Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Interview: Eric Herman

Eric Herman has an invisible band, a recipe for "Where's Waldorf Salad", a blog, songs for your kid, a dream in his heart & a dollar in his pocket (which might be yours). Unfortunately, he has no sense of humor...(wink, wink).

1) How did you get into kids music?

I just turned it on and then I got into it, maaan. Oh, you mean as a performer... That was kind of a 'synchronicity' thing, where over a short period of time back in 2002, several different people each made comments that I should consider doing music for kids. Not being one to ignore synchronicity, especially when Sting has taught me so much about it, I decided to look into it. I think I'm probably similar to others who have recently gotten into creating indie kids music in that I didn't want to do what I thought was the typical kind of trite and sing-songy kids' music. But I kept an open mind and scoured the libraries in Buffalo for kids' CDs, and it turned out that what I thought was typical wasn't really all that typical. There was quite a variety of interesting music for kids, even waaaay back in 2002. And I even appreciated some of the trite and sing-songy stuff, too. I realized that a lot of different stuff can connect with kids, so once I realized I could do a wide variety of music for kids, then I was excited to give it a shot and see what I might do within the genre.

2) What kind of music did you enjoy as a kid? Did it influence your music now?

The stuff I listened to most when I was very young were 45s of Johnny Cash and Elvis. "One Piece at a Time" and "Hard Headed Woman" were favorite songs of mine. And then my father bought an old-style jukebox for our family room and that had a bunch of fun 70's records like "Oh, What a Night", "Ballroom Blitz" and "Kung Fu Fighting", and some other novelty things like "Shaving Cream". I'm not sure of the influence of that stuff on what I do now... well, I suppose "Shaving Cream" was an influence, in terms of how I like to play with expectations on some songs. The biggest musical influences of mine came much later when I got into things like The Beatles, Floyd, U2, Zappa and Rush.

3) What kind of music do you enjoy now when not performing for kids?

I still listen to a lot of kids' music, especially with the blog thing now, and I really do enjoy that as a genre. Otherwise, I like to bounce around on Rhapsody and listen to different things on there, which is a great way to catch up on what's out there, both old and new. Some things I've listened to recently include Maktub, Paul Simon, the Chili Peppers, The Tragically Hip and Kate Bush. I also like classical music quite a lot, and I gravitate toward either the very dramatic kind of classical music, like Tchaikovsky's Concert No. 1 and Beethoven's Fifth, or profoundly bittersweet pieces like Albonini's "Adagio". I'm also a big fan of Louis Armstrong and a huge fan of the show The Music Man. Look for a Music Man related parody on an upcoming album of mine.

4) Let's talk about your latest CD. It's bouncy, upbeat & captures the child's perspective. Where do you get your ideas for songs?

There's a website called IdeasForSongs.com and it's really great, because you can just type in what you're looking for and... okay, sorry... that's not true... But wouldn't it be nice if that were the case? Actually, now that I think of it, there is a website where I've gotten some ideas from, and that would be
www.poetry4kids.com. That's the website for my friend Kenn Nesbitt, who is a great children's poetry author. Ideas for songs happen in so many ways; by accident, by observation, by calculation, from experiences, from daydreaming, from exploring... I believe that ideas are available in abundance if we're just willing to seek them out, or willing to work with them when they come to us. Not all ideas are good ones, though, so sometimes it's a matter of hacking away at an idea until it either turns into something interesting or kind of fizzles away.

5) I understand you record with an invisible band. How do you find these people? What keeps you from tripping over any of them?

We discovered The Invisible Band while they were playing behind a broken jukebox at a pizza place in Buffalo. Invisible musicians are more plentiful than you might think, though. They're actually quite prevalent on many internet music message boards, although many invisible musicians don't even know that they're invisible. They keep wondering, "How come nobody notices me??" I think that if you're an invisible musician, then it's often a matter of making yourself known, as opposed to waiting for anyone else to notice you. As for my band members, I do trip over them all the time. You think practical jokes and pranks are bad among regular bands? Well, just try working with invisible musicians. They're merciless! And they have a distinct advantage by being invisible. I get back at them when I can, though... For example, we had a photo shoot recently, and I gave them the wrong address, so the picture we ended up with says "Eric Herman and the Invisible Band", but they're not actually in it. Ha, that'll show 'em...

