Friday, February 16, 2007

Interview: Alternadad Neal Pollack

Satirical fiction author turned dad, Neal Pollack, relates his candid parenting experiences & musings in Alternadad. I very much enjoyed this book. Here's a quick interview with the author.

1) Many perspective dads with a "rock history/persona" feel a mix of excitement and loss. You've illustrated some of that struggle. How has becoming a dad defined or altered your persona?
I don't know that it's had much effect on my persona. The rock history/punk-rock guy was just a phase that I was going to leave anyway. It's definitely defined my life, though, in ways that are incalculable. That said, I don't think that I'm a different person because I have a kid. I'm the same person with somewhat reordered priorities.
2) You and Elijah spent a lot of time together. What sort of activities are you sharing these days?
We like to dance around the living room a lot. Also, swim lessons, and going out for ice cream, and various trips to various museums, parks, and aquariums. We also like to go out to eat and try new foods. Pleasant stuff, mostly. He's only four.
3) For Elijah: What's your favorite music/bands?
Elijah replies: "Nellie The Elephant and the Yoda song."
4) Have you explored the recent explosion of indie kids music? What are your thoughts? Any specific trends/bands you like?
I'm having trouble keeping up with it, honestly. There's almost too much, but that's for the good. I like the trend of kids' music becoming more rock-oriented, more garagey. The Dan Zanes folk explosion blasted open an enormous door, but now it's time to turn up the volume.
5) Any recent success at cooking hams for Christmas? Are you cooking these days?
My wife does most of the cooking because she has very specific ideas of what kinds of foods should enter our bodies. We get a twice-a-month box of vegetables from a community agriculture co-op, and there are fish liver oil pills that she forces us to take.
6) Your story ends with hope & promise of a new life in LA, & leaving a crime troubled neighborhood in Austin with personal financial woes. How is the new life in LA?
Oh, you know, crowded, dangerous, dirty, but also pretty exciting and fun. You never know who's going to be behind the door when it opens. There's lots of opportunity here, and the kids seem to have a good time.
7)You've drawn much criticism from The Onion article about Elijah's preschool & biting experiences. What kind of praise or criticism is Alternadad garnering?
That article was in Salon, actually. The book has received about three-quarters positive reviews. Most reviewers are at least amused by it, and some have absorbed the book's not-so-subtle subtext of the decline of the American middle class. Critics have either found it unfunny or not "alternative" enough.
8) What's your dad or mom's reaction to Alternadad? How about your mother-in-law?
My parents have been remarkably tolerant of the book, and extremely supportive. My mother-in-law also has, though she's a little dismayed by the marijuana use.
9) What's next? Another book? New project? A new Neal Pollack Invasion band & tour? Offsprings?
I have many ideas. We'll see how many of them bear fruit.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Interview: Bryan Townsend of THE POKEY PUP

Bryan Townsend (pictured here with son, Gaines) is the owner of The Pokey Pup, a unique online store for cool kid music & hip stuff.

1) What prompted you to start up Pokey Pup?
I've owned a "traditional" indie record store (Underdog Records) since 1997 and have worked in the music industry for all of my life (from marketing at major record labels and music licensing for advertising to working at one of the original online music download companies). With my background in the music industry and especially in owning a record store, I wanted to challenge this expertise in a new direction, providing great music and media for kids and their parents. However, I must say the biggest prompt in starting The Pokey Pup was when my wife and I were expecting our son, Gaines. It really made me think of the things that I loved and wanted to share with my child (music, art, movies, books, cartoons, etc.). So, The Pokey Pup is an extension of my love of great music and wanting to share great music with my own son and I figured that there were other parents out there that wanted to do the same thing and I hope that I can provide that for them.
2) How did you come up with the name?
Like I mentioned my other record store is Underdog Records. When I started thinking of a name for the children's record store I wanted to continue the "dog" theme and naturally something with "Pup" in the title was the logical connection. The "pokey" part came from a more sad thing. Our family dog, Copper, was an Australian Shepherd who was suffering badly from epilepsy. Since he was herding dog he was constantly at our feet and walking in front of us. His epilepsy was taking a toll on his stability so he would walk in front of you very slowly and often stopping right in front of you. It was a struggle to walk from one room to the other in our house because he was constantly "herding" us. Because of this my wife and I would constantly be telling him to move it along and we would start referring to him as "Pokey". "Move it along pokey" was heard throughout the day in our house and after saying that phrase constantly, we started then starting referring to him "pokey pup" and that's where everything connected for me to call the store that. It's a connection to my other record store and a tribute to my dog, who sadly died last year before the store was launched. So, The Pokey Pup is not named after the book, "Poky Little Puppy", in fact I don't think I even owned that book as a kid or could even tell you what that story is about.

