Video premiere: “Hold On To Your Dreams” – Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips

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As parents, we want our children to dream big.

Telling my daughter “the sky’s the limit” feels powerful. Honoring her ideas and imagining all the possibilities with her creates moments that I hope feed her soul and open up her field of vision to look beyond the obstacles. And if an obstacle pops up, my wish is that she’ll know it’s neither the end of the story nor the end of the world. It’s just a bump on the road to reaching her goal.

The real reward, after all, isn’t “winning” or “nailing that project” but what we’ve learned along the way. How we pushed through the moments of frustration and desperation. And how we got stronger and more self-assured for all the sweat and angst. That’s what I want my daughter to know. It takes patience to fulfill your dreams and take action on brilliant ideas and it just isn’t easy sometimes. But the gold at the end of that rainbow is worth it.

LA-based group Mista Cookie Jar and The Chocolate Chips (MCJ) are one of the biggest champions of bringing positive messages into households. This family ensemble is eager to reach young, developing minds and to inspire thinkers, dreamers, and those of us young at heart.

Today I am proud to premiere the first video in a series of video releases this week celebrating MCJ’s forthcoming album, Music is Everywhere (release date: March 11, 2016).

“Hold on to Your Dreams” is an all-natural fam jam that calls attention to a critical part of the dream equation. The act of encouraging kids to hold on to and follow their dreams is a big piece, and the love and support we offer as parents is the charge in the formula that gives our kids the surge to “keep goin’, keep holdin’ on.” To travel carefully over each bump.

Role models come in all forms and MCJ and the Chocolate Chips are making their mark. In just over a year, they have written 13 songs (one song per month) as well as produced their own videos. In “Hold On To Your Dreams” and with their forthcoming release of new songs and previously released singles this group has become a shining example of what it means to persevere. They have done it as a family, showing that having a solid family foundation fuels the flames that lead to glorious results. And that makes it all worth it in the end.

Keep up with Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips this week through their official site, FB page and Twitter. You can also subscribe to their YouTube channel to get updates on new video releases. Below is a brief interview with Mista Cookie Jar about this week’s plans and a brief behind the scenes look the making and meaning of “Hold On To Your Dreams.”


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KCG: Tell us a bit about how the song and video cam about. How did you start making music with Tembra and Lyrin?

MCJ: Our friend Tembra and her daughter Lyrin have been in the Chocolate Chip crew from the very beginning. Lyrin is like a cousin to my kids, Ava and Lucas. They grew up together. Tembra is childhood friends with Jenna aka Missis Cookie Jar. “Hold On To Your Dreams” has been around for years, honed and crafted over late night jam sessions and bonfires. Tembra and Lyrin moved up to the redwoods a few years ago from LA, so we’ve continued the tradition of family sing-a-longs and camping when we go up north to visit them in. This video captures the spirit of enjoying the wonders of nature in Northern Cali with friends and family. Cell service is terrible so it’s a nice treat to have some phone detox QT with the whole fam bam.

Tembra and Lyrin first appeared in our 2nd album, Ultramagnetic Universal Love Revolution in the song, Shaggy Bee. As you can see, Lyrin has her mother’s talent for singing. We’re so happy this song has received high praise from our fans, and a lot of air play on Sirius XM 78’s Kids Place Live!

KCG: The album and this song particular has a real “lived-in” vibe. I’m sure this has a bit to do with your song-a-month mission and EP release. Can you tell us a bit about your songwriting/recording process?

MCJ: Our new album, Music is Everywhere, has an organic quality to it which I believe is something to appreciate. It’s this soulful approach to playing music that is becoming a rare bird, especially for younger tech-savvy generations. I’m happy to toss my hat in the ring and go back to the roots — especially before I switch it up again with some banging beats!

KCG: What’s in store for this week?

MCJ: Everyday this week, Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips will be dropping 5 new music videos – one new on each day – leading up to the world premiere of our 3rd album, Music is Everywhere. This release process was totally inspired by the marketing stunt for Weird Al’s last album release. We wanted to really make the new album an event, ya know? I’m excited to share all the videos! Don’t wanna give too much away, but there is some claymation, some ballet, some live stuff and even cutting edge 360 video technology — you know, where you either have one of those Oculus head sets or you just move your phone around or scroll with your finger to see the YouTube vid in 3D.