6) One of the things we seem to have in common is a blog. Why did you start a blog?

Over the last few years since I've been doing kids' music, I kept getting comments from people along the lines of, "Why aren't there more people creating great music for kids like this?" Of course, I've always been flattered to hear that, but I also thought, gosh, there really are many people who are doing great kids' music. Don't these people know what's going on in the scene, man??? The Chicago bigwigs? The New York noggins? The Frisco underground? So I figured it might be worth sharing a little about some of my favorite kids' music, and it's kind of expanded somewhat from there to include some personal comments and articles about my own perspective and experiences as a kids' music artist. And I seem to be doing more single album features lately, but I don't ever want the blog to seem too much like a 'review site'. Other people like Stefan (Zooglobble) do a much better job at covering that. I do have a hard time leaving some personal critical opinions out of what I write, though, but I hope people never get the idea that I think that I am in any way declaring what kids' music should or shouldn't be. Ultimately, my opinions are just that, and if they have a little bit of a unique perspective by being from someone working within the genre, well then that's fine, but certainly I'm writing as much as a fan of the genre as anything.

7) How do you feel about the indie kids music scene?

Speaking of personal opinions! In one sense, I don't really agree with the recent emphasis that kids' music has to be something that adults can also enjoy. I think it's great when they do also enjoy it, but I don't think they necessary have to like it for it to be good kids' music. There's a point when I wonder if the "kid" is being removed from "kids' music". But then again, I think it's terrific that there is such a variety of choices available now, so your kids' CD changer could include an incredible variety like The Sippy Cups, Frances England, Raffi, Schoolhouse Rock, Ralph's World, The Wiggles, Eric Herman and the Invisible Band, Yosi and even Barney. As cool as I think a lot of the new kids' music is, I actually think a lot of kids need some of that Barney kind of music as part of their diet when they're really young. They're little, and their ear drums respond to the higher pitches, and they get a sense when they hear that kind of music that it's meant for them. There's an innocence and feeling to a lot of those kinds of kid tunes that I'm not sure is as well represented by distorted guitars and crashing cymbals. But once kids are a little older, then by all means, fill 'em up with some more involved music and ideas.

8) Thanks for the recipes you sent for my website recipe page. Do you cook at home?

I really don't cook, so much as prepare meals. I wouldn't really call putting frozen chicken nuggets in the microwave 'cooking', you know what I mean? But those recipes of mine on your site are definitely ones that I like to make from time to time. I also have a great recipe from my grandmother for schlurpknopf. You'll love it... It adds in a dash of zlork, which really accentuates the nomannic.

9) You've been lumped in the "goofy dad" category per The Lovely Mrs. Davis. Are you?

I think I'm actually much more of a goofy dad in real life than on record. I love to have fun playing with my girls, and that can often get quite goofy, with feet smelling, belly-button raspberries and other such sports. But on my CDs, I'm usually trying to be more of a self-deprecating character as opposed to just a goofy clown. I would say my stuff is pretty diverse when it comes to content and approach, and on the rare occasions when I'm covering some particularly goofy topics like odors and bodily functions I try to be pretty subtle. So, I certainly don't resent the label at all, especially in the way that Amy described it, and there's no doubt I love the other artists who she lumped me along with in that category, but I don't think I would quite measure up to the level of "goofoffity" as some of the others.

10) Per your site, songs & blog I can tell you have a wicked sense of humor. Were you the class clown? Or did you watch way too much Monty Python?

Monty Python? I never watched such nonsense, and neither did my shrubber, my ex-parrot, nor my half-a-bee named Eric. I wasn't so much the class clown saying zingers in the middle of class, but I remember a couple of times back in 4th and 5th grade that friends of mine and I would write SNL style news segments and comedy skits and perform them in front of the class, and they went over very well. So I was definitely hooked on the idea of writing and performing comedy pretty early on. Probably a big influence in that sense was watching shows like SNL and Three's Company, following comic strips like Peanuts and Bloom County, and reading things like Mad Magazine. I'm still convinced that Alfred E. Neuman is the face on the moon. My wife, Roseann, has a good sense of humor and comedic timing, and we produce my CDs together, so she makes a great sounding board and contributor for material.

