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.


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