Interview: Sandra Lilia Velasquez of Moona Luna

PRESS  PIC 1__MOONA  LUNA__Credit_Signe_Schloss

“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.

Panorama is available through iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp. For more information and to stay up to date with Moona Luna, subscribe to their YouTube channel, and find them on Facebook and Twitter.


05  ALBUM  COVER __PANORAMA__MOONA  LUNA

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.

Video world premiere “Ninja School” + Guest Post by Marsha Goodman-Wood

35edc8ef-357f-48a6-8c04-9d96e42912b2

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.



MGW_Georgetown

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!

Behind the Scenes of The Great Pretenders Club Special with The Pop Ups and Producer Avtar Khalsa

Pop Ups_Jason Jacob Up Down in TV (1)

Jason Rabinowitz and Jacob Stein (aka The Pop Ups) are on a path to reach the stars! Since their 2011 debut, this Brooklyn-based duo has produced four albums, created their first stage show Pasta!, premiered a music video for “Subway Train” at the New York International Children’s Film Festival, received two Grammy nominations, were featured guests on Sprout TV’s “Sunny Side Up Show,” and released their first web series (14 episodes).

Recently, Jason and Jacob expanded further into broadcasting territory with their first full-length digital video, The Great Pretenders Club (“The GPC Special”), which was released in partnership with Amazon and made available exclusively to Prime Members for streaming.

The GPC Special brings the concept of their eponymous 4th album to life: the magic and rewards of pretend play (my favorite kind!). Just like Sesame Street pioneered children’s television in the 1970s, The GPC Special steps up to honor the values of “unplugged” play and education while acknowledging that the delivery of media broadcast is changing.

The parallel between the classic Sesame Street productions and the production style of The GPC Special is pleasantly familiar. The Pop Ups’ attention to detail is stupendous, and each element – use of brilliant color, puppets, music – comes together in a fantastic multi-media experience. It’s clear that The Pop Ups have managed to hold onto the kids within themselves, and by playing at their craft, they not only are practicing what they preach, but inviting us to play along with them.

Although geared toward children, The GPC Special will tickle the nostalgic funny bone of grown-ups who grew up watching Sesame Street. The feature employs the same subtle mature sense of humor that will encourage parents to watch along with their children and take part in the experience.

I recently caught up with Jason and Jacob, and producer Avtar Khalsa, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the process that lead to this milestone. Since The Great Pretenders Club album preceded the creation of the The GPC Special, I asked The Pop Ups some questions about their creative inspiration before diving deeper into the studio experience with Avtar. There were a few surprises I didn’t see coming!

As you’ll read in the interview below, Jason and Jacob are two playful guys who take the study of play pretty seriously. And with a stellar cast and crew, their vision for the next generation was brought to life.

Be sure to read on for access to The Great Pretenders Club badges. Amazon Prime member? Stream The GPC Special and download The Great Pretenders Club album now.


Pop Ups_Jason Jacob Up Down laying on backs (1)

KCG: Jacob and Jason, let’s start with the concept for The Great Pretenders Club album since that gave way to the creation of The GPC Special. What was the inspiration for The Great Pretenders Club in the first place? Did you have ideas about developing it into a broadcast special from the start?

Jacob Stein: The songs were built around the idea of play, with each one celebrating a different imaginative game or adventure. We were really interested in theories behind play being one of the great tools for learning in the animal world. We spent some time reading and researching papers on the subject. My cousin, Marc Beckoff, is a PhD who studies animal play and he really helped us see the bigger picture.

At a certain point the idea to corral the songs into a connected piece called The Great Pretenders Club became one of those obvious moments in art, which you could never have predicted but which also feels undeniable once it appears. We’ve always dreamed of making a TV show, and this felt like a natural place to take the album concept.

P1010505KCG: Did acting out the scenes in the studio bring you closer to experiencing your music?

JS: We wrote much of the album in a beautiful field in the woods of Cobbleskill, NY in the Catskills mountains, a 10-minute walk from any phones or internet or even electricity.

KCG: Was being on set similar to being on stage during live performances? Though both productions are theatrical in nature your live shows are just the two of you and your puppets.

JS: For the acting production, it’s just so different. We built a big set and we had a big crew of puppeteers, producers, PAs and sound and camera people, and wardrobe and art departments. The list just goes on! Sometimes we had as many as 10-15 people on set for any given shot.

