Just in time for summer, Recess Monkey released their 9th studio album, Deep Sea Diver and it’s making a big splash in our home. In this album, listeners are taken on a journey into the deep blue by a rhythm powered submarine. As they sail through the sea of songs, Recess Monkey delivers infectious hooks, solid beats and stellar songwriting while addressing such topics as fear of jumping into the deep end of the pool, beach balls and seagulls. There’s even a song about singing coral called “Choral Reef.”
I had a chance to catch up with Drew Holloway, Jack Forman and the newest monkey, Korum Bischoff (also known as “Fish Sticks” on the album). Going into the interview I had fully anticipated lots of talk about music, which there is, and what I received was that these guys are seriously hard workers fueled by their enriching day jobs as teachers and fathers, and most importantly, their undeniable appreciation for family.
Kids Can Groove: Since this is your first time on Kids Can Groove can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Drew Holloway (vocals, guitar): I’m a product of a Mom who liked to sing to me as a baby and toddler and a guitar playing father who surrounded my older brother and I with instruments and a great record collection. During the school year, I teach preschool, kindergarten and music. On the weekends, and all throughout the summer, I rock out for families with my buddies Jack and Korum. My favorite job, however, is that of dad to my two school-aged daughters, Mira and Sadie.
Jack Forman (vocals, bass): Like Drew, music has always been a huge part of my life. I took cello lessons as a preschooler and bounced between different instruments until I joined the Northwest Boychoir in Seattle. The organization really changed my life – tons of ear training, I learned how to read music, and I got to surround myself with other people who loved music. A friend said once that the best way to grow as a musician is to join a band filled with people who are better than you. I’ve benefited from that advice several times over in my life! In addition to being in Recess Monkey, I also manage all of the business side— booking, production, video, etc. I also joined the Kids Place Live channel on SiriusXM about 6 months ago where I’ve been hosting a 5 day a week live radio show called Live From the Monkey House. My wife, 2 year old son and I live in an old house here in Seattle.
Korum Bischoff (vocals, drums): My birth announcement, back in 1975, looked like a record release promotion and my dad owned a home studio, so I guess you could say I was born into a musical life. When I was 10, we sold the house and moved onto a sailboat where I lived until I was 23, so I have a very tight-knit family that loves to play music together. I married my high school sweetheart with whom I have 2 funny, smart, talented and very different boys. We live on an island in Puget Sound where we both grew up and are very engrained in the community. I’ve been teaching drums privately for 22 years and taught music at a middle school for a couple of years. I’m also a graphic designer and worked in the entertainment industry in Seattle, slowly switching more and more into marketing and event production. Now I’m the Director of Communications and Events at a botanical reserve called Bloedel Reserve.
KCG: We are really enjoying Deep Sea Diver. Your albums tend to have themes but Deep Sea Diver has an evolving storyline, ultimately leading to your next album, Desert Island Disc. What inspired these ideas and how did you plan for the fact that you would need to release two discs in the same year, months apart?
DH: We wanted to do a sea-themed CD for a while but when Korum joined the band it just seemed as if the tide was incredibly strong. I mean our first brainstorming session was on an actual ferry and Korum spent most of his formative years on a sailboat. We were meant to take to the water! The two cd-narrative was something that evolved, mostly due to having such a wealth of material. All three of us are writing and it makes for a heaping bouillabaisse!
JF: We discovered along the way that we had two different kinds of songs – the really electric, exciting, uptempo songs that seem synonymous with an adventure, and some more relaxed, stripped-down tunes that felt more like life on a beach. As we approached the recording sessions with upwards of 30 songs, we divided them into two piles that worked really well together. Deep Sea Diver is part one, the adventure, and we’re returning in October with Desert Island Disc which is being pressed as I type this!
KB: Before going into the studio we talked about what songs would appear on each disc. When we arrived at the studio, we tackled each disc separately which allowed us to stop and really think about how we wanted the discs to sound and create a different vibe for each. The first disc is much more electric and heavy-hitting. Disc 2 is lighter, more acoustic instrument focused and less busy on the drums.
KCG: You guys were quoted as saying that this is “the most recess monkeyest Recess Monkey album.” Can you explain?
DH: With every album the recess monkey-ness gets stronger. It’s just a result of us getting to know ourselves and the process of recording better and better.
JF: I can’t overstate what a huge step it was for us as a band to have Korum join. He’s such a talented, detailed and nuanced drummer with this amazing inventory of creative beats and ideas. So many of the songs kicked into high gear when he added his parts. This is also the first time that all three of us have written songs: historically, Drew has shouldered the entire weight of writing an album. It’s a good thing, too: he’s so amazingly creative and musically eclectic. I can say for myself that I learned how to write songs by watching him write 150 of them. Adding Korum’s and my writing voices into the mix just increases the number of places that we can go on a record.