11) What's next for you? Global domination?

I'm trying to follow the example of the Lord of the Rings film productions and working on my next three CD projects together while I have more time at home over the winter. I'm also trying to follow the example of the Lord of the Rings film productions by having them all be hugely successful. One will be sort of a mellow song/lullaby collection called Snail's Pace, then the next new Eric Herman and the Invisible Band CD, and then another CD project for kids which will be quite different from anything else I've released. I can't really elaborate on that one yet, but it's going to be really cool. Those should all be coming out sometime in 2007 and 2008. We're also developing some TV show and music video projects and looking to do some more national touring outside of the Northwest.

12) Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I'd like to add chocolate with peanut butter and see if it really has the delicious result that I've heard so much about. I'd like to add another digit column to my income. And I'd like to add my thanks and gratitude to my family, friends and fans for their love and support.


Interview: Rebecca Frezza

Rebecca Frezza performs pop/rock children's concerts with her 8-piece band, Big Truck. You've probably seen her videos on Noggin & PBS Kids, or heard her songs on XM & Sirius Satellite Radio. She has released her third award-winning CD, Tall & Small, in the summer of 2006. We've met over a year ago at one of her amazing concerts & have been friends since.
1) I know that you, like many children's artists, started with a background in the arts & when you had kids you started writing & performing kid's music. Does children's music feel like a natural fit for you? Do your friends and family feel likewise?

Yes, it definitely feels like a natural fit. This was not something that I planned and thought out in advance. It all just evolved out of the work that I was doing. I started teaching, which lead to writing, which lead to recording and then ultimately to performing. There was so much support and positive energy along the way for the work that I was doing, I never questioned it. Everything just felt right.

2) You perform with an eight-piece band. How do you manage so many band mates & coordinate the shows?

It’s not easy….but it’s what I do. Sometimes the band feels like another family, with all of the personality issues and different needs and even occasional conflicts that go along with a "family" dynamic. However, having a full band playing real music is the core of what I do. Early on in my children’s music career people told me to ditch the band and play to pre-recorded tracks or at the very least trim down my numbers. I never felt comfortable with those options. Each of the elements of the band is important to the quality and vibe of the show. We’re a "rock" band, so you have to have guitar, bass and drums. There is a whole visual element to the show with choreography as well as lots of three part harmony that wouldn’t work without my two backing vocalists. We explore various different musical genres and the additional instrumentation i.e. flute, harmonica, percussion, fiddle etc. adds to our ability to do that effectively.

3) Last Spring we were talking about "Tall & Small" just before its release. You felt some uncertainty about the risks you were taking with your songs. Do you still feel that way? Are you happy with the risks you took?

Yeah, I knew I was testing the limits of what was considered "kids music." The interesting thing to me is that everyone who has heard the album and reviewed it or talked to me about it seems to respond to a different aspect of it. Some people have really enjoyed the more quirky acoustic stuff, while others have liked the most straight forward "rock" stuff. Songs that I considered leaving off the album have often been those that reviewers have loved. I try not to put too much stock in reviews, good or bad, but I do look to them to get an overall sense of what’s working, and this time around, it’s been difficult to do that. The other interesting thing to me is that the songs that the kids LOVE at our live shows are not necessarily the ones that are getting radio airplay or being picked out by the reviewers as highlights of the album. The other thing about "Tall and Small" is that it’s targeted at 4-8 year olds and their parents. It’s not necessarily playing to the 2 & 3 year olds (although I think many will enjoy it anyway) in the same way that many of the other artists in the kids genre are. The music is a bit more sophisticated than people usually expect for a kids album. My theory is that those 4-8 year olds are being left out and need music that speaks to them, music that doesn’t talk down to them or underestimate them. Many of these kids are making a transition into listening to adult (or teeny bopper) pop at this age and I’m not sure that they are ready for the themes of many of those songs. I’m trying to offer these kids and their parents an alternative.

4) What kind of music do you enjoy most when on your own?

Because my oldest child is 11, we often listen to pop/rock in the car. When I have the stereo to myself I listen to a lot of acoustic music – contemporary folk and alt. country (much of which my kids enjoy too). I go in and out of phases where I’m listening to CD’s and then just switching on XM CafĂ© and seeing what they have to offer. Like the music that I play, I have pretty eclectic tastes in what I listen to.

