View This: “America” – The Harmonica Pocket

With the debates coming to an end and Election Day quickly approaching, it can be overwhelming to get caught up in all the politics and weight of the decision making process.

Keeth Apgar of The Harmonica Pocket, brings us a timely video for the single “America,” originally released on July 4, 2012. The video, in conjunction with the song, illuminates the profundity of Apgar’s thoughts on the “state of affairs.”

Below you can share a few sentimental moments with Apgar by viewing the video for “America” and following along with lyrics below. You can also listen to and purchase the song through the Bandcamp widget below. While I would typically recommend The Harmonica Pocket’s music for the under 5 crowd, this one feels like it’s directed towards listeners above the age of 8.


America I love you
America where’d you go?
America you’re confused and lost
So won’t you please come home?

America your mountains
America your shining seas
America all your children
And your American dreams

America your people
America your dustbowl
America your trail of tears
And ghosts of buffalo

America your brown soils
America farms and fields
America your land is poison
I can’t wash you with these tears

America I am angry
America don’t lie to me
America how’d this happen
To the land of the free?

Your politician speeches
Your promises for change
There’s oil on your beaches
And radiation rain

I want to swim in your rivers
And breathe your fresh air
I want to drink your clean water
And plant flowers everywhere

America I miss you
America I need you now
America back on your feet again
Stand up strong and proud

America I am sorry
America this took so long
America to speak up and sing
This patriotic song

America I love you
America where’d you go?
America you’re confused and lost
So won’t you please come home?

Please come home.

View This: “Miss Elephant’s Gerald” – The Pop Ups

I’ve mentioned before that Fall is my favorite season but I should also mention that one of my favorite holidays is Halloween.  It could perhaps relate to the fact that my birthday is very close to Halloween, but either way I love it.  And, I’m enjoying watching my daughter get into it now as well.

One of our favorite kindie bands is The Pop Ups and the release of this track makes this month even more rewarding.  When I first heard “Miss Elephant’s Gerald,” I loved the play on words but I was curious to see just how this would play out in video.  Once again, The Pop Ups do not disappoint!

I honestly don’t know how to describe all of what’s going on in this video, but I know it’s highly entertaining and I laugh out loud each time I watch it.  Between the adorable little Elephant, the puppets and all sorts of comedic references (there’s a guy with giant thumbs playing the drums!) “Miss Elephant’s Gerald” is a pleasure for both parents and kids alike.

Below is a sample track with the link to purchase the song for just $1!  And while you’re at it, I would definitely recommend checking out their other stuff.

View This: “Halloween” – Princess Katie and Racer Steve

NYC-based kid rockers Princess Katie and Racer Steve have a new video from their upcoming album Love, Cake and Monsters!  Appropriately timed and named for this time of year, “Halloween” runs like a short film.  It’s colorful and theatrical with a whole cast of characters including dancing skeletons.  The video is done exceptionally well and I particularly love the moving flashlights in the beginning.  The design and animation, done by Taili Wu and Shane McGill from Newspeak is excellent.

Adding to the spookiness of it all is a 53-piece orchestra from Macedonia singing along in the background.

I have to say that the song is catchy but the video is defiitely one I kept wanting more of.  It’s a great item for Halloween.  Definitely worth a look or two!

Check This Out: Elena Moon Park: Rabbit Days and Dumplings

I have always believed that music breaks down barriers and brings people together.  It allows us to get to know one another more intimately whether it’s on a personal level, local or global scale.  Music also has a way of capturing memories and restoring them.

I was born in the United States, however, my heritage stems from Eastern Europe. My Grandmother made the trek from Europe to America, by boat, with my mother and her two sisters after WWII. Just like many other immigrants who came to America, she was in search of a better way of life.

I grew up in a non-religious household, however, we managed to preserve the traditional aspect of our religion by celebrating major holidays. And with every holiday there was always plenty of songs. Some of the songs were in the spirit of giving thanks for the food we ate and others were related to games we played. Even mystical characters got their own songs. Music played an integral role in bringing us together and helping us to better understand our roots.

I have always loved World Music for its raw expression of the culture it represents and the diverse array of instruments used. Sometimes it is the only window we have into understanding a community of people. And even though I may not always understand the language, I believe the music speaks for itself.

Elena Moon Park, a key player in the Dan Zanes and Friends ensemble, recently released her debut children’s album, Rabbit Days and Dumplings, which also won her a 2012 Parents’ Choice Award. Released through Festival Five Records (a label started by Dan Zanes in 2000), Rabbit Days and Dumplings takes us on a picturesque retreat, delivering a carnival of sounds from East Asia (Korea, Japan, China, Tibet and Taiwan) that have been reinterpreted and translated into a beautiful array of songs. No plane tickets necessary!

Rabbit Days and Dumplings is a personal album built on Park’s exploration of her own cultural roots while also capturing “songs, styles, traditions, languages, instrumentation, stories and feelings.” Park further explains, “It’s a reflection of conversations with friends, learning about the songs they listened to growing up and the songs that linger in their memories.” Park, a Korean-American born in East Tennessee, pays tribute to both sides of her heritage by mixing traditional American folk music with traditional Asian sounds and vocals. Renowned collaborators such as the masterful Wu Man, Jean Cook (a violinist who plays with Elizabeth Mitchell & You Are My Flower), popular Tibetan singer/songwriter Techung, members of Bang on a Can and the Kronos Quartet, to name a few, are featured throughout the album further contributing to the authenticity of the cross-cultural landscape that makes up Rabbit Days and Dumplings.

