Interview: Chat with Tim Kubart of Tim and the Space Cadets

Tim-Kubart-High-ResTim and the Space Cadets are widely known for their highly acclaimed song, “Superhero.” The song first appeared on their 5-song EP, The Greatest Party Ever, and will reappear on their full-length debut, Anthems for Adventure, which is set for release on January 29.

Tim Kubart, frontman for Tim and the Space Cadets, made a departure from his role as a member of the popular kindie band, The Jimmies, to produce his own brand of music. Anthems for Adventure is an exploration of childhood memories and exciting adventures.

Tim’s energy and charisma bring a sense of excitement throughout the album. Set to mostly catchy power-pop chords (one song is set to the sounds of Motown), which will no doubt induce involuntary hand-clapping, each song has a meaningful story to tell.

I had a chance to hear Tim’s thoughts on making music for families, LOST (the TV show) as a 2nd Grade play, the Goonies and Jim Henson.

Also, audio clips from the album are available at the band’s official site (make sure to click on the “Music” link at the top of the page).

Kids Can Groove: How did you find your way into kids music?

Tim Kubart: I’ve always worked with kids. I was a babysitter in high school. In college, I was in a band called Schroeder. During my senior year, I took a class in which volunteering was required. I chose to volunteer at a homeless shelter for women and children, where I ended up working in the nursery, playing with kids and feeding kids. One day, I showed up after a Schroeder rehearsal, and I had my guitar on my back. The director of the shelter saw it and asked me if I could play for the kids. So, the next week, I learned some kids’ songs and wrote one of my own, and put on a little concert. It only took, like, 2 minutes for me to realize that was what I wanted to be doing with my life.

KCG: That’s a nice way to start a music career. Did you think about being a teacher at any point?

TK: I always thought I was going to be a teacher while I was growing up. Right after college, I was the director of a middle school and high school marching band for 3 years. My first music video, “Superhero,” was actually completely paid for by 1 whole year of being a marching band director. And right now, I have my own educational program called Little Rock-Its, out of Brooklyn, teaching music to kids. So I’m working as both a teacher and a performer right now, and I love doing both, and want to continue doing both.

KCG: Are you still active with the homeless shelter or any other charitable organizations?

TK: I haven’t come back to the homeless shelter, but I’ve been playing at hospitals and for a few charities. I’ve mostly worked with Ronald McDonald House.

KCG: That’s great! Music can be very healing.

TK: Oh, yeah. For the kids in the hospitals and for their siblings, too. A lot of the time, they’ve been uprooted from their hometowns, so they’re all dealing with a lot.

KCG: You were a theater major at Fordham, right?

TK: Yes! I thought that I was going to be doing Shakespeare after I graduated from Fordham. I’ve also been doing bit parts on TV, commercials, and voice over jobs since I was 14 years old. And I still love Shakespeare.

KCG: So you teach music, write songs and perform. Is there something that you prefer more?

TK: If I had to pick one thing, performing is my favorite. I love to teach and I have a great songwriting partner, but I feel like performing is my greatest strength.

KCG: You have a lot of charisma and it comes across in your songs and videos which is going to bode very well with a younger audience. Kids pick up on good energy so the more charismatic and energetic you are, the more engaged they become.

TK: Thanks so much! I just get really excited about playing music up on stage. When my friends first heard I was becoming a kids’ musician they said, “Oh, that makes sense.” I’ve always been pretty silly about performing, and I think it’s in my blood. My dad’s dad was in a group called the Harmonica Rascals on the vaudeville circuit. I recently saw a clip of them performing in an old black and white film called One in a Million, and it was thrilling – I’d never met him, and it was the first time I’d ever seen him perform, even though I’d heard stories from my dad. It hit me hard when I watched, the commitment to both the quality of the comedy and the quality of the musicianship. That’s something I always strive for when putting together projects and shows – I guess that’s in my blood too.

KCG: What do you find most exciting about Kindie/Famlily music?

TK: I think the best thing about making family music, that maybe isn’t that obvious, is that there are really no rules. It’s very freeing. If something moves me, that’s what I want to write about, and I want to do it in a way that everyone, not just kids, can relate to and understand.

KCG: Do you listen to or are you inspired by any kindie artists?

TK: I listen to Justin Roberts the most right now.

