Being part of something special. It’s a longing that defines us as humans – whether we’re 7 or 77. Imagine for your child an open club where everyone belongs and is welcome to just be themselves. No overthinking things. No self-consciousness. Just the freedom to enjoy the heck out of every moment of childhood. Pure and simple.
Bay Area-based singer-songwriter Liz DeRoche (aka The Singing Lizard) captures this joy in her new album, Club Called Awesome. With a sun-kissed electro-pop sound, she opens her arms wide and invites everyone to be part of the action, beat by splendid beat.
Throughout the album you get the feeling that DeRoche is the kind of person that EVERYONE would love having as a friend on the playground. You can hear it in her uplifting, breezy tone. There is a reassurance, a sincerity that you are with someone who wants the best for those in her company. Club Called Awesomewas inspired by and largely reflects back on DeRoche’s own childhood in which she started her own club in a friend’s tree house and “made friends with every kid in the neighborhood.” DeRoche shares, “I was allowed to grow up in my way, with my own peculiar inquisitiveness. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up but there was never a lack of love and laughter.” It is in these thoughts that you can find the bedrock of the album’s heart.
While the album succeeds in its mission of fun, DeRoche also ventures into the territory of feelings and acceptance. “Show Me Your Happy” calls upon kids to demonstrate an expression of happiness (“show me your happy / jump up and down / clap your hands / dance to the beat”). “Feeling Blue” tells kids it’s okay to feel their feelings because everyone has tough days, especially when “you’re growing up and learning how to be yourself.” “Be Yourself” expresses that whether you are a boy or a girl there are no rules that define you. You are welcome to play just as you are, whether that means being the kind of girl that likes to ride her bike in the mud or a boy who makes cookies for his great grandma. It’s an empowering message that I would have wanted to hear as a kid and the message that I want my daughter Emily to hear as often as possible.
There is so much goodness baked into Club Called Awesome. DeRoche fills each song with positive messages, meeting kids where they are, identifying with them and making them feel safe to be themselves. No judgment. As members of this awesome club, kids can expect a wonderfully inclusive, welcoming place that promises to provide nonstop excitement. Friends will be made. Fun will be had.
You can purchase Club Called Awesome on iTunes | Amazon | Bandcamp. As a bonus, listeners will receive a comic book version of the album written by DeRoche.
While I’m working on some things behind the scenes, I’ve got some new music to share with you. So let’s take a dive into what’s poppin in the kindie world.
For the most part, the following items are videos, but I’m also pleased to share some audio clips from a couple of our favorite artists. So let’s start there.
Laura Doherty – “Early Bird & Night Owl” and “Animal Tracks”
Doherty releases her fourth children’s album today (April 1, 2026)! Animal Tracks is a collection of 10 previously released animal songs, plus 3 new ones. Dougherty has such a nice way of crafting cozy, singable songs. Doherty plays acoustic folk punctuated by a bouncy ukulele. A great combo that always prompts a little wiggle or two and incites lots of other kinds of interaction. Spending time with Dougherty always feels like a great way to pass the time. In celebration of the album’s release, she is also releasing the first single, “Early Bird, Night Owl” and the album’s title track.
Turkey Andersen is a crafty songwriter that tells interesting stories with a keen sense of humor. His sound echoes that of They Might Be Giants and is always entertaining to listen to. From Anderson’s latest album, Turkey Andersen 2, meet “Rhonda Bubbles” whose culinary choices are dictated by their shape. Unique, yet parents will find it very familiar.
The Okee Dokee Brothers – “Saddle Up.”
This video wows me as with most videos by the Brothers. Shot in Ultra HD, it’s almost like a virtual reality trip. Gorgeous panorama, sweeping landscapes from all points of view, and story song. “Saddle Up” is the first music video and title track from their forthcoming third adventure album. As Justin Lansing and Joe Mailander take viewers along for another ride as they once again explore and get inspired by the great outdoors. This time their journey takes them to the great West where, as you’ll see, they rode horses along the Continental Divide. Their story is inspiring and a testament to how getting connected with what’s outside really feeds the soul. Get ready to soak in the sights and sounds. Pre-order Saddle Up (CD + DVD Combo) through the Okee’s Official Store | iTunes | Amazon
Bay Area-based electro-kindie artist Liz DeRoche, aka The Singing Lizard, just released A Club Called Awesome which offers an exclusive membership for kids to find their happy place. And will they ever! In her latest video, DeRoche invites kids to be themselves, whatever that means to them. It’s a wonderful message and there is a really personal message in here for kids to know that there are no rules about what kids should like based on whether they are a girl or a boy. It’s a call for recognizing how awesome each and every child truly is. Get a behind the scenes explanation of what motivated DeRoche to write the song. Stay tuned for album review. iTunes | Amazon | Bandcamp
“Astronauts Love” will immediately appeal to kids’ curious minds as they follow along and imagine what it’s like to be an astronaut in space. Questions like A clever, catchy little tune that fuses together what kids love to do in their own daily life with what an astronauts might be doing with all of their time in space. Could they really lift 600 lbs (due to lack of force) and not get sore? These and other questions are explored in Jamie’s new stop motion video. Purchase it at iTunes | Amazon
I’m a sucker for some good comedy and Phoebe Lichty’s video for “Duck’s Song” from her forthcoming album April Fool struck my funny bone. This video will absolutely make you smile. Though the song has a sincere message, Lichty has a pretty great sense of humor which balances the visual parody of the song’s accompanying video out nicely. “Duck’s Song” is presented as a parody of the TEDx stage speeches with a truly inspiring message. Heartfelt and empowering, the track encourages grabbing hold of your inner voice and owning your strengths and just going for it. No fear! Just fly!