A majority of the songs are sung in their native tongue, but include enough of the English language, making it accessible to a wider range of listeners. Although, it’s the Asian languages that my 3 year old is most intrigued by and tries to sing along with. Specifically, one of her favorites is, “Si Si Sima,” a Tibetan jump rope song introduced to Park by Techung, who just released his own collection of family music. Before my daughter knew much about the song, she would dance to it while alternately hopping on each foot. Coincidence? Possibly, but the song motivates her to move to the sound as if she is reenacting the experience. We usually end up playing the song 6 or 7 times before she is ready to move on, but each time she hears it she exclaims “Listen to me sing it, Mama!”

The album opens with “Sol Nal,” which prompted the making of Rabbit Days and Dumplings. This joyful song describes the many celebrations that happen around the Korean New Year. It is led by Park’s powerful vocals and backed by some of the members from Dan Zanes and Friends.

Some of our favorite songs, in addition to the aforementioned “Si Si Sima,” include “Diu Diu Deng,” which features Dan Zanes on banjo and a fantastic solo by Wu Man on the pipa (a plucked Chinese string instrument). The song is about a train chugging into a tunnel as droplets of water fall from the ceiling onto the roof of the train. I particularly love the layering of English and Chinese vocals towards the end of the song.

“Poong Nyun Ga,” one of my favorites on the album, features steady drumming from the Korean Traditional Marching Band of New York, trumpets, an accordion, a mandolin and a piri (Korean reed instrument) that mixes perfectly with the joyous crowd of voices that triumphantly sing in hopes of an abundant year (in the name of a plentiful harvest or good luck in general). The vibe of the song is infectious and I can’t help but clap and sing along every time I hear it. Of similar sound is the brassy New Orleans style of “Diu Shou Juan,” a Chinese song that typically accompanies a children’s game called Drop The Flag. Sung in Mandarin and English, “Diu Shou Juan” is an excellent example of Park’s ability to create a beautiful union of Eastern and Western cultures.

Elsewhere, we get to hear Zanes and Park sing together in “Akatombo.” The definition of the title means “red dragonfly” and the song reflects on memories of a past time. It’s a beautiful song in which we get to wholly experience the depth of Park’s gorgeous voice. Paired with Dan Zanes’s soft, signature rasp, the song is quite moving.

Winding down the album, Park also gives a nod to popular Western music with “Summer is Here.” The song’s composition reminds me a little of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” for some reason (which, to me, isn’t a bad thing at all). It’s a charming song based on Park’s experience growing up in Tennesee, hiking through the mountains and eating kimbap, a food that resembles sushi. “Tinsagunu Hana” completes the album with an offering of gratitude for all the hard-working parents, including Park’s own, as she sings “…although we number all the stars in the sky we cannot count our parents’ words of advice.” Listening to this and thinking about all that I have learned as a parent myself I can’t help but think, “isn’t that the truth!” Although, I am going to make sure to play this one for my Mother, as well.

I am truly impressed by the work that was put into making the album. Highly recommended for all ages. Rabbit Days and Dumplings is a timeless classic and one that fully supports Park’s strong belief that music has the ability to transcend borders, ages, languages and backgrounds.

The album contains beautiful illustrations by Kristiana Pärn while the liner notes provide snippets of song lyrics, Asian script, phonetic representation and English translation, which makes it fun to follow along. Below is a sampler containing five songs from Rabbit Days and Dumplings. You can also find song lyrics and backgrounds for most songs on the album here.

The album can be purchased from Festival Five Records, as well as the other usual outlets. A portion of the proceeds will be given to to support creative education in our schools.

Full Disclosure: I was given a copy of the album for possible review, however, the opinions and thoughts expressed throughout are my own.

View This: essence – T-REXXXX!

essence-CD-Cover-Artwork2-486x486We had the pleasure of seeing essence perform this song at the Palo Alto Children’s Library during a Randy Kaplan show at the end of September. “T-Rexxxx,” a single from essence’s upcoming children’s album A Dog Named Moo, was a big hit with the audience and is still a hit with us at home.   “T-Rexxxx” is a great tune which you may just see in print sometime soon as essence is currently working on making it into a book (along with other songs from A Dog Named Moo).  I especially like the claymation by Steve Girard & Matt Christensen and the direction by Jennifer Steinman (director of the award-winning documentary Motherland).

Parents will get a kick out of this heroic dino-tale while their little ones, ages 2 and up, will enjoyrawrrrrrr-ing along with the biggest baddest beast that ever lived.

Recap: Family Music Show with Orange Sherbet and Randy Kaplan

On Saturday, September 29, 2012, Kids Can Groove hosted its first concert featuring Orange Sherbet and Randy Kaplan. My motiviation in organizing the show was to bring quality music to the Southern Bay Area that was not just for kids but for parents to enjoy as well. And by all accounts, it turned out to be a wonderful success! In fact, parents were buying CD’s for themselves just as much as they were buying music for their kids.