KCG: Any particular album?

TK: I would say Pop Fly is my favorite.

KCG: Did you learn alot about Kindie/Famliy music by being in The Jimmies?

TK: Oh, very much. I saw and was able to be a part of how much work goes into a project like that, and I’m grateful to Ashley for the experience. And the music videos – I knew I wanted my music videos to be pretty high caliber, because I was coming from those Jimmies videos we made, which are spectacular.

KCG: I think you’ve done that with both of the videos you’ve released so far. I particularly like how you translate the stories from your songs into your videos. They are like mini-movies, in a sense.

TK: Oh, thanks. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t copying The Jimmies. I had a different idea and approach, especially to the videos. I wanted to be telling stories about kids because that’s what I do in my songs. I wanted [the videos] to be like little mini-movies about kids.

KCG: How did the idea for LOST come up when making the video “2nd Grade Show?” The way the song was translated in the video was pretty unexpected and surprising. And, the LOST references are subtle enough where fans who are not familiar with LOST can still enjoy watching a kid playing a tree in a school play.

TK: That’s exactly what I wanted – it was important for the references to be subtle enough that someone who hasn’t seen LOST could enjoy the video, and someone who has seen it to maybe have to watch a few times to realize it’s everywhere. There are obvious scenes, like Locke’s orange smile and Hurley driving the van, and then there are a few Easter eggs thrown in – there’s a stuffed polar bear sitting on set, and you can see our tree kid wrapped in Christmas lights behind Penny’s phone call. It was so much fun to put together. While I was writing [“2nd Grade Show”], I immediately knew it was going to be a video. School plays were such a big part of my life, and I wanted to celebrate that. But we could have made the play any play – it could have been The Three Little Pigs, but I love LOST so much, and it’s always more fun and exciting, both for the artists and the audience, to do something unexpected. The challenge was balancing the LOST references with the story of the kid playing a tree, because ultimately, the video is all about the kid. I love telling stories about kids, and I think kids love seeing stories about themselves. Anthony Lumia was a great tree, and the kind of kid everyone can relate to. He’s awesome. And casting was so much fun – imagine re-casting your favorite TV show, especially one as diverse and recognizable as LOST, with a bunch of adorable little kids. Casting Anthony was both the easiest and most difficult decision, actually. He was such a perfect tree and a great little Hurley. But, in the end, we knew he had to be our tree.

KCG: Do you feel that there’s more opportunity for growth and development as an artist and performer within the family music industry?

TK: Oh, yeah. I mean, I like to dream big, just like anyone else. When I started Tim and The Space Cadets, the first thing that I did, even before I wrote a song, was come up with a concept for a television show, based on the television shows that meant the most to me growing up. We wrote up a treatment for the pilot and the series, and then I took a step back and thought “Ok, well how am I gonna get there?” So, that’s what I’ve been working on.

KCG: Are you still planning on producing the TV show?

TK: Yeah, that’s still the goal. That’s actually why [the band] is called Tim and the Space Cadets. The original concept was called Tim in Space and took place on a space ship, but that evolved into a story about me living with 3 alien puppets who crash land in my backyard, so the name also evolved. The first album was actually supposed to be not just songs, but a story format with me and the voices of the alien characters, but then I realized I should make a music album as a foundation for the project. It was just kind of lucky that Tim and the Space Cadets sounded good as a band name, too. So I’ve been working on the band and music aspect of Tim and the Space Cadets for the last few years, adjusting the treatment here and there, writing picture books based on the show, things like that. I plan on making some webisodes and other Space Cadet-related things soon.

KCG: So Tim and the Space Cadets could become a brand?

TK: That’s what I’m trying to do. The television series, the book series, coloring books, more albums. And there’s a definite style to Tim and the Space Cadets that’s coming together.

KCG: Do you think you will proceed with those ideas before making another record?

TK: I don’t think the next thing I am going to do is make the next record. I would like to start writing some more stories, putting together webisodes, and actually introducing those Space Cadet characters. I think that’s the next step for me. We just released a video for our song, “Rainy Days,” which stars Alison Bartlett, whose played Gina from Sesame Street for years. I’m also going to be releasing a DVD of a concert soon, and hopefully 1 or 2 more videos. They will probably be a little different than the ones we’ve already put out; possibly an animated one; possibly one with puppets. We filmed our release show and are going to put that all on a DVD. After that, I think I’ll be ready for another record. I want to call it Alfalfa.