3) With all the established online music store (Amazon, CDbaby) & children's music distributors how do you plan to compete?
First of all we are a niche online retailer, so Amazon is not really a competitor. Who can compete with them anyway? Although we carry some of the same independent artists that CD Baby carries, they are not really a competitor either. I have a great respect and admiration for Derek and CD Baby, but our focus is very different from that of CD Baby. They are like a shopping mall consisting of all kinds of independent artists products (not just children's music) and we are like your small independent record store, selling not only independent artists products, but many other unique things that you can't find as readily in the big stores. So, how we compete is by being different from everybody else, by offering unique products, by providing personalized customer service and by having one store where parents can find some cool things for themselves and their children.

4) Are there unique features to Pokey Pup?
I think the uniqueness comes from the products that we choose to carry. Since we are a niche retailer, we handpick the items that we offer to our customers. I think that our store in itself is very unique since there is not really a store online like it.

5) How do you select what gets on the site?
In keeping with our indie kids's music store mentality, we try to select products that are unique and fun. Some of the selection process is subjective. If I like it then it will probably find it's way in the store. We try to carry a little bit of something for everyone. We want to carry a broad and diverse collection of items. That's why we have several sub-genre sections in our store. Most stores that carry music, both online and physical, will have one section (usually very small) that is labeled "Children's Music." That's what parents have been stuck with for many years now when shopping for music for the children and the Pokey Pup is trying to play its part by expanding that Children's Music section to include all kinds of great music.

6) I'm very impressed with your "For The Parents" selections. Pixies, Devo, Shins, & a few others are my faves. Is that the music you enjoy?
Thanks for the complement. Yes, much of the product in the "For the Parents" section like the Pixies, The Shins, Devo, etc. are some of my favorites as well and that's why they are there. I like to offer a unique selection of items that many people would think does not belong in a "children's" store. I think back to my own childhood and yes I had some Sesame Street records and other things that I listened to, but what I really enjoyed was digging through my parents album collection and listening to that. I discovered the Beatles, the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, old country music, etc. by listening to those albums with my parents. I definitely think that it helped shape my listening tastes today and I want to my children and other children to maybe have those same experiences. Not everything that a kid listens to has to be "kid's" music. I don't believe in forcing children to listen to your music, but I do think exposing your children to the music that you love is good thing that you can share with your children. By the way, in keeping with that inclusiveness, we have recently rolled the "For The Parents" section into a "For the Whole Family" section.

7) Is there a trend you like (or hope to see) in children's music?
I think we all have been enjoying the exposure of great children's music as of late. I hope that it continues to shine the light on some well-deserved artists. I am glad that the children's music genre has broken out of it's stale, cookie cutter routine. Only a few years back, almost all children's music released looked the same on the outside and sounded the same on the inside. I am excited that some new record labels dedicated to good children's music is starting up. The "trend" that I am looking forward to is the continuation of great music that families can enjoy together.

8) How's your "pup" doing? Are you seeing some success?
The Pokey Pup has been doing great for a start-up. We only officially launched in September 2006 and we have had success so far. We had a very good holiday season and we hope that more and more people continue to get exposed to our store. 2006 was our start, but 2007 is shaping up to be our building year.

9) What's next for you?
As I just mentioned, this year we are planning on building on the small success that we have had so far. We are starting a national publicity campaign this Spring, we are looking to sponsoring some tours and festivals this Summer and we are planning to offer some more contests, promotions and giveaways. We plan to add some new features to the site such as continuing to add audio clips for the CDs and additional organization of products by age group. We are also planning to add more products to the store, expanding our book selection and possibly adding some toys and other unique products. That's just for this year. We do have some other cool things that we considering expanding into as well...tune in later for that.

Thanks Bryan!
Check it out folks:

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Interview: Kevin Kammeraad

Author, Illustrator, music producer, Kevin Kammeraad, (pictured here with his toothy pal, Jacob) reads, writes, draws, sings, presents at schools & enjoys Spinach Dip. I wonder if he dances?

He's produced wonderful books & CD's including: The Tomato Collection, & most recently A Curious Glimpse of Michigan.

1) My kids & I love The Tomato Collection. How did the CD & book come to life?

When I was in college (studying film and video production) my grandmother gave me a journal as a Christmas present. I didn’t consider myself a writer so the first thing I wrote was “This is my new book. I don’t know what I’m going to write in it but I guess I’ll know when it’s done.” I continued to fill up five journals, around 700 pages. The process of writing and illustrating the book, and also producing the music, took me about five and a half years. It wasn’t until about three years into making the book that I started thinking about the idea of turning the poems into songs. I had no real plan and asked my friend Andy ( to consider writing the music for the first song. Slowly, the album began to unfold and really took on a life of its own.
2) You had 53 musicians play on that disc. Wasn't that a bit cramped in the studio? How did you coordinate it? There was no real format or structure other than simply figuring it out as we went. I asked different people to work on different songs in hopes that it would be diverse. There was between one and eight musicians in the studio at a time. Mark Rehl, our audio engineer and co-producer, was able to make the logistics work in the studio.

