Category Archives: Interviews

A Conversation with Lucky Diaz

Lucky Diaz just finished one heck of a week. Not only did he release a new album, A Potluck, with his Family Jam Band, but he also married bandmate Alisha Gaddis. Despite all those things on his plate, he took time out to chat with me about getting married, releasing the new record, his daughter Ella and why he is willing to give away his albums to teachers.

Did you plan on getting married & releasing a record in the same week on purpose?

(Laughs) No. The rule that Alisha laid out was, finish the record before we got married. The record has been finished for about two months now. So I took care of that part. We always release albums in the spring and we just happened to be getting married in the spring. In hindsight, maybe not. I’m excited to be doing both, but it’s been fun.

According to Facebook, last week your then-fiancé Alisha made apple pie for the first time. After tasting it, any regrets on this whole marriage thing?

I have a thing about pie. Pie is my favorite food. However, I’m diabetic so it’s not very often I get to eat pie. She had this idea for making a pie and she’d be the first to tell you that she’s not very domestic. She doesn’t cook very often. So she has this ambition to become a great cook. As for the pie? It was delicious. But regardless of the pie, I was going to marry her. I’m the winner here.

How did the two of you meet and become bandmates?

Here’s how it really got started. I have a daughter, Ella, who is eight, and I started playing songs for her at bathtime. I really wanted to her to get acquainted with the music I grew up on like the Beatles, Buddy Holly, and the Beach Boys. At some point I started just making up songs for her and she really liked them. Then I played songs for her friends and they really liked them. Alisha and I were dating at the time and she said “You should record these.” I was already doing sessions for other people, so I decided to go ahead and record it. I just really loved the idea of having a family jam band. Alisha is such a good entertainer. It made sense to do it together. We’re the real traveling family band. Ella travels with us and it’s a really fun experience to do as a family. It wasn’t intentional, but I can’t do it without her now.

What were you doing prior to children’s music?

I was just writing all the time, sometimes for different musicians, et cetera. But there’s something special about children’s music. I think there’s something unique about parents and children listening to music together, and I feel nowadays that just doesn’t happen. Growing up for me it was listening to the Beatles, America, the Doobie Brothers or the Who. My musical education really started with AM radio and to me, that was family music. Today, I’m not sure that it is.

Back then it, music was universal. Everything is so targeted now. Lady Gaga is intended for a certain audience. Kanye West. I’m a huge Kanye West fan, but I’m not going to play it for Ella. Top 40 back in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s was great for everyone. I don’t think that is really happening today in music.  I think a lot of parents play Top 40 music for their kids and they’re growing up way too fast. I don’t think it’s cool that way. I mean I’m a pretty progressive parent in a lot of ways, but pop music has changed in a way that I’m not 100% comfortable with.  It’s not same thing as in 1965 hearing the Rolling Stones sing a love song.

Right, it was the same way for me growing up — my parents would play Simon & Garfunkel all the time.

Right! How could anyone not like Simon & Garfunkel? It was beautiful stuff, everyone could listen to it.

For A Potluck, you recorded an ode to your childhood, “Tres Rotanes.” How did picking that song come about?

I’m a Mexican-American and my parents are Mexican. I did grow up listening to a lot of Mexican music and it is a part of my heritage. I’ve always wanted to write Spanish music, but I had just never gotten around to doing it. We were touring in Texas this past year and my parents are outside Austin. We were there hanging out, and I just got in touch with my roots. We were there with Ella, and when you’re with family, you start to reminisce about the old days. I just started to talk to my mom about the songs from my childhood. I thought it would be cool to adapt one of those songs on the new album. There was an artist from Latin America called Cri Cri who was popular back in the ’30s. His songs and poems were kind of weird. I just wanted to write this Old 97’s alt-country type song for the new record with Spanish lyrics. It’s fun. Ella really likes it. It’s a great connection for me.

You seem to write a lot of songs for Ella. How much longer until she no longer wants you testing songs out on her? Will it change the way you write?

I think she’s already getting too old. She’s getting jaded. She used to be “I really like that” and now she’s more like, “Yeah, it’s OK, I kind of like.” She’s getting older and her tastes are changing. I don’t think it will change how I write. It comes from an honest place. Good music just feels good. I think the message is we want to communicate with children. I love writing in this format. It’s not going to change how I write. I mean, we plan to have more children. So it’ll be a beautiful perpetual cycle — every new kid will provide eight years’ worth of material!