A tremendous thank you to everyone who helped make the Family Music Show as exciting as it turned out to be. I want to send a giant thank you to Katie Tupper for being a great friend, huge support and solid volunteer, my husband for manning the snack table, and Rani for making fun crafts and musical instruments out of recyclable materials. In addition to these extraordinary individuals, I am incredibly thankful to Colette Blain of Nature Parties for taking the time to make every one of our attendees feel extra special with her creative goodie bags, decorative placemats, delicious cookies and generous donations for our raffle.

Additionally, I want to thank the generous support of our sponsors and business partners who are amazing community resources and a pleasure to work with. Specifically, Deborah’s Palm, Dinah’s Garden Hotel, as well as, Janada Clark, MA Parent Educator & Parent Coach and Patricia Rossi Photography who both donated valuable prizes for our raffle. Also, a big thanks to the All Saints Episcopal Church, Palo Alto Children’s Library and the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose for organizing these shows with me.

Orange Sherbet, one of our favorite Bay Area bands, opened the show with several numbers from Delicious, their most recent album and winner of a 2012 Parents Choice Gold Medal. Two of the main members, Jill and Steve Pierce, were joined on stage by their son and daughter, who gave stellar performances. It was a real treat for the crowd as most of us are familiar with Jill and Steve’s highly popular and extremely creative music classes through Mary Ann Hall’s Music for Children. In fact, Steve was Em’s teacher over a year ago and she still refers to “Teacher Steve” as her favorite music teacher. Orange Sherbet served up some jazzy songs from Delicious like “Juicy Berry,” “Rice and Beans,” “Waffle Day,” “Stone Soup” (one of our favorites) and the title track, “Delicious.” Other songs included Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up,” as well as, “Monkeying Around” and “Ball” from their 2005 Big Brother, Big Sister release. As a bonus, Randy joined the group for a rendition of “Stay A Little Longer (Stay All Night),” a classic made popular by Willie Nelson. It was the perfect lead-in to Randy’s performance.
As for the main act, Randy Kaplan, winner of various parenting awards including a 2012 Gold Award from NAPPA (National Parenting Publications Awards) for his most recent release Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie, opened his set with “Grape Juice Hesitation Blues,” from his 2006 release Five Cent Piece. Randy immediately engaged his young audience, mainly preschoolers to elementary age, in a conversation about their favorite kind of juice and working to convince them that his water bottle was filled with cloud juice, which was met with lots of protests and laughter. “Grape Juice Hesitation Blues” was a perfect opener as it gave Randy several opportunities to incorporate the kids into the song as he asks, “Can I get some grape juice now? Do I have to wait?” The kids were overjoyed to yell out silly answers like 1 week, 100 years or 5 hours. The set progressed with songs from Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie, including “In A Timeout Now,” which produced a choir of yodelers under Randy’s direction, “Runaway Blues” and “Shake That Thing.” The set included other gems from previous albums such as the aforementioned Five Cent Piece, Loquat Rooftop, as well as, The Kids Are All Id.

Randy has been a favorite in our household for a very long time, but getting to experience him live was a real treat. The way he captivated his young audience was impressive and much like a preschool teacher’s dream. The children were sitting in a semi-circle, listening to every word Randy sang, which is important as his stories are what make him so unique. He is a master storyteller and the audience loved the show. Even adults without kids were purchasing merchandise and commenting on Randy’s distinctive style.

I feel bad that I wasn’t able to record much of the Family Music Show as I had hoped, especially during the Orange Sherbet set. Organizing and setting up a concert is alot of work, but it was totally worth it! I did, however, get a video of Randy’s hit single “Don’t Fill Up On Chips” which gives you an idea of Randy’s knack for communicating with his audience and encouraging kids to participate and use their imaginations.

Randy also played two shows on Sunday, September 30 at the Children’s Museum of San Jose, which we were not able to attend, and one show on Monday, October 1 at the Palo Alto Children’s Library which we did attend. While neither of these shows were hosted by Kids Can Groove, I helped organize them. Based on the feedback I got from the museum, I was pleased to hear that both shows drew a crowd of about 100 people. You can find the track listing for Randy’s shows at the end of this post.

The library show also had a nice turnout, drawing approximately 80 people. It was a decent sized crowd, especially since it was an off-day in terms of performance scheduling for the library. The show had great energy and several kids from Saturday’s show returned, happily singing along with Randy on several of the songs. Even the adults were getting into it. I was totally impressed at how much the kids knew in just two days. But, from what parents were telling me, their kids were playing Randy’s CD’s and singing Randy’s songs all weekend. The video for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” featured below, is just one of many examples in which the crowd was excited to be a part of the show.

Randy performing “Runaway Blues” from Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie

During the show, Randy introduced myKaZoo Music labelmate, essence and they did a duet of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” Randy does his own version of this song on The Kids Are All Id. Essence went on to play “Gotta Wear Clothes” and “T-Rexxx,” a rockin’ heroic tale about a peanut-butter cup eating dinosaur. Both songs are from her upcoming album A Dog Named Moo. I highly recommend checking out the album. In addition to the songs mentioned here, there is an awesome mashup of The Police’s “Roxanne” called “Rocks and Sand.”

Randy was back and once again wrapped up the performance with “No Nothing.” The children loved the song and proceeded to imitate Randy both during the song and as they were leaving the library. This time the quacking sounds were louder and filled with more laughter from the newly minted Randy fans, which you can see in the video below.