5) You've had videos on Noggin's Jack's Big Music Show & recently on PBS Kids. It looks like you're having fun. Is it fun? Do they take a long time?

I loved working on the videos for both Noggin and PBS Kids. Being able to make music and then have all these other creative minds get together and make all of this amazing visual stuff happen was such a cool thing for me. I’d love to do more! The videos don’t take long to film – we did two in one day for Noggin and four each day for PBS. The hard thing about the PBS job was the fact that I was only given a couple of weeks to write eight brand new songs that fit with the themes of each day of the programming block. It was quite a challenge, but one that I really enjoyed. My producer Chris Putnam and I worked together really well. There was no time for second guessing, we had to just trust each other and go for it. We were both really pleased with the way things came out.

6) Have you noticed growth in your popularity or new opportunities due to your TV appearances?

Absolutely. We are traveling to Dallas and Maine and getting inquiries from people in Chicago and Florida. These things would probably not be happening without the TV exposure. The kids’ music industry is booming with new artists throwing their hats in the ring every day. I think that the TV exposure has helped us not get swallowed up by the competition.

7) Do you like being an indie artist, or would you want to be signed to a record company?

That’s a question that I struggle with. I love being an indie artist, but the financial pressure that it puts on us can be difficult. I love that I can write and record the music that I want and be free to take risks and not have to follow a "formula" or have my music fit in a box. It’s hard because we don’t always have the money to do as much pr and marketing work as we’d like and I often have to wear many hats i.e. booking agent, publicist, band manager, distribution coordinator, sales rep. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that, if I were signed with a label, they would handle. That would free me up to focus more energy on the artistic side of things.

8) How do you write your songs? Where do the ideas come from? What kind of process do you use?

My songs come to me in various ways. Usually, I think of a theme that I want to explore and sit down and write as many ideas as I can about that theme. Sometimes I’ll just write single words or images and sometimes I’ll start with rhymes and phrases that work together and create a rhythm. Then I take out my guitar and figure out a chord progression that I like and the melody flows from there. Sometimes I’ll pick a specific genre of music and come up with the chord progression first and then build a theme from there. Occasionally, I come up with an idea of lyrics and vocal melody, but I can’t find exactly the chords that I want to support it, so I’ll just put the song on tape a cappella and bring it into the studio that way. The ideas and images come from my kids and from my own childhood and also from my experiences as a parent and as a teacher.

9) How about those great Andrews Sisters-type harmonies. Do the backup singers develop those with you, or do you have them pre-written?

When I recorded my first album, I didn’t even have a band in place until it was almost finished. Most of the harmonies were written by me. I would record the melody on my four track recorder and then I would work out the harmony parts by ear and lay them down on the other tracks. I still work that way a lot, although I do tend to rely on the help of my back-up singers more now. It’s always more efficient to work with three voices rather than trying to hear all three parts at the same time. Still, on many of the songs on all three albums I am singing all of the parts. That happens to be one of my absolute favorite things to do – singing harmony, so when there is a song that doesn’t cry out for distinctly different voices on the harmonies, I will just sing them myself.

10) What's next for you?

Hmmmmmmm….that’s the million dollar question. I’d love to make a DVD, but we’ve got to sell a lot more CD’s before we can afford to do that. I’d love to do more television work (wouldn’t we all!). I just plan on keeping things moving forward. Keeping my band happy and working on new material. I love where things are right now. I feel really fortunate to be doing this job that I love and feeling the impact that the music has on the families that we meet along the way. There’s always more to achieve, more mountains to climb, but for now, I want to try to just enjoy the moment.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Interview: Danny Adlerman

(Danny Adlerman & Jim Babjak photo by: Mike Nixon)

Danny Adlerman is a children's author, musician & recording artist. He also happens to be a good friend & we've shared laughs, ideas, resources & stages. His rock-based children's music & imaginative books (often beautifully illustrated by his wife Kim Adlerman) are wonderful. Chances are your kids have read his books at school. Interpersonally, Danny has a great sense of humor, always caring & intelligent, & he's not afraid to tell it like it is. So, we got to chatting about his books, music & upcoming CD, Listen UP!

