Interview: Amelia Robinson of Mil’s Trills

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…Most hurt and pain that culminates in violence or mistreatment stems from people not having the confidence or support that they needed as a child. It all starts with the children and giving them the love that they need to succeed in life.

Amelia Robinson aka Mil’s Trills is a Brooklyn-based singer with a long list of artistic roles such as songwriter, producer, composer, and educator whose dedication to creating a musical landscape in which everyone, regardless of race religion or anything else that deviates from “the norm,” can be a part of is admirable.

September 23, 2015 marks the official release of the second Mil’s Trills album, Now That We’re Friends…, which delivers a barrel of authentic, down home musical goodness filled with encouraging messages founded upon the notion that we are all part of the same community. We are all friends. It’s delightful and that is in no small part due to Robinson’s integrity as a musician and her dedication to providing the most meaningful experience for her audience. What comes through most clearly is Robinson’s infectious energy and positivity.

In honor of the release of Now That We’re Friends…, I am so pleased to share the following interview with you. Throughout her life, Robinson has been influenced and inspired by her surroundings. Born and raised in Brooklyn, there has been no shortage of variety from which to draw inspiration from. Robinson has also spent time traveling the globe, further feeding her artistic, creative soul.

One of the many things I really love about this interview is Robinson’s candid, honest responses. Just like her music, she presents herself unabashedly and wholeheartedly. Robinson shares about her international roots, the origin of the name “Mil’s Trills,” her time in Saudi Arabia with her ukulele, the meaning behind the “I’m in the Band” stickers she gives out at her live shows, how a tragic event and the healing power of family helped kick off the creation of Now That We’re Friends…, and how she met Jonathan Blum, the painter responsible for the beautiful work on both of her album covers. The list of interesting talking points could go on!

For now, I know you’ll enjoy getting to know “Mil” as much as I have.

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Kids Can Groove: You were born and raised in Brooklyn, and you’re very much a part of the Brooklyn community. How has that impacted you as an artist?

Growing up in an urban culture has exposed me to a wide range of styles, cultures, religions, ethnicities, and genres. It’s allowed me to embrace who I am as an individual by respecting others around me for who they are and how they choose to live. I am somewhat obsessed with the similarities and differences we have as humans, and much of my work is based on a response to that and figuring out how we can find a uniting common ground and weave the threads that sew us together.

KCG: Why, before starting Mil’s Trills,  did you embark upon extended world travels to places like. Kazakhstan, Guatemala, Israel, and the UK?

AR: I come from an international family (my parents are Australia / NZ immigrants), so traveling has always been in my blood. We were given a lot of independence as kids and always encouraged to see the world and all it has to offer. We flew down under every other year for most of our childhood, but unfortunately I grew a serious fear of flying that grounded me for 11 years. I didn’t get to go abroad like my siblings had, so by the time I graduated college, I was chomping at the bit to get out of the country!

I went to a few “Fly Without Fear” group therapy meetings (that’s a whole other story) and worked my way up to a flight to DC, then London, and eventually back to Australia. A big part of my “recovery” was facing my deepest fear – the fear of the unknown – and building confidence to grow and develop as a young adult. A series of opportunities presented themselves to me (a medical mission to Guatemala, my brother serving in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan), and I took on each challenge with the biggest tool my parents gave me – a great passion to live life to the fullest. They also gave me a few citizenships, so that surely helped when it came time to take a bigger jump and move to London to “find myself” as an artist and composer.

From there, I eventually got hired to play ukulele on an artificial island in Qatar, which was a crazy experience. By the time I got back to Brooklyn I had all these experiences from which to draw inspiration. I had somewhat learned what kind of person I wanted to be and how to apply my skillset to a craft in which I felt fulfilled. I think travel is the most important gift one can give oneself, especially in those years after college when you’re still figuring it all out. It teaches you how to be self-sufficient, find solutions, and see the greatness of humanity, while eliciting courage, bravery, and confidence that will enable you to take on challenges throughout the rest of your life!

KCG: You love the ukulele!  How did you get started with that, and what do you love about the instrument?

I got started playing the ukulele around 2006, I think! A friend handed it to me and said “You’ll love this!” and he was right! He took me to an underground cabaret in the East Village, and I was hooked! I loved the community that was built around this little instrument, and its ability to make anyone smile in an instant. It was also MUCH easier to carry around than a piano (my first instrument), so I clipped it onto my backpack in all my travels. I found it a great icebreaker and made a lot of friends by whipping it out on top of mountains and on street cafes. For families, it seems like the perfect instrument because it speaks to all ages in a special way. It’s accessible, welcoming, and makes people happy! What’s not to like?

KCG: How did Mil’s Trills come to be?  What’s the source of the name?

AR: Mil’s Trills was fashioned after the musical experience I had as a child with a wonderful teacher of mine, Judy Bain. She led a tight-knit group of kids who took weekly Suzuki lessons and were involved in her choir, the Brooklyn Children’s Ensemble. She also organized numerous retreats that we’d go on every year. We were all extremely dedicated – to the music and each other (I was involved from the age of 3 through high school!). It was a really special thing, and we’re all still really close to this day. It was that kind of community that inspired me to try to recreate that same sense of belonging for the next generation.

My sister, who also shared the Judy Bain experience and had just had a baby girl, was the real inspiration for the whole project. She helped me sculpt a framework that would continue the tradition and pay it forward as best we could. 

As for the name, well my nickname is Mil (as a kid, my younger brother couldn’t say my full name, so he just called me Mil because it was easier). ‘Mil’s Trills’ actually came from my college years – that was around about the time I started writing songs as gifts (college students have to be thrifty!). My dear friend Lona, who was in an a cappella group with me, used to call my original ditties “Mil’s Trills,” and so years later when it came time to find a name for my project, she brought it back up again and it just felt right. I remember having pages and pages of scribbles with random names of all sorts and struggling to make a decision because you know you’re gonna be stuck with it for years. People always get the l’s mixed up, but that’s ok – it is a bit tricky if you don’t know the story behind it!

unnamed (5)KCG: What distinguishes Mil’s Trills?  What sets you apart?

AR: I think most children’s musicians will say that their music comes from a very personal place, most often as a response to having children in their lives in some way or another. They will also say that their music is interactive and speaks to all ages. So what makes Mil’s Trills different? Well, for lack of a better answer – ME! Haha.. In this world we are all different and beautiful in our own way. We all have our own paths, and this is mine. My music, as heard through Mil’s Trills, is a constant exchange between received experiences and creative responses. It’s an extension of my being and my perspective on this world, and it will continue to change and evolve as long as I do.

KCG: I’ve heard that at your shows you give stickers to audience members that say “I’m in the band.”  How do you help people feel that they are actually part of the performance?  Why does that matter?

AR: So much of what I do is based around community and making people feel a part of something. I suppose this stems from growing up in a large and tightknit immigrant family (I have 3 siblings), and being accustomed to / finding comfort in that type of support system.

Working with an early childhood population on various continents, made clear to me the global benefits of working as a group and being a part of a team. I would say that my role as a performer / educator is often more as a mentor than an entertainer. I often feel it’s most important to get down on one knee after a show and look a kid in the eye to acknowledge them and hear what they have to contribute. Maybe it’s the result of growing up in a big family that I feel a need to find my voice, and give other kids their individual voices as well. There’s a way for us all to be unique within ourselves and still be a cooperative part of the world as a whole!

KCG: How have you grown, as a musician, through the years?  How has this been reflected in Mil’s Trills?

I am a classically trained pianist. I grew up memorizing pieces by Chopin and Bach. I rarely steered from the notes on the page, unless it was bashing the keys during moments of frustration as a kid. It wasn’t until years later in college where I had access to a private rehearsal room with a grand piano that I actually started to experiment and form songs. Maybe it was the classical training, but I’ve always had very strong melodies in my head, and so much of my earlier stuff has been said to sound like musical theater! But then again, I think I also subconsciously picked up a lot of styles living in the city, and so I have a tendency to default to a lot of reggae, Latin, and Caribbean beats. There’s a huge world music influence, too, because music is so intrinsically connected to the cultural experiences I’ve had around the globe. It’s not only exposed me to new instruments that I’ve learned to play, but also other musicians to play with! 

When Mil’s Trills first started out, I was scheduling 5 different musical guests for 5 different shows a week, so each time I played the same song with each of them it sounded different and was infused with a new sense of life. I still work with a rotating cast of musicians for this exact reason – to improvise, keep it fresh and explore new sounds!

KCG: You’ve performed in some amazing venues, including Lincoln Center in NYC.  Tell us about your participation in the Meet the Artist series at Lincoln Center.  What was that about?

AR: It was definitely one of the most enriching experiences with students I’ve ever had. The program spanned over six performances for school age children K-2nd grade. It was amazing because I was given quite a bit of creative freedom. I could have done the same performance at each time slot, but I opted to use it as an opportunity to expand my show into a topic that I’d been yearning to explore – ethnomusicology! At each show, we featured a different family of instruments played by a different cast of characters from all over the world. The instruments were grouped into percussion, tuned percussion, string, brass, wind, and even electronic! I created worksheets for all the teachers to complete with discussion points and activities for the children to prepare in their classrooms prior to the show. Upon arrival, many of the kids had even made their own instruments in relation to the family that we were going to learn about that day. The kids came from all over the city – and even New Jersey – bringing their own school flavor to the mix, which made for some very energized and raucous shows! There were plenty of incredible spontaneous moments, especially when we “painted” music on stage in an improvised exercise with the winds and horns!

KCG: Like many kids’ musicians, you also work as an early childhood music educator.  How has this influenced you, both personally and professionally?  How has it impacted your musical choices for Mil’s Trills?unnamed (2)
AR: Kids see the world through a lens of joy, positivity, and enthusiasm. Everything is NEW to them! And that freshness is so contagious! I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to work with children in the classroom, as it serves as a free play space that directly opens a dialogue for creative exchange.

As the teacher, I provide a safe place   – an environment in which I offer a sense of structure and framework, and the kids respond with bolts of creative ideas that then are morphed into songs, games, and activities. I have learned so much from them – from being present and open to spontaneity, to how to clearly communicate, embrace joyfulness, and channel the ability to freely express oneself. On a personal level, it’s taken me a long time to evoke this type of fluid conversation between my strategic mind and my creative soul – there has always been a very serious internal conflict. However, working with children has enabled me to embrace each facet so that I can be a good role model and my true-est self! I owe it to them to give them the best version of myself when I’m in the front of the classroom, and even when I’m on stage. My most current work is undoubtedly a reflection of that freedom to be open and expressive without inhibition.

KCG: What are your suggestions for introducing young children to music?

AR: DO IT!!! Music is an intrinsic conduit for expression and is an essential element of our natural world. Exposure to new sounds and music inspires kids to blossom and create a relationship with the world around them. It nourishes their ability to embrace their surroundings and find joy, and it’s so rewarding for the witnessing adult, too! Being exposed to music at an early age (and any age!) improves overall health, cognitive development, fine, gross and motor skills, literacy, and social emotional skills – it’s a no brainer!

KCG: Tell us about Now That We’re Friends …   What was the impetus for the album?  How does it differ from/expand upon last year’s release, Everyone Together Now!?

AR: While Everyone Together Now! serves as a sort of “We’re HEEEREEE!” album, Now That We’re Friends… furthers a moreintimate discussion about what it’s like to relate to one another: “Now that I’ve got your attention, this is what I really want to talk about…”

The album actually came out of a period of grief. In August of last year (2014) we tragically lost a close family member. I went through an existential phase of “Why are we here?” and found myself writing about pretty serious feelings of loneliness. I took a trip down to see my family in Australia / NZ for my cousin’s wedding and found the experience of being surrounded by so much family extremely cathartic and moving (I have a HUGE extended family down under). I was reinvigorated by the power of love and was inspired by the mere strength and support of family to transcend distance and time. It filled me with hope and healing, and I realized that life really comes down to LOVE. Not necessarily the romantic kind, but the appreciation for LOVING the world around you, and all that it has to offer. It’s the one thing all of us humans have in common. And the most important thing is to love yourself – because when you love yourself you have strength to grow and relate to others in a positive way that can help the world become a better place.   

This album is also very much about embracing differences and accepting cultural diversity. We are all wonderfully unique and approach our daily lives from various viewpoints and perspectives. A surefire way to get along is to practice thinking unselfishly and instead imagine what it’s like to be in each other’s shoes. This is my tribute to “peace & love, baby!” I also truly believe that every single person on this planet has something special that they bring to the table. In my opinion, most hurt and pain that culminates in violence or mistreatment stems from people not having the confidence or support that they needed as a child. It all starts with the children and giving them the love that they need to succeed in life.

KCG: Many of us are in back-to-school mode right now.  How can your music help children when they return to school, whether it’s transitioning from pre-school to kindergarten, from kindergarten to first grade, or from one school to another?

AR: It’s so funny how sometimes a side of your art shows itself after you actually make it! I started Mil’s Trills about 5 years ago when my niece was 6 months old. Now, she and her friends who inspired this whole project are starting kindergarten at brand new schools with brand new kids. It’s kind of perfect timing for this album, because these songs are purposed to help us navigate the tender moments when we first make contact with another being. It’s a tool to help build confidence within one’s self to help us emanate compassion and acceptance and be able to communicate clearly with one another. Furthermore, school transitions can be very challenging times, and knowing that someone relates to those scary feelings can help you get through it!

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KCG: Your album cover art is stunning.   How did you happen to meet the artist, Jonathan Blum?  Tell us about your relationship with him and his work.

RA: Jonathan Blum is a neighbor and friend who I met during the course of recording my first album. He is one of the only artists left in NYC with a storefront, and the intermittent hours he keeps always provokes interest from passersby! He’d been there for years, but the only time I saw him open was when I’d come home late from the studio at 2 a.m. I’d pop in and share my project with him each evening thereafter – and he came to hear each step of the process from start to finish. His art offered refuge and inspiration during the recording project and a friendship was born! After a bit of persuasion, he ended up doing my first album cover – which was really a collaboration because he let me do the collage underneath that adds the texture to the painting. It all fell into place, as his work is quite paralleled with my music – he paints playful images of such things as ostriches with strawberries on their heads that appeals to adults and kids alike – much like my songs.  It was such an organic, beautiful friendship that bloomed – or should I say, Blum’d!… After the success of the Big Blue Moose (Jonathan sold every moose he made after that album cover), it only made sense for him to do the next record, as well! His website is

KCG: Can you share something interesting/funny that people may lot know about you? You can be as playful or as serous as you want here.