“Duck’s Song” is also part of a greater narrative that lives in April Fool which tells the story of a girl (April) who wants to be a jester, a king who stands in her way, and a duck who inspires her to go for her dream.
Man do I love encountering some rock music that echoes the likes of what I stock up in my own library. With their new video, “Take a Time Out” (off of last year’s We’re Not Going Crazy) Chibi Kodama comes forth with a new video for a stellar song that reminds me a little of Weezer with the crunchy electric guitars that dominate throughout (in a good way). It begs for high volume and air guitar, inflatable guitar, real guitar or any DIY guitar that will allow serious shredding as soon as you click play. The song itself touches upon the need for kids to recognize (and parents) when its time to take a time out and reset. That’s true wisdom right there and though it’s sometimes so hard to do in the moment, this rockin’ song offers a catchy lyric or two that will serve as helpful reminders. What else does this video have: Kids rockin’ out? Check. googly eye chin faces? Check! Order the album at iTunes | Amazon. Chibi Kodama will be releasing their third family album, Stardust, in late May 2016. Sample and preorder tracks from the album here.
Emily Arrow is a kidlit singer-songwriter who brings children’s books to life through song. We are crazy about books here and when I first learned about Emily Arrow, I swept away by her magical ability to give the wonderful stories she covers a new dimension. Her sweet voice is immediately appealing and the songs have a pop radio quality to them. Arrow is 2015 Winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contestin the Children’s Category for her song The Curious Garden Song which wasinspired by the book THE CURIOUS GARDEN by Peter Brown. Emily was also a finalist in the 2015 Great American Song Contest and the 2014 John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Today’s video for “The Dot Song” is an older video but it’s featured on her debut Story Singalong Volume 1. Purchase the album Arrow’sher official site | iTunes | Amazon
Artist: Frances England Album: Explorer of the World (official store) | iTunes | Amazon NOTE: Read through for bonus activities for you and your family inspired by this album. England will be releasing an accompanying activity book (expected May 2016).
“Be an explorer of your world.” These were instructions given to my classmates and me during a recent improv class. Our assignment was to embody our experiences, put ourselves in other people’s shoes.
For example, the next time you eat sushi, imagine being the sushi chef. Embodying that identity brings you closer to the experience of eating sushi, appreciating the texture and taste beyond what you could access as just the consumer. You connect with your imagination and feed your curiosity.
I recalled the impact of this exercise when I first heard Frances England’s new album, Explorer of the World.
Sometimes people look they don’t see. They hear without listening. They miss the beat. And I don’t want to be the one to miss out. The one who’s not looking at the world around. (“Explorer of the World”)
We spend so much of our time in front of screens, digitally connecting with the world, that we forget to really see what’s around us. As my daughter Emily has gotten older and her interests have shifted more to gaming (and the excitement of a new Poseidon dragon being born in her game!), I admit I’ve become less motivated to get outside and just discover with her.
This modern-day state of affairs is partly what inspired England to create Explorer of the World, which urges families to find beauty in the world around us and really dig in.
Children are natural explorers and really the best improv instructors. Their imagination and super curiosity fuels us as parents. We get to break new ground with our kids in the real world. And it does get real. Like that moment when your child is playing with her umbrella in the gusty wind and she turns to you and asks, “What if I threw an umbrella up into space while standing on the sun?”
Those are the precious moments that Explorer of the World characterizes and inspires. In “Little by Little” England sings “I do love you, you appreciate the wonder in everything,” and I feel my heart ache because I want every moment to last while knowing the days are quickly ticking by. England brings such depth of emotion as a mother, the whole hearted and body feeling of loving your children with everything you have, wanting to savor the time you have with them while reassuring them (and yourself) that you will always be there. This is underscored in “My Street” as England sings, “I’ll be there to show, show, show you the way / I’ll be there to warn you about those twists and those turns / I’ll be there to lead you back home, to lead you back.”
What I love about Explorer of the World is the subtle reminder that feeding your curiosity doesn’t mean spending a lot of money or a big, grand outing; the world around us – whether city, country or our own backyard – provides so many little things to see, to understand and to learn. We can find patterns in common sights and familiar places and rhythm in everyday life, whether it’s stopping to listen to a beatboxer or grabbing hold of opportunity and pretending to be a tightrope walker on the shadow of a telephone wire.