Here 'tis:

1) How did you get into producing kids music?

I have always been into music of all kinds, but when I got these kids, see, and they started listening to music too, well, something went all kablooey in my head. There was MY music - Beatles, Stones, Who, Grateful Dead, Clapton - you know, GOOD music - and there was THEIR music. It was EASY for them to listen to mine, but painful for me to listen to theirs! So I began to think: There wasn't kids music when I was a kid. There was music that was good for everyone, and part of everyone was kids. I had to do something about that. The scape has changed a lot in the last ten years and I have been happy and proud to have been part of it.

2) Your books are based on original & traditional children's songs, why was woodchuck chosen for publication?

We don't think of which comes first...the whole chicken and egg thing aren't material to us, 'cause you can go nuts trying to argue things that don't matter. Sometimes a song comes first. Sometimes the book comes first. In the end it's all about expression of ideas. So long as we have something to say we will say it - with literacy, with music, and with art. We chose Woodchuck because we thought others would find it as much fun as we did.

3) This book is illustrated by a dozen artists! That's wild! How did you manage it?

It seemed like a challenge at the time, and I love a good challenge. It was as difficult as you imagine, too, but here's a little secret: I'd do it again in a heartbeat. In fact...nah, never mind. That'd be telling.

4) Earlier books were published by Charlsbridge & newer books are self published. Why & what are the advantages of self publishing?

The earliest books were published by Whispering Coyote Press. Then Charlesbridge bought WCP, and they did in fact come out with Rock-a-bye Baby, but by then we had already produced One Size Fits All (my CD) and then Songs for America's Children (our response to the September 11th attacks) on our own. We published the book in order to give all the money away to people who needed it more than we did, but it also turned out to be a proving ground for our ability to not only produce but market and distribute on our own. The biggest advantage is that we are totally responsible for every aspect of the project from start to finish. The biggest disadvantage is that we are totally responsible for every aspect of the project from start to finish.

5) Let's talk about the new CD, "Listen UP!" What should we be expecting?

This album will be a real breakthrough in a lot of ways. It's completely different musically from One Size Fits All, yet it shares some commonalities: For one thing, every song is different from one another. You won't hear the last tune and think it sounds like the first tune. Each track is also quite different from what appeared on the first CD. I do believe in pushing the envelope, and requiring a little something from the audience. My music isn't merely background music. Don't get me wrong - you can certainly use it that way, but you can also actually LISTEN to it and get something out of it. Finally, there is something on it for younger audiences, but it is also suited to those who grew up with One Size Fits All, who are now five years older and looking for good music they can continue to grow with. It's a genuine family album.

6) Where do you get your song ideas & lyrics? Is there a process?

Everywhere. Nope.

7) What are your thoughts about independent kids music scene? Are there any folks that you admire?

There's this guy named Yosi I'm into. I am happy to say though the scene is growing with others who share a vision! I can't say I love everything by everybody, but Kevin Kammeraad is someone who has never produced anything other than quality music. He's an amazing talent and his works are right for everyone, period, no matter who you are or what you like. I am also appreciative of the efforts of Justin Roberts, Dan Zanes, Jim "Scribbleman" Dague, as well as both Vincent and Spook Handy, who is bringing folk back to kids. Thanks for that, Spook.

8) What kind of music are you into?

Man I am into everything now and again. For the most part, you can always find classic rock on my radio, in my CD player, or on the hard drive, but I also am into folk, as well as classical, and lately have been thinking about some genres of music that predate rock by just a few years as I really like transitional periods...they're interesting. I like blues, and especially 70's R&B quite a bit. Bluegrass and swing can both be fun, too, when I am...dare I say it..."In the Mood" (sorry).

9) Do you perform or produce music other than kids?

Funny you should ask. I am a wannabee rock and roll star. Well, not really star, I don't care about the stardom, but I like playing my big people rock as much as my stuff for younger audiences. Sometimes more as it's therapeutic. My first album for big folks, called The BAR, will be out soon and it features Jim Babjak of The Smithereens and Kurt Reil of The Grip Weeds.

10) What's next on the horizon for you?