The songs on Music is Everywhere have mostly all been released as singles or on an EP during my single-a-month run this past year. But there will be a couple brand spanking new tracks on the record — one of which will be released with a video on the same day of the album release.

Music is Everywhere will be premiering March 11, 2016 on Zooglobble. Stay tuned via the aforementioned links to get the latest and greatest updates.

Halloween Special 2015 – Get into the spirit!

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Halloween is my favorite holiday. The spookiness, the pumpkin flavored everything, and the unlimited creative potential for weird and wonderful decorating fun.

Of course you can’t have Halloween without the proper soundtrack. I have always liked when artists embellish on the “go big or go home” side of this holiday. The lush orchestral arrangements, suspenseful guitar/bass plucking, creepy stringed instruments, spooky soundbites, and a crazy cackle. Even the more whimsical ones can set the right tone.

What I also like about Halloween music for kids is that in addition to grand arrangements there are thoughtful lyrics offering messages of bravery.

Today’s post features some recommended singles and videos that are just spooky enough to capture the fun without giving your little spirits too much of a fright. 

a0596386326_10“Bumps in the night” – This kindie debut is the collaborative product of Keith Wasserman aka Mr. Whirly and Patrick Hanlin of Josh and the Jamtones. “Bumps in the Night” offers a heaping spoonful of courage with a bold declaration that shines a big ole spotlight on anything that threatens to go bump in the night.

Like what you hear? Grab a free download and take it with you.

download“I Am Not Afraid”Renee & Friends with Caspar Babypants and Rolfe Kent. The orchestral crescendos beautifully complement the song’s fierce declaration.

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“Are you a Monster, Too?”Harmonica Pocket. Because if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Such a sweet little video for all those monsters, goblins and ghouls out there.

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“Creatures Under My Bed”Caspar Babypants. The monsters lurking in the shadows really just want to come out and play silly songs. The boogie woogie earthquake anyone?

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“The Skunk and the Robot”Ratboy Jr. With all the little skunks and robots running around on Halloween, this could be a preempitve way to get them all to get along. Even after the candy high wears off.

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“It’s Only In Your Head”Mista Cookie Jar & The Chocolate Chips. Sometimes our minds play tricks on us and our imaginations get the best of us. When that happen it can really spoil a good slumber. The wonderful truth Mista Cookie Jar tells here is that sleep demons are no match for the love that surrounds kids when they are awake.

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“Snowstorm on Halloween”Turkey Andersen. The irony in this song is pretty great. While hopefully it won’t happen, it’s still very likely that it could snow on Halloween. And those holiday ornaments out on the pharmacy shelves? Yeah, those are real. So, really, that right there is like a snowstorm on Halloween. Thankfully, this song keeps the cheer of both holidays alive. Happy Snowlaween y’all!

For more Halloween music to add to the spirit of the day. Check out previous Halloween playlists posted on Kids Can Groove. 

Audio premiere: “It’s Only In Your Head” – Mista Cookie Jar & The Chocolate Chips

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Life can be a little scary for kids. So many changes are happening it’s as if their heads could start to spin any moment. Unfortunately, little minds tend to process life’s cornucopia while they are asleep. When Emily was younger she used to refer to her dreams as the movies in her mind. When she would wake up, she would either refer to what she saw as a bad movie or a good movie and recount the scenes with plenty of detail. The bad movies were scary and disorienting, and I always found it hard to explain wicked dreams as the result of an overactive mind. Even pretending to spray the monsters away after a sudden nightmare didn’t always provide relief. 

In the spirit of squashing late night haunts, I am proud to present the premiere of the 13th single by Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips. Sprinkled with echoing soundbites and twinkling glockenspiel,“It’s Only In Your Head” reminds kids that no matter how real things seem when they close their eyes, they are safe and surrounded by the love that awaits them when they wake up. And that is the perfect remedy for any scary thoughts or moving images that affect their slumber.