What was also different about this production was that me and Jason were not doing all of
the puppeteering ourselves. We got to watch our very personal characters take on a new life in the hands of extremely talented puppeteers Paul McGuinness and Matt Atcheson.

KCG: Did you have favorite roles/parts?

Jason Rabinowitz: When I get blown off screen by the storm in “On Air,” I jumped into a metal file cabinet. That was exciting! I liked being the conductor, honestly.

26d107fd-ddbd-42a7-882a-5168bb65cb67

KCG: Avtar, how did you first get involved with The Pop Ups?

Avtar Khalsa: They were looking for a Producer for their web series last year, and my name showed up on c4042714-970b-447f-acd0-8a8db4d111b7a list of recommendations. The band’s Manager Jon McMillan and I had worked together peripherally on another project years back (The Railroad Revival Tour), so when he saw my name he got in touch right away. I went down to The Pop Ups’ studio in Brooklyn to discuss the project and see if it was a good fit. When I walked into the room and shook their hands I immediately sensed their eagerness to to make something really great. I could tell something incredibly special was happening there in their little studio space, and I wanted to be a part of it!

There are many bands that make music for children, and there are many people who make cartoons and put on puppet shows, but they were doing it all together, in such a unique, thoughtful, imaginative, and brilliant way. Fun and relatable to kids, yet educational, and something their parents could enjoy too. And the music is amazing, those catchy songs really get stuck in your head!

KCG: Is this your first production for children’s media? 

AK: I mostly work on commercials, and some have been geared towards children, or had children in them, but the work I’ve done with The Pop Ups is the first I’d actually call children’s media.

KCG: Is this your first time working with puppets on camera?

AK: Yes! In production we need to be able to adapt to any situation, and it’s always a constant636fb7f6-2857-44f6-9194-84dac51863d9 learning experience, but I never thought I was going to be learning about the importance of the puppet wall, or the perfectly placed googly eye. It was great watching the first rehearsals with their puppets Up, Down and Chef Olivia di Pesto. Seeing these characters come to life was a true joy.

The first time you meet puppets in person you kind of fall in love. There is something so magical about them. As someone who grew up watching Sesame Street, it might partly be nostalgia, but they immediately bring a smile to anyone’s face, and lighten any situation. Every time I would mention to anyone that I was working on a shoot with puppets, their eyes would widen and they’d say, “I love puppets!!” Because I think everyone does.

KCG: Where did you draw inspiration from for the making of the GPC Special?

AK: After the web series was released I had been in contact with The Pop Ups about some music videos they wanted to make. By the time I was brought on to produce them, they had morphed into The Great Pretenders Club Special. Most of the creative and storyline was already in place. It made sense that they were making it into more of a show then just individual videos. I personally think they should make an episodic TV series, it would be a perfect fit for what they do, and a great way to inspire young children around the globe.

KCG: The album’s concept is based on encouraging and rewarding imaginary play. Did you find this to be challenging or easy to convey on screen?

P1010845AK: The Pop Ups are naturals when it comes to this. They have a complete grasp on how to relate to and catch the attention of young minds. They know how to entertain them, spark their imagination, and to teach them life lessons without them even knowing they are learning. Jason and Jacob have every scene planned out in their mind, they know ahead of time – frame by frame – how they want the video to be shot, acted, art directed, and edited. Everything is well thought out, and their creative vision is very clear.

The biggest challenge, I think, is getting their ideas organized and down on paper so they can be properly conveyed to the crew who has to help make them come to life!

KCG: How did you create the orchestra segment? What was the process behind that and the “Jake Maker”?

AK: First we had to build a Jacob Maker. Our Production Designer Melissa Chow is also,
it turns out, a magician. Once that was built, we just had to put Jacob inside and pull the lever. The rest is science! And green screen.

KCG: What was the most memorable moment(s)?

AK: The chicken soup/spaghetti scene was a lot of fun to make, as was the picnic scene. They both required a lot of choreography and comedic timing to get things just right. But I think the guys nailed it.

We also really loved having DJ Gia stop by the shoot. After days of shooting with our adult crew, it was nice to have a child on set doing her thing. She’s a seasoned radio DJ, but it was her first time on a film set, and she was a little shy at first. Seeing Jacob ease her out of her shell, getting her to laugh and feel comfortable was really cool. The band genuinely loves kids, and I think they really get them, and can get on their level and relate.

picnic_P1010577

KCG: Did Chef Olivia make meals for the crew?

