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?

AR: 
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?

AR: 
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?

AR: 
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 rabbipainter.com.

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.

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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)

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“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?

RECESSMONKEY50.300

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

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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.

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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.