Today’s premiere serves as a mile marker that closes up the circle in Mista Cookie Jar’s “song-a-month” project making 13 a pretty fantastic number. CJ Pizarro (“Mista Cookie Jar”) shares his thoughts and inspiration behind the song:

“‘It’s Only In Your Head’ is four years in the making, so it really took it’s time to simmer. I had a feeling that this was gonna be a deeper one than usual and it took me a while to figure out the full scope of where it was going both musically and lyrically. And now here it is, just in time for the anniversary of the first single, “Halloween Every Night.” I realized it’s a song to encourage the little ones when they hit fear in regards to dreams, odd synchronicities and self-doubt. It’s a heart song about free will really — managing the darkness on a “feeling” level. As the saying goes, “Life is but a dream.” The power of imagination mixed with a good heart plus the collective hearts of a village can turn a major nay into a yay and move mountains.

In terms of children’s works, there’s an abundance of fantasy and stories about dreaming, i.e. Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, and my favorite, the films of Miyazaki. It’s my theory (and not just mine of course) that children by nature are tapped into the otherworldly. Everything is so new to them, they might not even understand the difference between reality and dream. The imagination of the child is sacred for sure. “

Interview: CJ Pizarro of Mista Cookie Jar & The Chocolate Chips

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Songs can have great personal importance –I try to render these ideas understandable to the public. Whatever value or energy a song has, I try to make it palpable for the listener. I stop when I think the magic is most potent.

I think about creating songs and videos that might resonate differently with people at different stages of their life — as if the whole time the music was speaking to them as a kid and as an adult in the future, like that movie, Interstellar.

Yesterday marked the premiere of the 12th single by the Los Angeles-based group, Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips. CJ Pizarro, aka Mista Cookie Jar, has become a veritable “music man” in the family music genre, with a new single drop every month for the past 12 months. Pizarro has not only written and produced the songs himself, but has also produced the accompanying artwork featured with each release, and in videos. The latter of which has been a cooperative effort with his family, who also make up “The Chocolate Chip” portion of the group, i.e. the lovely Miss Ava Flava and Lucas.

In celebration of the song-a-month project’s closing, I am pleased to present the following interview with Pizarro who talks about his concept beind the “song-a-month” project and how it has helped him stay relevant and close with his audience, family as collaborative partners, and what’s next. There’s even a little hint about the group’s final, and ultimate single, which suggests 13 really isn’t so bad.

Kids Can Groove: Tell me about the concept behind “song-a-month.” 

CP: Initially, we (the Chocolate Chips and I) dropped our singles during the holiday season, hence, “Halloween Every Night” (October), “Gratitude” (for November) and “Got the Spirit” (for December). Since then, we have continued the  “song-a-month” concept as a way to work on a new album at a comfortable pace while staying relevant to our audience. This gives me enough time to let each song mature organically.

I noticed some of my favorite tracks are deeper cuts. As to be expected, fans will often only know our videos or singles. Releasing the songs individually is a way to give them a nice spotlight. Each song is its own world and, in a sense, its own album. Releasing the songs as singles, or in EP’s, gives me more time to let their deeper meaning sink in. As an artist, this process also helps me see which context the songs would work best in when I put them into an album. 

When the next album drops, we’re hoping folks will know most of the songs already and understand immediately the diversity of our sound. The album should cover several moods and seasonal feelings — ideally, a direct reflection of what our fans respond to most.

dNgFsooy0Qja3RUO4XCWtMyLT6_8u3w8rwUM4LAb64IKCG: How would you describe your aesthetic?

CP: In many ways, I’m just writing love songs, but not the lovey-dovey kind. The family kind. The friendship kind. The parental kind. The cultural kind. You could even say the spiritual kind. I’m interested in memory, childhood, nostalgia and the importance of the imagination. I try to reach for originality, preserve innocence, and have fun!  I am a big believer in laughter as a way to uplift and clarify. I think about things like, “Is love contagious? What are the forms of family love, community love?” I’m interested in the line between poetry and music. The landscape poetry inhabits, I try to inhabit that world in song. Poets from Walt Whitman to Saul Williams inspire my creativity. I guess I’m just scratching the surface of what inspires me. Love, family, and culture — that is my inspiration. Neil deGrasse Tyson inspires me.