AK: When Chef Olivia di Pesto isn’t filming cooking shows, she’s doing press events, book signings, or private events for foreign royalty. She’s a busy cat, so we felt really lucky to have her stop by for a picnic with the band. She didn’t have time to cook for us while she was there, but she did bring the crew tuna sandwiches for lunch. They were delicious!

KCG: Did you show early footage to kids and their families? What was some feedback you received?

AK: Jason’s daughter Ruthie has always been a good test audience. I wasn’t there when she watched it for the first time, but I heard she was in complete awe, and Jason was pretty excited about her reaction.


Amazon Prime Members can stream the The GPC Special here and The Great Pretenders Club album here.

Computer/Laptop – Stream the GPC Special from the Amazon Video Webpage.
Iphone/Ipad/Android device – download the Amazon Video App to stream and even download the GPC Special.
Roku/etc – Stream the video from the Amazon Video App.

Watch music videos for “Bird and Rhino” and “Let’s Pretend We Forgot” now.

Want to play along? Download The Great Pretenders Club badges by printing the templates below or downloading them directly from The Pop Ups official site.

Pop-Ups_patches_colored (2)Pop-Ups_patches_outlined (1)

Check this out: Alastair Moock – All Kinds of You and Me

a1194426617_10“You’ve gotta be who you’ve gotta be, a dancing plant or a cat who skis // A boy in a dress, a girl in a tree, you be you, I’ll be me.”
– “It Takes All Kinds,” All Kinds of You and Me

Artists in the kids’ music genre frequently reference two classic albums that inspired them and whose music embodies their same values: Schoolhouse Rock and Free to Be…You and Me. No doubt that both are landmarks, and it’s easy to see why many artists making music for families aspire to carry on the legacy of these albums and uphold the same values and messages.

Understandably, creating a modern day version of such a notable and groundbreaking album like Marlo Thomas’ Free to Be would be quite a feat. However, if anyone were to approach this task, Alastair Moock is the man.  To take on such an epically classic album that has impacted so many people and challenged society’s view of our world takes courage and really the perfect amount of humor and swagger. And I don’t mean swagger like Jagger.  Well, maybe in that way, but we’re talking about the children’s music genre. Think G-rated swagger.

In Free to Be, Thomas very directly spoke to her 1970’s society, proclaiming equality across all conceivable categories. With his latest album, All Kinds of You and Me, Boston-based singer-songwriter Alastair Moock picks up where Thomas left off. Joined by a stellar group of musicians (Rani Arbo of Daisy Mayhem, singer-songwriter Jennifer Kimball, Debbie Lan of Grenadilla, singer-songwriter Samirah Evans and producer Anand Nayak who is also from Daisy Mayhem), Moock gently reminds kids (and adults!) that we should all be free to be who we want to be, without limitations or the borders of stereotypes, and that love is very much a force that drives acceptance. Love of ourselves as well as one another.

Moock is a modern day Woody Guthrie, mixed with a hint of Bob Dylan. You can hear it in his style, in the way he uses music as a guide for justice and most certainly in his clever wit. His gentle voice with its signature rasp lends itself nicely to the Americana sounds of his compositions. Like Dylan, there is poignancy in Moock’s approach but also a deep well of passion for social justice, equality and healing through music.  As with poetry, artists can eloquently articulate in music what might seem heavy-handed, too serious or too awkward in the written or spoken word – especially for a young audience.

Through clever repetition, “My Life is a lot Like Yours” speaks from a child’s perspective and illustrates the normalcy of family life with same-sex parents (two moms/two dads), reinforcing that families might look different but they can still be a solid unit and operate in similar ways to those with a mom and dad at the helm. “You Might Be A Girl” stomps on gender stereotypes by articulating the endless possibilities available to girls today; Samirah Evans’ voice adds so much strength to this empowering song. Like it was written for her (and in a way it was), this song tops my daughter Emily’s favorites list.

Taking on topics and conveying them without preaching is delicate. Moock meets the right criteria with poetically intricate lyrics that are impactful, delightful and accessible to a large audience. His 2014 Grammy-nominated album, Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World’s Bravest Kids, for example, gave listeners insight into his ability to address sensitive subjects head on; each song reflects his family’s experiences during the time when his daughter Clio (now in remission!) was diagnosed with leukemia. Moock’s capacity is tremendous.