The area where you live, L.A.’s Silverlake neighborhood, helps a lot with your creativity.

Yeah, it’s a really artistic neighborhood. Elliot Smith came out of the neighborhood. The Silversun Pickups are from here. The great producer Daniel Lanois lives here. You’re at a coffee shop and Aimee Mann is sitting at a table across from you. It really inspires us. It’s our own ecosystem. I would compare it to being in the Village back in the ’60s. It has so much diversity and it’s a beautiful thing. I love seeing how Ella is being inspired by the neighborhood. It’s funny — we have a squirrel in our backyard that is literally crazy, so of course we wrote a song about it. There’s inspiration in our neighborhood on a daily basis.

You guys are willing to give your music away to teachers. Talk about that decision.

It’s really important. We have a very open door policy. We will give our music to any teacher who wants to use it in their classroom. The truth about it is that education is already being shortchanged, and music programs are being cut. Teachers work really hard and take money out of their own pocket to educate our children, so the least we can do is provide our music to them. Alisha’s mom is a teacher. My mom is a teacher. You want your kids to be enriched at school. You never know — there could be a kid in Milwaukee who hears our music and is inspired to play an instrument. That changes lives in such a great way, I can’t stress how important music in schools is to us. Our educators deserve it.

What is your impression of the kids’ music scene?

I’m still learning about this kindie scene. We just released this EP and figured we’d give it to our friends and hoped they’d like it. Then all of the sudden the phone was ringing and people saying “We love your song ‘Blue Bear.'” Then Sirius Kids Place started playing this song  and it kind of blew up. We’re still learning and finding out new things every day.

It’s hard to make money making music. How do you make it worth the time and effort?

We’ve been very lucky. We’ve been able to book some good-sized shows. We’ll try and book one anchor show that will allow us to pay for our travel and then we can play other shows where we might not make as much. That’s how we’ve been able to make it work. We can go from one day playing LEGO Land and the next day playing our garage for a birthday party. We’ll play anywhere and try to make ends meet.

Take a magic wand to the kindie music scene.

I would love to start a record label and just put out some really good records. I would love to put together a West Coast collaborative of kids’ artists. Maybe even a West Coast KindieFest — Hello? Stefan? — I think working more together with other artists would be great.

For more information on Lucky Diaz & The Family Jam Band, visit their website.

A Conversation with Alison Faith Levy

After five solid years of recording and touring with the Sippy Cups, Alison Faith Levy needed a break, so she took a musical detour and created McCabe & Mrs. Miller, an Americana band. But she couldn’t fully kick the kids’ music habit — she started playing shows at a local bookstore, and the rest is history.

*lame joke alert* After seeing Toby Keith have success with “Red Solo Cup,” Alison figured she would have success on her own being a solo, sippy cup. *lame joke alert over*

Briefly intruding on her busy schedule, we talked to Alison about her new solo album, World of Wonder.

Walk us through how you got to this point in your career. The Sippy Cups, then adult Americana music, and now back to kids’ music as a solo Sippy Cup.

The Sippy Cups kind of casually disbanded and parted ways. We were taking a break. We were touring a lot, it was very intense and we just need a break. Then I started this Americana band that I put out a record with. Then I started playing music for kids in the local bookstore, just very casually. I just started writing songs. I would wake up at 6 AM on the days I’d go to the bookstore and bam, I’d have a new song in my head that I’d want to write.

Soon enough, I had enough songs for an album and then I started to get bookings for shows at libraries and festivals. Then people were asking me to put out a CD so they could buy the songs. It just naturally evolved in to a full-fledged project. So I just called up my friend Allen (producer/Orange Peel Allen Clapp) to come in to the studio — let’s make a real record and have fun with it. Then of course, I went bananas on it and just went for it. It just wound up being such much more than I originally planned it to be — and I’m so happy with how it turned out.

Lots of kids’ music has a very simplistic feel to it. Yet on your record, it has very full, Phil Spector vibe to it.

The Sippy Cups were always about that big, full sound. We always wanted to write songs that kids could relate to, but make a record we wanted to hear. I think I did that on this record too. I don’t want to hold back just because it’s kids’ music. If I hear something musically that I think serves the song, I want to go for it. I’m willing to take some chances with the production. But I think kids can enjoy it; I think parents can enjoy it. It’s important for me to have the song sound the way I hear it in my head, which is a very full sound. And with Alan, I barely had a piano, vocals and guitar on the demos. He just  got it and we were able to run with it.