Once the show ended, the kids were running up to Randy asking if he could sing just one more song. Unfortunately, time was up, but I am hopeful that we will see Randy around these parts again…

Set List (the songs listed below are broken down for reference and not in the order which they were performed).

Single (Not tied to a release)
Don’t Fill Up On Chips

Mr. Diddie WahDiddie
Runaway Blues
In A Timeout Now
Ice Cream Man Rag
Shake That Thing

The Kids Are All Id
My Little Laugh
The Derby Ram
Forever Young

Loquat Rooftop
No Nothing

Five Cent Piece
Grape Juice Hesitation Blues
Shampoo Me
Mosquito Song
Over the Rainbow
You Can’t Always Get What You Want

What We Like: October Playlists

Our home is constantly filled with music.  It keeps us sane and often helps ease us into our days and nights.  We have been listening to alot of great music lately, both old and new, and I thought I would start to share some of it with you on as much as possible.

Additionally, since naptime has become non-existent, we’ve really been trying to take some “quiet time” in the middle of the day.  Music is a major part of making that happen.  Chilled out music = chilled out toddler which = chilled out mommy.

So, this week I am publishing 2 playlists.  The first is called October Fun Part 1 containing lots of fun jams that are useful for really anytime that is not “quiet time,” at least in our house.  The second one is called October Slow Jams which is a bunch of slower songs perfect for anytime of day that calls for a little unwinding (or easing into if you haven’t had your morning pick-me-up yet).

So, without further adieu, I present to you October Fun Part 1 (the first list turned out to be really big so this month might have more than one list) and  October Slow Jams.   You will find a mix of songs both old and new in this playlist.  Also please note that if an artist is not on Spotify, they won’t appear in the playlist.  Feel free to listen to the playlists as they are ordered or on shuffle or both.  Mix it up however you’d like.

I also urge you to visit each of these artists’ websites and either buy or download their music.  You can do that by simply clicking on the links next to each song below.

October Fun Part 1

Fanga Alafia – from Welcome to the Village, Aaron Nigel Smith’s first release with One World Chorus.  Proceeds from the sale of this album will benefit the Cura Orphanage in Kenya, Africa.
Bright Clear Day – Sarah Lee Guthrie and Family (Go Waggaloo)
Afraid of Heights – Harmonica Pocket (Apple Apple)
Sunshine – Vered (Good Morning My Love)
Eleanor The Elegant Elephant – Caspar Babypants (HOT DOG!)
In A Timeout Now – Randy Kaplan (Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie)
Germs – Ozomatli (OzoKidz)
I Am a Paleontologist – They Might Be Giants (Here Comes Science)
Make Me – Big Bang Boom (Because I Said So!)
Tickle Monster – Vanessa Trien and the Jumping Monkeys (Bubble Ride)
Green Beans Everywhere – Hullabaloo (Raise a Ruckus)
The Shark FighterSenorita Mariposa – Mister G (Chocolalala)
Sol Nal – Elena Moon Park (Rabbit Days and Dumplings)
15 tracks, 44 minutes

October Slow Jams

Bare Feet – Harmonica Pocket (Apple Apple)
Merry -Go-Round – Elizabeth Mitchell (Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie)
Mother Nature’s Son – Aaron Nigel Smith & One World Chorus (Welcome to the Village)
Underneath the Rainbow – Kira Willey (Kings & Queens of the Forest)
Even Bugs Are Sleeping – Caspar Babypants (HOT DOG!)
Time To Fly – Hot Peas ‘n Butter (Catchin’ Some Peazzz)
Goodnight Little Arlo (Goodnight Little Darlin’) – Charlie Hope (Keep Hope Machine Running: Songs of Woddy Guthrie)
Powder Blue Reprise – Renee and Jeremy (It’s A Big World)
Listen to the Horses – Raffi (Quiet Time)
Green Green Rocky Road – Randy Kaplan (Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie)
All the Pretty Little Horses – Laurie Berkner (Whaddya Think of That)
You and Me and a Bottle of Bubbles – Lunch Money (Original Friend)
Catch the Moon
 – Elizabeth Mitchell & Lisa Loeb (For the Kids Too)
Time – Johnny Bregar (My Neighborhood)
Sleep – Vered (Good Morning My Love)
15 tracks, 42 minutes

Elska Interview: Conversation with Shelley Wollert and producer Allen Farmelo

Middle of Nowhere is the creation of Shelley Wollert and producer Allen Farmelo. It is centered around a character named Elska, a modern pioneer living on an arctic island with her friends The Goobler, Arctic Fox, Winter Bear and The Nunni. There’s even a colony of lost socks!

Recently awarded a Silver Medal by Parents’ Choice and a 2012 NAPPA Honor (National Parenting Publication Awards) for Middle of Nowhere, the music of Elska invites children on an adventure into an imaginary world full of color and wonder. And while Shelley and Allen have been busy working hard on the release and videos, they took some time to talk with me about the creation of Elska, the production of Middle of Nowhere, Iceland and how they hope to inspire young, creative minds.

KCG: We love your album and I’m so glad you’re getting positive reviews. It’s definitely a unique thing in the kindie arena. You guys have really put some work into creating a whole story here.

Shelley: Yeah, it’s a really exciting time and I’m glad that you’re enjoying it. You know, we’ve been working on this project for a little bit over two years and it’s so exciting now to be able to walk out of the studio and be able to hear it with the kids, see that it’s coming to life and people are getting it and enjoying it.