KCG: How do you move from an idea to a finished piece?

CP: For each song, lyrics and music are channeled differently. Sometimes the lyrics are inspired by an emotion, and sometimes they flow from an intellectual concept. I love deep, intricate songs but sometimes a throwaway song or a kitschy touch can be just as timeless. I’m just speaking about how the song(s) of my life have carried me artistically to new places, how it has meaning both to me and in the context of a bigger world. Songs can have great personal importance –I try to render these ideas understandable to the public. Whatever value or energy a song has, I try to make it palpable for the listener. I stop when I think the magic is most potent.

With all my songs, I go through several drafts. I will mix it down and bring the mp3 to my car for a good listen. The Mrs. and I give it a good listen. And when both of us think it’s “there” we stop. If it’s not there, we EQ or add instruments. With “The Way We Gets Down,” the song seemed to be banging up to that last verse. It started to feel a bit repetitive even though there was a fresh set of lyrics. Then it dawned on me after several listens, it needed an extra kick to give it the feeling of progression. So I added some kazoos. That did the trick.

JY6ziFnKXIJFTZiqOBGN_ctCJTx7bKXNZgZKbvzN058KCG: Ava Flava and Lucas perform with you, with Ava being a long-time vocalist for “The Chocolate Chips.” How big of a role does family play for you in your work?

CP: My family is my biggest muse. Being a father gives structure to my work, though the role is constantly shifting. Fatherhood is a life long job. My step-kids are 11 and 14 now. Being a loving role model and support to them is the biggest priority for me. Being there for all the friends and family in my life informs my music. Painting the landscape of what family life is like, what universal love is, seems to be my calling. I always wonder what speaks to people musically? What speaks to my kids now that they’re older? Even just on an audio level — what sounds move them? What do these sounds mean in the context of society? In the context of lyrics?

KCG: Do you bounce ideas off of one another? 

CP: I’ll often ask my kids and the Mrs. about what a word or a phrase means to them, and I will steer the song in a particular direction based on their answers. I bounce all my ideas off of Mrs. Cookie Jar. Generally, she’s great with the bigger picture questions. I am very detail obsessed. Though our roles often switch, we’re basically each other’s devil’s advocates. She’s not a musician, so she has a good objective eye as to what the music is really doing versus what it THINKS it’s doing. She can hear a song for what it is. Since I’m a musician, I like to pick it apart and dissect what’s going on. Sometimes a song can work on this esoteric level but sound really crappy to your average listener. I’m trying to get it to work on all levels. Ultimately, we try to weigh all sides of the argument – will it connect with kids? Will it connect with parents? She’s quite the visual artist, as well (and the best hairstylist I know). She has great eye and ear for balance. We have a solid artistic partnership.

As for the kids, I take their musical tastes very seriously and keep it in mind when songwriting. When their tastes challenge my own tastes, I think, “Now there’s something important to learn here!” What I consider the most is when they go absolutely gaga over a certain song on the radio or a certain band. I wonder to myself what the magic is there, how that feeling can be translated through the lens of The Chocolate Chips’ world? I think about this as a way to steer our music in the direction of what gets their gears turning. Ultimately, it becomes about how “pure love” is the lasting truth. We all know this. The journey, the music that is discovered and the reality of how it manifests is what counts.

KCG: How do different media formats complement each other in your work and in your life? 

CP: I approach the visual, lyrics and music with equal value. I really like to make music videos. Music and animating were childhood dreams of mine. I dreamt of making cartoons maybe even before I dreamt of being a musician.

At age 10, my uncle got me a giant Disney animation behind-the-scenes book. I was fascinated by their creative process. In general, I am fascinated by the creative process. To me, it doesn’t get more magical than to have these drawings and visions come to life.