Was it difficult recording without other band members in the studio?

It was just the opposite — it was so easy. I love to collaborate, but I also love to see an idea through from start to finish. I do love the group discussion and being in a band is all part of that. Having six people in the room makes things move a little bit slower. The product can be amazing, but this was just a different process. It was kind of fun; there was never a debate. I could just have a good time with it.

Does the writing process between adult and kids’ music ever bleed across genres?

I’m always writing, but I tend to write on a project basis. Right now I’m completely immersed in the kids’ music. I’ve been around kids a lot lately, and they’ve inspired me. Although a couple weeks ago I did a gig with my Americana band and it was weird being up on stage as this bluesy momma. I kind of forget about that part of me.

Talk about the different joys between an adult show in a dive bar compared to a kids’ show at a library.

Don’t make me choose!  I honestly love them both so much. They’re both completely different, but I enjoy each for different things. I get such a joy from connecting with the audience. Whether I’m belting out the blues with this super loud, kick ass roadhouse band or if I’m jumping up and down with a bunch of three-year-olds, I get the same joy. Even though it’s completely different music, I get the same adrenaline rush when I’m performing. When the crowd responds, it just puts a smile on my face.

Since it’s a solo record, did you feel you had less expectations on this album?

A little bit, but I always worry that I might be pushing too far with the record. You know with the lyrics,  it’s always intended for kids, but there are some pretty sophisticated moments where I worry that I might have gone too far. Ultimately, I have to go with my heart and what I feel and how I should convey the song. You know there is a simple song like “Baby Anteater” and then there’s “Eye Of The Tornado,” which is about emotions and chaos and about finding a peaceful place amongst the chaos. I was hoping that it would give a nice message to  kids, but it’s a sophisticated idea. There would be times I would look at Allen as ask “Am I going too far?” and he would tell me “No, just do what feels right. You’re communicating.”

How do some of your Americana musical peers  perceive your kids music?

I think they don’t quite get it. They think it’s cool that I do it, but it’s every alien to them. They’re super supportive. Some have heard the record  and love it, but they don’t quite understand it. I try and get them to come to shows so they can see what it is all about.

It’s very difficult to make financial headway in the kids’ music scene. So why do it?

I’ve never made an album thinking about whether I could make a profit on it. What’s good about kids’ music is there are lots of opportunities to perform that actually pay pretty decently. That’s a nice alternative to playing adult music in a smoky bar with a tiny guarantee. With kids’ music there is at least a level of performance income that you can earn. Having a CD out also helps my profile. Obviously, I would hope to at least be able to break even on the record. Ultimately, I made it because I wanted to make a record. I hope people enjoy it — and that’s the most important thing to me.

Alison Faith Levy’s World of Wonder is out now. Buy your copy here.

A Conversation With Jack Forman of Recess Monkey

Just like the seasons, every year seems to bring another release from Seattle’s Recess Monkey.  2012 is no different. June 19th will mark the release of the eighth studio album from the trio. In Tents finds the band exploring the world of the circus. In addition, the group brought in Dean Jones to help produce the record.

I interrupted Monkey Jack Forman as he was editing the video for ‘Popcorn’ which can be found right here. He’s obviously quicker at editing videos than I am at transcribing interviews.

My favorite quote from the interview? “Well kids don’t drink nearly enough beer.

Will you ever take a break? In Tents is your eighth album in eight years.

We’re so lucky that everything is line for us to keep us inspired. We keep wanting to do this. Even though I’m not teaching at school this year while I’m watching my son, I’m still surrounded by children. I go back to the school all the time. The kids are at our shows. Drew and Daron are working in the trenches with the kids in their classroom. It feels like every day you’re with kids, if you could transcribe it, that would be a record or more. If you could spend and transcribe an entire day with kids, you’d probably have a career’s worth of material. Plus having memories of being young from our own childhood. There is just such a richness of material that is available. We’ve never gotten tired of it.

Has there ever been the thought of taking a year off?

I could see us taking a break if it ever felt like work. But it still feels like we’re playing. Sunny days in Seattle are rare from October thru February, so it’s a perfect time to hunker down and be creative. It never feels like a grind. It’s almost like a hobby. But we do it often enough it could certainly be described like a job, but it doesn’t feel like it.

With the kids offering up so many ideas for inspiration, how do you focus in on a certain theme?

We always start with the theme and go from there. You know, as teachers we’re trained to always listen.  You never know what to expect from the kids. We know how to focus on what kids are going to bring to you that day, instead of what you bring to the kids. I think being open to all ideas is helpful. As teachers we plan out a years’ worth of curriculum for the kids, that trains us to listen in certain ways. When you’re seeing a day at school through the eyes of a circus, it’s funny how things you wouldn’t expect, pop to the surface that work.  It’s a great way to tap into the kids subconscious without trying to force the issue. By us thinking of a specific theme it allows us to really weave ideas together.

Now that you’re on your 8th album, have you figured out what you’re doing?

Never. No way. The process of releasing  a new record is just as nerve wracking and frightening to us as it was when we released our first record. There comes a point where you just have to let go and let people listen. Whether they like it or hate it, that tight rope (pardon the circus pun) is what pushes us.  I think if we ever felt comfortable, we’d lose our edge. We’re always trying to force ourselves into new areas and grow creatively.

Dean Jones was brought to the table on this record:

He was amazing. Now Drew is our primary songwriter and that part of the process was pretty similar. After we thought of the theme and brainstorm ideas for songs, we hand it over to him. Drew’s just so prolific in his song writing, he goes into the cave and comes out a couple weeks later with these amazing demos for songs. But bringing in Dean on that was such a learning experience. He’s just a different creative being. We’d send him some demos and he’d just take the songs to a place we hadn’t thought of. The beautiful part about Dean is that he is such an amazingly talent musician, but he’s not pretentious about it. He comes in with full humility and just a genuine desire to have really satisfying creative experience. That’s the kind of person you want to work with. It was a really fun time where no one wasn’t doing anything but smiling during the process. Dean would at first throw us what felt like curve ball, then we’d try it and suddenly it would make sense. I can’t speak highly enough about the experience.

How has the kids music scene changed since your first album?

We came into it as teachers, first and foremost, who were also musicians toughing it out in the Seattle indie music scene. It was very incongruous to be doing it when you’re at show until 2am and then going in trying to teach the next morning. It was our circumstances that led us to the Kindie scene. The first year or two was a learning experience for us. We learned a lot from Stefan Shepherd at Zooglobble about what other artists were doing. We slowly learned that there was a full fledged scene for kids music. It has grown so much since we started.

So how does it feel to be considered a veteran of the kids music scene?

(laughs) It’s a really gratifying experience, but we still feel like the new kids on the block. We’re still learning as we go. We look to other artists to see what they’re doing. What they’re doing to get the kids to relate to the live experience. It’s been really cool to sit back and realize we’ve figured some things out. We share those things as freely as we can.

Has the Kindie  genre gotten to the point of allowing artists to be financially successful?

Well, we’re teachers. So we don’t try to do things that are going to make us wealthy. But we’re at the point now where I can work full-time for the band while I stay home with my son. Not a whole lot of kids musicians can say that. We’re just scraping by, it’s not like we’re this huge industry. Over the years we’ve learned how to book shows and do what we can to sell CDs. Video is big part of it. It’s fun to tell stories that way in addition to just songs. I don’t know how other bands operate, but we’re still very much a month-to-month, coat hangers and duct tape operation. We’re still trying to figure out as we go.

Booking shows is big source of revenue for adult bands/musicians.  How do you convince venues to book kids shows when the venue won’t be getting bar revenue?

Well kids don’t drink nearly enough beer, so that really hurts our cause. The joke is, we still play shows at 11, they are just at 11am not 11pm. Kids audiences are so much more fun than drunken ones. Jammin’ Java in DC is a venue that does a great job of building an audience by having shows on a regular basis. For most venues here in Seattle it comes down to liquor license. Ordinances just don’t allow for all ages shows that have access to bars in them. City government is a great place to book gigs, via their summer festivals. Libraries are still a good place to book shows too. The model of doing door splits and having clubs ask “What’s your draw?” is tough.  It is sort of nice when you can side step that all together and do shows that are more family friendly. It doesn’t frustrate us when we don’t have to deal with those questions.

As a whole, is the Kindie scene adding more credibility by the addition of bands that had success in the adult world?

The Verve Pipe are friends of ours and we helped them out with a show out here in Seattle.  Chris Ballew is another example. Honestly, I don’t know if it builds other bands audiences, but it raises awareness of the genre. It helps take away the stigma. I think anyone who makes quality music for kids helps the genre. We’re all in this together. It will be fun to see in the coming years how the genre grows with the addition of established adult bands being added into the mix.  It helps with the credibility to the genre. Kids music is unique in that it’s open to all different styles of music.