AR: When I was little, I’d chew my food and chew and chew and chew. Guests would come over and I’d still be chewing (this mostly happened with spinach). They’d smile and say “Oh what a pretty little girl,” and then I would promptly go up to them, take their hand with a smile, and proceed to spit out my food in their palm… Not so pretty now, eh? (Note: Don’t worry, I eventually grew out of this phase… )

KCG: What’s next for you?

AR: I can’t wait to find out! Whatever it is, I certainly hope to be able to continue learning, growing, expressing, being creative, and trying to inspire others to do the same.


Interview: Dan Elliott of Pointed Man Band

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I believe it’s important to also have music that engages not just the children but also the different generations that help to raise the children we love.

Pointed Man Band is a Portland-based band led by Dan Elliott. Earlier this year (2015), Pointed Man Band released its second album, Flight of the Blue Whale. Like its predecessor, the 2013 debut Swordfish Tango,  Flight of the Blue Whale presents listeners with a rich tapestry of sound featuring an eclectic blend of styles that collectively illustrate the album’s storyline – a tale featuring a red fox and a Taupier (mole-catcher) who set out on a journey ultimately freeing a baleen whale from its curse. Along the way they meet mole pirates, drift with Swifts, and hear the beckoning call of a siren’s song (sung by Kay Elliott).

Flight of the Blue Whale was an instant hit in our household. It’s eccentric and there is a meticulousness in the overall composition that captured my attention, in addition to the variety of instrumentation. When I initially spoke with Elliott I was intrigued to learn that he is a self-taught musician, though as we spoke more, it began to make sense. Elliott’s approach to making music is notably innovative. Waltzes serve as segues, buoyantly carrying the listener along while nontraditional objects are used to emphasize critical pieces of the story, i.e. drinking glasses sonically illustrating weightlessness when the baleen whale takes flight.

I am pleased to share more about Elliott and Pointed Man Band with you. In our interview below, Elliott shares thoughts about the production of the album, his love of Waltzes and how his son is his biggest inspiration.

KCG: What inspired you to start Pointed Man Band?

DE: Pointed Man Band started when I was staying home a few days a week with my son when he was younger. Our play times, our jokes and some silly songs would always pop up and I would use his nap times to record these sketches and eventually an album. He slept through it all!

KCG: How did you decide on the name “Pointed Man Band?”

DE: The name came from an album that I always admired, The Point! by Harry Nilsson and a character in the story “The Pointed Man.” This album was one that I consider to be the “outline” of what a children’s album could be in both content and lyrics. I chose to go with “Band” because I had hopes for the project to develop into just that. Live performances are often four to seven band members and we’ve even had a small middle school choir for one show!

KCG: When did you start playing music?

DE: I started playing trumpet in the 5th grade. I remember being fascinated by the idea of reading music and having that sense of empowerment with being able to initially become part of a group who could see shapes and turn that into sound.

I had my first recording experiences with music in High School. I had always wanted to write my own songs and I had acquired a four track my Sophomore or Junior year. This kind of changed my life. It allowed me to listen to cassettes of The Beatles and others in reverse. It also introduced me to the idea of layering tracks, something that I am still guilty of today. So, it was pretty close to how it is now… A recording device, a pair of headphones, some instruments and an idea, usually put together at home.

KCG: You composed and arranged all the music on FOTBW. As a self-taught musician, what is your approach to writing/producing music?

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DE: My wife and I talk about this a lot. As a self-taught musician, I’ve been told that I find it easy to think outside “the classical progression box.” I’m not even sure where I am “supposed” to be thinking according to broad music guidelines. I just play what I hear in the moment regardless of how a trained musician might perceive it. This is also part of the challenging aspects. Writing musical passages out in notation is difficult for me, but the musicians I am working with can often take it down for themselves. It is a goal for me to learn how to read and write music, and I plan on bolstering my skills in that area.

KCG: What changed from your debut, Swordfish Tango, to Flight of the Blue Whale (“FOTBW”)?

DE: It’s hard not to answer “Everything!” but having accessibility to a recording studio was a completely different type of environment for me. I found myself reaching out to musicians that I highly respect. Also, it was largely the patience and guidance of Kevin Drake, who recorded the album, that kept me in a calm and positive state of mind. It can be frustrating to have an idea and not execute it in the first few tries.

KCG: Why did you go with a narrative for FOTBW?

DE: Well, quite simply, I just really wanted to tell a story from beginning to end. I wanted to create an album that could potentially translate into a stage performance as well. When I started thinking about creating a new album, I only had a song about a Red Fox, Moles going on parade and a demo for a waltz that I titled “Flight of the Blue Whale.” As I began to write other tunes, I allowed them to become more or less what they wanted to be and then I set to work on sculpting a story line that captured the songs as a whole.

KCG: One of my favorite parts of the album is when you simulate weightlessness as the baleen whale takes flight. What was your approach to creating this significant piece of the story?

DE: Space. The build up to the whale taking flight was trying to create the thought of how much speed and resistance it would take for a 50 ton creature to fly. Flight, as we think of rockets and planes, is loud. So, why wouldn’t it be for a whale? But what next? Space, clarity and beauty right? I have a soft spot for tuned glassware, it sounds amazing.

KCG: Classical styles of music, such as Tangos and Waltzes, are included in both of your albums. What do you like about these styles?

DE: Waltzes hold a very special place in my heart. I’ve always been thrilled by songs in irregular time signatures and despite how common the waltz used to be, nowadays songs in 3/4 are not in the majority. There’s something about the circuital nature of the “One, Two, Three” that just works. Waltzes also served as such a great way to enhance the theatrical components of a Taupier trapping moles, a Siren’s song luring pirates, and ultimately the great moments of the Blue Whale. For me, waltzes captured the intensity and delicacy of these moments perfectly.

Personally, I always try to remember to take an idea and see if it doesn’t fit more comfortably into a different state than the original, which as of late has been trying it as a waltz.

KCG: You incorporate different languages into your albums. Are you fluent in any foreign languages?

DE: I studied Italian and lived in Italy for a short stint. But, I do love the sound of French as well as Portuguese and I love a lot of music that has come from countries that speak these languages. For these past two records, I use words from French mainly because they feel the most like words that a wandering young mind might find intriguing. Also, there are just some words that sum up a feeling or a title that will never sound as elegant in English.


KCG: The album’s artwork is stunning! How did you meet Brooke Weeber?

DE: The artwork is truly a special component to the whole product. I was introduced to Brooke Weeber and her artwork through Kevin’s wedding invitations. Seeing as how he was making this project come to life, it seemed all too fitting to have her talents be a part of it. I reached out, we met for coffee and she made it happen. She’s kind of magic.

KCG: Do you have a favorite part or parts of the album?

DE: It’s really about the tiny details. There are so many hidden moments within the album, it’s hard to choose. If you listen very carefully to the end of “Valse de Taupier,” you hear the hammers of the piano closing back in after the big smash. I also really love the paper sweeping the ground at end of “Forget the Sea.” But those are only a couple of moments of the many that we buried in the project for our own listening enjoyment.

KCG: What creative people are you inspired by?

DE: First and foremost, my son. Experiencing life through the eyes of a small child is beautiful, silly and imaginative.

It’s hard to pare down my direct influences, but right in this moment I look to musicians and community members like Anais Mitchell, 3 Leg Torso, William Basinski, Apollo Sunshine, The Barr Brothers and many classical influences.

KCG: You channel Tom Waits in your songs. Is that somewhat of an alter ego for you?

DE: He is certainly a huge influence, as can be almost anyone on a given day. But I think what I love the most about Tom Waits and what I seek to draw from his music, is how he glides between the duskier corners of the minor keys and somehow can maintain that feel even in the prettiest and most straightforward major key tune. There’s that and the fact that I modeled all of the backing “mole” voices as if he wanted in on the action. So, to answer the question, I would say the Pointed Man Band, in and of itself, is my alter ego just as that of being a dad is. The music and that reality came hand in hand and it still strikes me on a daily basis that I am a completely different person then I used to define myself and now my music as.

KCG: The independent kids (kindie) music genre is expanding into a place that appeals to all ages. Both of your albums meet that criteria, pushing the boundaries of what is simply categorized as “music for kids.” What, in your opinion, is kids music?

DE: That’s kind of a loaded question. Kids music, honestly, is any music that a child can connect with. Whether it’s jazz, classical, hip hop, rock, you name it. But if the question becomes “what do I feel is acceptable for kids to be listening to”? Then I would just try to eliminate music that promotes negativity and hateful messages. We all have such varied musical tastes and luckily there is so much diversity out there that we can allow our children to decide what they like or don’t.

To expand upon this question again, in a different way, I believe it’s important to also have music that engages not just the children but also the different generations that help to raise the children we love.

What’s next?

Stay tuned.

Interview with Portland’s Andy Furgeson (aka Red Yarn)


“I approach performance as a magic act, with the ultimate goal of putting the crowd and myself in a joyful trance. When we awake from the spell, we’ve gone on a journey together that binds us as a community.”

Andy Furgeson, aka Red Yarn, is a Portland-based musician, puppeteer and teaching artist who recently released his debut children’s album, The Deep Woods.

The sound on the album is incredible, enhanced by a variety of instruments and a congregation of singers. For the production of the album, Furgeson hosted a community recording session with the help of 150 fans (as back-up singers). The result: a full-bodied folkfest filled with strings, horns, hand clapping and foot stomping.

Leading up to the production of the album, Furgeson spent 5 years researching folklore within the confines of American folk music. Ultimately, he drew inspiration from the role animals played within these folksongs, resulting in The Deep Woods. Conceptually, the Deep Woods is a magical place where all the critters featured within the album’s 12 tracks can be found.

Most of the songs, with the exception of the title track, are renditions of the originals from classic anthologies. While the songs sound upbeat, the lyrics are kept intact, illustrating the often dark interactions that take place between animals and humans. Because this is a children’s album, the many references to death and loss were surprising to me. I had a chance to interview Furgeson and upon reading his responses, my fascination with his work grew quite a bit. Read on for a more in-depth profile of Red Yarn and The Deep Woods.

Kids Can Groove: Please start by introducing yourself since this is the first time you are appearing on Kids Can Groove. Some great things to include in the intro are how you got here and some of your musical influences.

Andy Furgeson: Howdy! My name is Andy Furgeson and I perform for kids and families under the name Red Yarn. I collect American folksongs about animals and build puppets of the characters. My shows weave together music, puppetry and storytelling with the goal of bringing folklore to life for children. I grew up in Austin, Texas and have lived in Portland, Oregon for the last 8 years. Outside of the folk anthologies I dig through for material, I’m influenced by Bob Dylan, the Band, Pete Seeger, old Folkways records, and lots of modern indie, psych and folk-rock bands. I have a soft spot for Texas country and perfect pop songs.

KCG: How did you find your way into children’s music?

AF: When I moved to Portland after college in California, I was playing music for grown-ups and working with kids in an afterschool program. I wanted to combine these passions, so I began performing for families at a community center. My girlfriend, now wife Jessie and I started a kids’ band called Jelly Jar. We built a few puppets to enhance our shows and I got hooked on the energy of family audiences. When Jessie went back to school to become a middle school teacher, I created my Red Yarn persona, began performing solo, formed a puppet band, and built my skills as a teaching artist. A year and a half ago, I left my afterschool job to make this my full-time career. It’s been growing steadily ever since.

KCG: Where did the name Red Yarn evolve from?

AF: I was looking for a simple but resonant moniker that kids could remember. While playing with anagrams of Andy and Andrew I found “red” and “yarn” right there in my name. Red like my beard, fire, lifeblood, the old country singer Red Foley, all that good stuff. Yarn like the puppet material or an old folk story. The name stuck and now more kids know me as Red Yarn than as Andy. I made a fake beard out of red yarn, which I sometimes wear on top of my real beard during my performances. Don’t ask me why—it only makes me sweat more!

KCG: Your music is heavily rooted in traditional American folk music. Can you elaborate on your interest with this genre? Especially coming from a punk band in high school!

AF: I’m fascinated by the idea of the U.S.A. and how music and art have played a role in shaping our national identity. American folk music is this vibrant document of the lives of real people throughout history. To understand our country, I think it’s essential for kids to learn about our musical heritage. Growing up in Austin, I heard a lot of folk, country, bluegrass and blues music as a kid. It was a central part of my musical upbringing. In high school, I went through a rockabilly phase, then got into punk rock with my band. I discovered Bob Dylan and bought an acoustic guitar, but kept the energy of punk and early rock’n’roll. Years later and I’m hollering and banging on my guitar just as loudly, only now for kids.

KCG: You participated in the Lomax-A-Day and Song-A-Day projects. Can you talk about that a bit? It seemed to give you a deeper connection with folk music.

AF: A friend turned me onto a group called the Artclash Collective who organizes the Fun-a-Day Project every January. They challenge folks to choose a project and complete a creative act each day of the month. In 2010, I participated with Lomax-a-Day, learning, adapting, recording and writing an analysis of a folksong-a-day from Alan Lomax’s book Folk Songs of North America. I’m not that great at reading music, so part of the fun was reinterpreting each song without referencing recorded versions. It gave me a real education on folk music and inspired my Deep Woods project. It was such an invigorating experience that I decided to do it again in 2013 with Carl Sandburg’s American Songbag. That project led right into recording my album and was just the creative jumpstart I needed.

KCG: What is the Deep Woods and why is it magical? Do you feel that element plays an important part in engaging children?

AF: The Deep Woods is a magical forest where all the critters of American folksongs live together. It’s

The-Deep-Woods-album-cover-photo-by-Aaron-Hewitt-495x400magical because it exists in our imaginations and memories, and because all the critters there walk and talk and sing and dance and feel feelings just like we do. All of my shows start with a magic spell to transform the venue into the Deep Woods. The spell sets the stage and encourages the audience to experience the show with wonder and belief. With young kids the line between fantasy and reality is blurred, so I like to play in the in-between. Puppets exist in that in-between. So do animal folksongs. So does performance itself. I approach performance as a magic act, with the ultimate goal of putting the crowd and myself in a joyful trance. When we awake from the spell, we’ve gone on a journey together that binds us as a community.

KCG: Through your experience with folk music and its traditions, what drew you to exploring animals in folksongs and how do you feel they play a role?

AF: I’m drawn to animal folksongs because they’re totally weird and dark, even though they’re assumed to be kid-friendly. When I dug into the old anthologies, looking for songs I could perform for kids, I was amazed by the strange narratives and depth of emotion I found in these little ditties about animals. These songs carry profound messages about life and death, love and loss and desire, all under the guise of animal characters. I got really excited when I discovered the overlap of characters from song to song, and from songs into folktales like the Br’er Rabbit cycle. That’s when I first imagined the Deep Woods as a single place to contain all these characters and tales.