As a super young kid, I really wanted to be an artist. I was really competitive with my peers, and there was always one or two kids who could draw better than me. I eventually learned to let it go, and in my teens I embraced punk rock. I learned that you didn’t have to be the best at something to be expressive. You just have to be you. You have to be honest.

Now, that I’m a grown man (questionable), I enjoy animating again, immensely.

KCG: Who/What are you influenced by?

CP: Aesthetically, there are a lot of artists that I admire. I see my art as an extension of what inspires me in life, and culture. I am a pretty big cinema fan. Werner Herzog and Harmony Korine are my dudes when it comes to the cinema world. Animation wise, Miyazaki is a hero. The Simpsons were a big influence on me as a child, and I think Adventure Time is genius. I’m hugely influenced by Björk too, and how visually integrated her “character” is with her music. How her artwork is like a clue to how to listen to her music.

Naturally, merging visual and audio excites me. Ultimately, it’s about poetry to me, and bringing the inner world to life. There are many ways to do it. Kids, and most folks for that matter, respond to visuals more immediately. How something is revealed to the eye will have a great affect on how it is understood in the ear, and ultimately in the heart.

Musically, I strive to have the audio stand alone. Visually, I try to take the music deeper to whatever place it needs to go. I do have some film ideas though — stuff that goes beyond the music video realm. It’s going take a lot of work still, but I’m excited for the future!

KCG: What is your relationship with social media? Does it help or hinder your creative process in any way?

CP: Because of the nature of our world these days, with social media and the internet and so much cultural overlap, I’m trying to honor what I love about all these worlds and connect them together in one single vision while at the same time being honest with whatever music/poetry exists inside of me.

A lot of my stuff has this kind of genre blending thing going on. Visually and cinematically, this appeals to me. I think about what music would have made my younger self’s mind explode. Being exposed to something awesome for the first time is a sacred thing that has a lasting impact. I try to create art with this lasting impact in mind — have it be something that grows over time and throughout the rest of one’s life. I think about creating songs and videos that might resonate differently with people at different stages of their life — as if the whole time the music was speaking to them as a kid and as an adult in the future, like that movie, Interstellar.

Being Mista Cookie Jar, what this character stands for, and the whole concept of the Love Bubble—  is a way of life. It’s a lightness and deepness of spirit at once that I believe is my calling and offering to the world.

KCG: Now that you have released 12 months of singles are you going to continue another round? What’s next for you?

CP: October 13th will be the date of our last single-a-month. It’s the anniversary of our first single, “Halloween Every Night.” It’s perfect because the song I plan on dropping is about facing fears — nightmares, superstition and the like. I don’t wanna give too much away yet, but it’s wonderfully synchronous how it will be our 13th song on the 13th day of our 13th month — October!  Both our albums have 13 songs and despite the superstitions surrounding the number, I think 13 gets a bad rap.

In general, however, I will not stop dropping singles. We are ending the routine because I don’t want to be confined to the single-a-month routine. I want to have the freedom to be unpredictable again. Work on videos, work on 5 songs at once. Who knows, in the future I may drop more than one in a month! As for an album, it’s coming. Certain singles you’ve heard will be on there, maybe one or two done a bit differently — and some new material as well. We’ll see. I don’t really know yet. I am letting it simmer — I want it to be just right.

World Premiere: “Music is Everywhere” by Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips

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“Music puts the magic in this life. You can build a castle in the sky. Close your eyes and you shall see, it’s so simple as a melody. Music puts the magic in this life.”

Over the past 12 months, CJ Pizarro (aka Mista Cookie Jar) and The Chocolate Chips, have been producing music magic with a new single each month as part of their “song-a-month” project. The topics the songs have touched upon range from up close and personal, i.e. “Mama,” “BFF Goodbye,” to more general themes like holidays (“Jelly Beans!”) and dreaming big (“Hold On to Your Dreams”). With each new effort, it has been a treat to hear the gamut of styles Pizarro has made his own (from hip-hop to singer/songwriter to Motown to a whole blend). As a kids’ music blogger, it has been wonderful to be a part of the challenge that Pizarro has taken on, and witness the creative growth that has come out of it. As a parent, and a mom, I have been touched by the heartfelt themes and relevancy of the songs’ to my experiences with Emily; But that’s the power of music, and what today’s audio premiere is all about.