KCG: Like the Little Rascals character or sprouts?

TK: Yeah, like the Little Rascals character. Maybe it’ll be sort of a Little Rascals-themed album, whereas Anthems for Adventure is a little bit Goonies-themed, except [Anthems] has different kinds of characters and different types of adventures. The lyrics at the end of the first track on Anthems for Adventure are “It’s their time up there, but down here it’s our time,” which is dialogue from the scene when the Goonies are down in the well.

KCG: The artwork throughout the album resembles Goonies-like images.Anthems for Adventure Cover

TK: It’s based on this Goonies poster that I love. The Goonies was the first movie I ever saw in theaters. For the album art, we created these five characters, and throughout the booklet, they go on adventures that go along with the songs. So, when you read through the lyrics, you see the songs represented by the characters on the front of the album. If you look close, you can catch the first glimpse of the Space Cadet characters that will eventually be living in my kitchen.

KCG: So is this album personal or is this coming from pop culture references and other things you like?

TK: Oh, it’s very personal. Everything that has influenced me, I allude to here and there. The end of the second song, “Anthems 2,” sounds like “Buddy Holly” from Weezer, which is probably the first pop song that I fell in love with, so that’s why we put that in there. I’m a big nerd and fan of things and so the songs contain my original ideas mixed in with all these other things that have influenced me so much.

KCG: Is there a song on Anthems that resonates with you the most?

TK: Probably “Blackout.” That song is completely based on the blackout of 2003 when the whole eastern seaboard lost power. My whole neighborhood ended up in my backyard and it was one of my favorite summer memories. I’m really happy to bring that story to a song because of how much that night meant to me. “Endless Summer” is also a very personal song. It’s mostly about how when I was a kid, I felt pretty sad at the end of summer when the weather got colder. It’s about other stuff too, but that’s what sparked it.

KCG: I remember growing up, being able to roam free with neighborhood friends and pretend that there were trolls in the field of a park nearby. We pretended that a huge log was a bridge and we couldn’t cross the bridge because there were trolls. Your album brings those memories back in a really cool way.

TK: That is exactly what I was trying to do for adult listeners and for younger listeners. I was trying to encourage them to go out and have those experiences and make those memories.

KCG: Your stories in your songs are well thought out and meaningful.

TK: Thank you so much. Actually, Justin Roberts said to me “Write what moves you and people will respond to that.” So that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do. And, as far as the music goes, this is exactly what i’ve always wanted to make. This is what comes out of me naturally.

KCG: I really like the song “Bumblebee.”

TK: I like that one a lot too! Matt Puckett, my songwriting partner, wrote that one, actually. There are 2 songs that Matt wrote by himself and then sent to me. Matt and I have had many discussions about what a Tim and the Space Cadets song is. If [the songs] are not directly a story, they need to be an allegory for something else. So “Bumblebee” is really about being friends with the unpopular kid.

KCG: Interesting analogy. How do you see that fitting into the theme of adventure?

TK: That’s probably the one that strays the most, but “Bumblebee” is really just about stepping outside of your comfort zone and making friends with someone you wouldn’t expect to be friends with, which I count as an adventure.

KCG: Both you and Matt write the songs?

TK: Matt and I are kind of 50/50 with the songs. Matt wrote 2 of the songs himself and I wrote most of the others, but I don’t consider a song finished until it goes through Matt. He fills in my gaps songwriting-wise, and sometimes I want to convey something from the heart and can’t find the words for it. Matt’s not only great with words, but manages to convey exactly what I’m thinking – we’re often on the same page. For example, [Matt] wrote the bridge to “Big Balloons (The Parade Song),” which I had written the bulk of. His lyrics rounded out the song’s story: basically, “my family and I became our own parade heading back home.” I thought that was beautiful and exactly what the song needed. Musically, Tim and the Space Cadets’ sound comes partly from me, partly from Matt, and partly from the producer, Dominic Fallacaro. I’m mostly an acoustic guitar player chugging along on chords. Matt has great ideas for guitar licks, and Dom fills in whatever the song needs, most of the harmonies, other instruments, things like that.