KCG: Through your research you have listened to a good number of songs from the past several centuries, can you discuss some of the songs you chose and why these songs resonated with you so strongly?

AF: First I got really interested in rabbit songs. I was reading the old Br’er Rabbit tales, fascinated by the trickster archetype. I decided to create an updated trickster character: Bob Rabbit, Br’er’s grandson. He was the first elaborate puppet I built, and “John the Rabbit,” “Mr. Rabbit,” and “Buckeye Rabbit” were among the first songs I adapted. From there, I was drawn to songs that filled the Deep Woods with more colorful characters and life-and-death narratives. “The Fox,” “Froggie Went A-Courtin,” and “Who Killed Poor Robin” all have old English roots and seemed essential, even if they’ve been recorded thousands of times before. Some songs just floored me with their poetic lyrics and plaintive melodies–“Rattlesnake” is a great example. Some lent themselves perfectly to the community singing approach–“Old Blue” and “Turkey in the Straw” wouldn’t be half as good without that crowd of singers. There are many more animal folksongs that I considered including, but ultimately this seemed like the most cohesive collection. I might have to record a sequel album… we’ll see!

KCG: The lyrics of the songs on The Deep Woods stay true to the originals which contains bits about death. While this is not completely atypical in children’s music, i.e. lullabies and nursery rhymes, it is more commonly left out. What was your thinking in preserving the balance between life and death throughout the album?

AF: I’m really glad you asked this question. Death is absolutely a central theme in The Deep Woods, just like in the real woods, just like in real life. It’s a taboo subject in our culture but it’s one of the few things we all have in common. We’re often disconnected from aging and death. Many of our grandparents live in nursing homes or across the country. There are fewer and fewer community spaces where people of all generations come together. I certainly don’t want to upset anybody, especially not kids, but I think it’s important that we talk openly about the cycles of life, including death.

In the old folksongs I sing, death is front and center. These songs have agrarian roots and were sung in settings where kids saw animals die every day. A song like “The Fox” helps a child understand why an animal would kill and eat another animal. “Mr. Rabbit” tells us that “every little soul is gonna shine,” but by the last verse the rabbit is “almost dead.” In “Froggie Went A-Courtin’,” the protagonist gets eaten at the end of a joyous celebration. “Who Killed Poor Robin?” is a straight-up funeral dirge, but it was one of the most popular nursery rhymes of all time. These songs deal with heavy stuff, but somehow the animal characters make it more digestible. Overlaid with simple narratives and human rituals, death is just another part of the story, the inevitable ending we all must reckon with.

I hope this doesn’t sound totally morbid! I am a joyful person trying to live my life to the fullest and encourage others to do the same. But only when we face our fears, like the Booger Man in “Go to Sleepy,” do we remember to cherish every moment of this precious life. I hope that my recordings and shows can be a jumping-off point for parents to have important conversations with their kids. My wife and I are expecting our first child in February, and I know that being a parent might change my whole philosophy. But, as I bring a new life into the world and grapple with these scary questions, I’ve found great comfort in the straightforward approach of folklore.

KCG: What led you to incorporate puppets into your music and performances?

AF: At first I was just looking for another way to engage kids beyond music and storytelling. But then I realized how puppets could bring these animal folksongs to life. It’s one thing for a kid to hear an old folksong like “Mr. Rabbit.” It’s something more if she can interact with that rabbit, feed him a carrot, and laugh at his tricks in real time. When animated as puppets, these characters aren’t just dusty relics of American folklore. They’re your walking, talking buddies! As my puppetry has improved I’ve discovered what a powerful tool it can be. Puppets can bring kids out of their shells, teach crucial social-emotional lessons, and be much funnier than I can be alone.

KCG: Do you create your own puppets?

AF: I build the majority of my critter puppets but I’ve also had a lot of help along the way. Portland has a thriving puppetry community, with lots of independent puppeteers and bigger companies like Tears of Joy and Laika. I’m lucky to have talented artist friends who can build puppets on commission or help when I reach the limit of my abilities. At this point, I have a repertory cast of about 20 critters who appear in my shows. They travel around with me in a suitcase and cause mischief when I’m not looking. That reminds me, I’ve been so focused on performing, recording and releasing my album that I haven’t built a new puppet in a while. Time to get back to work!

KCG: What can your audience expect from your live performances?

AF: Audiences can expect a lively show with a lot of participation through singing, dancing, stomping, clapping and interacting with the critters. I try to pour my full energy into every performance, jumping around, singing at full voice, banging on my guitar, and running my puppets all around the room. I break guitar strings all the time. And I hold the dubious honor of being Portland’s sweatiest children’s performer. That said, I try to vary the dynamics to keep kids engaged. I mix in soft, sweet songs and bring the energy down when the critters come out. Kids help Shiloh Squirrel overcome his shyness by feeding him acorns, or give hugs to Sis Goose to cheer her up. The puppets help me show my own vulnerability and empower the kids to be helpers.

When I’m lucky, I get to perform with my wife. When I’m really lucky, I perform with a full band and guest puppeteers. I’m hoping to take the show on the road this summer. I’ve done some mini-tours around Oregon, Texas, and on the east coast, but I’d love to venture further out and reach more families with these folksongs and animal characters. Holler if you know of a place for me to perform!

Interview with Dean Jones

“Recording can be tricky, but I think my strength as a producer is to get the musicians together and have them PLAY. PLAY PLAY PLAY. Not work.” – Dean Jones

222157_1064956471577_9924_nThe creative process can be such a vulnerable place and as an artist it helps to have someone in your corner supporting you through your creative endeavors. Welcome Dean Jones! Musical maestro, Dean Jones, of the kindie band, Dog On Fleas, has played a major role in the production of many kindie releases over the past few years, including The Okee Dokee Brothers Can You Canoe? which won him a 2013 Grammy award for Best Children’s album.

Dean lives in the Hudson Valley, which is also the headquarters of his “lovely straw bale recording studio” called No Parking Studio. In addition to producing, Dean spends time collaborating with fellow kindie musicians, providing support and lending his talents on a variety of instruments ranging from brass (trumpet, trombone) to the keys (or “ivories” as he puts it in Joanie Leeds’ song “Bandwagon“).

Earlier this year, Dean released his third solo album titled When The World Was New, which will definitely be on our list of favorites for 2013. Its sound is an eclectic blend of funk, disco and folk and Dean’s voice has a warm quality to it that softly glides through each song.

Dean is a busy man so when he agreed to participate in an interview with me, I was very grateful. In the following interview, Dean provides insight into his philosophy as a producer, as well as some inspiring advice on how thinking can be the enemy. Read on and then read my review which also contains a sampler of free songs from the album.

Kids Can Groove: Were you a singer/musician before you started producing?

Dean Jones: Yes, I’ve been playing in bands, and making up my own bands for a long time. All kinds of bands, usually strange and hard to explain. I’ve also worked with a lot of different kinds of artists, writing and playing music for puppet shows, shadow plays, art exhibits, and some other spectacular things. I love collaborating!

KCG: What made you decide to get into producing?

DJ: Well, I had a partner in crime for many years named Warren Perrins. We bought some recording equipment and just started recording our own bands because we thought we could figure it out ourselves. It took us a long time to really figure it out, though! But, ever since then I’ve really loved the challenge of recording and producing my own music, as well as other people’s music.

KCG: Who was the first children’s artist you worked with (production wise)?

DJ: Oh, well, first I started recording my own songs and then that turned into my band called Dog on Fleas. We’ve recorded 7 CDs. And next up was my great great great uncle, Uncle Rock. Actually, we’re not related, but he is great.

KCG: How did you get into children’s music?

DJ: I have had a bunch of bands (the Falling Wallendas, Harmonica Virgins, For Sale by Owner Orchestra, to name a few) and I’ve always written music that appealed to kids, but it was never called children’s music. All my bands have been very theatrical, ridiculous, childish, and fun. Eventually, a friend of mine pointed out that I was really writing music that kids like, so why not make a CD for kids. And, Dog on Fleas was born.

KCG: What have you learned from your first collaboration/production up til now?

DJ: Oh ho ho ho. So much I can’t tell you. I think the most important thing is that music is communication. If you are feeling uptight, tired or nervous, that’s part of what will be communicated. I think it’s really good to be clear about what you want to be communicating, and to whom, and then look at the big picture!!! You want it to sound fun; You have to be having fun. Recording can be tricky, but I think my strength as a producer is to get the musicians together and have them PLAY. PLAY PLAY PLAY. Not work.

KCG: You have worked with an array of genres plus you are an artist yourself. What is your working philosophy?

DJ: Oh, I just answered that in the last bit. I can say more. I like to create a working environment (even though I said it’s not work!) that encourages experimentation. Relaxed and fun, and you can try something and maybe fail at it, but it’s not a loss. Every song can turn out a million different ways. It’s a great challenge to draw out the essence of a song.

KCG: How do you stay true to yourself as a singer/songwriter while maintaining an objective point of view as a producer?

DJ: I try not to think. Thinking is the enemy. Oh, that also answers the previous 2 questions too.

KCG: How do you find time to record your own songs?

DJ: I have to go right now, I don’t have time to answer that.

KCG: How does the process of writing and producing your own music compare to doing that for others?

DJ: Sometimes I have to tell an artist that what they’ve just written and recorded is a really great song and sometimes they doubt themselves. My job is to keep them going in the right direction and making sure they know what their strengths and weaknesses are. It’s pretty much the same producing myself. Sometimes I don’t know if what I’m doing is any good. I have to play my music for other people and trust their opinions. I really believe in trusting, trusting, trusting and not overthinking. Just doing something is better than thinking about it.

KCG: You are a multi-talented artist and bring World accents into many of the arrangements/albums you are featured on, as well as your own, using a broad range of instruments and even incorporating a foreign (French) language. It makes for some really interesting, eclectic sounds. Are you self-taught or have you taken lessons?

DJ: I did take piano lessons when I was 8 years old for about 6 years, I think. I have always been a ravenous collector of instruments, sounds and music from around the world. I have tons and tons of instruments. And records. And sticks and rocks and pringles cans, and anything you could blow into or bang on. The area I live in, near Woodstock NY, is full of amazing musicians from all over the world. In the 70s and 80s there was a school called the Creative Music Studio here that Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Dave Holland, and so many other great jazz musicians, and I guess, World musicians taught. A lot of people came here to study jazz, but there was so much emphasis on just improvising with whomever you were with, and a lot of exploration of music styles from around the world. Many of the students of that school stayed here and hence there’s much more awareness of music from different parts of the world. I play with a lot of those folks in various bands.

KCG: How did the theme for When the World Was New come up for you?

DJ: I was in my backyard thinking about recording a new album OUTSIDE, just in my yard with an acoustic guitar and whatever else I could have out there. And then one of my neighbors started using a really loud leaf blower. IN THE SPRING!! That’s absurd!!!!! So I changed directions and wrote the song “Absurd” about how absurd we humans are. And then it got me on a new path, thinking about evolution, where we are and how we got there. It’s somewhat serious, but also silly. I think people are pretty ridiculous, so there’s lots to write about. I know I’m kind of ridiculous.

KCG: It has some complex concepts which I think are fascinating for a children’s album. Did you think about how your audience would receive it?

DJ: Yes, at times I wondered if it was going to be a children’s album. I had to ask for help on that. I give kids a lot of credit for being smart and open-minded. Most of the songs on this record are asking questions, not providing answers. I like sparking thoughts and feelings.

KCG: So you are a dad, producer, singer-songwriter and a member of Dog on Fleas. How do you manage to balance it all?

DJ: It’s hard. I love it. But I always have projects hanging over my head. I mostly have to take my kids out in the woods or away from home so I don’t get sucked in to the business end of the music business. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that I’m terrible at Facebook and all that. I just can’t do everything. I’m always writing new songs for new albums when I should be promoting the album that’s just released.

KCG: If you weren’t involved with music, what would you be doing?

DJ: Maybe being a forest ranger. Or millionaire philanthropist.

KCG: What is your favorite way to spend time with family?

DJ: Hiking, climbing, picking wild blueberries, and singing.

Do/Have any books influence(d) you or your music/songwriting?

DJ: Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown. I like the little world she created in that book. I like to create little worlds in song. It’s hard to talk about art and music for me. I like Paul Klee’s paintings. They are not so tied to this world, but evoking something. %&** I guess I am influenced by lots of things. Just feeling tiny sparks of energy wherever they show up.

Interview with Recess Monkey

RECESSMONKEY47.300Just in time for summer, Recess Monkey released their 9th studio album, Deep Sea Diver and it’s making a big splash in our home. In this album, listeners are taken on a journey into the deep blue by a rhythm powered submarine. As they sail through the sea of songs, Recess Monkey delivers infectious hooks, solid beats and stellar songwriting while addressing such topics as fear of jumping into the deep end of the pool, beach balls and seagulls. There’s even a song about singing coral called “Choral Reef.”

I had a chance to catch up with Drew Holloway, Jack Forman and the newest monkey, Korum Bischoff (also known as “Fish Sticks” on the album). Going into the interview I had fully anticipated lots of talk about music, which there is, and what I received was that these guys are seriously hard workers fueled by their enriching day jobs as teachers and fathers, and most importantly, their undeniable appreciation for family.

Kids Can Groove: Since this is your first time on Kids Can Groove can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Drew Holloway (vocals, guitar): I’m a product of a Mom who liked to sing to me as a baby and toddler and a guitar playing father who surrounded my older brother and I with instruments and a great record collection. During the school year, I teach preschool, kindergarten and music. On the weekends, and all throughout the summer, I rock out for families with my buddies Jack and Korum. My favorite job, however, is that of dad to my two school-aged daughters, Mira and Sadie.

Jack Forman (vocals, bass): Like Drew, music has always been a huge part of my life. I took cello lessons as a preschooler and bounced between different instruments until I joined the Northwest Boychoir in Seattle. The organization really changed my life – tons of ear training, I learned how to read music, and I got to surround myself with other people who loved music. A friend said once that the best way to grow as a musician is to join a band filled with people who are better than you. I’ve benefited from that advice several times over in my life! In addition to being in Recess Monkey, I also manage all of the business side— booking, production, video, etc. I also joined the Kids Place Live channel on SiriusXM about 6 months ago where I’ve been hosting a 5 day a week live radio show called Live From the Monkey House. My wife, 2 year old son and I live in an old house here in Seattle.

Korum Bischoff (vocals, drums): My birth announcement, back in 1975, looked like a record release promotion and my dad owned a home studio, so I guess you could say I was born into a musical life. When I was 10, we sold the house and moved onto a sailboat where I lived until I was 23, so I have a very tight-knit family that loves to play music together. I married my high school sweetheart with whom I have 2 funny, smart, talented and very different boys. We live on an island in Puget Sound where we both grew up and are very engrained in the community. I’ve been teaching drums privately for 22 years and taught music at a middle school for a couple of years. I’m also a graphic designer and worked in the entertainment industry in Seattle, slowly switching more and more into marketing and event production. Now I’m the Director of Communications and Events at a botanical reserve called Bloedel Reserve.

KCG: We are really enjoying Deep Sea Diver. Your albums tend to have themes but Deep Sea Diver has an evolving storyline, ultimately leading to your next album, Desert Island Disc. What inspired these ideas and how did you plan for the fact that you would need to release two discs in the same year, months apart?

DH: We wanted to do a sea-themed CD for a while but when Korum joined the band it just seemed as if the tide was incredibly strong. I mean our first brainstorming session was on an actual ferry and Korum spent most of his formative years on a sailboat. We were meant to take to the water! The two cd-narrative was something that evolved, mostly due to having such a wealth of material. All three of us are writing and it makes for a heaping bouillabaisse!

JF: We discovered along the way that we had two different kinds of songs – the really electric, exciting, uptempo songs that seem synonymous with an adventure, and some more relaxed, stripped-down tunes that felt more like life on a beach. As we approached the recording sessions with upwards of 30 songs, we divided them into two piles that worked really well together. Deep Sea Diver is part one, the adventure, and we’re returning in October with Desert Island Disc which is being pressed as I type this!

KB: Before going into the studio we talked about what songs would appear on each disc. When we arrived at the studio, we tackled each disc separately which allowed us to stop and really think about how we wanted the discs to sound and create a different vibe for each. The first disc is much more electric and heavy-hitting. Disc 2 is lighter, more acoustic instrument focused and less busy on the drums.

KCG: You guys were quoted as saying that this is “the most recess monkeyest Recess Monkey album.” Can you explain?

DH: With every album the recess monkey-ness gets stronger. It’s just a result of us getting to know ourselves and the process of recording better and better.

JF: I can’t overstate what a huge step it was for us as a band to have Korum join. He’s such a talented, detailed and nuanced drummer with this amazing inventory of creative beats and ideas. So many of the songs kicked into high gear when he added his parts. This is also the first time that all three of us have written songs: historically, Drew has shouldered the entire weight of writing an album. It’s a good thing, too: he’s so amazingly creative and musically eclectic. I can say for myself that I learned how to write songs by watching him write 150 of them. Adding Korum’s and my writing voices into the mix just increases the number of places that we can go on a record.

KB: Wow, thanks Jack. Being that this is my first disc with Recess Monkey, I’m happy that my playing is being received by the band and our fans as Recess Monkey-ish! As a longtime fan, I always thought of Daron’s drum parts as an integral part of their sound. Coming in, I had a little bit of fear that my playing might not gel as Daron and my background and styles are very different. But once we got in a couple of songs in the studio, I knew that it was going to work.

KCG: What things did you do differently on this album that you hadn’t explored as a band before?

DH: We have never tried to record this many songs at once. It was an all out blitz with very little down time. Increasingly we have been all playing live together during recording and even tracking live vocals. That’s a bit of a tight-wire act but also makes for real, human-like performances caught “on tape,” like snapshots. One new thing we did in the demo stage was having Korum record a bevy of drum loops. “The Deep End” and “Fish Sticks” were totally inspired by drum patterns that Korum had laid down prior to writing lyrics or creating melody lines.

JF: This is also the first time that we’ve included true orchestrations on our songs.  “Stranded” features Jherek Bischoff’s stunning orchestral arrangements, which foreshadows several more that we’re including on Desert Island Disc. Hearing those arrangements for the first time was like Christmas morning!

KB: Um, I recorded with THESE dudes…

KCG: Do you have a favorite song from Deep Sea Diver?

DH: Probably “The Deep End.” I just love when the song breaks out after the bridge. Jack and I have a lot of fun trying to mimic the horns when we play that song live.

JF: Shrimp!” The song is inspired by some of De La Soul’s songs, but when we recorded it, it took on a more Sugar Hill Gang kind of flavor. The video we made for the song kind of sealed the deal. Agreed with Drew about the breakout on “The Deep End.” That section is 100% about Korum’s drums, and then another 100% about Tom Baisden and Dean Jones’ horns. You read that right – that section is 200%.

KB: I really love “The Deep End” as well. I’m very happy with how it came out and it is a fun challenge to pull off live. Plus, it really reminds me of going to the pool with my kids who do NOT like jumping in. I also really love “Compass Rose.” To me, it is a quintessential Recess Monkey song and I love the phrasing at the end of the chorus.

KCG: I have always enjoyed your videos and I love how you get into character. Have you done any acting or improv?


DH: Thanks! I haven’t done any acting work, it’s the result of many goofy videos made as a middle-schooler. Seriously, while the videos have a real home-spun quality to them with an air of improv, they’re the result of lots of planning and multiple takes. Also, we have a great director.  He’s the one in the funny red hat.

JF: Just like Drew, my friends and I made tons of weird little videos in middle school- we somehow conned our teachers into actually getting class credit for a lot of them. The fact that, 25 years later, we still get to make these videos is such a triumph over the notion that you have to grow up!

KB: Appearing in videos is new for me and I hate watching myself. I’m definitely out of my comfort zone, but I love new challenges and look forward to growing in that area. I actually have a ton of video experience, but it’s all behind the camera or computer monitor.

KCG: Do you connect with a particular song and then come up with a character you can play, i.e. “Sack Lunch,” the driver in “Tambourine Submarine” and the host of the Coral Club in “Fish Sticks“?

DH: We try to prioritize with the videos we want to make. From there it’s just trying to be true to the vibe of the shoot, what’s been recorded, audio-wise, and making sure the nerdiness shines through!

JF: Some songs just have a totally implicit video idea worked into them- but my favorites are the ones that are kind of a left turn. We have this video for “Grandmom’s House” set in a bowling alley where our band gets schooled on the lanes by our grandmother doppelgangers. That premise has really nothing to do with the lyrics of the song itself, but I think it really works. We discovered early on that it’s the energy behind a video that’s more important than the premise. Kids will pick up on that energy right away!

KCG: How does teaching influence your involvement with Recess Monkey?

DH: I’m a teacher first and come Monday morning I’ll be leading a class through some crazy serpentine of a lesson. The job gives me the opportunity to practice the art of listening which is essential to helping a student stretch to the next step or in the case of a band for families, write a song that connects with kids/parents or know how to structure a set and interact in a live setting.

JF: My classes have always felt like families, and the truth is I spend a lot more time talking to kids every day than adults. Probably 3:1!

KB: My students inspire me constantly. Their willingness to take risks, their dedication to learning, and their passion for music is refreshing. Plus they help keep me current on music trends and amazing drummers.

KCG: How do you manage teaching, music (writing and producing music) and family?

DH: Recess Monkey is bigger than Korum, Jack and myself as we all have great partners at home who help oversee the circus of doing a second or third job while raising kids. My wife is a teacher as well. We are fortunate to have schedules that work in pretty good harmony, giving us time to be together each night for dinner and at least one weekend day to get things done or head out as a family to do something fun.

JF: I actually took the plunge 2 years ago and became a stay at home dad after 13 years in the classroom. My wife was unbelievably supportive of that choice, not to mention her infinite patience when shows take us away from home for a weekend, or recording sessions make me resemble the common underground mole. We’re at a point as a band where we can’t possibly take all of the gigs that we’re offered, which is a nice freedom to be a little choosier, making time for our families.

KB: It’s official, we couldn’t do it without our families. I think that what we’re doing resonates with them, too. I love that my family can enjoy this together. I think my wife sees what a positive example we’re setting for our kids: the hard work, the joy we bring, and the hard-earned successes. I’m a bit of a work-a-holic, so it’s lucky for the family that we’re all on the same page with Recess Monkey.

KCG: You guys did a circus themed tour for In Tents, do you have something similar planned for Deep Sea Diver?

DH: We’re super-lucky to know the fine folks at Teatro Zinzanni, a fabulous dinner theater in Seattle that features some great food and amazing circus artists. It was a synergistic smorgasbord that led to a twelve show run of “In Tents” under the big top. It was the coolest thing we’ve done by far and we hope to bring Deep Sea Diver and Desert Island Disc to the tent this fall and winter. You’ll have to come to the Emerald City to see it!

JF: The big question is how we’re going to turn a circus tent into a submarine, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out!

KB: Do we ever! I’m picturing acrobatic jelly fish and a trio of stranded ukulele players at center ring.

KCG: The Dancing Bear video and song is one of our favorites and also a tribute to The Beastie Boys (one of my all time favorites). Would you say they are a big influence for you?

DH: We all grew up with hip hop as a big influence. As a middle-schooler I was ping-ponging between The Beatles’ White Album and Yo! MTV Raps. I had “It Takes a Nation…” and “Straight Outta Compton” on cassette in my Sony Sports Walkman, oh so bright yellow. I liked the Beastie Boys but I’ll give the hat-tip to Jack who was a bigger fan of the fab three and definitely advocated for the BB treatment of “The Dancing Bear.” He hit a home run on that one!

JF: That was a really fun song to perform in the tent. Korum was actually in a giant bear costume, leading kids in a conga line during the break.

KCG: When you have downtime, what do you enjoy doing most?

DH: I’ve been a runner since high school and it’s my favorite way to get some some down time. It’s also a great way to see a new place when you’re out and about traveling from town to town!

JF: This hardly seems like down time, but I find remodeling projects to be really meditative and cathartic. I was a huge Lego fan as a young kid and now I just do the same thing with wood!

KB: I can’t remember the last time I had downtime, but I do enjoy gardening/landscaping and riding my bike (which I try to incorporate into my commute). About once a year, I get an hour or two when I can get out my brushes and watercolors. That’s what I’d like to do more.

KCG: What is your favorite thing to do with your family?

DH: Anything active! Walking the neighborhood or hitting the many great parks of Seattle. I’d love to do more hiking and camping. Our youngest is just about ready to handle the rigors of carrying some gear and staying overnight in a tent. Movie nights are fun, too. We like huddling around to watch My Neighbor Totoro, Wallace and Gromit or one of the Harry Potter films.

JF: Honestly, it’s talking. Our son is coming into a really fun language period right now and he, my wife and I have been taking turns making up stories at dinner. They usually end up being about going to “the drum store,” since drumming is my son’s #1 recreational choice.

KB: I love going exploring and bike riding. But the best thing of all is to just snuggle and stroke their hair. My older boy is 9 and he still loves to cuddle. I’m trying to savor every minute of it while I can.

KCG: Have any authors/stories inspired your music/songwriting?

DH: The poetry of Jack Pretlutsky has been an influence. As my kids get older we’ve been diving back into classic chapter books like the Hobbit, The Narnia Series, Roald Dahl’s books and the works of Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. You can’t help but hear a golden line and get scribbling on a song idea or two.

JF: Louis Sachar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School books were so fantastic- the absurdity of it all, I just loved those.

KB: Despite being a musician for almost 30 years, songwriting is new to me. Arranging is a different story though and I really came up as a jazz student more than anything else. I love the process of working through a new song and figuring out what is going to work through trial and error. So, I guess you could say I approach the process like a “Choose Your Own Adventure book!”

Interview: Chat with Keeth Apgar from The Harmonica Pocket


Keeth Apgar, front man, master songwriter and multi-instrumentalist for The Harmonica Pocket, is a deep thinker and highly talented songwriter. In addition to Keeth, The Harmonica Pocket features a regular group of folks, one of which includes partner Nala Walla, who delivers rich harmonic vocals throughout the album.

Last year, The Harmonica Pocket released their third full-length children’s album called Apple Apple. The recording of the album, as well as previous albums, took place in a solar powered studio on a tiny island in Puget Sound, Washington, where they live.

Prior to the release of Apple Apple, Keeth and Nala welcomed their first child into the world. As a result, many of the songs reflect the experiences and bond they have as a family while also celebrating the natural world that surrounds them on their little island.

Apple Apple is a beautiful album that will leave you feeling like someone just whispered a gentle lullaby in your ear. To learn more about Apple Apple take a peek at my review.

Intrigued by Keeth’s thoughtful songwriting and musicality, I was very happy to have the chance to talk with him about the album, his approach to songwriting, family life and apples.

KCG: Was music something that you always kind of enjoyed being involved with? Was there a particular path that led to where you are now, musically?

KA: Well, it wasn’t my path. My Dad was an athletic director at a public school district so we were really into sports as kids. Slowly, I was getting more and more interested in music and kept asking my parents to get me a guitar. So, they rented a guitar and got me some lessons where I learned basic stuff, like how to tune it, for example. Then, in high school, I just started playing and writing some songs. We’d come home from school and try to figure out guitar solos on a Metallica or Van Halen record and play along with them. But it wasn’t like I grew up in a family with jazz on the radio or Beatles records on. I really don’t know why it happened.

KCG: Maybe it was meant to be. How has music shaped or influenced you throughout the years?

KA: I definitely connect with it now and I really encourage parents and kids to embrace it, especially if a child is expressing an interest in [playing music] because it has given me such an anchor in my life. Through the good and the bad, [music] helps me process things that have happened in my life to this day. For example, if someone dies, a pet dies or if something beautiful happens, [music] provides a way to spend time with that [occurrence], focus on it and write about it, process it and help release it. So, it’s really a powerful thing for me, and that’s one reason why I like playing music with and for kids. I want to share and introduce that process to them.

KCG: Do you think your perspective has changed since your son, Montana, has come into your life?

KA: Most definitely. I had a job in a preschool around 2002. During that time, I was with kids of different ages, just getting to know them, figuring out how they think, what they talk about and stuff like that. I really enjoyed that work and that time with them. But, even though I thought that I really knew what it was like to hang with kids, having a kid of your own is such a different level because you know your child so much more deeply. You’re with them all the time; through the tears, through the poo, through the laughs.

I think that this album reflects some of that. Some of the songs on Apple Apple are informed by me having my first child. There’s a song called “Monkey Love,” which reflects how people, or monkeys in this case, come together and form a family. “Little Little Baby” is kind of an obvious example. Another one is “Reflections,” which I wrote while I was helping to get Montana to sleep one day. We were just walking and humming and I realized that being a parent is so intimate. Lots of kisses and hugs. It struck me deeply and I thought it was important to put that song onto a family album.