3) My kids fave song is "The Couch." They want to know if this is your personal couch, or can it be found anywhere else. The idea for that poem/song came from my friend Bill. I was talking with him one day and he suggested I “write a poem about a couch who eats people.” So, it’s based on his couch. (I think, although I never really asked him what couch he was referring to!)

4) You've got a new CD & book about Michigan. Why Michigan? Why not Wisconsin? Don't you like cheese? I love cheese. Who doesn’t love cheese? I guess if you’re lactose intolerant you wouldn’t care for it. The project unfolded from an opportunity presented to us from or friends, EDCO Publishing. We’ve know them for a few years now and they produce Michigan based books and curriculum. The idea was simply to create a “fun poetry book about Michigan.” We then followed suit like The Tomato Collection and turned all the poems into songs. Even though the book and CD are about Michigan, we tried to produce them to have a universal appeal and quirkiness to them.

5) There are 49 tracks on A Curious Glimpse of Michigan CD. Which are your favorites? Why? I produced this album with Ryan Hipp ( and he and I worked with over 40 musicians on this project; so it’s hard to choose. It was a lot of fun collaborating with Danny Adlerman on one track and ScribbleMonster on fourteen of them. A lot of the musicians from The Tomato Collection were involved again as well as new friends. Our goal, like The Tomato Collection CD, was to include various styles of music and instruments, and also to create it to appeal to all ages. A few favorites I guess would be the sound clips available at The Pokey Pup:

6) Did the CD turn out the way you hoped it would?

With The Tomato Collection there were only a few poems that I didn’t know what to do with musically. On that project, the page numbers of the book match the track numbers of the CD. When we began to work on the Michigan songs, I originally thought only half of the poems would “work” as songs. So the plan at first was only going to be doing half the poems and create a shorter CD. As it unfolded though, once again the music took on a life of its own. Jim (ScribbleMonster) in particular really challenged us to make this a full length CD and contributed many ideas of how to accomplish that.

While working on the CD, various patterns began to develop. The first is that we have 15 short facts about Michigan stated at the start of the book. For the CD, they are spread throughout the music. Also spread throughout are each of the state symbols and the four seasons. We also came up with an a cappella opening and ending as well as welcome and farewell tracks. We were really excited with this revolving dynamic.

So yes, it turned out even better than I had hoped!

7) I noticed you've connected with various folks in the kids music scene who contribute to your CD's. Do you feel kids musicians have a strong sense of camaraderie? Absolutely! I really enjoy connecting with others in this business and sharing insights, etc. I’m great friends with Danny Adlerman (a good friend of yours too I know) and also Jim Dague of ScribbleMonster. Both of those guys are very encouraging, inspiring, and great to know. Instead of “going it alone” we often share ideas, insights, connections, etc. In particular, the three of us do both music and books so we really connected ( Roger Day is another great guy we’ve gotten to know well. My son loves Roger’s song, Mosquito Burrito. I’ve been working on a project called The Orange Turtle Album which includes songs from all of these guys.

I look forward to future collaboration projects and I’m always up for bouncing ideas around with other artists. I love “swapping CDs” with others.

8) Where do you get your poem/song ideas? Is there a process you use? There’s no process for me other than writing down an idea as soon as I get it. From there it either develops or stays somewhere in a mess of paperwork in my office in hopes that it someday will become a finished poem or song. Some ideas develop quickly, some very slowly. I love bouncing ideas around with people and seeing what other perspectives people may have. Most ideas for me come from real life events, day dreaming, or simply wondering.

9) Do you have a message for parents? For kids? When I visit schools my hope is mainly for kids to have a lot of fun and to get them excited about their own creativity. I emphasize that the writing process and creation of poems, art, music, etc. takes time. I simply try to make books and music that people of all ages will enjoy and hope to empower their own creativity. So my message would be “enjoy your imagination and eats lots of spinach dip.”

10) What music do you enjoy when not producing kids music? I listen to a variety of things but I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to the music scene today, or at all for that matter! Ask Bill Childs, Danny, or Jim and they’ll tell you I really don’t have a clue on “who’s who” and “what’s what.” It’s rather embarrassing actually. I mainly listen to WYCE ( here in Grand Rapids which is our eclectic independent radio station. I love the fact that it isn’t at all commercially driven.

11) What's next for you?

I just finished the illustrations (and did a little of the signing) for Danny Adlerman’s upcoming CD “Listen UP!” ( It’s an all-ages rock-n-roll album that has a great variety of good vibes. I’m really excited for it to be released. For the past five years we’ve been working on a songbook for The Tomato Collection (for music teachers mainly). Someday we’ll get that wrapped up! And someday, I’d like to do another book of general poetry. Other than that I’m having fun with my wife and son and eating lots of tortilla chips.

Thanks, Kevin! Pass the tortilla chips. Mmmm...good dip!
We are enjoying your CD's and books at home.
Check out Kevin's school appearances, music & books: