You can purchase Volume 1 of Big Block Singsong on DVD through Amazon and iTunes.

Want to take the songs with you? Purchase the Big Block Singsong “Greatest Hits” Album through Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play.

Click here to watch Season 1 episodes of Big Block Singsong.

“Interconnected” – Celebrating Rachel Carson by Jonathan Sprout

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“The more we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”  – Rachel Carson

Women’s History Month drew to a close earlier this week and now we look forward to spring holidays, and Earth Day. Today’s post celebrates a female hero, and her fight to maintain a healthier, greener planet for all living things.
Rachel Carson was a marine biologist who valiantly fought for conservation by calling out the hazardous effects of synthetic pesticides. Her book, Silent Spring, forced the banning of DDT, and made a revolutionary dent in the legislation governing the use of chemicals and other pesticides. Carson’s work and tireless efforts also inspired a grassroots movement which ultimate led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
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Jonathan Sprout, a Grammy nominated musician who has devoted 21 years or his career focusing on heroes from a variety of trades and professions, (science, politics, sports, medicine, entertainment, education) wrote a song in honor of Rachel Carson called “Interconnected.”

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Elena Moon Park – How Nature Inspires Art and Music

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When it comes to weather right now, I’d say we are a nation divided. The calendar says it’s spring though many are still experiencing the effects of winter. At the same time, other parts of the world are experiencing winter at just the right time.

During her visit to Iceland, Elena Moon Park, was inspired by the beauty of a freshly powdered landscape. Seeing the art in nature is something that inspires her as an artist and informs her craft as a musician. Below Park shares inspiring thoughts about her relationship with the natural world and the beauty of its elements, particularly during winter.

The photos featured below are by Elena Moon Park. You can view additional photos of her Icelandic adventure here.


At one time or another, I imagine that we all see ourselves as minuscule beings rambling through a boundless world of natural landscapes. Perhaps this is becoming less common in recent generations, as we continue to surround ourselves with buildings and technology. Once in awhile, I am reminded of the sweeping power of the natural world, and I am invariably captivated by the thought. I feel a deep reverence towards nature — this unyielding, powerful, unforgiving, breathtaking and beautiful force – and I embrace

Elena Moon Park - Rabbit Days and Dumplings Cover Artthese moments of reflection as crucial and wholly inspiring reminders.

Many of the tunes I discovered in the process of recording Rabbit Days and Dumplings reflect wonderment at brilliant natural forces. The Korean traditional song “Poong-Nyun Ga” celebrates the fall harvest season, the Japanese sea shanty Soran Bushi depicts life on the rough oceans, the Korean ballad “Doraji” describes a white root that grows on the mountainside.

Reverence towards nature is heightened for me in wintertime. Where I live and in many parts of the country, people are fed up with the snow, ice and freezing temperatures. It has obstructed work and lives and travel, and I understand the frustration. But when I step out of the madness of the city and stand in silence in a snowy landscape, I feel invigorated and deeply calm. A canvas of white snow and ice covers the earth. A stillness and silence take over. In winter, the majesty of these natural landscapes astonishes me.

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I’m fascinated winter’s intricate, complex formations; ice on ponds, streams, trees, and icicles dripping from rooftop gutters. Cracks crawl slowly across icy surfaces, somehow appearing random and orderly at once. Fresh, untouched snow sits on top of bare trees, outlining the coordinated tangle of tree limbs. Mountains, frozen lakes and snowy plains blend into the horizon of white winter skies. Landscapes are still, except for the wind that stirs the powdered snow. I breathe fresh, cold air. I feel energy. Beauty. Solitude.

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