In “I Am Malala,” Moock sings: “I raise up my voice for an equal chance // To live and learn and grow // to be who I want to be and explore // The things I want to know.” Through these words, he reminds us that it takes courage to stand up for who we believe we are. But through that courage we grow and learn how to make a lasting impact.

As I was listening to this album and thinking about an angle for a review, the seemingly ever-present phrase Live Laugh Love came to mind. While I recognize the beauty in this motivational quote, it’s so overused that I typically write it off as just another “Hallmark” greeting.

The thing is, the effect is much more meaningful and profound when I think of the words one by one. Each one makes a bold statement, commanding me to remember to hold onto its important value as I move about my day – as a parent and just as me. All Kinds of You and Me offers the same relief. My personal favorite song, “All in a Day (featuring Anand Nayak),” inspired by Cynthia Rylant’s book of the same name, smoothly underscores this sentiment with encouraging words: “...live it well, make it count // fill it up with you // The day’s all yours, it’s waiting now… // See what you can do.”

Whether we directly speak to our children about justice, acceptance and global love, we prominently place a big Live Laugh Love sign in our homes or we let the music do the talking for us, it’s never too early to incorporate the values woven within All Kinds of You and Me. Just like Guthrie and Dylan, and many others who spoke out so freely and took a stand for change and love, Moock proudly joins the ranks, inspiring future generations to do the same “cuz every life’s a kind of prize.”

All Kinds of You and Me is available through Moock’s official store.

Check out Moock’s video for “It Takes All Kind,” illustrated by Key Wilde, for a visual treat.

Holiday Music 2015 – Albums, Videos and Songs

rvqz2vl

I was decorating our tree with my daughter Emily the other night and when I heard her singing along with “Frosty the Snowman” it seemed like everything was quiet in that moment. Music is such a significant part of the holiday season and it never goes out of style. This year brings another great bunch of variety to add to your classics. They also make excellent holiday gifts/stocking stuffers! Giving the gift of music is truly a gift that keeps on giving.  Enjoy!

1400x1400sr
Rocknoceros
– Happy Holidays

Rocknoceros comes forth with a rock solid collection of holiday jams. Happy Holidays contains 9 tracks that start from Halloween and end with New Years. What I love most are the combination of musical styles and the creative approach this Virignina-based trio takes towards traditional tunes. In many ways they remind me of They Might Be Giants. “Christmas Brie,” for example, features some punny dialogue around the words “Christmas Tree” and is layered over some Vince Guaraldi-esque jazz. The Peanuts quality of this song goes well with the album cover which also reminds me a bit of scenes from the TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas. “The Dreidel Song” honors a traditional Chanukah game and “Wenceslas” echoes all the gratitude, love and giving of the season with a memorable story set to the toll of beloved holiday bells. Happy Holidays will help you glide through the last quarter of the year and send you happily sailing into the coming new year.

Happy Holidays is available through Rocknoceros’ official store.


joshandthejamtones5Josh and the Jamtones – Jammin’ with Jew!, Volume 2 Holiday Xxplosion!

A huge part of Jewish tradition is centered around music – song, and especially dance. Each one significantly contributes to the practice of traditions and observance. So the fact that Josh and the Jamtones, known for their high energy kindie jams, put out an album that promises to be a “Holiday Xxplosion” (double X for Xtra Large fun!) just makes sense, and is awesome. Though there are plenty of songs for Jewish families out there, the Jamtones bring a hip, cohesive alternative to the fold. Jammin’ with Jew!, Volume 2 is a collection of 14 songs in both English and Hebrew. The prayer for peace, “Oseh Shalom” sounds even more on point backed by some equally harmonious reggae rhythm, while the more secular “Amen,” a Bluegrassy/Big Band track encourages gratitude in a bold way. “Amen” is such a joyful song, there’s no doubt you’ll find yourself engaged with this song while clapping along. Chanukah specific songs include a rollicking ska-drenched version of “Oh Chanukah” – super danceable for those ready to turn their living room into a mad Horah dance party  – and a swingin’ version of “Dreidle.” Jammin’ with Jew!, Volume 2 offers families a one-stop destination ready for a happy set of celebrations throughout the year. We are a family that celebrates both Christmas and Jewish holidays and having an album with popular Jewish songs all in one place has been an especially welcome convenience.

