Monday, December 21, 2009

Interview: The Imagination Movers

I had mentioned in my previous post about the Imagination Movers that although I knew of them for several years and enjoyed the few song clips I'd heard of theirs, it wasn't until watching their TV show on Playhouse Disney that they I could really appreciate how great they were. The Monkees style humor and charm of the show and their characters was immediately endearing, but their music in particular became infectious and memorable with every new show. The Movers songs have a terrific mix of accessible and kid-focused original pop-rock, with influences and styles that include driving Cajun rhythms, Red Hot Chili Pepper style funk rap, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, BNL, and various 80's rock staples. It's a great sound, with the four of them taking turns on vocals, and the songwriting and production is sharp and focused and always serves the song and the audience.

But as much as I've come to love the band, that couldn't begin to compare to how much my girls love them. New episodes of their show are eagerly awaited, recorded, watched and rewatched several times, with particularly funny moments giving my 7 year-old Becca practice with the rewind function of the DVR remote so she and her sister Evee can watch them over and over and laugh like crazy. So when I noticed that the Imagination Movers were embarking on a tour and would be coming to the Northwest in December, and knowing I was taking the month of December off, it was a no-brainer that we'd have to catch one of their shows.

We actually kept it a secret from our girls the whole time, describing our four-hour drive to Seattle as being a trip to pick up a new engine for Mommy's car (which turned out to be a secondary reason we went there that day). Now, we travel enough to where our girls can have a fun experience with any time that we're on the road, and we're happy to play games and listen to music and talk about various things while driving for hours... but still, a trip to Seattle to get an engine just wasn't all that thrilling of a notion for them. So you can imagine their reaction when, after picking up the engine, we drove slowly past a theater where Becca noticed big letters on the marquee that read "IMAGINATION MOVERS - DEC 12". We played dumb at first... "Hmmm, what day is that? Oh hey, that's today. Whaddya know? Ah, but we would need tickets for that..." And then both girls sighed in a softly sad way... But then, well... let's just say that I'm still hearing echoes from the shrieks of joy that ensued when I pulled out the tickets and showed them.

And as if the show itself wasn't incredibly fun enough, they got to meet Rich, Smitty, Scott, Dave and Drummer Kyle afterward. They were able to discuss important things like Webkinz with the guys (apparently, Dave has 12 Webkinz at home... I'm not sure how many are his, though)
and even sang a verse of the Plants vs. Zombies theme song for Mover Dave. Needless to say, it was a very memorable day, and the guys were tremendously generous with their time and super-nice and friendly, as you would only expect from watching their show.

Before the show I was able to interview them and talk a little about their experiences and challenges in developing their music and the TV show. I was told by their stage manager that I would only have 3 minutes to talk with them, so if I sound a little hurried at first, it's because I kept expecting to get yanked at any moment and wanted to make sure I got a question or two in. But we ended up talking for 15 minutes, so that was really nice of them to share that much time right before their show. As it turned out, their show started almost exactly 12 minutes late, but I'm sure that was just a coincidence. (I'm just kidding... they started on time.)

Here's the interview: Interview with the Imagination Movers

The Imagination Movers' website

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Interview: Tito Uquillas of the Hipwaders

The Hipwaders are definitely one of the coolest "kindie rock" bands to emerge in the last several years. This was an interesting year for the band in that they had two releases, both a little different than the norm; the first was Goodie Bag, which is a Hipwaders record through and through, but only with an EP's worth of songs, and the second is Kindie Christmas, an album of all original Christmas songs with the Hipwaders' sound and style. Check out the videos below for "Field Trip" from Goodie Bag and "Santa's Train" and "Wake Up" from Kindie Christmas.

Though their three-piece lineup has morphed a bit during that time, singer-guitarist-songwriter Tito Uquillas has always remained at the helm. I'm thankful to call Tito my good friend, and our families have been able to meet up a few times now when we've been traveling through the area. We always have a great time talking at length and jamming a little and this last time we visited I did the following interview with Tito... Enjoy!

Interview with Tito Uquillas

Buy the Hipwaders' CDs on CDBaby

Friday, October 02, 2009

What a Ride!

What a Ride!, my fifth CD of music for kids/families, was released back in June (man, I'm so behind on this blog...). The album includes 11 tracks and some guest appearances and performances by several awesome kids' music artists, many of whom I've featured here; Gwendolyn Sanford of Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang, Tito Uquillas of The Hipwaders, Eric Ode, Robbi K, Chris Wiser of Sugar Free Allstars, Jim Dague of Scribblemonster, David Tobocman, Devon Thagard of Super Simple Songs, Glenn Colton and Mr. Billy.