KB: Wow, thanks Jack. Being that this is my first disc with Recess Monkey, I’m happy that my playing is being received by the band and our fans as Recess Monkey-ish! As a longtime fan, I always thought of Daron’s drum parts as an integral part of their sound. Coming in, I had a little bit of fear that my playing might not gel as Daron and my background and styles are very different. But once we got in a couple of songs in the studio, I knew that it was going to work.
KCG: What things did you do differently on this album that you hadn’t explored as a band before?
DH: We have never tried to record this many songs at once. It was an all out blitz with very little down time. Increasingly we have been all playing live together during recording and even tracking live vocals. That’s a bit of a tight-wire act but also makes for real, human-like performances caught “on tape,” like snapshots. One new thing we did in the demo stage was having Korum record a bevy of drum loops. “The Deep End” and “Fish Sticks” were totally inspired by drum patterns that Korum had laid down prior to writing lyrics or creating melody lines.
JF: This is also the first time that we’ve included true orchestrations on our songs. “Stranded” features Jherek Bischoff’s stunning orchestral arrangements, which foreshadows several more that we’re including on Desert Island Disc. Hearing those arrangements for the first time was like Christmas morning!
KB: Um, I recorded with THESE dudes…
KCG: Do you have a favorite song from Deep Sea Diver?
DH: Probably “The Deep End.” I just love when the song breaks out after the bridge. Jack and I have a lot of fun trying to mimic the horns when we play that song live.
JF: “Shrimp!” The song is inspired by some of De La Soul’s songs, but when we recorded it, it took on a more Sugar Hill Gang kind of flavor. The video we made for the song kind of sealed the deal. Agreed with Drew about the breakout on “The Deep End.” That section is 100% about Korum’s drums, and then another 100% about Tom Baisden and Dean Jones’ horns. You read that right – that section is 200%.
KB: I really love “The Deep End” as well. I’m very happy with how it came out and it is a fun challenge to pull off live. Plus, it really reminds me of going to the pool with my kids who do NOT like jumping in. I also really love “Compass Rose.” To me, it is a quintessential Recess Monkey song and I love the phrasing at the end of the chorus.
KCG: I have always enjoyed your videos and I love how you get into character. Have you done any acting or improv?
DH: Thanks! I haven’t done any acting work, it’s the result of many goofy videos made as a middle-schooler. Seriously, while the videos have a real home-spun quality to them with an air of improv, they’re the result of lots of planning and multiple takes. Also, we have a great director. He’s the one in the funny red hat.
JF: Just like Drew, my friends and I made tons of weird little videos in middle school- we somehow conned our teachers into actually getting class credit for a lot of them. The fact that, 25 years later, we still get to make these videos is such a triumph over the notion that you have to grow up!
KB: Appearing in videos is new for me and I hate watching myself. I’m definitely out of my comfort zone, but I love new challenges and look forward to growing in that area. I actually have a ton of video experience, but it’s all behind the camera or computer monitor.
KCG: Do you connect with a particular song and then come up with a character you can play, i.e. “Sack Lunch,” the driver in “Tambourine Submarine” and the host of the Coral Club in “Fish Sticks“?
DH: We try to prioritize with the videos we want to make. From there it’s just trying to be true to the vibe of the shoot, what’s been recorded, audio-wise, and making sure the nerdiness shines through!
JF: Some songs just have a totally implicit video idea worked into them- but my favorites are the ones that are kind of a left turn. We have this video for “Grandmom’s House” set in a bowling alley where our band gets schooled on the lanes by our grandmother doppelgangers. That premise has really nothing to do with the lyrics of the song itself, but I think it really works. We discovered early on that it’s the energy behind a video that’s more important than the premise. Kids will pick up on that energy right away!
KCG: How does teaching influence your involvement with Recess Monkey?
DH: I’m a teacher first and come Monday morning I’ll be leading a class through some crazy serpentine of a lesson. The job gives me the opportunity to practice the art of listening which is essential to helping a student stretch to the next step or in the case of a band for families, write a song that connects with kids/parents or know how to structure a set and interact in a live setting.
JF: My classes have always felt like families, and the truth is I spend a lot more time talking to kids every day than adults. Probably 3:1!
KB: My students inspire me constantly. Their willingness to take risks, their dedication to learning, and their passion for music is refreshing. Plus they help keep me current on music trends and amazing drummers.