KCG: Shelley, how did you come up with the character of Elska and where does her name come from?

Shelley: Elska means “to love” in Icelandic and the whole project was inspired by a trip that Allen and I took to Iceland together. Before that trip, we had begun writing children’s music together and it was pretty standard stuff. Then, when we took that trip to Iceland, everything changed. Our imagination was kind of ignited by this very unique place. It just really rebooted us, like pressing the button on a computer. I decided, with Allen, to create this character that had an island that was a special safe place, that was creative, that was newly formed, as any volcanic island is, and a place that was just filled with wonder. Actually, when we took our first plane trip to Iceland there was the word “Elska” printed on the back of the pillow that Icelandic Air gave us with the definition “Elska means ‘to love.'” So we had been throwing around these ideas and looking up on the internet for Icelandic words and that came back to us. It just seems like the perfect word for this character.

KCG: That’s a really beautiful story.

Allen: Yeah, we were actually trying to name the island at first and we called it The Island of Elska, like “The Island of Love.” And then the character didn’t have a name.

Shelley: It was going to be Shelley or my middle name, which is Kay.

Allen: Then one day I just said, “I think you should be Elska.” It took us a while to get that clarity, but we eventually got there.

KCG: How do you channel Elska? It seems like you really need to know that part of yourself in writing, videos and live shows.

Shelley: It’s very liberating to be in a place that’s so fun and creative. I’m so glad that I don’t have to be Shelley on stage. It’s far more interesting to walk into somebody else’s clothes and get into the origins of this character; what she’s like and what her history was. To play this modern pioneer who sees the most amazing things you could ever imagine is just a real privilege. Even though I might not ever communicate it during a show, it helps me really appreciate what I’m doing and what makes these characters and these songs so special to her. It really has been fully developed like any other role I’ve ever played on stage. It’s so much fun. I mean, who doesn’t want to hang out with The Goobler?

Allen: It’s been amazing to watch Shelley put Elska into the third person. I remember it happened in a recording session where Shelley said “Oh, I don’t think she would sing that melody” and I’m looking around thinking “she who?” “Oh, right, Elska.” And it freed me up as a producer, as well, to have this character who we were there to support and understand and develop all at once. At some point, Elska was very real and started to tell us what to do, which is an interesting shift in the creative process. I think when you know you’ve got something good and something alive, then it has its own logic and it tells you what to do instead of you creating it all the time.

KCG: This whole story is very interesting to me. How did you come up with the idea to make The Goobler very green and environmentally conscious?

Allen: Well, the environmentalist angle is actually throughout the island if you take a closer look at it. We don’t want to be heavy-handed and preachy about anything like that, so we have not made it overt. But, Iceland itself is an incredibly environmentally conscious place. They are the one place in the world which is aiming to get off fossil fuels very soon. They have an incredible geothermal resource and they are incredible preservationists. Many of the musicians and artists there are engaged in helping preserve Iceland from too much development. For example, Valgeir Sigurðsson, who mastered the record, wrote the soundtrack to a movie called Dreamland which is a documentary about saving a whole vast region of Iceland from hydro-electric development. So — being in Iceland is kind of like getting an education in what it is to be environmentally forward thinking and we built some of those features into the island [of Elska] itself. We have The Elska Express, which is geothermally powered. It’s a silent train, there’s no engine chugging along; it’s powered by steam that comes from the Earth. You have to solve problems when you live on an arctic island, and so we thought where does Elska’s food come from? Which led to us thinking well, the Goobler has a greenhouse and he knows how to do that. And there are other characters like The Nunni, who’s that little guy with one eye. He doesn’t have a song about him yet, but he’s an engineer who comes up with alot of the solutions; like the train and he built The Goobler’s greenhouse. So there’s this sort of technology and environmental angle built into a lot of it. We’re not sure how far we’ll take that, but it’s there.

KCG: When you were creating Elska and the characters for Elska, did you already have this written out or did it sort of flow once you visited Iceland and decided to pursue this?

Allen: It’s probably the most non-linear process ever.

Shelley: Yeah, it wasn’t like a coup de force where you get struck by lightening and everything gets put in place. It was the process of evolution. Just like the music, we revised and revised and revised and we pushed boundaries. We pushed story lines and said “Oh gosh, what are these socks doing?” and we kept on pushing the uniqueness of it. They don’t just live together they make art together, they rearrange themselves into giant pictures. We just kept on sort of developing the story and revising it over time.

Allen: The socks are an interesting point, because we actually came to a real struggle while Shelley and I were working on that song. We had the idea of a land of lost socks. We had no idea what they did and they kind of needed to do something — they couldn’t just be there. It wasn’t a pile of socks, it was a colony. I remember being in the studio and I [said] “What do they do, Shelley? What do they do?” and Shelley just blurted out “They’re like pixels! They make pictures!” and I said, “It’s stunning!” That was an idea that we had been trying to hatch for six months or more, and we had studio time booked and had to have an answer. So, everything in this project has been like Shelley said; about constant revision and then “aha” moments. We had just about every type of creative process fused together in the creation of this. It’s been more than anything, just a ton of work, wouldn’t you say?

Shelley: Exactly. What’s so exciting, now, is that because we’ve spent so much time building a foundation in character development, it’s so much fun to now expand these stories as we go forward — through different forms of media. We’ll be able to do a story about the train and how it works. So, from here, now that we’ve done the bricklaying, we can fill out the story to our fans and they can learn more and more about the characters as we move forward through more albums and more videos.

