Monday, December 11, 2006

Interview: Bill & Ella Childs (Spare The Rock)

Bill & I started chatting this past summer in preparation for my guest DJ spot on "Spare The Rock." We quickly realized we had similar tastes & backgrounds in alt/indie/punk & a variety music. Then I discovered that Bill co-hosts the show with his young daughter Ella. The playlist is an eclectic blend of tunes. But the homey feel of father & daughter spinning discs & talking music is wonderful!

1) Ella, how does it feel to be a co-host of a radio show?
"I don't know. I like it."
2) (Bill & Ella, separately) What are your favorite bands or songs?

Ella: "My favorite band is They Might Be Giants, and my favorite song is Dr. Worm."
Bill: I like a ton of music. I grew up in the Twin Cities and love a lot of the '80s and '90s bands - Suburbs, Replacements, Bob Mould, Husker Du, Sugar, Soul Asylum - from there, but also from all over from that era (i.e., fIREHOSE, Soul Coughing, Dead Kennedys, etc., etc.). I like TMBG a ton and have for a long time. Among today's bands, I like Flaming Lips, Lucinda Williams, Old 97's, Gourds, Ben Folds, Mates of State, New Pornographers, Ben Kweller, Shins, The Hold Steady, etc. I also play the violin and have since I was 9, and love classical music.
3) (Bill) How much input does Ella have in the show's content?

It varies mostly based on her mood. I'm trying to increase her role in all aspects of the show as her confidence increases. She now does virtually all of the engineering and she's choosing more records to play too. Part of the problem is that the CDs in the studio are too high for her to reach, so she can't just scan through like I do. But I'll often grab a bunch of CDs and then she'll choose songs. She almost always at a minimum chooses the TMBG songs for the start and the end.

4) (Bill & Ella) Do you tend to agree or disagree?

Ella: Mostly agree.

Bill: Yep.
5) (Bill) I champion quality indie artists over those produced by major music companies. Do you feel the same?

I certainly make an effort to find more indie artists, but wouldn't say that it's "over" major labels either. As you know, we start and end every show with TMBG, who is on Disney. I think the fact that we end up playing more indie stuff is more reflective of the fact that we tend to like indie stuff more -- it tends (on average, not universally) to be a bit quirkier and more interesting to me. So we play more indie music probably for the reason that I own more indie music -- I just, mostly, like it more.

6) Bill, I noticed that many indie kids artists & DJ's have a fondness for new wave & punk. Why do you suppose that is?

Heck of a good question. Maybe most of the people of parenting age who were in Lynyrd Skynyrd cover bands have dropped music as an interest, and that left those of us whose ears were destroyed by seeing Fishbone? That's probably at least part of it -- the people who were really into more obscure music are those who were insane/obsessed/interested enough to maintain the interest.

7) When CD's arrive for possible airplay what are you looking or hoping for?

Something that my kids like that I do too. I know there's a discussion about how much parents' tastes should come into play in getting music for kids, and that's a legitimate debate. But if I'm going to be in a radio studio listening to it, it better at least not make me insane. I certainly have my tastes, and those are pretty obvious, and so I naturally like music that fits within those. But we play a lot of stuff that's folkier (just for instance) than I listen to in everyday life, and that's a reflection of the fact that it's not entirely driven by what I like.Mostly, though, I want interesting and unique music that's well-performed and doesn't sound like everything else I've heard before. I like it when artists have a personality and an identity I can get through the CD, which means I shy away from artists who try to be everything to everyone. (Some people can pull that sort of genre-shifting off, but most end up feeling like session musicians playing advertising jingles.)

8) What kind of music would you like to see explored by a kids band or artist?

More alt-countryesque stuff. There are some artists doing some good "real" country -- Biscuit Brothers, Buck Howdy, etc. -- but nobody sounds like the Gourds or Old 97's to me. And since those bands do virtually nothing that's kid-friendly, I want some.
9) I love the mellow, homey feel of your show. You've invited artists to participate as well. Are there certain moments that really stand out?
Shucks, thanks.We've really enjoyed everyone we've had on the show. It was a particular pleasure to see Ben Rudnick & Friends record songs for us at a local studio -- phenomenal musicians with a real chemistry. He was the first artist we had on the show, too. Two artists who I'd liked before but really loved in-studio were Keith Munslow and Josh Levine. And your friend Danny Adlerman -- who's been on twice, once by himself and once with Kevin Kammeraad -- was a bucket of fun.All of the guest DJ sets (including yours!) have been really interesting -- a chance to see what folks have been influenced by and what they play for their kids. ScribbleMonster and Monty Harper's filling in for the entire show were a lot of fun to hear too. ScribbleMonster is doing it again on December 30.

10) (Ella) What grade are you in & what's your favorite activity at school? What do your friends think about you being on the radio? Do you have ideas for future shows?

"2nd grade, and I like social studies; we're studying Japan. My friend Chloe thinks it's really cool that I'm on the radio. I don't have any idea for future shows."

11) (Bill) Congratulations on the Minnesota Parent magazine column! What's next for you?

I'll presumably keep doing my day job and try to get tenure (I'm a law professor). As for kids' music, we'll keep doing the show as long as Ella wants to, and Liam after that if he's interested. He's starting to learn more about being on the show, which is fun. I'm also writing a column for our local parenting magazine, Valley Kids, and would be happy to syndicate the column more. We've been booking some kids' artists into a couple of venues here, and I'm hoping to start helping some more places get family concerts together.And of course, we have more in-studio guests, guest DJ sets, and all the rest coming up -- and (eventually) the song TMBG is writing and recording for us!

Thanks for the questions and for all of the great interviews you've been doing, Yosi!

Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child" on Valley Free Radio • 8 to 10 am Saturdays • Northampton, Mass. • 103.3 FM.

1 comment:

GBK Gwyneth said...

Thanks for the great interview! Bill and Ella are highly reverered in our house, and we love to know more about how they choose the music that they play. What dedication! What great guests! What great music! We look forward to Saturdays just to hear the show!