As an homage to the magic of song and dance and the notion that “music is always at our fingertips,” I am proud to present “Music is Everywhere,” the penultimate single in Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips’ song-a-month marathon. Opening with a flutter of piano and lovely birdsong, “Music is Everywhere” starts off like a dream sequence and continues on with rhythmic buoyancy in a  “Sound of Music inspired, rasta-flavored wave.” The vibe of this arrangement is a perfect complement to the song’s message which celebrates the power of music and the innate connection we have to it; The notion that music exists within us and all around us, whether it’s in a poetic verse, an ocean breeze, or that one perfect note.

Stay tuned here for a follow up interview tomorrow with Pizarro who talks about his experience with the song-a-month project and some of the influences and inspiration behind it all.

You can download “Music is Everywhere,” through the Bandcamp widget below. Be sure to check out the lyrics, and additional singles by Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips at their Bandcamp page.

“BFF Goodbye” – Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips

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The school year has started and with that so many emotions are aflutter. Change is never easy, and this time of year really tests that notion out. Big time.

One of the big changes for Em this year was not knowing who would be in her class. Our school posts class lists a week before school begins. No email, no letter ahead of time, just a piece of paper posted outside the office window at 4pm on one specific date. The anticipation and build up, as you can imagine, was intense. The most important and oft repeated question was, “Will my best friend be in my class?”

The idea of a BFF when you’re a kid is so intense and so big. Finding someone you jive with and then spending most of your formative years with them, through all the developmental hustle and bustle, is even bigger. The trust, the intimacy, the safety of knowing someone gets you (and is going to break the rules with you…sometimes) is sacred.

But what if they move away?

In his eleventh single (from his single-a-month release series), “BFF Goodbye,” MIsta Cookie Jar expresses the poignant and deeply conflicted feelings associated with having to say goodbye to your best friend. The song has a Dylan-esque vibe which suits the nature of this real-life story – MCJ’s stepdaughter Ava Flava and her best friend, Miss Mikyla, were faced with saying goodbye when Mikyla had to move away. “BFF Goodbye” balances the raw emotion of such a spirit crushing situation with beautiful ways of coping that make this track so touching. 

Em’s best friend Bea moved away. They were BFFs since they were 2-years-old and Em still talks about her, recalling the bee sting she got the day before Bea left and how Bea put a Band-Aid on her foot and gave her a hug. Em is now 6.5 and when I played her this song she just smiled and said, “like Beatrice.”
 

 
“BFF Goodbye” succeeds once again in offering a memorable embrace during a transitional time period. Check out My Letter to First Grade, featuring MCJ’s video for the single “My My My” which got me through the first day of school last year.

Audio Premiere: Jelly Beans! by Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips

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Easter is just around the corner and you know what that means? Jelly beans! Oh man, do I love jelly beans. It’s probably bordering on obsession. If I could have jelly beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner I would! And don’t even get me started on the sneaky and enticing ways Jelly Belly draws you in with their special recipes. But, I’m a grown-up, and I suppose I know better….sometimes.

On the other hand, listening to a song about jelly beans is healthy for everyone, which is why I am very pleased to premiere the latest single by Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips.

Rollin’ in with a candy-bluesy-’lectro-pop ’n’ rock anthem, MCJ and his sensational sidekick Miss Ava Flava save you a trip to the candy store with this delicious, sugar-coated jive for your eardrums.

Flavor with a lotta soul.
Nothing like the POW
from some candy coated rock ’n’ roll.

So yummy yumaliscious
in my tummy-tum-tummy.
Kawaii — so cute, 
like a bunny-bun-bunny. 
If jelly beans were canines,
they’d be a pug-puppy. 

‘Nuff said…

“Jelly Beans!” can be purchased through the Bandcamp widget below.