Jammin’ with Jew!, Volume 2 is available through iTunes, CDBaby and Amazon.


a4002211239_10
Andrew & Polly
 Other Days
Representing the West Coast is the wonderfully warm duo of Andrew & Polly. They are offering up a sweet little gift of 4 songs celebrating tradition and family. As a bonus gift, the duo teamed up with master collaborator Mista Cookie Jar in “L.A. Christmas” which delights with festively mellow sun and sand style. Together they remind us that regardless of whether you’ve got pine trees or palm trees (or are rockin’ a Hawaiian shirt), this is simply the season to fill up on love and just sway together. The beauty of Other Days is that it truly can persist beyond the holiday season. Though half of the songs include holiday specific references, “Thank You for the Box” and “A Mapmaker’s Song” go beyond the boundaries of this time of year, and feature what makes Andrew & Polly so lovable – a little whimsy and a whole lotta charm. Ending with “A Mapmaker’s Song,” families will relate to the sentiment that home truly is where the heart is.

Other Days is available through Andrew & Polly’s online store, and  iTunes.


Here_Comes_Christmas_Cover_Art_72_dpi
Greg Page – Here Comes Christmas!

Greg Page, otherwise known as The Yellow Wiggle, has embarked on a solo path with a new production group called Yellow Entertainment and a children’s program called Butterscotch’s Playground (available through DVD ). Just in time for the holidays, Page has produced a holiday album full of original and traditional songs which display vocal chops that easily put him in even footing with some of the holiday’s best crooners. Page’s voice, like Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, and even Ol’ Blue Eyes, is full of the same smooth characteristics that have made the aforementioned notables significant voices of the season. Here Comes Christmas! will be nostalgic for adults reminiscing on their own childhood traditions while gleefully making new memories with little ones to reflect back upon when they are grown. Beloved tunes such as “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “White Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” among other favorites found in this collection are why music has become such a staple for invoking the holiday spirit. The arrangements are preserved to the tee for the most part, although “The Twelve Days of Christmas” gets wild and wooly as it features guinea pigs, goldfish and puppy dogs with a bonus of goat’s milk (which is made into…well, you’ll have to listen to find out! No holiday spoilers here!). Among the aforementioned albums in this post Here Comes Christmas! is a comforting and familiar place to return to, just like coming in from the cold and being handed a warm mug of cocoa and some freshly baked cookies. This is definitely an album you can just spin while gleefully trimming your Christmas tree. Every now and then you might just catch yourself singing along and then smiling as you look around and see your little ones joining you in the chorus.

Here Comes Christmas! also contains 4 bonus songs from Butterscotch’s Playground and is available from iTunes and the official Butterscotch TV website.



8280632
Maestro Classics
 – The Nutcracker 

One of the most iconic soundtracks of the season is The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky’s lush orchestration is truly prized and unforgettable.

Adapted and conducted by Stephen Simon and narrated by Jim Weiss, Maestro Classics presents music (performed by The London Philharmonic Orchestra) that tells the story of this enchanting ballet.

This retelling of The Nutcracker is punctuated by the majestic sounds of the ballet in the background. Jim is a master storyteller and his enthusiastic narration will adorn children’s imaginations with lavish scenes full of wonder featuring Clara, her Nutcracker Prince, the battle with the Mouse King, and the dance with the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The Nutcracker will always conjure up feelings of Christmas and this album is truly an excellent gift of the season. Maestro Classics is dedicated to fostering a love of classical music and their storytelling series will help children pair important works with time honored soundtracks, thereby identifying with the music (independent of the story) later on. Combining a story with the music also serves as a great resource for children who may not already be familiar with or who may not prefer classical music or songs without words.

Each CD set comes with an activity booklet which includes bite-sized educational features such as The History of Ballet, a few lines of music for “Overture to The Nutcracker,” information about the Harp, a brief bio of Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, and some word games. In addition to The Nutcracker, Maestro Classics offers other timeless pieces as part of their Stories in Music series which brings the magic of theater, classical music and storytelling into a very accessible space for families, whether you are listening at home, or traveling in the car.

You can purchase this set, along with other fabulous classical music collections at the Maestro Classics official site.



PromoImageLaurie Berkner
A Laurie Berkner Christmas

The following songs are from one of our favorite holiday albums, A Laurie Berkner Christmas, which features a mix of Christmas, Chanukah and seasonal songs. “Candle Chase” has a nice rhythm similar to the beat found in many Jewish songs. Perfect for celebrating around the brilliant glow of your menorah.