Allen: And you can’t go backwards once it’s released to the public.

KCG: Did you have any experience with children’s music or anything in the children’s genre before? What was your approach in deciding to get into this area of music?

Allen: Not much, aside from my upbringing, which was being drenched in children’s music. I drew on that as much as anything. I also had very particular tastes as a child in music. I was totally into Switched-On Bach which was kind of aimed at children, not entirely, but it really was a hit with kids. They use Moog synthesizers and we use a Moog synthesizer on this record quite a bit. So, the more I look back on it, I’m seeing a lot of my influences as producer of this record, probably were coming from my sensibilities growing up. I listened to The Beatles quite a bit so that influenced some of the pop writing and production clarity that we went for. I also think that I had the good fortune of not knowing too much about the current children’s music market. We made it in a little bit of a vacuum, to be honest, and we just tried to stay really true to our hearts. As much as we were making it for children, we were really making it for ourselves, wouldn’t you say?

Shelley: Absolutely. I taught children in my 20’s and taught musical theater, improv and fairytale theater and so I’ve had a lot of experience singing and performing for kids but never the opportunity to, as Allen said, kind of sit in a vacuum and completely imagine another world for that period of time and come out the other side. So I think we really just tried to stay true to ourselves during the process.

KCG: You could have just created a set of songs without characters.

Shelley: We had a pivotal moment in this coffee shop where Allen said to me “Look you can either be the girl behind the guitar or you can do your acting, your music, your drawing…” And I’m also an illustrator. So he said “Why don’t you do everything, just do it all! Wouldn’t that be a great choice?” And I thought, “YES!” So this has become my dream project. I get to illustrate, I get to design characters, I get to sing and dance and I get to write and play music. I also get to create with Allen and I get to be in character acting. So for me it was coming up with the dream job and then just going for it.

Allen: I felt like, as producer, I was tapping into one dimension of this multi-dimensional person, Shelley. For example, Shelley had a dream about The Goobler and then she drew it and I walked out of the studio and said “What if that guy was named The Goobler?” I have no idea where that came from. I think once you have one character, you just start to have more characters and they just grew from there. We just kept coming up with things. The next thing was Winter Bear — then the Arctic Fox came way late in the game. I didn’t know there was a fox until we were almost done with the record. Shelley said “I wrote a new song. It’s called “Arctic Fox” and my jaw dropped and I said, “well that has to be on the record.” The fox has become such a central character even though he’s quite elusive and doesn’t say much. So [the characters] came from dreams, they came from a song somebody wrote, etc.

KCG: So many successes are built on dreams it seems.

Allen: I think dreams are a way that adults can tap into their most free imagination. We don’t always get to use it the way a child is encouraged to use it –so I think sometimes our dreams are that place where we can play again.

KCG: When my daughter can bring to life any object, there is safety to it and freedom in building a story and Middle of Nowhere taps into that creative place for her. The music has this innocence to it. It’s very light and there’s not a whole lot of instruments.

Allen: Whenever I make a record, no matter who it’s with, I try to boil it down to what I call a guiding principle. It’s usually a phrase that we can return to to remember where we came from. The guiding principle for this record was “playful minimalism” — so when we had choices to make creatively, we would return to that as our guiding principle. Everything from a drum beat, we would try and find the simplest version, to a bass line, to a melody, to the logo, to Elska’s name, to anything that could be stripped down to its most minimalist and yet most playful state. I think that maybe what you’re hearing in the music a bit is a reflection of that guiding principle. That playfulness and that minimalism does give it a nice clarity and innocence.

KCG: Do you have a target age range in mind for your audience?

Shelley: We sort of think it’s for a lot of different ages. We haven’t set a target in our minds — and we’re finding kids very young are liking this and we’re also finding fans that are six, seven, eight years old. We’ve had some adults really like this project. “Hiddi Hiddi,” the video, showed up on some rock blogs saying “look at this trippy video.” It’s kind of cool how it’s hitting different age groups and sectors in its own way. So we’re just really staying open to it and inviting everybody to the party in a sense.

KCG: What do you want kids to get out of this?

Shelley: One of my big intentions for this project, and what really fuels me forward is that I just really want to give kids that break in their day,and that experience in their childhood where they could sort of befriend a creative person and place where they feel safe and excited and creatively stimulated and interested. For me, it happened with the Wizard of Oz when I was about four. It was such a relief to me. I think it can be very demanding to be a little kid — in a busy household with lots going on. So my intention was to create a really beautiful part of a child’s day or childhood, and I think for some kids it could bring them a lot of relief, if they are in a challenging situation. So, I just wanted to bring a sort of peace and happiness.

KCG: Were you a musician before, Shelley?

Shelley: It’s funny, I’m sort of an Alt-Country musician and I sort of had a jazzy-bluesy thing going on with my own singer-songwriting project here in New York. I was playing the clubs, etc, and so my voice, in doing this album, is very different than what I sound like when I’m singing my adult music. I had been doing [a lot of things] for a while — I was doing political cartoons, I was playing adult music in rock clubs, I was doing children’s music here and there and some voice over work. When I got together with Allen, producing, he just really encouraged me to focus on just one thing. Boy, has it really really paid off. I stopped gigging in New York and everything became about developing Elska. So it’s been a delight to just go [deep into] one thing.