TATSC-High-Res-3KCG: So it sounds like your effort with the band is very collaborative.

TK: Oh, definitely. The Space Cadets are very important to Tim and the Space Cadets. I love to collaborate. I come from the theater and most of theater is collaboration. Very few directors are their own lighting designers, for example. I love working with other people, letting them use their strengths, watching everything come together.

KCG: Tell me a little bit about Little Rock-Its.

TK: The founders and owners of Frolic! playspace in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, were fans of Tim and the Space Cadets, and, through a mutual friend, approached me about working with them. At the time, my day job was teaching sing-along toddler music classes all around New York City, and I told them I wanted to create music classes for them that both work with their rock & roll-themed play space and the Tim and the Space Cadets brand.

I created a series of classes with original music for kids ages 6 months to 6 years, and recorded a Little Rock-its album. Every week we celebrate a different rock & roll artist. We’ve covered George Harrison, John Lennon, Guns N’ Roses, Paul McCartney, Journey, Tom Petty, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, tons more. Sometimes I have to change lyrics here and there, to either fit with a certain activity or to make sure I’m presenting something that’s appropriate for toddlers. For the younger age groups, it’s sort of a music appreciation and general developmental learning class, and the next level is an introduction to musical concepts and different instruments. It’s still fairly new, and we’re currently developing the next phase – private lessons and an expansion of the program that will take kids into their late teens.

It’s also the branch of Tim and the Space Cadets that handles birthday parties.

KCG: I’ve read that Jim Henson is a major source of inspiration for you. In what way(s) would you say he has he inspired you?

TK: Jim Henson was a big believer in collaboration. He was always very open about how he wouldn’t have accomplished what he did without the people who helped him and believed in him. Even if you’re not familiar with Jim Henson, you can look to Kermit the Frog’s story. Without all of his friends, he’s just a frog with a banjo – that’s me, and all the space cadets are my dogs and bears and chickens and pigs and Weirdos.

KCG: Do you have a favorite muppet?

TK: My favorite Muppet has always been Robin, Kermit’s nephew, and he was played by my favorite Muppeteer, the late Jerry Nelson. I was very lucky and got to attend the tribute for Jerry Nelson at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, NY recently. Everybody was there. It was amazing! I was sitting right behind Dave Goelz, who does Gonzo. It was surreal. Sitting right in front of me, in the front two rows, all these voices I had grown up with, voices I know as well as I know my own. I didn’t even know how to begin to let them know how much they’ve meant to me. It was special.

My favorite children’s television program is still Fraggle Rock. It wasn’t afraid to dig deeper than other kids’ shows. Jerry Nelson played Gobo, the lead Fraggle, and during the tribute, they showed a clip of Gobo saying to Doc, the human character, near the end of the series, “oh, I get it, I’m a part of everything and everything is a part of me.” It’s such an amazing quote, and so beautiful to hear Jerry Nelson, in character, say that at his own memorial. I was so moved.

KCG: So if you were a superhero what would your superpower be?

TK: That’s a really great question. Whenever I’m driving my car over the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan and I see birds flying over Manhattan, I think that must be the coolest thing in the world to be one of those birds.

KCG: What were your musical influences growing up?

TK: I only listened to Weird Al Yankovic from 1st grade through 7th grade. I didn’t even know the songs that he was parodying. I didn’t even know he was parodying anything! I just thought he was writing his own silly songs. By the time I got to middle school and high school, I was quite the punk rocker. And growing up, my family played a lot of the troubadours. Carole King and James Taylor were road trip staples. My dad’s favorite music is James Taylor and anything that sounds like James Taylor, and I got a lot of that from him.

KCG: What is your goal as a kindie musician?

TK: On our Anthems for Adventure album, we explore this whole theme of adventure, and the goal with this album is to inspire people to get outside and make memories that will last forever. The songs are mostly based on memories that myself, my band members, and my co- songwriters have from when we were kids. We were trying to have a rounded, truthful, and useful experience that explores both the positive and not so positive aspects of childhood and life. Our songs are a celebration of all that life has to offer, and I hope that’s the message our listeners take with them.

One thought on “Interview: Chat with Tim Kubart of Tim and the Space Cadets

  1. Pingback: Stuck Inside songs at Bunchland

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s