Django Jones is new to the kindie-sphere but not new in the larger world of indie music. Doris Muramatsu, JJ Jones and Nate Borofsky are former members of the band, Girlyman. While Girlyman has disbanded, these three musketeers have turned their sights toward making kids music that rocks. One of the most astounding (and outstanding) things about Django Jones is their ability to harmonize. Whether they are combining melodies or singing in counterpoint, the harmonies they deliver broaden their sound beautifully, resulting in an enormous amount of control and depth.
The idea of singing in counterpoint intrigued me because of the way it combines two or more different melodies while still allowing the song to sound whole. On their recent children’s music debut, D is for Django, the trio demonstrates this technique in their song, “Counterpoint.”
In the interview below, Doris Muramatsu talks about how Simon and Garfunkel helped her practice singing in harmony, the process that lead to the creation of the song “Counterpoint,” and how this style of singing encourages us to support and celebrate one another.
Kids Can Groove: Was your creative process different in terms of your approach to writing music for families?
Doris Muramatsu: I think there was a lot more spontaneity involved in writing music for D is for Django, primarily because there wasn’t as much self-consciousness involved. That’s the beauty of kids; They don’t judge, they don’t critique. They just gravitate toward love and joy. So we knew that as long as *we* had fun, [kids] would sense that. I think for me, personally, this was a good lesson!
KCG: I love the harmony that many of your songs have. It adds so much depth! Three-part harmonies seem to be at the essence of your sound. Was that something that evolved over time or something that just came naturally to you?
DM: Harmony was something I always gravitated towards as a child. When I was 12 or 13, I started actively singing and learning it with my best friend (Ty from Girlyman). We would learn Simon and Garfunkel songs and practice singing harmony together. There’s something magical that happens when you sing in harmony. It definitely feels spiritual to me and like you’re tapping into something greater. Im so grateful to have found people I can sing with and whose voices blend so well with mine. While it takes a lot of practice, it was something I liked to do so much that it felt natural.
KCG: How do you feel harmonic layers add to/contribute to a song?
DM: I think harmony can be used in a myriad of ways in a song. You can have one person singing a verse and then add harmony in a chorus and BOOM! Instant buildup! I think non-traditional harmonies add aural interest and make you kind of go, “Hey, what is going on there?” There’s nothing I love more than taking harmonies apart and figuring out what each person is saying. I also think lyrically, harmony can do so much. Depending on the song, for example, say you have a line that is wistful or thought-provoking. Well, you can choose harmonies that contain notes that emphasize that longing, creating even more of a feeling than just the lyrics alone. It’s just another way of bringing a song to life.
KCG: “Counterpoint” addresses a specific type harmonic sound that is not typically heard in children’s music. What was the motivation behind writing a song like “Counterpoint?”
DM: I think Nate and I were wrapping up a session and started talking about how cool it would be if we could write a song demonstrating what counterpoint is in music. We were like “Yeah, so we could each sing a different part but show how those two parts fit together,” and immediately started singing lines and melodies off the top of our heads. [Nate] came up with his part and played the piano, and then I listened to the chords and made up my own melody with a different rhythm. Then we realized we could get JJ involved, too, so Nate listened to our parts together and was able to compose parts for JJ that covered your basic three-part harmony chords. The whole thing was very spontaneous and extremely inspired and fun.
KCG: What do you feel kids/adults/families can learn through techniques like counterpoint? I particularly love how the lyrics seems to encourage that while we might be singing different songs we can still work together. It seems like the lyrics can also be interpreted for how we treat each other or regard each other in friendships/relationships.
DM: That’s the great thing about harmony, it brings people together literally and figuratively. Yes, you can be singing two or three or even four different things, but you can each shine while singing your own part and make something bigger than the sum of each part! On a personal level, you can let each other be unique individuals and feel the beauty of your interactions and *support* that instead of putting it down and trying to get each other to conform. So much of our society is about conforming and there is so much individuality to be celebrated!
KCG: Do you have suggestions for how families can find ways to sing in harmony?
DM: I find the best way to sing harmony is to just do it. Get in the car, listen to a song where you can easily distinguish people’s parts, and assign those parts to your family members. At first, their only job is to stick with their part, and really concentrate on holding it steady. After several runs, then you can do it on automatic pilot, sit back and even begin to listen to the other parts going on around you! There is nothing like it.