A long-time resident of San Francisco, California, England uses the artful city as the backdrop and inspiration for her fourth album. In fact, England spent two years capturing the sights and the sounds of the city by carrying around a handheld recorder and integrating what she recorded into the songs. For Bay Area residents, the bucket drumming that opens “Street Life” is a street performance on Market Street, and ambient noises were recorded on late night walks through North Beach.
England is sensitive to the world. She feels through the things she sees and can so vividly recreate the richness and emotion of an experience. There is this layer of being awake, the exhilaration of seeing what we see when we step outdoors, to bond through our experiences together when we let the sizzle of our surroundings breathe life into us and take us away.
To produce Explorer of the World, England once again teamed up with Grammy award-winning producer Dean Jones. The album was also co-produced with Dave Winer from Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players. The result is a very eclectic composition that mixes electro and acoustic melodies and harmonies with a rhythmic blend of funk and beats. This new dynamic is a very fitting dimension to England’s smooth sound.
So whether we pretend to be a sushi chef, pack up a bag to climb Mt. Everest, make a map of our neighborhood, visit where our parents grew up, or actually fly to another land and step through a new culture, we have the power to experience life together as a family, treasuring every moment little by little. Those are memories that will change us, strengthen bonds, and last far beyond the time Poseidon the dragon was born.
Bonus activity: Be an explorer! Listen closely to England’s lyrics that offer fun suggestions to dive deeper into the adventures right outside your door. Watch for England’s accompanying activity book (expected May 2016).
Neighborhood Map: Make a map of your neighborhood. Draw in the houses. Fill in the trees. What about cars and their colors? Shrubs, animals, fences, mailboxes, kids, sidewalk cracks, neighborhood oddities and fixtures? Go home and draw your version of your neighborhood map and compare to your family members’ map. Discuss the ways you see things in similar and different ways.
Quiet Observation: Take a camera and notebook on a walk. Spend 10-20 minutes walking silently (depending on your children’s ages) and observe the things you pass every day until you find at least three patterns you’ve never noticed before. Look for shapes. Look for color. Talk about the patterns. Take notes. Take photos of the patterns.
Neighborhood History: Find out who has lived on your street the longest. Interview them. What has changed? What’s better? What’s worse?
People Watching: Sit on a bench in a public area or silently walk through your town or city. Listen to the people walking by. What are they saying? Write a story about who they are and where they’re going.
Family Meeting: Arrange a time for a family meeting. Bring a calendar. Have each family member name a place he or she really wants to go this year. Maybe the museum, the waterpark, the train stations, the zoo, camping trip, kayaking, the mountains, the ocean. Decide what’s realistic and write it down (whether it’s today, tomorrow, this year or in the near future).
On April 1, 2016 Frances England will release her fifth family album, Explorer of the World, which encourages families to experience life by connecting more with their surroundings. Prior to making the album, England spent two years observing and capturing the sights and the sounds of her neighborhood and local areas of San Francisco, CA, with a handheld recorder. Some of the sounds were then integrated into many of the songs on the album.
Today I am excited to share a video teaser and audio clip with you for the track “Ballad for a Beatboxer,” which features vocal percussionist Carlos Aguirre.
The song’s arrangement contains England’s soft melodies laced with Aguirre’s hip hop inspired beats. The two flow very well together, and the style is a welcome addition to England’s repertoire, which has steadily expanded into more rootsy, rhythmic territory. Aguirre really infuses the song with so much of what leaves me in awe about beatboxers: The musical landscape they create is borne from what they feel inside their heart and soul. They are the instrument and the musical language they speak is so genuinely unique. England eloquently expresses this sentiment as she sings “And I can feel all the love he puts into those beat, he gives them to the people / He makes the world all his own / Where the music doesn’t stop / And the beat goes…
England and Aguirre have worked together for many years at StageWrite, a nonprofit in San Francisco, CA, that teaches literacy through playwriting workshops. England helps attending kids write songs for their plays and Aguirre helps with the playwriting and expression exercises through beatboxing.
In addition to the video teaser you, you can take a listen to the full track, as well as other tracks from the album through the Soundcloud widget below.
For updates on the new album, new videos and related news, stay in touch with England through her official site, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, and don’t miss the release of Explorer of the World on April 1, 2016. It’s a stunning, magnificent, hip, inspiring album and I can’t wait to share more of it with you!
Check out my full album review which also includes music videos and family activity suggestions inspired by the album.
The king of the hill. The blacktop barracuda. The Bigfoot of big wheeled vehicles. The monster truck, folks (said in an announcer’s tone). Yes, this one of a kind vehicle is almighty. But, it’s not just what’s on the outside that matters, of course. As the Sugar Free Allstars point out in their new video, “Monster Truck,” even monster trucks have a soft side. Inside that metal exterior is a whole lotta heart (and some pretty sweet taste in music)!
Today’s video is a rager, and in true SFAS style it’s just really hard to stop watching. Between the growling, driving vocals, the crazy catchy chorus and the funky SFAS signature organ, Chris “Boom!” Wiser and Rob “Dr. Rock” Martin will get you all revved up. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself setting up your own living room motorcross or maybe even performing a little automotive dressage in your backyard.
Enjoy today’s debut video of “Monster Truck” from the forthcoming self-titled SFAS album (due out April 2, 2016). But, this is one you shouldn’t wait for. Pre-order the album now!
Spring is on the way! This time of year is always filled with anticipation as the days grow longer and bits of warm weather are just enough to entice little buds to make their way toward full bloom. There’s a refreshing sense of renewal and spirits noticeably begin to lift. One of my favorite flowers is the sunflower. The yellow ones are like bursts of sunshine and, as their big beautiful faces joyfully turned toward the sun, they just make me smile.
In honor of these bright beauties and the changing of the seasons, I am premiering a new video for “Sunflower Serenade” by Pete Sinjin, a NY-based singer-songwriter. Sinjin, better known as “Hootenanny Pete,” offers up a refreshing acoustic folk/pop tune that speaks to the propensity for growth and creativity we all have within us. Sinjin notes: “In this lifetime all you need / is a little faith and a pack of seeds.” Just delightful.
“Sunflower Serenade” is from Sinjin’s family album, House of Song. Sinjin notes, “The original inspiration for House of Song came about while walking the streets of NYC and recognizing the diversity of its people. From there came the notion of a house that invited and celebrated ‘all people, all races, all colors, all faces’. A gathering place where everyone could find themselves singing in harmony and raising the rooftop with the spirit of love and acceptance.”
“Sunflower Serenade” is available through iTunes, CDBaby or Amazon. You can also sample tracks from and purchase House of Song through these links.
Telling my daughter “the sky’s the limit” feels powerful. Honoring her ideas and imagining all the possibilities with her creates moments that I hope feed her soul and open up her field of vision to look beyond the obstacles. And if an obstacle pops up, my wish is that she’ll know it’s neither the end of the story nor the end of the world. It’s just a bump on the road to reaching her goal.
The real reward, after all, isn’t “winning” or “nailing that project” but what we’ve learned along the way. How we pushed through the moments of frustration and desperation. And how we got stronger and more self-assured for all the sweat and angst. That’s what I want my daughter to know. It takes patience to fulfill your dreams and take action on brilliant ideas and it just isn’t easy sometimes. But the gold at the end of that rainbow is worth it.
LA-based group Mista Cookie Jar and The Chocolate Chips (MCJ) are one of the biggest champions of bringing positive messages into households. This family ensemble is eager to reach young, developing minds and to inspire thinkers, dreamers, and those of us young at heart.
Today I am proud to premiere the first video in a series of video releases this week celebrating MCJ’s forthcoming album, Music is Everywhere (release date: March 11, 2016).
“Hold on to Your Dreams” is an all-natural fam jam that calls attention to a critical part of the dream equation. The act of encouraging kids to hold on to and follow their dreams is a big piece, and the love and support we offer as parents is the charge in the formula that gives our kids the surge to “keep goin’, keep holdin’ on.” To travel carefully over each bump.
Role models come in all forms and MCJ and the Chocolate Chips are making their mark. In just over a year, they have written 13 songs (one song per month) as well as produced their own videos. In “Hold On To Your Dreams” and with their forthcoming release of new songs and previously released singles this group has become a shining example of what it means to persevere. They have done it as a family, showing that having a solid family foundation fuels the flames that lead to glorious results. And that makes it all worth it in the end.
Keep up with Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips this week through their official site, FB page and Twitter. You can also subscribe to their YouTube channel to get updates on new video releases. Below is a brief interview with Mista Cookie Jar about this week’s plans and a brief behind the scenes look the making and meaning of “Hold On To Your Dreams.”
KCG: Tell us a bit about how the song and video cam about. How did you start making music with Tembra and Lyrin?
MCJ: Our friend Tembra and her daughter Lyrin have been in the Chocolate Chip crew from the very beginning. Lyrin is like a cousin to my kids, Ava and Lucas. They grew up together. Tembra is childhood friends with Jenna aka Missis Cookie Jar. “Hold On To Your Dreams” has been around for years, honed and crafted over late night jam sessions and bonfires. Tembra and Lyrin moved up to the redwoods a few years ago from LA, so we’ve continued the tradition of family sing-a-longs and camping when we go up north to visit them in. This video captures the spirit of enjoying the wonders of nature in Northern Cali with friends and family. Cell service is terrible so it’s a nice treat to have some phone detox QT with the whole fam bam.
KCG: The album and this song particular has a real “lived-in” vibe. I’m sure this has a bit to do with your song-a-month mission and EP release. Can you tell us a bit about your songwriting/recording process?
MCJ: Our new album, Music is Everywhere,has an organic quality to it which I believe is something to appreciate. It’s this soulful approach to playing music that is becoming a rare bird, especially for younger tech-savvy generations. I’m happy to toss my hat in the ring and go back to the roots — especially before I switch it up again with some banging beats!
KCG: What’s in store for this week?
MCJ: Everyday this week, Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips will be dropping 5 new music videos – one new on each day – leading up to the world premiere of our 3rd album, Music is Everywhere. This release process was totally inspired by the marketing stunt for Weird Al’s last album release. We wanted to really make the new album an event, ya know? I’m excited to share all the videos! Don’t wanna give too much away, but there is some claymation, some ballet, some live stuff and even cutting edge 360 video technology — you know, where you either have one of those Oculus head sets or you just move your phone around or scroll with your finger to see the YouTube vid in 3D.
The songs on Music is Everywherehave mostly all been released as singles or on an EP during my single-a-month run this past year. But there will be a couple brand spanking new tracks on the record — one of which will be released with a video on the same day of the album release.
Music is Everywhere will be premiering March 11, 2016 on Zooglobble. Stay tuned via the aforementioned links to get the latest and greatest updates.
“Panorama is all about a journey. I wrote the songs and lyrics while thinking about real experiences I’ve had but imagining what it would be like if I were to take my daughter along on those trips I took alone many years ago. ” – Sandra Velasquez
Sandra Lilia Velasquez is a force of nature. Dubbed “SLV,” she’s as driven and passionate as an artist as she is a mother.
Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Sandra is known in the adult music world as the lead singer of the nationally and internationally acclaimed Latin group Pistolera and front-woman of SLV, her solo effort. She also is the songwriter and lead singer for the bilingual (Spanish-English) kindie band Moona Luna.
Since their 2006 kindie music debut, they have released three highly acclaimed albums. Panorama, Moona Luna’s most recent release, was inspired by Sandra’s journey as a mother, world explorer and lover of travel.
I had a chance to speak with Sandra about the album, and dive deeper into her creative process. What swelled from the conversation was a sheer tidal wave of insight, strength and passion in a way that only Sandra could deliver.
Kids Can Groove: Panorama was just released and it’s Moona Luna’s third album. I love how it blends together themes of travel, love and family.
Sandra Lilia Velasquez: I feel like it’s our best album. I think everyone feels that way about their newest work, but that’s actually how I feel.
With the very first Moona Luna album, kindie music was new to me. My band and I had been playing together for 10 years as Pistolera with a musical vibe very similar to Moona Luna. It was Latin music. It was upbeat. It was in Spanish, but the content was much more adult. Pistolera’s songs are about immigration, feminism, and life issues – things that children can’t relate to.
When I was writing the first Moona Luna album I thought, “Okay, how do I get in touch with my strong, non-political side, kid-friendly side?” I had my daughter as my guide. She was only three-years-old so the themes were geared more towards her age group and her interests. With the second album, my daughter was learning about time, what time is and how to tell time, so the songs on that album related to a time theme.
My daughter is now eight-years-old. The content for Moona Luna has grown along with her and on Panorama it’s clear that we’re not tailoring it to three-year-olds anymore. We’re just playing music and trying to make it sonically fun with singalong parts and fun instruments but it’s a little more of a grown up sound.
KCG: Has your journey of motherhood influenced your journey as a person and a musician?
SLV: Yeah, I don’t know how to separate them. Now that I have a daughter, the reality is that I can’t go on tour for a month. You really learn how to use every moment of every day, whether it’s a moment for yourself or whether it’s moment to spend with your child. As a musician, I really have to plan everything out – working on music certain days or planning what I’m going to do after my daughter goes to sleep. Everything is worked around having a child and I’m sure that this will change as she grows. At every stage you have to keep living your life with the schedule of the needs of the child. I can’t even picture what it would be like to not have a child. I have friends that are musicians that don’t have children and I just think you have no idea how much time you have.
KCG:So true! My daughter is seven-years-old now and it has gotten a lot easier, though now that I have a little more time I tend to reflect on my own childhood and think about how I can model certain life skills for her. I really relate to the family theme in Panorama. “I’m Always Here” and “Llevame” both have a kind of motherly/parental, reassuring vibe to them.
SLV: Panorama has a very strong family theme. You can’t really separate the family theme from the album. There are some people that play music for children who don’t have children. I always marvel at that because my music is so informed by my experience of having a child. You know those feelings that you can’t really explain to other people or that you could explain but it sounds very abstract? Like what it feels like to be protective of someone eternally. People, they know what that means in the abstract, but they don’t know what that feeling is. So those songs on the album are very much informed by that experience of being an actual mother and watching someone grow.
As your child grows, one day you realize they are becoming like you or you are becoming like your parents. You have this moment of “Wow…” You really learn by watching your parents be themselves. I don’t think that I actually realized that until I was completely in my 30s. It’s not really about what your parents tell you to do. It’s about how you see them live their lives and you decide if you want to mimic some of those traits.
I write from the experience of being somebody who loves somebody unconditionally and is watching them grow and wants them to want to be independent and wants them to be strong in the world but also wants them to be a good person.
KCG: “Espejos (Mirrors)” is one of my favorite songs and the message in the song really relates to, as you say, realizing your children are becoming like you or you are becoming like your parents. Specifically in the words, “Did you ever wonder why your smile looks like mine? / Just like my mother before me. / Our laughter has the same ring.”
SLV: Mirrors are the things we all see. When you look at your child and see that they have your hands, or your feet or your eyes. And you see how you’re connected with your own parents. It’s almost so obvious to say it but that’s really the root of that song. Espejos is really the things you see in your child that are part of you. You feel like you’re looking in a mirror.
KCG: You are a part of 3 bands (Pistolera, SLV and Moona Luna). Previously, you talked about having a schedule and maintaining a work-life balance. How do you stay true to the work and the process required to fulfill the role of mother and musician while also setting an example for your daughter?
SLV: I was lucky to have mother who was extremely strong-willed and driven. She is an immigration lawyer, activist and professor. That is why I am the way that I am. When you are young, you don’t understand. I would think, “You’re never around. Why aren’t you here?” Then as I got older, I realized she just loved to work; her job is not just a job, it’s her passion. It’s her career. That work ethic and that kind of dedication to your passion translated into music for me. I’m the same way as my mother. I just go for what I want. My daughter will learn by watching me be myself.
KCG: Does your daughter join you for live performances and is she also involved in music?
I bring my daughter with me as much as possible. She comes to my shows. She’s backstage with me. She sits in the audience. She’s at the merchandise table with me. If I can bring her, I will bring her. She’s seen me perform a million times now. She sees me practicing. The lesson is if you want to be good at something you have to practice and put in time with it. I was forced to play music as a child and I hated it and couldn’t wait to quit.
I’m not forcing her to be a musician but I want her to practice something. When you’re older, no one is ever mad that they play an instrument and speak two languages. No one ever says, “I wish I didn’t speak another language” or “I wish I didn’t play the violin.” It’s hard to learn anything new but if you can stick with practicing something then over time you do get better and you have this additional skill. Not everyone has that.
For me, of course, I always laugh at the poetry of the fact that my mother forced me to speak Spanish and to take piano lessons, both of which I rejected at the time and now I’m a musician and I sing in Spanish. I guess Mom was right.
KCG: Was Spanish the primary language spoken in your home?
SLV: Yes. My mom is from Mexico. My Dad is also Mexican but he was born in California. So, he’s basically Chicano. I was born in San Diego and growing up, my mother basically would just not answer me if I didn’t speak to her in Spanish. My Dad was a little more lenient so I would always go run to him.
KCG: Did either of your parents play music or did you grow up with music played in your home?
SLV: My family is not musical. Both my parents grew up with very little opportunity and they were proud to be able to provide me with an opportunity like piano lessons. My father is an artist, a painter, and was very encouraging artistically. All the walls in my bedroom were murals. He just gave me the paintbrushes and acrylic paint and said, “Do whatever you want.” As an artist, he understands that urgent feeling inside like “I need to go create!” or “I need to go paint!” or “I need to go write a song!” or “I need to go play the drums!” Whatever is your passion, it’s like a drive – a calling – that you can’t just stop. Not every parent gets that.
As a musician, you always hear these stories about other musicians and how maybe they grew up singing in the church or both of their parents are singers. I did not grow up in that kind of family so I feel like I have to work really hard at music because I don’t feel like there was any genetic traits sent down to me to be musically inclined. Both my parents are super supportive, though. They give all my records to their neighbors.
KCG: Was your family into travel?
SLV: Yes! Travel was instilled in me at a young age. We took a trip every year, visiting places like Canada, Mexico, Hawaii. We have albums full of family photos documenting our trips. My mother traveled a lot for work, still does, and my father would always go to the museums in Europe. Everyone in my family loves to travel so it seems like my passion either comes the experiences of taking family trips or it’s a genetic thing where we have this drive to go places.
KCG: As a musician, you’ve been able to tour – nationally with Moona Luna and both internationally and nationally with Pistolera. Was the idea of touring a kind of compass directing you toward becoming a musician and forming a band?
SLV: Traveling is a crucial part of my life. I always have to have a trip planned. Travel is a huge luxury and such a gift to be able to do. I just love going to other places seeing how other people live. Traveling puts you in your place in the world. It’s very easy to get caught up in your world and think about how things are a certain way.
As a musician I get to do two things that I love to do: travel and play music. Travel informs my music and the more you are informed and the more experiences you have it all becomes fodder for writing. You have to have something to write about.
KCG: As you reflect on/were reflecting back on your own travel memories, and also imagining traveling with your daughter, what would you want her to see or hope that she gets out of it?
SLV: I want her to see that other people live differently. That is the main takeaway from traveling – people have much less and are happy and grateful. Not every kid has an iPad, or needs one. To learn that people are fundamentally the same everywhere is a great life lesson. It opens your mind so much.
KCG: In Old School Way you say “I can take it all,” “I can take it in.” Was there a particular experience tied to that feeling of greatness?
SLV: I’ve been to a lot of different pyramids in Latin America – in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. You go really early when the sun is first coming out and it’s pretty magical. At the top, you can see the entire jungle floor and it just looks endless. You don’t see any fences; there aren’t any parking lots. It’s just completely free, open, lush jungle. We have natural wonders here in the U.S. but in terms of architectural relics we don’t so much have that. The Grand Canyon is beautiful but touristy. There are probably parts where you can go and feel like you are the only one. But, you don’t see the parking lots when you are at the pyramids.
KCG: Many of the songs reference walking or things you saw on the streets.
SLV: When I was visiting Latin America, I always just took the bus somewhere and then walked around a town. I am always interested in really being in a place so I never do tours or anything guided. I never rent cars. I usually walk or take buses. In the songs you refer to, I am flashing back to walking around the town square in Chiapas, Mexico, on cobblestone streets. There is no better way to get to know a place than to literally walk around it. You stumble upon things like restaurants or climbing steps to get to a church on top of a hill. It is just very freeing.
KCG: How did you come up with the name and concept for the album?
SLV: I’m always looking for titles that are bilingual. Panorama is a perfect example because it’s the same word in English and Spanish. Once I thought of the album’s title, it was just easy to come up with songs that related to the themes of travel and family. The title is like the seed. I also like having a theme with an album, which is something that is recurring with Moona Luna and some Pistolera albums, too, where it’s about a whole experience or a whole journey.
Panorama is all about a journey. I wrote the songs and lyrics while thinking about real experiences I’ve had but imagining what it would be like if I were to take my daughter along on those trips I took alone many years ago.
KCG: What was it like to relive your memories by envisioning them with your daughter? Does it change the experience for you in any way.
SLV: Yes, in a couple ways. First, I can’t do anything dangerous. If I was alone, I might stay in a cheap hostel not in the best part of town. With a child in tow, I would never take those risks. Kids tend to not like lying around in hammocks drinking vodka! I would have to consider things that are also fun for her.
KCG: Panorama is a bilingual album with Spanish songs, English songs and a blend in the same song. Do you feel the language is also a part of the journey? Can families get a sense of a different culture from your album?
SLV: I think the music comes first and people hear the lyrics after. The feeling you get from the music is the most important. I like when people sing along to things they can’t understand simply because they like the melody. I definitely feel like families can get a feel for different cultures from the different musical cues – African rhythms and Latin percussion.
KCG: Panorama has more of a rhythmic sound to it than previous albums. Did you change the arrangements to flow along with the songs?
SLV: The style that you hear in a lot of Moona Luna and Pistolera songs is called Cumbia and that is very popular in Mexico. It’s actually Columbian but it’s very popular in Mexico. Some people hear it as Reggae or some people hear it as Ska. I grew up just hearing that in San Diego because it’s like you just can’t not hear it. It’s not even like my parents were blasting it on their home stereo. You hear it from a car driving by or the people in the restaurant are playing it. I didn’t really notice how much it was played until I moved to New York.
I wrote Panorama with my songwriting partner, Sean Dixon, who has played African music for many years and played bass on the album. Sean is also a drummer so he brought in a different rhythmic element to get me out of my Latin groove, which I could stay in forever, so it was nice.
KCG: What would you like our audience to take away from listening to Panorama?
SLV: Travel is something that is dear to my heart and I feel that to be able to communicate that through an album is really cool because the family trips that you take when you’re kid really stay with you. I feel like a lot of people can relate to traveling with their families. Together, you get to experience something new, something different and maybe you learn something. People always remember being in the back of their parents’ avocado green car. They remember how it smelled how it felt and those are the memories that stay with you.
Also, everyone needs a good soundtrack for the car! If everyone has one favorite song, that makes me feel good.
Marsha Goodman-Wood is a ninja in disguise. She is a DC-based singer/songwriter who makes music for clever kids with sharp imaginations and active minds brimming with curiosity. Marsha is also a former cognitive neuroscientist. Yep, you read that right. Brain science…pretty cool.
As a songwriter, Marsha brings her educational background and combines it with her experience as a music and drama teacher as well as her role as a mom of three. “I think about all the intense brain development that is going on in my young audiences,” Marsha says. “[My background] also shapes the way that I engage with my audience. Because music uses all our senses, it activates more parts of the brain and creates very strong memories; so music is an ideal vehicle for learning. Just think of the ABCs, and how ingrained that song is in all of us.”
I am happy to present two goodies to you today – the video world premiere for Marsha’s single “Ninja School”* from her debut solo album Gravity Vacation, and an illuminating guest post where Marsha dives further into the whole body benefits of music.
And of course, fist bump to all those ninjas in training out there.
Marsha is currently writing for her next record which she expects to record in 2016 with her recently-formed band, The Positrons. Stay up to date with news about Marsha through her official site, Facebook, Twitter or Reverbnation, and catch her latest videos by subscribing to her YouTube channel.
*The “Ninja School” video was produced by NY-based kids artist and video producer, Patricia Shih, with illustrations by Giulia Neves.
I’m a cognitive neuroscientist by training, which means I used to study the brain and am still fascinated by how our brains work. I think of music as a great connector that ties together lots of different processes that are happening simultaneously in our brains. It activates our senses, is a total body experience (if you want to be technical, uses both our gross motor skills and fine motor skills), and brings an emotional and human connection. Music is also a universal source of joy!
There’s some fascinating research that shows how music can aid learning and how closely music & movement are tied to language development in young children. Brain researchers have looked at movements that involve coordinating the right & left sides of the body and ones that use our whole personal space, and have found that there’s a strong link between actions which send messages from one side of the brain to the other and the kinds of signals that our brains send from one side to the other when we read and speak. So, when we sing a song like “The Wheels on the Bus” or add actions or dance moves to any song, we’re building and strengthening connections in the brain that are important for language development.
With my music, I think about what kinds of moves I can offer little kids to reinforce those connections kids are forming. When I perform “Ninja School” I ask the kids to show off their martial arts moves (karate chops, kicks, leaps and such). When I can, I like to include something interesting in my songs for older kids or grownups, too, like mixing fun facts into the song so there’s something to take home and think about. The title track for my record Gravity Vacation has facts about gravity and inertia that kids like to bounce along to, mixed in with some “la-la-las” the audience can sing along with. The bonus, though, is they still absorb the facts so I get the coolest stories later. A mom told me her 3-year-old old daughter explained to her out of the blue one day that we stay on the ground because of gravity! Another family told me they were sitting around the breakfast table talking about the moons of Jupiter and started checking out NASA info online because the song sparked the kids’ curiosity.
I tend to put positive messages and a little something educational into my songs because kids are sponges. They absorb everything we put out, so why not give them something interesting to think about that they might not have heard before? Mixing in information that sparks their curiosity and complements what they’re learning now in school (or what they will need to learn at some point down the line) is a built-in bonus. Maybe it reaches that one kid who is not connecting with material in the classroom. Maybe it inspires a child’s fascination in science and creates a budding scientist.
Plus, you don’t have to teach a kid to have fun. Music is inherently fun and if you write a catchy tune and make it musically interesting that’s a ton of fun in and of itself. There’s definitely a place for adding in humor, imagination, and silliness in kids music. Helping listeners to explore outrageous ideas is something many artists do well, but I’m OK with taking it to a different place. It’s definitely tricky to write a song that’s educational, yet still fun and not preachy. That’s where I try to go, and I believe people pick up on that and enjoy that about my music.
Some of the other messages in my songs are the kinds of messages that I feel we as parents are trying to share all the time. I loved hearing from the mom who told me her 8-year-old twin boys were always reluctant to wear helmets, but after listening to “Wear a Helmet,” they started enthusiastically wearing them! Another mom told me her 5-year-old was about to show her a new wiggly tooth, but said, “I need to go wash the germs off my hands before I touch my mouth,” since she had picked up the message in “Nobody Likes Viruses and Germs.” It’s amazing to think something you wrote could affect people like that.
I’m not sure where my songwriting will take me. All I know is that I’m on a journey where I’m trying to stay true to myself and write about what inspires me. The great thing about working with kids is that they are full of questions and make you think about things differently. Sometimes their questions spark my curiosity or lead me somewhere new as I try to answer them. I feel that kids can understand anything if you explain it well, so I want to honor their questions with real answers and not assume a concept is too far over their heads. It challenges me to make sure I understand a concept well enough to explain it to a 5-year-old or an 8-year-old. If that leads to a song, it’s a win-win in my book!
This year, my daughter Em has become more interested in the election process and political issues. We don’t talk a lot about politics at home. But at school the kids have been discussing it, so when it comes up we roll through Q&A with her.
Earlier this week we were visiting family and they put the Republican Presidential Debate on TV. Em was captivated. Unapologetically, she began to share her opinions with the room. “If I were President, I’d say…” and “If I had to make a rule about ______ I would say…” and “Why are they fighting over________?” and “Why can’t they see that health care is important and everyone should have it? We need to take care of people!”
Em also firmly believes that it’s time for a woman to be president; as a girl, she sees no limits on what she can accomplish. And, the fact that kids can’t vote disturbs her, which then only fuels her desire to run for student council one day to help “make rules that make school better for all students.”
Watching her get passionate and deliver her opinions with gusto makes me proud and motivates me to learn along with her. I want to satisfy her curiosity with more knowledge so that she can continue to form a point of view and her own beliefs.
What does all this have to do with music? Well, earlier this week, The Not-Its! released “Washington, D.C.” a single from their forthcoming album Are You Listening? (out this Friday, Feb. 19, 2016). This song rocks! I love that it taps into kid power. Kids want to have a voice, and when you let them speak their minds, they feel empowered. The Not-Its! totally get this and through their music they have found a way to encourage kids to be a part of the action. It’s punk to stand up for your rights!
Find your representative / Say what’s on your mind / You can let your voice be heard but you never have to tow the party line / Yeah just hold up your sign / Stand up for your rights / Gather with a scene / You wanna make a change / Rearrange in Washington, D.C. / Now you see what I mean / D.C. do you hear me / D.C. / Are you listening / D.C. / Are you tuned into me. Download Washington, D.C. for FREE (expires Friday, Feb 19, 2016)