Well, more books and music! First of course is the release of Listen UP! Spring 2007 will see the publication of Oh No, Domino! written and illustrated by my wife Kim and featuring a new song by me on CD. Fall 2007 will see a new book Kim and I co-wrote, illustrated by Megan Halsey, called Mommy's Having a Watermelon! It's our first chapter book. Meanwhile I have also started on my next two children's CDs, so I reckon I'll be busy for a little while.


Friday, November 17, 2006

When it's time to cha-yange...!

Howdy, friends.

As Peter Brady (of The Brady Bunch) crooned..."When it's time to cha-yange...," I felt a need to re-arrange stuff. I'm gettin' somewhat worn out with reviews. I'm enjoying the CD's, but feel I may be repeating myself with adjectives & format. Yet, I want great indie artists & their work represented.

That's when I recalled I'm something of a gabber. I like chatting with folks, especially about music. So, why not just talk to the artists? See what they're like? How does their creative process work? I've always discovered some golden nuggets when yackin' with someone. So, I'll be contacting artists, & folks involved in the indie kids music biz. Will they talk with me? We'll find out.

Interview: Dave Loftin, WAWL Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl

Dave Loftin is the host of the Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl on WAWL in Chattanooga, TN. He initially caught my interest with his song selection. The story of how he came to host the show is in step with many indie kids artists who started having children. Dave's got a good ear for great indie kids music. You can hear the show on-line at: WAWL, Saturdays 9:00 - 11:00am EST.

1) How did you get into kids music & put together the Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl?

When I found out my wife was pregnant, I started looking at what kind of kids' music was available. I knew there was stuff that wasn't very good (musically)and I wanted to avoid those. Then I started discovering more and more artists that were very talented, spoke on kids' levels and I could actually listen without shoving cotton in my ears. I later saw a college radio station that had a kids' show and thought something like that would go over well in Chattanooga, TN. Little did I know that kids' radio shows were everywhere and doing very well.

2) What do you do when not spinning discs?

My day job finds me in another form of media: TV. I work for a FOX affiliate in promotions and production. When not at work or recording the Cereal Bowl, I'm playing with my year and half old son or enjoying my other love: movies.

3) Your playlist includes punk bands, 1940's & 1950's musicians. That's quite a range! Is the audience diggin' it?

When I started researching what other kids' DJ's were playing, I was amazed at their playlists. Some songs I never would've thought to include on a kids' show. A lot of the "oldies" I play are things I listened to with my dad, since kids music in the 70's was fair at best. So far, the audience seems to enjoy the"kid-friendly" tunes.

4) The shows always start with They Might Be Giants'"Clap Your Hands". Why?

Two reasons. First, it's just a great song to get kids up and moving around in the morning. Second, it has helped establish that the show is on the air. Eventually, I'll swap it out for any random song.

5) What are your thoughts about indie kids music today?

Since I'm very new to the whole kids' music scene, I'm very impressed by it. It's awesome that kids' today have such good music to listen to and that these artists are writing music this good for kids.

6) What would you like to see in the future of kids music?

There still seems to be a lot of artists that are doing it "for the money" so to speak. By that, I mean that kids' music is now a money maker and some of these musicians decide to crank out a few happy bubbly songs about bunnies or telling the truth and bam; a kids' record. I'd like to see the truly talented and dedicated kids' artists thrive and the audience to realize there's so much more than what's found in the"corporate kids music" section at the store.

7) What kind of music do you enjoy when not spinning kids discs?

I'm pretty open to everything. However, I usually listen to punk. That's my favorite. Old and new (Ramones, Stiff Little Fingers, NOFX, Anti-Flag, etc.) and also the edgier indie music (i.e., TV on the Radio, Dresden Dolls, etc.). There's also the classics like Violent Femmes and They Might Be Giants. My guilty pleasure is "Weird Al" Yankovic. Been listening to him since he started and I can't turn it off.

8) What's next for you?

As far as the show, I'd love to start a podcast, but money and legal and all that stuff is in the way right now. My dream is to see more kids' artists perform in Chattanooga. The city is ideal for any of these bands to play outside on a sunny afternoon or in one of many indoor venues. Ultimately, I'd love to see a kids' music festival of some kind here in town. Once again,the city is perfect for it.

9) How can artists submit CD's for possible airplay?

Send material to:
Dave Loftin
Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl
1437 Elm St
Chattanooga, TN 37415