KCG: I think it’s interesting that you used Chris Ballew (Caspar Babypants) as Monkey 2. His voice complements the song very well.

KA: I was super psyched when Chris [Ballew] was up for singing on “Monkey Love.” I thought he was the perfect monkey to be in our “family.” Chris has become a friend and I really like what he does a lot. He’s a great guy and he works so hard. I’ve been wanting to do something with him for a while.

KCG: We are big fans of Chris’s music as well. On “Monkey Love,” the harmonies between the 3 singers add alot of depth to the song. It really brings the monkey family to life.

KA: I really like vocal harmony, too. That’s something that really excites me. It’s kind of a mystery. I studied music theory and I technically know how it all works, but then you step back and take away all the literacy and nomenclature, and the way we describe it in the western world and go “Wow, why do voices pull against each other in this pleasing way when you create vocal harmonies?” It just blows me away! As a result, all of my records are full of vocal harmony. In the case of “Monkey Love,” I played with 3 different singers, singing harmonies, as opposed to myself singing most of the harmonies.

KCG: I also noticed that when Monkey 1 and Monkey 2 are introduced, they are accompanied by the sounds or sticks banging, and then when Nala comes in (as Monkey 3), and you all become a family, the background changes and there are accents like the sounds of crashing cymbals in celebration of this coming together. Was that arrangement intentional? Do you use instruments as a way to accentuate a song, or as additional “voices” in some ways.


KA: Yeah, definitely. There’s all kinds of different approaches to producing a song. Something I really love to do is have a dynamic build, giving the song a sense of growing. Maybe beginning small with simpler sounds and simpler productions, generally having less elements going on, and then slowly introducing things one by one. The song, “AppleApple,” is a good example of that, or “Afraid of Heights,” where things start very simply, melodies are introduced and then it starts to build, and, in the case of “Apple Apple,” turn into a drunken circus where there’s kind of a lot going on and laughter. So that building is something that I really love to do in producing the songs.

Another layer that I like is the twist. I really like to have some character development in some of my songs. Again, “Afraid of Heights,” is an example of that or “Waiting Always Takes a Long Time,” where you have this character, and sometimes it’s me or there’s this little birdie in a tree, and things start happening. Maybe there’s a conflict or there’s some trouble there and something happens in the song where it’s used to change the perspective. The turning point of the song, what I call the bridge, is where something happens, and when you get to the other side of the bridge, you go back to the chorus or the repeating line and [the song] means something a little bit different now. So, in “Afraid of Heights,” when the bird is born and she’s in her nest, she looks down and thinks, “Oh my goodness I’m so high up, this is terrible!” Then, suddenly, she looks up and sees the sky for the first time and realizes “Oh, the possibilities!” And it’s then that she opens up her wings, flies into the sky and exhales. The timing for the song “Afraid of Heights,” is in 4/4, where you’re counting up to 4. For the bridge, the song goes into 3/4 time just to demonstrate that something new is happening, and it’s really subtle.

KCG: There’s a personification element with some of the subjects in the songs on Apple Apple. But, I think that taps into the imagination of a younger audience. I spend hours sometimes just being a puppeteer or making any inanimate object talk and immediately, my daughter feels comfortable and excited to explore in this type of play.

KA: I think that comes from just being around kids. Just like you said, and from what I’ve observed, that’s how they play. The song that comes to mind on Apple Apple is “Apple Eyes.” There is an apple tree in our yard that drops so many apples in the Fall and they are so delicious. Every morning, Montana and I would go out and bring a basket with us to the tree. We shook the tree and picked up any apples that had fallen overnight, and we just talked to this tree. We said “Hi” to the tree and a lot of other things. I realized, in doing that, it was really creating an awareness of the natural world for him. That this tree, for example, is a part of our little neighborhood community; it’s a part of our family, in a way. To look at a tree that way is very different from just going, “Oh, I’m gonna go out and this tree is just dropping all these really great apples, and we’ll go steal them and bake pies and share them with our friends.” It’s just a different way of looking at the world. It was a discovery for me to start personifying things in my daily life and just seeing the relationship that can develop.

With this song, “Apple Eyes,” all this stuff that I was just describing, all came after that song. That song just kind of happened. A couple of lines came from that song, simple little melodies and I realized that I didn’t know where the song was going and I didn’t really care. It was that discovery. So, I made the apples’ eyes close and things like that. And, that’s an example of a song that’s not super linear, you know. You don’t need to track the song from the first verse, sequentially, to the bridge and beyond. It’s just a gentle lullaby-ish song where the images come and they go and they don’t mean any one clear thing, necessarily, which is where that song is hopefully helping its little listener.

KCG: There’s about 5 songs, roughly, at the end of your album that are like lullabies. They’re just really soft and gentle, like a little treat for small (and big) ears.

KA: On Ladybug One, I wrote a little letter and coded that in the CD artwork. The letter says “Put on track 10,” and from then on, it’s kind of a lullaby where it gets gentle and mellows out. I did that again with Apple Apple. I think it’s nice to have [lullabies] as a possibility on a kids’ album. It’s cool that you discovered that because I didn’t explicitly say that in the CD artwork this time around.

KCG: Going back to Ladybug One and looking at Apple Apple it would seem that there are themes. Do you do that intentionally? On Apple Apple, there are a lot of apple references, whereas Ladybug One has a bunch of songs about bugs. When you write, do themes help shape where you want things to go? What is your approach when thinking about creating a record?

KA: Well, I start writing songs, they begin assembling and I make lists. My life is full of lists. The particular lists I’m referring to are a list of songs and little stars or a little line that means this or that. The lists could include songs that I really want to do, songs that I’m not sure how to do, or songs that might need more development. Slowly, it becomes organized into some songs that I start recording and eventually a title just pops up.

What I was trying to do with the song, “Apple Apple,” and really why I liked that title, is because an apple is a very iconic kid noun. It was one of Montana’s first 25 words. Even though it has a couple of syllables and it’s not very easy to say, he really worked very hard on it. It’s also very iconic for the region I live in North America, and really in North America, in general, apples can be a local food which is another subtle part of our message; eating healthy and locally. So, I chose that over say, a banana, which doesn’t grow as commercially, as far as I know, anywhere in the continental United States. The last [reason] that I just want to mention is that saying [apple] twice, as in “Apple Apple,” refers to this album being my second big family album, and it’s kind of a way of tracking that. So, those are a couple of little reasons for having an apple in the title. I don’t know if I’ll stick with that and do something in three’s for the third album. It will be really subtle if I do.

So, I came up with the album title and obviously there was the song, “Apple Apple,” but I wanted to have a few more references to apples on the album and so you have the song, “Bare Feet,” which is about climbing an apple tree. I almost changed the line in “Supermoon” to the moon being tangled on an apple branch, but I thought that maple was just as iconic [as apple], and kids would have more of an experience with a maple tree as opposed to an apple tree. But, I thought about it for a while and didn’t think it was that important. So, I had two songs, “Bare Feet” and “Apple Apple,” and was thinking maybe I can find more references [to apples], and the song, “Apple Eyes,” just kind of popped up and I thought, “Wow, what a great way to end the record!” That’s where the theme came from. It’s definitely conscious, but subtle. I try to keep [the theme] subtle and not too overt. I think in Ladybug One [the theme] was a little more obvious. That album really had alot to do with bugs; there are a few ladybug references, there’s fireflies, and there’s spiders. So, these songs are really a reflection of my world that I live in. We live in the woods, we go outside and we’re barefoot. We play in the garden in dirt, we go walking on trails, and there are owls and coyotes and raccoons and snakes and frogs all around us.

KCG: That comes through in the lyrics of the song, “Bare Feet.” The song sends a message saying that we need to be outside and that it’s important for kids to be outside.

KA: Doesn’t matter what your background is, how old you are or where you live. Put a kid outside and let them play with some sticks and rocks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KCG: Any particular album?

TK: I would say Pop Fly is my favorite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KCG: Like the Little Rascals character or sprouts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KCG: I really like the song “Bumblebee.”

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

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

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

KCG: Both you and Matt write the songs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KCG: Do you have a favorite muppet?

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

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

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

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

KCG: What were your musical influences growing up?

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

KCG: What is your goal as a kindie musician?

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

Interview: Conversation with Justin Roberts

Justin Roberts

Justin Roberts, widely known for his catchy power pop hooks, recently released a gorgeous lullaby album once again proving that he is a master at his craft. While Lullaby is completely devoted to ballads, it is the toned down vibe of the album that illuminates Roberts’ brilliance as a songwriter. A full review of Lullaby can be found here.

My friend sent me a quote a while ago during a time when he was researching music and its effects on our mood. I think it perfectly sums up the feeling of listening to Lullaby.

“Certain common and simple verses, even a single line or two, that appeal to one’s heart and mind, when repeatedly sung or hummed with melody, rhythm and cadence and listened to by oneself, is like the divine symphony! It touches the core of our being and fills our heart with unspeakable joy and measureless happiness. It encircles us all around. This has to be experienced to be believed.”

With that, I hope you enjoy reading through the interview below.

KCG: I have really been enjoying Lullaby and it’s been great to see how much praise the album has gotten so far. In your career you have received a lot of acclaim for the records you’ve put out. Do you have high expectations for yourself with each new album?

JR: Unfortunately, yes. But, the thing with Lullaby is that it was kind of a hard left turn in terms of it being really different than anything I’ve ever done before. I’ve certainly written ballads in the past, but it was new for me to try to create a whole record of the same mood, using a lot of instrumentation that I don’t normally use. In writing lullabies, you’re often writing from a parent’s perspective, which I’ve done before on a few songs here and there, but not on a whole record. It was kind of a challenge to do something different rather than just making another power pop record, which I’m working on now. I wanted to try and do something different in between Jungle Gym and the upcoming record, [Recess]. I didn’t know how people would respond to it and it’s been nice to hear that people like it. As an artist, your goal is to have both critics and fans always enjoy what you do.

KCG: Although you do have one or two ballads on each of your previous albums, sitting and devoting an entire album to them seems like it would be a deeper, more personal process for you. Do you feel like this is a more personal album based on the change of pace in comparison to your power pop records?

JR: It really is. What was difficult about it was that I started working on it, finished one or two songs and had some other fragments, then started to wonder how I was going to maintain the mood and keep it interesting so that it wouldn’t be a boring record. I had a fragment of this melody to “What the Stork Sent” and then I thought of slowing it down a little bit but putting it into a Bossa Nova. Then I thought about how there are many genres of music that have slower songs and I don’t have to do classically based stuff. When I started working with that in mind, I thought that I could try and write an R&B song, I could try to write a Van Morrison style song, etc. The variety of styles seemed like it would make for a more interesting album and I’m really happy with how it turned out.

KCG: Sounds like it gave you more freedom while still being able to maintain the signature softness and emotional appeal of a typical lullaby record.

JR: When I’m writing any of the songs, like “Meltdown” or “Pop Fly,” each song has to appeal to me as an adult and should be something that reminds me of my childhood or gives me some sort of emotional response. So, while writing a record, I don’t think I’m writing it for 3-year-olds. I think I’m writing a record for children, families, adults, parents and everybody. It gives me a much broader range of what I feel like I can do.

KCG: The orchestral accents in the songs are timed perfectly with some of the verses you sing to make for really beautiful arrangements. Did you construct the arrangements and timing of each of these parts yourself?

JR: Yes, I wrote and recorded demos of all of the songs on my computer, mostly using a keyboard to play the string parts and the horn parts, etc. I also wrote backup parts on a couple of songs that were clearly meant for a gospel group. Liam had the idea of bringing in 2 women from a Chicago production of Hairspray. I’ve never had that sort of standard backup singer sound on a record and they were amazing singers. It felt fresh to me. And, it was pretty incredible to have the Chicago Symphony players in the studio, some of the finest musicians in the world, sing and play along with the parts that I had written on a mini-keyboard. The difference between hearing the parts played on a mini-keyboard and hearing the real emotions that the string players and the horn players put into the notes was really powerful. Even though I knew the parts, hearing someone else play them with just a beautiful musicality was really moving. It’s always so worth it when you get someone in who is just a complete pro and makes something that might be somewhat special into something really magical.

KCG: You have a reputation for putting on rockin’ music shows. How are you going to incorporate Lullaby into your live shows?

JR: It’s going to be difficult. Most of the songs don’t lend themselves to a live show unless we have a string quartet and an English Horn player. And, we can only do so much with synthesizers. I think we’ll probably learn a few of the songs that are playable by the band, but we’re probably only going to play one or two songs from Lullaby at any given concert, whereas when I put out Recess next year, we’ll probably play five or six songs from that record. I’m hoping Lullaby will spread through word of mouth, where it’s given as gifts to parents of newborns and young children, and then those parents will enjoy it and want to tell others about it instead of buying it as a result of hearing the songs at our shows.

KCG: It would make for a beautiful concert.

JR: I had a friend of mine suggest doing a whole concert devoted to Lullaby. I don’t know how well it would work for children. I have been doing some solo in-store performances, where I’ve been sitting down doing a handful of songs from from Lullaby, but then needing to do other songs to keep the audience engaged. It’s really meant for the type of setting where a parent and child can listen together during quiet time or late night. It’s not really meant for keeping the attention for a 2 or 3-year-old.

KCG: The instrumentation and lyrics of the songs paint such a beautiful picture. For example, with “Count Them As They Go,” the lyrics “picture this” and “all the aching thoughts we keep/just let ’em go like sheep” in combination with the perfectly timed graphics is like a guided meditation. Crows typically carry the burden of representing the dark side, so to use that to represent negative thoughts was an interesting contrast.

JR: I was really happy with the video that ALSO, a company in Chicago, created for “Count Them As They Go.” The fun thing was that I gave the company very little direction. I told them to match the mood and repetitious quality of the song and they pretty much came up with the whole concept. The only thing I suggested was to have one single crow go across the screen at the beginning of the song when it says “white sheep, black crow.” And then at the end of the song, when it says “the birds are waiting on the line so let ’em go it’s time” it’s should be the same kind of bird. For me, the black crow is sort of unexpected in the whole thing and it’s for negative thoughts as well. The whole thing feels very Buddhist to me, although I am not a practicing Buddhist.

KCG: A lot of the songs on the album don’t really sound like traditional lullabies, which is interesting because it’s called Lullaby so it automatically puts it in that category.

JR: I think because of the nature of the Lullaby record, a lot of the songs are treading the line between being love songs and being lullabies. It just depends on what perspective you hear the singer coming from. A song like “No Matter How Far” sounds like a ’70s soft rock song and not necessarily like a traditional lullaby.

KCG: Why did you decide to call the album “Lullaby?”

JR: Actually, Liam’s wife came up with the idea. We were talking about the idea of making a lullaby record. People were saying “why don’t you take all your soft songs and put them on record and make a lullaby record?” I didn’t want to do that because people have already bought those songs. Then I thought maybe I could take old songs, orchestrate them and make them new, interesting recordings. When I started thinking about it more, I thought it would be better if I just wrote a bunch of new songs and made a lullaby record. Then, Liam’s wife said “You should make a lullaby record and call it Lullaby.” Once she said that, I was mulling around the idea of a “Lullaby” song in my head and started writing the lyrics to it in 3/4 time with the idea of “it’s all in the end lullaby.” So when I was going about naming the record it just seemed like the right thing. I know [Lullaby] treads that line between being a grown-up record and a lullaby record and I’m happy that people are going along with the ride, because my fan base seems to be parents and kids. So, it’s nice to be able to make a record like this and have people appreciate it even though it’s for a different time of the day than they might listen to my other records.

KCG: That makes sense because although it is categorized as “family music” or “music for children,” parents are very much involved in determining what is listenable. Also, I think parents need music just as much to help them get through their day. If I enjoy listening to something that my daughter responds to, it’s a bonus and I am more willing to suggest it to friends and family. I am a huge music lover and I appreciate when music and lyrics consider both parent and child.

JR: Exactly. For me, there are times where I write songs and think “ok, this is a song for adults that I’m putting on a kids’ record.” The song “From Scratch,” on Pop Fly, is a sweet song about my grandmother and I know a lot of parents are going to like the lyrics because a lot of people have very similar memories of their grandmother. Then I have a 3-year-old come up to me and tell me that “From Scratch” is their favorite song and it’s like “what?!” So, if I began the process with what I think a child would like, I’m going to shoot low and you just never underestimate what kids are going to appreciate. I was just talking with a friend who had been listening to Lullaby with his son and thought there was a depth to the lyrics in the songs that he thought his son might not get. And then his son ended up drawing pictures of some of the things in the songs and totally responding to them. It was a great thing for my friend because when he listens to Lullaby, he finds it emotionally moving and it was a nice experience to see his son responding in the same way. So, I always go into it not knowing what kids are going to think. I’m almost more sure that adults will like something because I also am a music lover and try to make things that I like in music.

KCG: A while back you were pursuing religious studies.

JR: At University of Chicago I did a Masters Degree in Religious Studies. I had started off as a Philosophy of Religions Major concentrating in Buddhism. I switched over to Theology, but then I didn’t pursue a Ph.D. or anything. But, I was thinking about being a professor of religion.

KCG: Did any of what you studied influence the songs you wrote on Lullaby?

JR: I’m sure it did. Like I said, when I was writing “Count Them As They Go,” I was very much thinking about all of the tenants of Buddhism and the philosophy of that, although I do not actively practice them in my own life. I think it comes out in various ways. I think there’s a certain way of looking at life that people can find in songs. With the song “Lullaby,” in particular, I was sort of thinking a lot about how, traditionally, lullabies have elements of tragedy and elements of darkness in them that you don’t really think about. I’ve always wondered why “Rock-a-bye Baby” became such a standard thing to sing to children and so I was reflecting a lot on that dichotomy. A lot of the songs [on Lullaby] have this kind of imagery of beautiful things in fragile situations, like the stork delivering the baby or in the song “Lullaby,” there’s the image of all of these cradles in trees waiting to be knocked down. I think that sort of fragileness of life and the beauty that is passing, etc., certainly is influenced personally by things that I studied in college and graduate school.

KCG: In “All For You” you say “if the wise men say.”

JR: That actually comes a little bit more from me listening to Frank Sinatra 24/7 for many years on end. That for me is more just traditional songwriting usage of the wise man. I played [“All For You”] out for a solo event that I was doing early on for adults. It was right when I was saying I wasn’t making a lullaby record. A mother at the show came up and said how much she appreciated a song like that which has an element of I would do anything for you. I’m gonna screw up occasionally, but I’ll always be there for you. It’s not unlike a love song, but I like the sentiment of the song and it was refreshing to hear a mother say that it’s the kind of lullaby she would love to play for her child.

KCG: You do a beautiful job of stringing words together and creating vivid images for your listeners. For example, in “Nothing on You,” when you sing “the rain strikes the sidewalk/with its exquisite small talk/so many syllables I’ll never comprehend” and then later on in the song you liken the geese to musical symbols as you sing “those fleeting notes and rests are stretched across the sky.” Also interesting is “Wild One” and how that phrase takes on double meaning throughout the song. As a songwriter, do you put a lot of thought into the structure of the words you use?

JR: I really like the way words sound together, and lyrics are what I really tune into when I listen to songs. Great chord changes and great melodies are sort of important to me, but I find I get a lot more moved by the content of the lyrics when they’re well written. That’s what makes me care about a song. I spend a lot of time changing a little tiny word in songs that some people might think it’s crazy. I will go back and forth between “no it should be the or that.” With the “exquisite small talk” I think I was trying to be Paul Simon for 5 seconds and that whole song is a little Paul Simon-esque. “Exquisite small talk” is such a kind of phrase that he would use in songwriting when he uses overly technical language in his love songs [laughs]. With “Nothing on You,” I was writing it for a friend, whose father was passing away from cancer, from the perspective of her singing it to him. I wrote most of that verse as it is like 3 years ago, had it sitting on a hard drive and was never able to finish it. Then, as I was writing all these songs, I came back to it and I’m so glad I waited because I actually like the way the rest of the song turned out. I really like the imagery of the birds flying overhead like musical notes and that idea of the lingering final bird in the air being like this beautiful melody.

KCG: Sometimes using words in a descriptive way allows people to feel the music and form their own idea about what is being sung. It makes for a more emotional experience in some ways.

JR: I often like hearing what people think a song is about or when it applies to something in their life. Occasionally it matches up to my initial idea and sometimes it doesn’t, but either way that’s the whole point of making something and leaving that openness. It’s really nice to get feedback from people. When you make something that you’re proud of you want that to translate to other people and hope they have some sort of visceral response to what you’ve done. I’ve gotten alot of that both from close family and people I don’t know that well so it’s a nice combination.

KCG: How long did it take you to write Lullaby?

JR: I started writing it in about June 2011, but then I set it aside for a little while. I really began, in earnest, in January of this year. I had a huge creative burst when I was writing multiple songs a day and just spending like 16 hours at a time at my computer writing. Some of the songs were fragments from a long time ago, like the song “Polar Bear.” I had 20 seconds of that idea on a recording from years ago, but it was played on guitar. I liked the idea of the guitar part at the beginning, but then I thought “what if it was played by a pizzicato cello” and so I recorded it with a cello, added the strings in and then I started singing over it. And with the bridge, I started hearing these kind of orchestral percussion parts and horn parts and it really turned into something way beyond what I would have written if I had finished it when I wrote the first part of it. So, some of the songs were brand new creations but a lot of them were working with little fragments and changing them into songs. Most of the lyrics were written from winter into spring of this year.

KCG: Have you spent some time listening to Lullaby? How do you feel about the way it turned out?

JR: I’ve listened to it mostly in a critical way. When Liam finished the mixes, I had absolutely no changes for what he’d done. He generally does things pretty close to the way I imagine, but better. The vocal treatment was great on all of the songs and everything was perfectly balanced in the right way. He kind of went for this ’70s analog sheen to the whole thing that just really fit the content. We mastered it with J.J. Golden at Golden Mastering in California, who we work with all the time. J.J. did a really great mastering job. I generally listen to the records several times after I make them and then I don’t listen to them again. Then, maybe I’ll listen to them again in like 10 years and think “Oh my god, that’s what that sounds like? And we’ve been playing it live! I had totally forgotten recording this!”

KCG: How much time do you spend touring each month and do you see that increasing once Recess is released?

JR: I spend about 2-4 weekends a month out of town or playing shows [in Chicago]. Touring is really how I make my income. People are buying less music or finding it other ways so there doesn’t seem to be any better way for me to sell a record than to go to someone’s town, play a show and then sell records and merchandise afterwards.

Elska Interview: Conversation with Shelley Wollert and producer Allen Farmelo

Middle of Nowhere is the creation of Shelley Wollert and producer Allen Farmelo. It is centered around a character named Elska, a modern pioneer living on an arctic island with her friends The Goobler, Arctic Fox, Winter Bear and The Nunni. There’s even a colony of lost socks!

Recently awarded a Silver Medal by Parents’ Choice and a 2012 NAPPA Honor (National Parenting Publication Awards) for Middle of Nowhere, the music of Elska invites children on an adventure into an imaginary world full of color and wonder. And while Shelley and Allen have been busy working hard on the release and videos, they took some time to talk with me about the creation of Elska, the production of Middle of Nowhere, Iceland and how they hope to inspire young, creative minds.

KCG: We love your album and I’m so glad you’re getting positive reviews. It’s definitely a unique thing in the kindie arena. You guys have really put some work into creating a whole story here.

Shelley: Yeah, it’s a really exciting time and I’m glad that you’re enjoying it. You know, we’ve been working on this project for a little bit over two years and it’s so exciting now to be able to walk out of the studio and be able to hear it with the kids, see that it’s coming to life and people are getting it and enjoying it.

KCG: Shelley, how did you come up with the character of Elska and where does her name come from?

Shelley: Elska means “to love” in Icelandic and the whole project was inspired by a trip that Allen and I took to Iceland together. Before that trip, we had begun writing children’s music together and it was pretty standard stuff. Then, when we took that trip to Iceland, everything changed. Our imagination was kind of ignited by this very unique place. It just really rebooted us, like pressing the button on a computer. I decided, with Allen, to create this character that had an island that was a special safe place, that was creative, that was newly formed, as any volcanic island is, and a place that was just filled with wonder. Actually, when we took our first plane trip to Iceland there was the word “Elska” printed on the back of the pillow that Icelandic Air gave us with the definition “Elska means ‘to love.'” So we had been throwing around these ideas and looking up on the internet for Icelandic words and that came back to us. It just seems like the perfect word for this character.

KCG: That’s a really beautiful story.

Allen: Yeah, we were actually trying to name the island at first and we called it The Island of Elska, like “The Island of Love.” And then the character didn’t have a name.

Shelley: It was going to be Shelley or my middle name, which is Kay.

Allen: Then one day I just said, “I think you should be Elska.” It took us a while to get that clarity, but we eventually got there.

KCG: How do you channel Elska? It seems like you really need to know that part of yourself in writing, videos and live shows.

Shelley: It’s very liberating to be in a place that’s so fun and creative. I’m so glad that I don’t have to be Shelley on stage. It’s far more interesting to walk into somebody else’s clothes and get into the origins of this character; what she’s like and what her history was. To play this modern pioneer who sees the most amazing things you could ever imagine is just a real privilege. Even though I might not ever communicate it during a show, it helps me really appreciate what I’m doing and what makes these characters and these songs so special to her. It really has been fully developed like any other role I’ve ever played on stage. It’s so much fun. I mean, who doesn’t want to hang out with The Goobler?

Allen: It’s been amazing to watch Shelley put Elska into the third person. I remember it happened in a recording session where Shelley said “Oh, I don’t think she would sing that melody” and I’m looking around thinking “she who?” “Oh, right, Elska.” And it freed me up as a producer, as well, to have this character who we were there to support and understand and develop all at once. At some point, Elska was very real and started to tell us what to do, which is an interesting shift in the creative process. I think when you know you’ve got something good and something alive, then it has its own logic and it tells you what to do instead of you creating it all the time.

KCG: This whole story is very interesting to me. How did you come up with the idea to make The Goobler very green and environmentally conscious?

Allen: Well, the environmentalist angle is actually throughout the island if you take a closer look at it. We don’t want to be heavy-handed and preachy about anything like that, so we have not made it overt. But, Iceland itself is an incredibly environmentally conscious place. They are the one place in the world which is aiming to get off fossil fuels very soon. They have an incredible geothermal resource and they are incredible preservationists. Many of the musicians and artists there are engaged in helping preserve Iceland from too much development. For example, Valgeir Sigurðsson, who mastered the record, wrote the soundtrack to a movie called Dreamland which is a documentary about saving a whole vast region of Iceland from hydro-electric development. So — being in Iceland is kind of like getting an education in what it is to be environmentally forward thinking and we built some of those features into the island [of Elska] itself. We have The Elska Express, which is geothermally powered. It’s a silent train, there’s no engine chugging along; it’s powered by steam that comes from the Earth. You have to solve problems when you live on an arctic island, and so we thought where does Elska’s food come from? Which led to us thinking well, the Goobler has a greenhouse and he knows how to do that. And there are other characters like The Nunni, who’s that little guy with one eye. He doesn’t have a song about him yet, but he’s an engineer who comes up with alot of the solutions; like the train and he built The Goobler’s greenhouse. So there’s this sort of technology and environmental angle built into a lot of it. We’re not sure how far we’ll take that, but it’s there.

KCG: When you were creating Elska and the characters for Elska, did you already have this written out or did it sort of flow once you visited Iceland and decided to pursue this?

Allen: It’s probably the most non-linear process ever.

Shelley: Yeah, it wasn’t like a coup de force where you get struck by lightening and everything gets put in place. It was the process of evolution. Just like the music, we revised and revised and revised and we pushed boundaries. We pushed story lines and said “Oh gosh, what are these socks doing?” and we kept on pushing the uniqueness of it. They don’t just live together they make art together, they rearrange themselves into giant pictures. We just kept on sort of developing the story and revising it over time.

Allen: The socks are an interesting point, because we actually came to a real struggle while Shelley and I were working on that song. We had the idea of a land of lost socks. We had no idea what they did and they kind of needed to do something — they couldn’t just be there. It wasn’t a pile of socks, it was a colony. I remember being in the studio and I [said] “What do they do, Shelley? What do they do?” and Shelley just blurted out “They’re like pixels! They make pictures!” and I said, “It’s stunning!” That was an idea that we had been trying to hatch for six months or more, and we had studio time booked and had to have an answer. So, everything in this project has been like Shelley said; about constant revision and then “aha” moments. We had just about every type of creative process fused together in the creation of this. It’s been more than anything, just a ton of work, wouldn’t you say?

Shelley: Exactly. What’s so exciting, now, is that because we’ve spent so much time building a foundation in character development, it’s so much fun to now expand these stories as we go forward — through different forms of media. We’ll be able to do a story about the train and how it works. So, from here, now that we’ve done the bricklaying, we can fill out the story to our fans and they can learn more and more about the characters as we move forward through more albums and more videos.

Allen: And you can’t go backwards once it’s released to the public.

KCG: Did you have any experience with children’s music or anything in the children’s genre before? What was your approach in deciding to get into this area of music?

Allen: Not much, aside from my upbringing, which was being drenched in children’s music. I drew on that as much as anything. I also had very particular tastes as a child in music. I was totally into Switched-On Bach which was kind of aimed at children, not entirely, but it really was a hit with kids. They use Moog synthesizers and we use a Moog synthesizer on this record quite a bit. So, the more I look back on it, I’m seeing a lot of my influences as producer of this record, probably were coming from my sensibilities growing up. I listened to The Beatles quite a bit so that influenced some of the pop writing and production clarity that we went for. I also think that I had the good fortune of not knowing too much about the current children’s music market. We made it in a little bit of a vacuum, to be honest, and we just tried to stay really true to our hearts. As much as we were making it for children, we were really making it for ourselves, wouldn’t you say?

Shelley: Absolutely. I taught children in my 20’s and taught musical theater, improv and fairytale theater and so I’ve had a lot of experience singing and performing for kids but never the opportunity to, as Allen said, kind of sit in a vacuum and completely imagine another world for that period of time and come out the other side. So I think we really just tried to stay true to ourselves during the process.

KCG: You could have just created a set of songs without characters.

Shelley: We had a pivotal moment in this coffee shop where Allen said to me “Look you can either be the girl behind the guitar or you can do your acting, your music, your drawing…” And I’m also an illustrator. So he said “Why don’t you do everything, just do it all! Wouldn’t that be a great choice?” And I thought, “YES!” So this has become my dream project. I get to illustrate, I get to design characters, I get to sing and dance and I get to write and play music. I also get to create with Allen and I get to be in character acting. So for me it was coming up with the dream job and then just going for it.

Allen: I felt like, as producer, I was tapping into one dimension of this multi-dimensional person, Shelley. For example, Shelley had a dream about The Goobler and then she drew it and I walked out of the studio and said “What if that guy was named The Goobler?” I have no idea where that came from. I think once you have one character, you just start to have more characters and they just grew from there. We just kept coming up with things. The next thing was Winter Bear — then the Arctic Fox came way late in the game. I didn’t know there was a fox until we were almost done with the record. Shelley said “I wrote a new song. It’s called “Arctic Fox” and my jaw dropped and I said, “well that has to be on the record.” The fox has become such a central character even though he’s quite elusive and doesn’t say much. So [the characters] came from dreams, they came from a song somebody wrote, etc.

KCG: So many successes are built on dreams it seems.

Allen: I think dreams are a way that adults can tap into their most free imagination. We don’t always get to use it the way a child is encouraged to use it –so I think sometimes our dreams are that place where we can play again.

KCG: When my daughter can bring to life any object, there is safety to it and freedom in building a story and Middle of Nowhere taps into that creative place for her. The music has this innocence to it. It’s very light and there’s not a whole lot of instruments.

Allen: Whenever I make a record, no matter who it’s with, I try to boil it down to what I call a guiding principle. It’s usually a phrase that we can return to to remember where we came from. The guiding principle for this record was “playful minimalism” — so when we had choices to make creatively, we would return to that as our guiding principle. Everything from a drum beat, we would try and find the simplest version, to a bass line, to a melody, to the logo, to Elska’s name, to anything that could be stripped down to its most minimalist and yet most playful state. I think that maybe what you’re hearing in the music a bit is a reflection of that guiding principle. That playfulness and that minimalism does give it a nice clarity and innocence.

KCG: Do you have a target age range in mind for your audience?

Shelley: We sort of think it’s for a lot of different ages. We haven’t set a target in our minds — and we’re finding kids very young are liking this and we’re also finding fans that are six, seven, eight years old. We’ve had some adults really like this project. “Hiddi Hiddi,” the video, showed up on some rock blogs saying “look at this trippy video.” It’s kind of cool how it’s hitting different age groups and sectors in its own way. So we’re just really staying open to it and inviting everybody to the party in a sense.

KCG: What do you want kids to get out of this?

Shelley: One of my big intentions for this project, and what really fuels me forward is that I just really want to give kids that break in their day,and that experience in their childhood where they could sort of befriend a creative person and place where they feel safe and excited and creatively stimulated and interested. For me, it happened with the Wizard of Oz when I was about four. It was such a relief to me. I think it can be very demanding to be a little kid — in a busy household with lots going on. So my intention was to create a really beautiful part of a child’s day or childhood, and I think for some kids it could bring them a lot of relief, if they are in a challenging situation. So, I just wanted to bring a sort of peace and happiness.

KCG: Were you a musician before, Shelley?

Shelley: It’s funny, I’m sort of an Alt-Country musician and I sort of had a jazzy-bluesy thing going on with my own singer-songwriting project here in New York. I was playing the clubs, etc, and so my voice, in doing this album, is very different than what I sound like when I’m singing my adult music. I had been doing [a lot of things] for a while — I was doing political cartoons, I was playing adult music in rock clubs, I was doing children’s music here and there and some voice over work. When I got together with Allen, producing, he just really encouraged me to focus on just one thing. Boy, has it really really paid off. I stopped gigging in New York and everything became about developing Elska. So it’s been a delight to just go [deep into] one thing.

KCG: Now that Middle of Nowhere has been released, what are the next steps for Elska?

Shelley: We have been really just focusing on the release of Middle of Nowhereand now the videos. With all of this now in motion, we’re focusing our attention back onto writing. We got an artist’s residency in Iceland. So we’re returning to Iceland to write the next record and various Elska materials there. It was really important to us to find time to get away from New York to do it, because it just seems that when you’re sitting in your apartment or studio there’s always something to do; another email, CD’s to ship, phone calls and so we really just wanted to get ourselves in the writing mode and take this retreat. We do write in New York, as well, but we love [Iceland] so much that it’s kind of becoming a second creative home for us. We just kind of want to go back and give ourselves the mental space that it allows.

Allen: This opportunity for this residency fell in our laps, as well. It was funny how it came up: the people saw Elska and just loved it. They offered us up this residency and so you just have to say yes to things like that.

KCG: Going back to the sound of Elska. Did you try other sounds or other types of music to pair up with the vocals? How did you narrow down to an electronic sound?

Allen: That’s a really good question. There came a point where we realized that there weren’t any guitars on this record and I came into a realization, as a producer, that it was really hard to make something sound truly otherworldly while still using the guitar. The guitar almost automatically locates music in Europe or North America; it’s the Blues, it’s Country, it’s Rock, it’s Folk, it’s Classical guitar, it’s Spanish, it’s Irish Folk, it’s all of these. It has so many associations, so to truly break away from that instrument and start using other sounds, helped the music become as wonderfully otherworldly and fictional and unto itself as we could get it. So I think that’s a big part of it. We had guitar on The Elska Express for a while and a bunch of other songs. I think half of the songs are probably written as guitar songs that we then translated into these other forms.

Shelley: “Click Click” was a country song and it’s straight up electric dance music now.

Allen: A lot of that was my influence of trying to bring the music into a really unique sphere. So, abandoning the guitar altogether was, at that point, how I was doing it. And for what it’s worth, I’m just now starting to work with guitars again as a producer. I feel like I need to come back to them and use them interestingly and creatively again. So, I think that’s a big part of that record, and it’s such a dividing line. If a record has guitars, it’s going to feel a certain way and if it doesn’t, it’s more open to a different kind of sound. But, there’s a lot of acoustic piano, there’s a lot of acoustic xylophone, there’s a lot of acoustic drums and some straight up electric bass. So, not everything is a programmed synthesizer or beat on there. There are a bunch of acoustic elements as well, so we did manage to marry acoustic and electric in a pretty unique way. But, we really tried to get away from the genres that we felt were trapping us a little bit in North America. When you create a place as weird as a newly formed arctic island that doesn’t actually exist, it puts a certain challenge in front of people like “Well, what’s the music from that place?” The sounds locate the music in different ways. It’s just an interesting thing to think that I have a globe in my hands when I select instruments, and I can locate things in different parts of the world.

KCG: Bjork comes to mind with this kind of music. Do you think you could ultimately be compared to a Bjork for kids?

Allen: Bjork and Sigur Ros, from Iceland, have been huge influences on me. And our friend Valgeir Sigurðsson, who mastered the record, has produced much of Bjork’s records. We very directly used the technique called “micro beats” which is something Valgeir invented with Bjork when they made the record called Vespertine. And we’re also very influenced by an Icelandic band that’s lesser known called Múm. They use micro beats in this interesting way. So, in a lot of ways, the micro beats that you’re hearing on “Arctic Fox” and “Man-Made Hole,” where we’re using all those little clicky sounds, those sounds really came from Bjork, Sigur-Ros and Múm; they all use them. It’s very Icelandic in origin.

KCG: With regard to “Arctic Fox,” what did you use to create the sounds of the micro beats?

Allen: The micro beats on “Arctic Fox” are made from kitchen utensils, cat toys and other household objects. We sampled those and then programmed them into the beats you hear on the song.

KCG: Bjork’s voice reminds me a lot of your voice Shelley. It has this very sweet, soft tone to it.

Shelley: Thank you for that compliment. She’s such an original, amazing artist.

Allen: Probably part of that is the production technique there, which is that Elska never sings very loudly. We use a technique that is called “crooning” sometimes, but I call it “super hot microphone” technique. It’s where you set up the microphone so the singer can almost whisper, and then ends up with a sweet sound in their voice and a lot of intimacy. I know that’s something that Bjork has used over the years, too. And then live, Shelley wears a microphone so she can sing in that style, as well, so it translates better. But, I think they’re very fair comparisons that you’re making there, very spot on.

KCG: The technique you use is very inviting. My daughter is intrigued when she hears Elska and watches her in the videos.

Shelley: We really wanted this project to be concave so that it’s inviting people into this project, instead of coming out of the screen with all these fast edits, big voices and loud, crazy noises for kids. We wanted this to really be a project with stillness and invitation and warmth.

KCG: How are you guys going to translate this on stage?

Shelley: Right now I have a vibraphone player and then I have another musician who’s playing these really great analog synthesizers, called “pocket pianos,” and a Moog Bass and a drum machine. And then I’m acting, singing, using props and introducing the characters during the performance. It’s very much a blend of storytelling, theater and music.

Allen: The live show is quite different from the record, and it’s a really beautiful and unique experience in and of itself, especially with a live vibraphone and the way they’ve worked out the tunes for the live performance.

KCG: Shelley, you get dressed up as Elska and wear the same thing throughout the show?

Shelley: Oh absolutely. I come out on stage and just start with “I’ve come from the Island of Elska.” The kids are only seeing Elska and learning about the island.

Allen: The kids are mesmerized. It’s fun to watch the kids tune in.

KCG: Shelley, do you play any instruments or are you singing the whole time?

Shelley: I play a xylophone during “Winter Bear,” but other than that, I’m singing and dancing and playing with props.

KCG: Do you have actual puppets or stuffed creatures?

Shelley: Right now there’s these giant cut-outs that we had printed. So when I say “Have you met my friend The Goobler?” I go and get this beautiful cut-out of The Goobler and I say, “Let me show you a picture of him” and I talk it out and then we sing the song. So I just have some really vivid props.

KCG: Do you feel protective of the characters? Like when you sing “Don’t Make Fun of the Goobler.”

Shelley: I’m very protective of him during that song. Wait til you see the video!

KCG. Now that you are in the kindie scene, have you gotten to know and listen to other artists in the same genre?

Shelley: Absolutely! We were invited to perform at Kindiefest which was AWESOME! It was TOTALLY AWESOME! We got to meet everybody, who was there at least. I have just really been enjoying the friendships that we’ve made and checking out everybody’s projects and videos as they come out. There’s so many incredible artists and it’s just been so much fun.

KCG: This album feels like an introductory album, almost like Stage 1 of what’s to come.

Allen: Very much so. When you are presented with these characters you don’t really know what they are going to do, but you can talk about them, you can play with characters, you can imagine what they do, and we’ve left it wide open for ourselves, as well, in order to keep creating stories and albums. The videos are turning out to be incredibly fun, creatively rewarding and beautiful, so we see so many different avenues that Elska can go down, but we definitely see it as a musical project with a lot of records coming down the road eventually. We’re gonna dig in and write the next record or two, depending on what happens here, and start working on that in 2013, in earnest. But, we’ll start writing it this Fall in Iceland. It feels very wide open and we can do so many things like finding new partnerships and collaborators and just building it and building it.

KCG: Do you guys collaboratively write?

Shelley: It goes both ways and then when we’re done with it there’s so many footprints from both of us. In the example of me writing “Arctic Fox,” I think I wrote it on a xylophone and just sang it out loud and brought it to Allen. Then he comes in and there’s the micro beats and they all create the sounds. Allen wrote “I Just Had an Idea” and then we get into the studio and I’m working on the lyrics and we’re both creating the sound of it and all the sparkles that go through it. Or, with “Click Click,” I can write the verse, and it was a country song and then Allen wrote the chorus, and it became a pop song. So, we really cross over constantly in our writing.

Allen: It’s a really good co-writing collaboration and we share the writing credit on the whole album 50/50. Songwriting is such an interesting craft. It involves lyrics, it involves melody, it involves harmony and chord changes, and Shelley and I bring different sensibilities to each of those aspects, and they just show up in different ways on different songs. I don’t think either of us could have written any of those songs alone.

KCG: Do each of you have a favorite?

Shelley: Well, it changes a little bit. We’ve both become very smitten with a song we’re calling “the sleeper song” on the album, which almost didn’t make it, “The Middle of Nowhere.” And now, when it comes around on the record for me, I just really love it. A lot of parents have been loving it, too. I just performed it last weekend and people were saying, “Wow that’s a really cool song.”

KCG: Yeah! My daughter picked up on the arrows and was very interested in what Elska was doing with them. So, I can personally say it reaches younger kids because she is really into the adventure.

Allen: The song I keep coming back to as a favorite is “The Elska Express.” That vocal that Shelley gives on that song kills me every time. I just love it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much true wonder and beauty in a track. I just love the way that feels to listen to. And, there’s barely anything to that song, and I just think it really works. I think that may be my favorite in the end. It’s that vocal that gets me.

KCG: Are there any challenges to being Elska?

Shelley: I always need to be on high alert that I am being as authentic as possible. I don’t want to end up being a Barney, you know, I don’t want to go too broad. I want to make sure that I really mean what I’m saying and I think that there’s a real danger with being a costumed character that you’re going to alienate folks. But, I have to be honest, I haven’t alienated a young audience member. So, parents might be wary of a costumed character, but after the first song they tend to say “Boy, this is real. This isn’t condescending. This isn’t for babies.” My real concern and focus is that I have to really make this as wonderous and wonderful and honest as Christopher Robin walking through the woods with Winnie the Pooh. There isn’t any talking down to children, and I think that’s very challenging and something I have to always patrol.

KCG: And with kids, parents are watching too.

Shelley: Yeah, that’s a lot of pressure. After a private show I did, I was just swarmed by kids and they really thought I was real. They just said, “Are you going to go home to be with The Goobler? What are you gonna do when you go home with The Goobler?” And I’m saying “Oh you know, I’m gonna go home and tell him about New York City.” It’s just real to them. That brings a lot of responsibility on my end, and that’s where you have to be really, really careful with that. I really, really want this to be real for them, because it opens up that imagination. I mean, they had a ball and they had a new friend, as a result. So I’m really committed to making this really from the heart as much as I can.

Interview: Chat with Raul Pacheco (Ozomatli & OzoKidz)

For 18 years Ozomatli has made quite an impact on the world, gaining much notoriety for their outspoken and passionate political views. Starting from the Peace and Justice Center in Los Angeles, where they began jamming together, the band was quickly recognized and in 2007 they were invited by the U.S. State Department to serve as official Cultural Ambassadors on a series of government-sponsored international tours to Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. Additionally, in 2010 the City of Los Angeles officially made April 23rd “Ozomatli Day,” based upon the band’s efforts for and in support of the city.

Throughout their career, Ozomatli has primarily been blasting out hits for adults and has accumulated quite a fan base over the years. However, about a year ago they decided to put their artistic efforts into creating a full length kids album under the moniker of OzoKidz. Ozokidz still contains the signature cacophony of sound that is part of what makes Ozomatli so thrilling to listen to. You can’t help but be drawn into a dance-induced stupor while moving your body to the hypnotic sounds produced by the 7-piece band.

The careful construction and work put into the album is impressive. Many of the songs contain lyrics aimed at educating kids and prompting intellectual conversations about things like photosynthesis, germs, spelling and planets. It’s been such a pleasure enjoying music with my daughter by a band I have been a fan of for many years. It’s pretty wacky that a band I used to listen to in my “youth” is now making music for an even younger generation. This is a beautiful thing, sure to benefit kids for years to come. Listening to OzoKidz is like listening to a non-stop musical party.

I am pleased to present a conversation I had with Raul Pacheco (Electric guitar, Tres, Jarana, Lead vocals, Background vocals) about the record.

See below for details on where to pre-order your copy of OzoKidz, a sample clip and download for “Balloon Fest” and some information on getting a super special OzoKidz chalk box!

: On the OzoKidz album what song(s) is your voice most prominent on?
Raul: “Balloon Fest” and “Sun and Moon” is me. I also sing the chorus on “Let’s Go To The Movies.”

KCG: Were you guys thinking of targeting a specific age range for OzoKidz?
Raul: I think…under 10. I mean, I think we were really thinking something meaningful like that. Appealing to bodies that are not afraid to act silly, kinda vibe.

KCG: Older kids are probably either listening to Ozomatli or influenced by peers or songs on the radio.
Raul: Yep, definitely.

KCG: I was watching the Summit 11 video that you guys did and some questions relating to OzoKidz popped up for me. You guys have always had an active voice in politics. With regard to OzoKidz, it’s juvenile, very light-hearted and exciting. It seems to really appeal to kids in your targeted age range. Have you thought about supporting causes for kids as OzoKidz?
Raul: Definitely. We have before and we’ll probably continue to do that. Regardless of this CD I mean we’re always doin’ stuff for young people. We support alot of music in our programs in Los Angeles and also in other parts of the country.

KCG: What about things like bullying or guns? Now that you’re doing kids’ albums, is there something that you would think about in terms of representing through song, with regard to bullying or guns or acceptance in terms of cultural or ethnic diversity?
Ra: I think we’d be all for it. When making this music, we weren’t specifically thinking about what causes we would get into. I think we were thinking about making kids music. I think we have a reputation of supporting kind of proactive organizations, highlighting issues that are important to us. I don’t think that would change and I think that this does offer another opportunity for that. But, we haven’t done anything specifically in regards to this CD.

KCG: In your opinion, what is kids music?
Raul: I think it’s music that has kind of a more innocent, lighter, celebratory tone. That’s not every kids life, but I think with the music we were trying to make, it was really about introduction to some ideas that we talk about in the songs. Some ideas of nature, some ideas of conservation, some ideas of health. And some of it’s also just things that resonate with young people. Certain things they can be involved in or like. So when you say what is kids music, to us I think it’s a sound. There’s a traditional kids’ market — which we found out about as we were doing this. We wanted to make it a little more detailed. Essentially we just didn’t want it to be for kids. We wanted parents to enjoy it with their children.

KCG: I think you accomplished that, definitely.

KCG: How long did it take you guys to write the OzoKidz album once you realized it was an idea you’d like to pursue?
Raul: I mean it took us a long time because we were doing it while we were doing other things. So, I think over a year. Around the period of the year…we would work on it alot for a few months, leave it alone and then we’d get back to it. I think it always takes a bit longer to make recordings because we’re always working. So yeah, it happened over a year.

KCG: You guys have done work in an orphanage and for blind kids. During the time that you have done things abroad in the presence of children, had it occurred to you to do something like OzoKidz?
Raul: No, I think it was just an idea that came out of our own, ya know, the passing of time. We’ve been around for 18 years so we ourselves have children and alot of our fans have children. And it kept coming up for people. So it was like “oh well would we even venture to do this?” I think when the idea first came up, people weren’t necessarily into it. But as we thought about it a little bit more people thought is this something that we can pull off and have it be cool and not have it be corny, and could we separate OzoKidz as its own entity away from Ozomatli enough so they don’t overlap. We don’t want them overlapping. We really want a distinct experience with the music and the shows. They’re very different in what they’re geared toward. Once we got over the idea that just because it was a little different or whatever fears we might of had about it being corny, or whatever, we were able to dig in and really make a solid kids album. Like if we were going to do it, let’s make a really good one and we feel pretty proud about it, actually.

KCG: You guys did a really nice job with it. You stayed true to the Ozomatli sound. But then listening to the words I was struck by how detailed you get in the songs. You actually drop some science in some of the songs.
Raul: Yeah!

KCG: Clearly you thought out some of the songs like Germs and Trees and even Sun and Moon. The Tree Song is definitely like wow, you know you go from the seed and even mention photosynthesis. That to me was a nice surprise. And then there’s “Germs” which my daughter seems to be really concerned about these days, especially when it comes to brushing her teeth. Let’s start with “Germs” in particular. You guys go through germs in your body, you go through bacteria in medicine, and you really get deep into the details of it all. How did that come about? Did you do research?

Raul: What was really helpful in that is that we had done these kid songs for PBS Kids first. And they were super adamant about the lyrics. We had to keep it simple but creative, informative. I mean they’re really coming from an educational perspective. And these guys have been doing it for years. It’s their careers, they make kids media for PBS. And PBS has to have a little bit more of an educational purpose in it. So, from that experience we really took that and put that into some of these songs. Like, how to really make a list of things and really put them in a way that was clever but not too petty; enough information where you’re being challenged but not too much information where you’re just overwhelmed. So I think with a few of those we did a pretty good job of really having that balance so that anybody listening to the song can have some kind of relationship to it. If it’s the kid, if it’s their parent. It could be a conversation piece. And musically, they’re all different styles and so there could even be a conversation piece about that. But I think it’s like getting young people to have discussions about it and young people with older people, ya know, who are their teachers or who are their parents can kind of be able to have this shared experience on this music and on these subjects. So I think this experience before of writing songs for PBS in hindsight, was really helpful.

KCG: Typically with Ozomatli there is alot of Spanish. With the OzoKidz album there is some Spanish weaved into certain songs and then there’s Changito. Did you think about balancing Spanish and English for this album?
Raul: Yeah we did, we thought about it. There were some Spanish songs that didn’t make it in the final cut, because I just think that those songs weren’t as good. And I don’t think it has anything to do with the language. It’s just those particular songs were not as well rounded and they just weren’t as good songs. For me, I wish there were more but it’s not the way it came out and, at some point, we just let it go.

KCG: How many people contributed to the writing process on this album?
Raul: Ya know, I think it’s the same way for all of us. Some songs are all of us, some songs are just a few of us. It’s never really like either or. Sometimes it might be one person really spearheading it. Sometimes it’s everyone taking a piece and contributing. It really varies.

KCG: Does the music come first and then the words? Is there a method to the writing?
Raul: There’s no method. I prefer that. There’s no method. Just whatever comes out. We start to gravitate towards what moves everybody.

KCG: Do you have a personal favorite on the album?
Raul: I guess like with all our music, I go through phases. So, on this one…I think the ones you mentioned, “Trees” and “Germs.” I like to play “Germs,” it’s fun. And even though I sing “Balloon Fest,” that was alot of fun to play too. They’re funny, ya know? When you’re singing with these little kids, they’re just staring up at you wondering like “what’s all going down.”

KCG: But it’s so authentic. Kids are pretty honest and you can tell right away if they’re getting into it.
Raul: You have to be better at reading. Cause they get bored quick. When you perform, it’s like you have to be really engaged with them. Our shows are not more than 40 minutes long. But overall the shows are alot of fun.

KCG: I can tell you that my daughter loves Moose on the Loose. When we got the album, she was dancing so hard that I think we only got as far as “Exercise” before she had to stop dancing because she was sweating and exhausted. There is just no other way to enjoy OzoKidz. When you put the album on, it’s nothing but a party. You’re just gonna dance and move your body and get into it.

KCG: Were you influenced by other kindie bands or had you done any research into what other kids’ musicians were doing?
Raul: I think we did it more like finding out if this was even viable for us to do. And then our manager researched it and said “yeah, there was a whole bunch of people doing this.” And we heard some music just to kinda get an idea and then I think part of our own competitiveness was like “Oh we could do this, we could do a good job at this, actually.” When you’re around for as long as we are, we try to do some things that we’ve never done before. And this was alot of fun. I think one of the things is that there wasn’t as much pressure we would put on ourselves as we would with an adult Ozomatli record. So I think there is something that we definitely walked away with from this process that we’ll be bringing back into our own music.

KCG: Did you learn something about yourself that you hadn’t felt or noticed making adult records that you could take back to your work as Ozomatli?
Raul: I think that sometimes we have a constricted view of what we can be as a band. Part of that is practical because you don’t want to alienate the fans you already have. It’s like a business. Part of it is constricting though, also. My particular idea is that I always wanna do stuff different. I don’t particularly want to be bound by our history. But, you know, you are on certain levels. You know people expect something from you. And when you don’t do that, it’s like “oh they’re not the same band.” Well, I aways try to remind people we’ve never been the same band. Like whatever vision you have of us in your head, is really your own. Our first record is very different from the next one, which is very different from the next one, which is very different from the next ones, and so on and so on. We’re all the same people playing on them. I find my own artistic life more interesting to push those boundaries as much as possible. I mean we’re writing music now for an adult record which sounds very different from the ones we’ve done before, and it scares some people and some people really like it. So, who knows what it will be in the end. But, I as a musician, I prefer that. I prefer kinda going through these places that are different for us. And I think the kids record was actually that also. There were some of us that just didn’t wanna do this and it’s like “Why what is this about?” and they sit around and talk about it and you know, you kinda have discussions, then all of a sudden the group seemed to be open to it and then that’s cool. So it’s just another shift; it’s something new. And I think once you commit to doing it, there’s already good value. So overall, like I said, I’ve been really happy with it and people seemed to really like it, which ultimately is what is important.

KCG: Are there still more OzoKidz songs out there that didn’t make it to this album?
Raul: Yeah! Yeah, there are! You know when we write, we write a bunch of songs — and so I have a feeling we are going to do another one, I just don’t know when. But, I’m sure there’s gonna be some more songs coming out.

KCG: Do you think that you’ll play some of those at live shows?
Raul: We really separate these songs from our adult stuff. All the songs on that are on the CD we’ll play at the OzoKidz show, but you won’t hear some of those songs at one of our adult shows. That could always change, but that’s the way it is right now.

KCG: Did you test out OzoKidz on any kids before releasing it? Like your own kids, for example.
Raul: No. I mean there are some songs that we played at kids shows before the CD came out but no we just kinda went for it.

KCG: Do you happen to have a message to kids listening to this CD or anything that you want to say to your audience or their parents?
Raul: It’s really for the kids. Ya know, it’s just really for the kids. And I would say to turn it up really loud and dance all around your house.

KCG: And that’s what I would say as well.

KCG: “Sun and Moon” reminds me of a Yo Gabba Gabba song. Have you considered appearing on Yo Gabba Gabba or have you been asked to work with them?
Raul: We’ve played their live shows in California. We’ve been Super Music Friends on their live shows, which are huge, it’s crazy.

KCG: So, on a more personal level. Are you still dancing to the Jackson 5?
Raul: Oh yeah. I used to get money from the neighbors to show up at parties and then get down. I’d walk out with 5 bucks in quarters and then take it to the store.

KCG: Do you still do that?
Raul: Not for money. But I’d still do it. I heard Jackson 5 the other day. It was rockin’.

KCG: Jackson 5 is classic.
Raul: It’s good stuff.

KCG: Well, Raul, thank you for your time. It’s been a pleasure and we look forward to the official release.
Raul: Thank you

OzoKidz is currently available for pre-order on iTunes and Amazon and will be officially released on September 25. You can also listen to digital samples from Amazon.

As a bonus, if you purchase the Ozokidz album at participating independent stores, you will receive a FREE Ozokidz chalk box that includes a link to the bonus track, “Vamos A Cantar.” What’s more exciting is that you’ll be able to participate in the Ozokidz Chalk art contests. All you have to do is recreate the Ozokidz album cover art on your driveway or sidewalk. For the bonus prize, you can create a visual representation of the bonus track “Vamos A Cantar,” using the Ozokidz chalk, send in photos of your artwork and they’ll pick the best ones. Winners will receive an Ozokidz prize pack! Send photos to When sending photos, please include the Ozokidz chalk box in the photo. For a list of participating independent stores click here.

You can enjoy a sample download from the album called “Balloon Fest” below.