My wife, Roseann, and I produced this album together over the past two years, and though there is certainly no objectivity here, we think it's my best album yet and we're really happy with how it turned out. Well, the final master for the first run was a little different than for subsequent runs, since I noticed some things I wanted to adjust, sound-wise... We were pressed for time to get it to the manufacturer to have copies in hand by the release date and I believe I would have chosen a different mix/master to send in for that if I'd had more time to review everything. But that's all fixed for future runs. The album as it was sounded good, just the perfectionist in me wanted a few tonal changes here and there... Regardless, I've always been very happy with the music that's on the album.

I would say that What a Ride! is less comedy oriented than albums like Snow Day! or Monkey Business, and it probably skews a little older in general than my previous albums, but it has a really nice variety to it
, and thematically it loosely depicts the journey and growth of childhood and the exploration and illumination involved with that. The album also includes some of my very favorite songs from among my catalogue, specifically "Stink Bug", "What a Ride" and "How Big". "How Big", in particular, came out better than I could have hoped, especially with the soaring outro vocals by Robbi K and the chorus of friends and family on the outro refrain... I don't know if any song could really begin to describe or depict the unimaginable immensity of life and the universe, but "How Big" does give me a little bit of the feeling of that, which is what I was aiming for. We're currently working on a video for that, which will be fun to put together.

You can listen to samples of all 11 songs at this page. There are also full songs to hear, including "Heartbeat (The Stethoscope Song)", "What a Ride" and "How Big", at my Facebook page. The video for "Ants in Your Pants #99" is below, as well as the compilation video from a video dance contest we held on YouTube back in July. What a Ride! is available through my website, as well as at CDBaby,, iTunes and other major digital sites.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Didi Pop

Didi Pop has been embarrassing me. Her tunes are so catchy that I find myself singing them in public places, not even realizing I'm doing it. Normally, that wouldn't be so bad, even with a 40 year-old guy singing kids' tunes, but there's something particularly disturbing about singing a line like "when my diaper's drippy, it hardens up my poo" and realizing by the look on the grocery clerk's face that yes, I did sing that out loud.

I'm referring to a line from the song, "B-R-A-T-Y", the video of which (watch it below) was my first introduction to Didi Pop, a children's artist from Los Angeles. For me, the song was an instant classic; amazingly catchy and upbeat, and so up front about its dietary/digestive message. I think we in the kids' music world sometimes shy away from songs that could be considered "preachy" or "messagey" (I don't think that's even a word... and my spell checker agrees... but I've heard it used a lot in this genre), or we try to be so subtle about it that any message that is there is going to be too vague for a lot of kids to even appreciate. But Didi has nothing to hide on "B-R-A-T-Y"; if you eat certain foods, your bowel movements will be more solid. Pure information, sung so matter-of-factly and confidently with a bouncy "11 o'clock number" showtune melody that it becomes ingrained almost instantly. Now, if the message in "B-R-A-T-Y" was bad information, it could be dangerous propaganda... you wouldn't want kids going around singing "when my diaper's drippy, I should hitchhike to Reykjavik"... but as it is, the song is a perfect vehicle for its message.

Didi came to a show of mine in L.A. earlier this year and we exchanged CDs. She gave me her debut Didi Pop CD and I gave her a scratched copy of Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer in Twelve Different Languages (which was hidden inside one of my CD cases). I think I got the better deal from that as we have since listened to her CD over and over and over, with my girls requesting it over and over and over and me not minding to play it over and over and over. So what makes Didi's CD so great? Well, I'll tell you...

Didi has one of the best voices I've ever heard in the kids' genre; great range and tone and polished yet down-to-earth. At times she sounds a bit like other favorites of mine like Frances England and Gwendolyn from Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang, so there's a familiarity about the general sound which is nice for what she's singing, but she also has very much of her own voice and style. If anything, Didi's singing approach and aura as a performer reminds me most of Mary Poppins; at times soft and sweet but often in-your-face brassy with a sly charm and wit that belies the messages she is planting.

Her singing is one thing, but Didi is also a top-notch songwriter, giving a great vehicle to her voice and singing approach. "The Cool Alphabet Song" (see video below) at first seems like yet another attempt to supplant that famous alphabet song (which is not likely to happen in our lifetime), but it takes some really interesting turns musically and uses some clever letter devices (not unlike Ralph's World's recent "Abby's Alphabet Soup"). "Feed the Pet" is a cute calypso style tune and "Max the Wonderdog" a terrific Tin Pan Alley style tale. "Yellow Car" is an example of the depth and breadth of this album, as it was not an early favorite of mine and yet it's the tune I find myself singing in public places most often lately (which is much less embarrassing than "B-R-A-T-Y"). "Look at Yourself in the Mirror" is a super cool pop tune with yet another incredibly catchy hook; "Neferdidi" is a fun genie-in-the-lamp story with a great Silk Road sound; and "Monday" is a neat a cappela trip through the days of the week and other time-related measurements.

The closing song on Didi Pop is called "Dream". "Dream" is not just one of the best lullabies I've ever heard, it's one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard, period. This song has actually made me cry while driving down the road listening to it and thinking of how magnificent life really is (yes, more embarrassment if a trucker happens to drive by and see me bawling while listening to a lullaby!). The lyrics are fairly standard lullaby fare about rainbows and clouds and such, but there is something so deeply moving about the way everything comes together for me with the words and music and Didi's elegant singing, that I don't know if I can even express it adequately. When our Becca was a baby, we had a mix CD of different mellow songs (James Taylor, etc.) to play for her at bedtime, and it was nice for us to hear those songs coming through the baby monitor in our room. I'll never forget how one night, as I was drifting away into sleep, I barely heard "Canon in D" playing through the monitor, and with my eyes closed I could see this gloriously colorful world of music far away among the darkness of the room and of the night and of the world. It was a wonderful feeling and this song is one of the few things I've heard since then that has touched into that same kind of spirit.

I couldn't talk about Didi Pop's album without mentioning what is perhaps its greatest weapon of all... Delilah. Delilah is Didi's daughter, three years-old at the time of the recording, and she may be the cutest sounding little kid I've heard on any children's CD (and I've heard some cute ones!). She interacts wonderfully on songs like "Feed the Pet" ("feed a Dinah Shore!") and "Merci" and pops up in a few spots here and there, and I would have liked to hear more of her on the album. My advice to Didi is to take Delilah into a studio and record her for several hours saying various different things, so she'll have a backlog of cute Delilah recordings to use for albums to come, though I'm sure she'll still be very cute sounding for at least a few more years.

But you don't have to take my word for any of this... Didi has generously offerred her entire album to listen to for free on her website at this link: By all means, go there and listen, but be forewarned, you may find yourself belting out her tunes in public, and if so, well, I hope you don't get embarrassed too easily.

Didi Pop's website

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gunnar Madsen

It's amazing how with all of the kids' music I've heard since starting this blog (and before that), I am still often blown away by new things I hear... And every so often, I'm blown away even beyond any normal standards of what constitutes being "blown away". Gunnar Madsen's I'm Growing album is a perfect example of that, and is without a doubt one of the most entertaining kids' music albums I've ever heard.

I'm Growing may not be to everyone's taste (not that anything is)... it is at once adventurous, over-the-top, complex, goofy, challenging and diverse, and it might be a little too much for anyone looking for a more straightforward sing-a-long kind of CD for their kids. But if you can just let it play and be open to discovering its creativity and uniqueness, then a real musical treat awaits, to be sure.

The opening title track builds up to arrive and envelope you. Instantly, Gunnar's vocal and arranging virtuosity is evident (he might be considered the kids' music equivalent of Bobby McFerrin) and you know you're in for something really special, and the rest of the album delivers a tasty smorgasbord of musical and lyrical ideas. "Pumpkin Hair" takes a simple, folksy kind of barn dance rhythm (
think the New Main Street Singers from A Mighty Wind) and spices it up with some unexpected chord changes. "Walkin' Back to Texas" seems to channel 70's laid-back folk-rock tunes like Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime". "Sun Comes Up" bounces along with some clever odd-timing and fun vocal play. "Mozart's at the Window" is a tour-de-force of vocal harmonies and layering. "Always on the Bottom" is a catchy and funny Elvis-style tune that scores extra credit for rhyming "bottom" with "Hillary Rodham". "Simple" belies its name by including some sophisticated lyrics and chord changes in a cool tongue-in-cheek way. "Library Closing Time" is a party rock anthem with a great rhythm pickup and the classic line: "Dewey Decimal? Yes, we do." The album ends with the beautiful original track "Tonight" and a stunning rendition of the traditional standard "Shenandoah".

Much of I'm Growing sounds familiar, musically speaking, and yet it's so fresh and original that it is always unmistakably "Gunnar Madsen". I'm reminded of the quote I used to describe Frances England's first CD, where Leonard Bernstein referenced good art as being "fresh, but inevitable."
Gunnar's other children's music CDs, Old Mr. Mackle Hackle and Ants in My Pants, and his composing efforts involving waltzes and synthesized dramatic works all have the same sense of unique brilliance and variety. But I'm Growing reaches musical heights even farther reaching than his previous children's albums, and stands out as a groundbreaking recording in the genre.

Click here for song samples, lyrics and ordering information for I'm Growing.

I was happy to be able to meet up with Gunnar at his home last year and interview him about I'm Growing and the rest of his work, but I've had some trouble getting the interview transcribed... It's almost complete now, though, so I will try to get that posted sometime after I'm home again in May.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Kids' Rock by Tim Hawkins

More new stuff coming soon, I promise, but in the meantime, check out this video... and don't drink any milk while you watch it...