Laurie recently came out with a new video for “Children Go Where I send Thee” which also features 2-time Grammy nom Brady Rymer. It’s such an infectious version of this classic song which is featured on an equally heartwarming and upbeat album. You’ll love it. “Children Go Where I Send Thee” is featured on both A Laurie Berkner Christmas and Laurie’s recently released Laurie Berkner’s Favorite Classic Kids’ Songs.

Read my previous review of A Laurie Berkner Christmas here.

For posts from previous years featuring our favorites, check out Songs for the Season – Part 1, Songs for the Season – Part 2, Untangling the Christmas Lights – Brady Rymer, Santa Flying in your Sleigh – Todd McHatton.


 

SONGS

8CeH48N2iDd2Oo2QnipzeeZolrhJUOuq4-KGgWtfwWUJason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam – “Summertime Santa”

As a native of New Jersey, and a resident of California, the sounds of this song, and seeing Santa give the shaka (aka “hang ten”) sign makes me smile. Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam’s new holiday track, “Summertime Santa” rings with jingle bells and some good ol’ Jersey Rock n’ Roll. So what does Santa do in the summertime? He hangs up his big red winter coat, and heads down the shore to unwind, basking in the glory of all that the boardwalk has to offer. Didner and the crew conjure up some classic Springsteen sounds with this happy holiday number. Check it.

“Summertime Santa” was produced by Marc “Baze” Bazerman (from Baze and His Silly Friends), and is available for download via CD BabyiTunesBandCampJungleGymJam.com


 

A good blend of original and traditional tunes keeps the music of this season feeling fresh. Each one of the albums and videos mentioned in this post, as well as those from previous years, is guaranteed to fill you up over the coming holi-days!

Stay tuned for the addition of holiday songs!

Check this Out: Rocksteady by Josh and the Jamtones

download

One of the most exciting jobs I had when I was a teenager was working at…wait for it… Sam Goody. Who remembers the music store Sam Goody?! I worked in inventory which was such a sweet deal because employees got to keep their share of CDs before they hit the shelves. It was here that my love for ska, punk, and hardcore blends of each blossomed. Sublime’s 40oz to Freedom made it’s way into my regular rotation and somehow my parents were completely ok with it, thankfully. For those familiar or even unfamiliar with this album, it’s definitely got its share of expletives and “adult content.” As a parent, I would probably try and postpone similar things by at least a decade for my daughter, or at least work hard to find radio edit versions. Isn’t it funny how that works?

This is where kids music has opened up many doors for our family in terms of introducing all the flavors of adult music, without compromising the quality. One of the bands that takes me back to the “Goody days” is Josh and the Jamtones. I first witnessed the power of this Boston-based crew during a live performance showcase at an industry conference (“Kindiefest”). This band lit it up! Instant success. Instant sweat. I have since gone on to work with them as their booking agent but our family’s adoration of their music has preceded my professional affiliation with the band. As a music lover and blogger, I consider it my wholehearted responsibility to introduce you to a really killer listening experience.

Josh and the Jamtones has been pumping out ska/reggae/rock jams since 2012. Their music has always had a catchy element to it, garnering several top placements in the Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live Countdown, but it is with their latest album, Rocksteady, that the Jamtones deliver exactly what makes them such a successful family staple. And they come correct! Rocksteady is a powerful amplifier that cranks out hit after hit. And there is no age limit. This is literally music that the whole family will enjoy.

Produced by Patrick Hanlin, also the Jamtones’ beatmaster/drummer, Rocksteady features several special guests including Grammy nominated hip hop master Secret Agent 23 Skidoo who drops some goosebump-inducing lyrical color on “I <3Ur Face” and “I Love U (JZ Remix),” Father Goose (featured on Grammy nominated Dan Zanes’ albums), and Jesse Peter Wagner from The Aggrolites, who sings on a remake of Toots and the Maytals’ “Monkeyman.”

Though the tempo of most of the songs reach some bpm heights, the band offers some cool down opps during the smooth dub-reggae track “Katmandu,” the sweet pop melody of “L-O-V-E” and acoustic ballad “1 of a Kind” though these tracks are not sleepy by any means. There is also some comedic interludes between bandleader Josh Shriber and producer/drummer Hanlin, similar to their previous album, Bear Hunt. Adults will likely find this humor more relatable and funny than their tots. I found myself laughing out loud several times while my daughter preferred to move on. The improvisational skill between Shriber and Hanlin is undeniable and I think these bits could do very well in their own dedicated release or podcast as opposed to being integrated into an already colorful musical landscape. But that’s again what drives the appeal to more of an all ages crowd.

For the music lover who likes just the right amount of attitude coupled with 40oz of their favorite kid-friendly elixir, Rocksteady is an all natural, preservative free guaranteed spirit booster. Get your hands on a copy and skank your cares away.

Rocksteady is available through Amazon, iTunes and CDBaby.

Fans of Josh and the Jamtones may also like The Not-Its!, Board of Education, The Aquabats, the Boogers, Sublime, The Police, Bob Marley, No Doubt, Long Beach Dub Allstars, Bad Brains, Toots and the Maytals, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Less Than Jake, The Aggrolites, Gorillaz, Beastie Boys, and Lee “Scratch” Perry.

#WhatMakesYouSmile featuring Rissi Palmer celebrating the release of Mighty Mo’s Smiles Ahead

6PAN1T-C PSD

The idea of living life with childlike wonder has been rolling around in my mind for a while, and not just because I’m a mom. Sometimes I just want to get closer to that uninhibited, ridiculously silly voice that otherwise takes a backseat to professional and parental obligations. Obviously, as a mature adult I can’t get too uninhibited, but, in general, my day could really brighten up with a little more nonsense and play. Kids are amazing in that respect. They move through life in moments, and their joy is naturally infectious.

For my daughter, each day begins with a fresh new perspective. Waking up to our dog licking her face, catapulting into my bed in the morning, wearing a cape, drawing on a pristine piece of paper, or just holding a pretty marble are all things that make her smile. That’s the beauty of childhood and something I truly envy at times! It’s also what makes being a parent such an adventure, keeping me closer to living life with childlike wonder.

Celebrating that unfettered joy and offering it up in the form of music is something I tend to get really excited about. Rissi Palmer, a North Carolina-based singer-songwriter, is featured on Smiles Ahead, a compilation that is debuting today by new kids music label Mighty Mo Productions. What you will immediately notice is that Rissi’s voice is golden, and her song “Best Day Ever” is just such a wonderful reminder that life’s precious and most gleeful moments can be found in the little things. Whether it’s the bestest breakfast or just chillin’ in your jammies, it’s the in-between, the tiny details that make life so sweet.

Many of you may be familiar with Rissi from the Country music world. Best Day Ever is also the name of her debut family album and there is just so much soul and joy in this record. Rissi has had an extremely accomplished (putting it mildly) career as a Country Soul singer, including earning a comfy spot in Billboard’s Hot 100, and recently appearing on the Tavis Smiley Show. She’s amazing and another excellent choice that makes Mighty Mo’s new compilation such a treasure.

Smiles Ahead will be available in select Hallmark Stores. You can also purchase it online at Mighty Mo Produtions’ official site, iTunes and Amazon.

Below, Rissi shares what makes her smile, and I am extending the same questions to all of you. I would love to hear what makes you, your family, your pets smile.

For more #WhatMakesYouSmile goodness check out the post I published earlier this week featuring Frances England. You can listen to and watch the video for “The Sun Will Shine Again” here.
RissiFIN1-471x260

Kids Can Groove: Tell me about “Best Day Ever.” Is there a special meaning or inspiration behind it?

RP: “Best Day Ever” was the first song written when I decided to do a children’s album. My co writers (Deanna Walker, Rick Beresford, & Blue Miller) and I sat in Blue’s studio with my then 9 month old daughter Grace as our inspiration/mascot and talked about all the things that would make up a kid’s perfect day. It turned out to be such a fun song and set the tone for all the other songs on the album that we decided to make it the title of the whole project.

KCG: How did you earn about Smiles Ahead, and what drew you to it? 

RP: Jim Cosgrove gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse lol! Once I heard the concept and who was on the project, I was sold.  This is a special thing and I’m really honored to be a part of it. I especially love the tag line “cool music for cool families”.

KCG: What makes you smile? Could be a memory or two, a special someone or something like fills you up, etc.

RP: Listening to my 4-year-old daughter, Grace, sing the songs she makes up makes me smile. Music has been a lifelong passion of mine and it brings me so much joy to see my child grow to love it as well.

KCG: What is next on the horizon for you?

RP: I am currently recording a Christmas EP that will be released in November 2015 entitled 3 and I’m on the road supporting my “adult” EP, The Back Porch Sessions, which was released in May 2015.