KCG: Now that Middle of Nowhere has been released, what are the next steps for Elska?

Shelley: We have been really just focusing on the release of Middle of Nowhereand now the videos. With all of this now in motion, we’re focusing our attention back onto writing. We got an artist’s residency in Iceland. So we’re returning to Iceland to write the next record and various Elska materials there. It was really important to us to find time to get away from New York to do it, because it just seems that when you’re sitting in your apartment or studio there’s always something to do; another email, CD’s to ship, phone calls and so we really just wanted to get ourselves in the writing mode and take this retreat. We do write in New York, as well, but we love [Iceland] so much that it’s kind of becoming a second creative home for us. We just kind of want to go back and give ourselves the mental space that it allows.

Allen: This opportunity for this residency fell in our laps, as well. It was funny how it came up: the people saw Elska and just loved it. They offered us up this residency and so you just have to say yes to things like that.

KCG: Going back to the sound of Elska. Did you try other sounds or other types of music to pair up with the vocals? How did you narrow down to an electronic sound?

Allen: That’s a really good question. There came a point where we realized that there weren’t any guitars on this record and I came into a realization, as a producer, that it was really hard to make something sound truly otherworldly while still using the guitar. The guitar almost automatically locates music in Europe or North America; it’s the Blues, it’s Country, it’s Rock, it’s Folk, it’s Classical guitar, it’s Spanish, it’s Irish Folk, it’s all of these. It has so many associations, so to truly break away from that instrument and start using other sounds, helped the music become as wonderfully otherworldly and fictional and unto itself as we could get it. So I think that’s a big part of it. We had guitar on The Elska Express for a while and a bunch of other songs. I think half of the songs are probably written as guitar songs that we then translated into these other forms.

Shelley: “Click Click” was a country song and it’s straight up electric dance music now.

Allen: A lot of that was my influence of trying to bring the music into a really unique sphere. So, abandoning the guitar altogether was, at that point, how I was doing it. And for what it’s worth, I’m just now starting to work with guitars again as a producer. I feel like I need to come back to them and use them interestingly and creatively again. So, I think that’s a big part of that record, and it’s such a dividing line. If a record has guitars, it’s going to feel a certain way and if it doesn’t, it’s more open to a different kind of sound. But, there’s a lot of acoustic piano, there’s a lot of acoustic xylophone, there’s a lot of acoustic drums and some straight up electric bass. So, not everything is a programmed synthesizer or beat on there. There are a bunch of acoustic elements as well, so we did manage to marry acoustic and electric in a pretty unique way. But, we really tried to get away from the genres that we felt were trapping us a little bit in North America. When you create a place as weird as a newly formed arctic island that doesn’t actually exist, it puts a certain challenge in front of people like “Well, what’s the music from that place?” The sounds locate the music in different ways. It’s just an interesting thing to think that I have a globe in my hands when I select instruments, and I can locate things in different parts of the world.

KCG: Bjork comes to mind with this kind of music. Do you think you could ultimately be compared to a Bjork for kids?

Allen: Bjork and Sigur Ros, from Iceland, have been huge influences on me. And our friend Valgeir Sigurðsson, who mastered the record, has produced much of Bjork’s records. We very directly used the technique called “micro beats” which is something Valgeir invented with Bjork when they made the record called Vespertine. And we’re also very influenced by an Icelandic band that’s lesser known called Múm. They use micro beats in this interesting way. So, in a lot of ways, the micro beats that you’re hearing on “Arctic Fox” and “Man-Made Hole,” where we’re using all those little clicky sounds, those sounds really came from Bjork, Sigur-Ros and Múm; they all use them. It’s very Icelandic in origin.

KCG: With regard to “Arctic Fox,” what did you use to create the sounds of the micro beats?

Allen: The micro beats on “Arctic Fox” are made from kitchen utensils, cat toys and other household objects. We sampled those and then programmed them into the beats you hear on the song.

KCG: Bjork’s voice reminds me a lot of your voice Shelley. It has this very sweet, soft tone to it.

Shelley: Thank you for that compliment. She’s such an original, amazing artist.

Allen: Probably part of that is the production technique there, which is that Elska never sings very loudly. We use a technique that is called “crooning” sometimes, but I call it “super hot microphone” technique. It’s where you set up the microphone so the singer can almost whisper, and then ends up with a sweet sound in their voice and a lot of intimacy. I know that’s something that Bjork has used over the years, too. And then live, Shelley wears a microphone so she can sing in that style, as well, so it translates better. But, I think they’re very fair comparisons that you’re making there, very spot on.

KCG: The technique you use is very inviting. My daughter is intrigued when she hears Elska and watches her in the videos.

Shelley: We really wanted this project to be concave so that it’s inviting people into this project, instead of coming out of the screen with all these fast edits, big voices and loud, crazy noises for kids. We wanted this to really be a project with stillness and invitation and warmth.

KCG: How are you guys going to translate this on stage?

Shelley: Right now I have a vibraphone player and then I have another musician who’s playing these really great analog synthesizers, called “pocket pianos,” and a Moog Bass and a drum machine. And then I’m acting, singing, using props and introducing the characters during the performance. It’s very much a blend of storytelling, theater and music.