KCG: How do you manage teaching, music (writing and producing music) and family?
DH: Recess Monkey is bigger than Korum, Jack and myself as we all have great partners at home who help oversee the circus of doing a second or third job while raising kids. My wife is a teacher as well. We are fortunate to have schedules that work in pretty good harmony, giving us time to be together each night for dinner and at least one weekend day to get things done or head out as a family to do something fun.
JF: I actually took the plunge 2 years ago and became a stay at home dad after 13 years in the classroom. My wife was unbelievably supportive of that choice, not to mention her infinite patience when shows take us away from home for a weekend, or recording sessions make me resemble the common underground mole. We’re at a point as a band where we can’t possibly take all of the gigs that we’re offered, which is a nice freedom to be a little choosier, making time for our families.
KB: It’s official, we couldn’t do it without our families. I think that what we’re doing resonates with them, too. I love that my family can enjoy this together. I think my wife sees what a positive example we’re setting for our kids: the hard work, the joy we bring, and the hard-earned successes. I’m a bit of a work-a-holic, so it’s lucky for the family that we’re all on the same page with Recess Monkey.
KCG: You guys did a circus themed tour for In Tents, do you have something similar planned for Deep Sea Diver?
DH: We’re super-lucky to know the fine folks at Teatro Zinzanni, a fabulous dinner theater in Seattle that features some great food and amazing circus artists. It was a synergistic smorgasbord that led to a twelve show run of “In Tents” under the big top. It was the coolest thing we’ve done by far and we hope to bring Deep Sea Diver and Desert Island Disc to the tent this fall and winter. You’ll have to come to the Emerald City to see it!
JF: The big question is how we’re going to turn a circus tent into a submarine, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out!
KB: Do we ever! I’m picturing acrobatic jelly fish and a trio of stranded ukulele players at center ring.
KCG: The Dancing Bear video and song is one of our favorites and also a tribute to The Beastie Boys (one of my all time favorites). Would you say they are a big influence for you?
DH: We all grew up with hip hop as a big influence. As a middle-schooler I was ping-ponging between The Beatles’ White Album and Yo! MTV Raps. I had “It Takes a Nation…” and “Straight Outta Compton” on cassette in my Sony Sports Walkman, oh so bright yellow. I liked the Beastie Boys but I’ll give the hat-tip to Jack who was a bigger fan of the fab three and definitely advocated for the BB treatment of “The Dancing Bear.” He hit a home run on that one!
JF: That was a really fun song to perform in the tent. Korum was actually in a giant bear costume, leading kids in a conga line during the break.
KCG: When you have downtime, what do you enjoy doing most?
DH: I’ve been a runner since high school and it’s my favorite way to get some some down time. It’s also a great way to see a new place when you’re out and about traveling from town to town!
JF: This hardly seems like down time, but I find remodeling projects to be really meditative and cathartic. I was a huge Lego fan as a young kid and now I just do the same thing with wood!
KB: I can’t remember the last time I had downtime, but I do enjoy gardening/landscaping and riding my bike (which I try to incorporate into my commute). About once a year, I get an hour or two when I can get out my brushes and watercolors. That’s what I’d like to do more.
KCG: What is your favorite thing to do with your family?
DH: Anything active! Walking the neighborhood or hitting the many great parks of Seattle. I’d love to do more hiking and camping. Our youngest is just about ready to handle the rigors of carrying some gear and staying overnight in a tent. Movie nights are fun, too. We like huddling around to watch My Neighbor Totoro, Wallace and Gromit or one of the Harry Potter films.
JF: Honestly, it’s talking. Our son is coming into a really fun language period right now and he, my wife and I have been taking turns making up stories at dinner. They usually end up being about going to “the drum store,” since drumming is my son’s #1 recreational choice.
KB: I love going exploring and bike riding. But the best thing of all is to just snuggle and stroke their hair. My older boy is 9 and he still loves to cuddle. I’m trying to savor every minute of it while I can.
KCG: Have any authors/stories inspired your music/songwriting?
DH: The poetry of Jack Pretlutsky has been an influence. As my kids get older we’ve been diving back into classic chapter books like the Hobbit, The Narnia Series, Roald Dahl’s books and the works of Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. You can’t help but hear a golden line and get scribbling on a song idea or two.
JF: Louis Sachar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School books were so fantastic- the absurdity of it all, I just loved those.
KB: Despite being a musician for almost 30 years, songwriting is new to me. Arranging is a different story though and I really came up as a jazz student more than anything else. I love the process of working through a new song and figuring out what is going to work through trial and error. So, I guess you could say I approach the process like a “Choose Your Own Adventure book!”