Allen: The live show is quite different from the record, and it’s a really beautiful and unique experience in and of itself, especially with a live vibraphone and the way they’ve worked out the tunes for the live performance.

KCG: Shelley, you get dressed up as Elska and wear the same thing throughout the show?

Shelley: Oh absolutely. I come out on stage and just start with “I’ve come from the Island of Elska.” The kids are only seeing Elska and learning about the island.

Allen: The kids are mesmerized. It’s fun to watch the kids tune in.

KCG: Shelley, do you play any instruments or are you singing the whole time?

Shelley: I play a xylophone during “Winter Bear,” but other than that, I’m singing and dancing and playing with props.

KCG: Do you have actual puppets or stuffed creatures?

Shelley: Right now there’s these giant cut-outs that we had printed. So when I say “Have you met my friend The Goobler?” I go and get this beautiful cut-out of The Goobler and I say, “Let me show you a picture of him” and I talk it out and then we sing the song. So I just have some really vivid props.

KCG: Do you feel protective of the characters? Like when you sing “Don’t Make Fun of the Goobler.”

Shelley: I’m very protective of him during that song. Wait til you see the video!

KCG. Now that you are in the kindie scene, have you gotten to know and listen to other artists in the same genre?

Shelley: Absolutely! We were invited to perform at Kindiefest which was AWESOME! It was TOTALLY AWESOME! We got to meet everybody, who was there at least. I have just really been enjoying the friendships that we’ve made and checking out everybody’s projects and videos as they come out. There’s so many incredible artists and it’s just been so much fun.

KCG: This album feels like an introductory album, almost like Stage 1 of what’s to come.

Allen: Very much so. When you are presented with these characters you don’t really know what they are going to do, but you can talk about them, you can play with characters, you can imagine what they do, and we’ve left it wide open for ourselves, as well, in order to keep creating stories and albums. The videos are turning out to be incredibly fun, creatively rewarding and beautiful, so we see so many different avenues that Elska can go down, but we definitely see it as a musical project with a lot of records coming down the road eventually. We’re gonna dig in and write the next record or two, depending on what happens here, and start working on that in 2013, in earnest. But, we’ll start writing it this Fall in Iceland. It feels very wide open and we can do so many things like finding new partnerships and collaborators and just building it and building it.

KCG: Do you guys collaboratively write?

Shelley: It goes both ways and then when we’re done with it there’s so many footprints from both of us. In the example of me writing “Arctic Fox,” I think I wrote it on a xylophone and just sang it out loud and brought it to Allen. Then he comes in and there’s the micro beats and they all create the sounds. Allen wrote “I Just Had an Idea” and then we get into the studio and I’m working on the lyrics and we’re both creating the sound of it and all the sparkles that go through it. Or, with “Click Click,” I can write the verse, and it was a country song and then Allen wrote the chorus, and it became a pop song. So, we really cross over constantly in our writing.

Allen: It’s a really good co-writing collaboration and we share the writing credit on the whole album 50/50. Songwriting is such an interesting craft. It involves lyrics, it involves melody, it involves harmony and chord changes, and Shelley and I bring different sensibilities to each of those aspects, and they just show up in different ways on different songs. I don’t think either of us could have written any of those songs alone.

KCG: Do each of you have a favorite?

Shelley: Well, it changes a little bit. We’ve both become very smitten with a song we’re calling “the sleeper song” on the album, which almost didn’t make it, “The Middle of Nowhere.” And now, when it comes around on the record for me, I just really love it. A lot of parents have been loving it, too. I just performed it last weekend and people were saying, “Wow that’s a really cool song.”

KCG: Yeah! My daughter picked up on the arrows and was very interested in what Elska was doing with them. So, I can personally say it reaches younger kids because she is really into the adventure.

Allen: The song I keep coming back to as a favorite is “The Elska Express.” That vocal that Shelley gives on that song kills me every time. I just love it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much true wonder and beauty in a track. I just love the way that feels to listen to. And, there’s barely anything to that song, and I just think it really works. I think that may be my favorite in the end. It’s that vocal that gets me.

KCG: Are there any challenges to being Elska?

Shelley: I always need to be on high alert that I am being as authentic as possible. I don’t want to end up being a Barney, you know, I don’t want to go too broad. I want to make sure that I really mean what I’m saying and I think that there’s a real danger with being a costumed character that you’re going to alienate folks. But, I have to be honest, I haven’t alienated a young audience member. So, parents might be wary of a costumed character, but after the first song they tend to say “Boy, this is real. This isn’t condescending. This isn’t for babies.” My real concern and focus is that I have to really make this as wonderous and wonderful and honest as Christopher Robin walking through the woods with Winnie the Pooh. There isn’t any talking down to children, and I think that’s very challenging and something I have to always patrol.

KCG: And with kids, parents are watching too.

Shelley: Yeah, that’s a lot of pressure. After a private show I did, I was just swarmed by kids and they really thought I was real. They just said, “Are you going to go home to be with The Goobler? What are you gonna do when you go home with The Goobler?” And I’m saying “Oh you know, I’m gonna go home and tell him about New York City.” It’s just real to them. That brings a lot of responsibility on my end, and that’s where you have to be really, really careful with that. I really, really want this to be real for them, because it opens up that imagination. I mean, they had a ball and they had a new friend, as a result. So I’m really committed to making this really from the heart as much as I can.