Category Archives: Interviews

A conversation with Jacob Stein of The Pop Ups

The Pop Ups came out of left field in 2010 with the release of Outside Voices, a synth-pop debut album that raised the creative bar in the Kindie music scene. The release of Outside Voices also spawned a live puppet show called Pasta! that had successful runs in both New York and L.A.

Jacob Stein, one half of The Pop Ups, took time and answer some of our questions about the new album Radio Jungle, the writing process and the Kindie music scene.

How excited are you to have this project for ready for public consumption?

It’s amazing. For this record we finished it and then we went through more post production. We had it mixed at Roll Poll studio by Andy Baldwin who recently worked on the new Bjork record. We had it mastered. We’ve had it done for awhile, but it’s just great to finally have it out there.

How do you go from zero expectations to being Kindie pop darlings?

I can’t say it’s the easiest thing. You can’t avoid the expectations. We just tried to walk into the room, as innocently as you can, and write songs that gave us pleasure. We weren’t aware this whole Kindie world  even existed. The first time we even heard the word ‘Kindie’ was at KindieFest. The response to Outside Voices was tremendous. For this record, we just tried not to think about it. We just wanted to write the next record that we would enjoy ourselves. We just followed the fun. We reminded ourselves throughout the process, just have fun.

You had previously work on kid related projects, so how did the Pop Ups eventually form?

Jason and I had worked together on a couple of kids music projects that were more from my side of the field. He produced a song for a Jewish kids record in 2007. Before that he came in and played on a Passover musical project that I had been working on. It was his idea. He came to me and said, “Let’s write something together” Initially, we had no expectations. We thought we might take some of the music to some classes and that was about it. There was a moment of recognition for us, that when we sat down to write it, it just followed immediately. As an artist, it’s a rare thing to find somebody that you can write and create with and then to find and continue to write with, it was just a pleasure. To tell you the truth, the first Pop Ups record came from the joy of a collaborative, artistic process. You had to honor a good writing relationship because it was just so rare. It’s amazing to connect to another artist.

Did the knowledge of having to write another puppet show, find its way into the writing process this time around?

That was a difficult decision to figure out. We decided to work the exact same way, but knowing it’s really hard to recreate anything. We tried to keep the play angle out of it and not focus on the narrative. Start with ideas for songs that were interesting to us and exploring them. But as we were putting together the Radio Jungle play, there were certainly moments where we asked ourselves “why did we do it this way?” I think Jason and I feel that The Pop Ups, at its root, are a band. As we started to adapt Radio Jungle into a musical, we learned we really had our work cut out for ourselves to try and find connections that made sense. I think Pasta! was an easier show to write. I’m really proud of the new show and excited for it. You can’t try and recreate what you’ve done previously.

How did your relationship with Yo Gabba Gabba Live come about?

One of the producers had seen our Pasta! show and asked us to do a date or two with the live show. We had a visual show that fit in perfectly with Yo Gabba Gabba Live show. We had to make some adaptations.  We were playing such large arenas compared to the Pasta! shows, so we had to remake the Subway Train puppets nearly four times as large as we originally made them. I really think that the crowds, both parents and kids, appreciated something they could really sink into and participate in.  

(At this point Jacob tells a fantastic, Spinal Tap-esque story about their first performance at a Yo Gabba Gabba live show. Typing the words simply won’t do it justice. So the next time you see him, ask him about the story and the phrase “What do you mean it’s not gonna work? )

How has the kids music scene been on your wallet?

You know, that’s a tough question. As an artist, it’s hard to talk about money. We have been extremely happy to find such a enthusiastic audience. We have found the kindie scene has such a large area for growth. We have been grateful. Let’s just say we haven’t been able to quit our day jobs, but we have however enjoyed our success. The dream is to be able to create our art all the time. As some point, the Kindie scene will get there.

What has been the biggest surprise with discovering the kindie scene?  

I think there were two surprises. First, the bands that we’ve become friends with. The guys in Recess Monkey are great and Lucky Diaz is a pal of ours. There is a bunch more. It’s just been really cool to find other artists who are very similar to us in what they want. Which is that they just want to make music that they love, that can be capable of connecting with kids. It’s been really cool to find kindred artist out there. The second aspect I love is the dialog between writers. Stefan Shepherd writes really well and Jeff Bogle writes really well. The people that take it seriously are really thinking and engaging in a dialog about the scene. I like the higher level discussion. I get a real kick out of it.

Listen to the new album in it’s entirety below. If you can’t move your head to ‘Box of Crayons’ we can’t be friends.

A Conversation with Ellis Paul

Five years after releasing Dragonfly Races, Ellis Paul returns to kids’ music with The Hero in You. The album takes a look back at people who have made an impact on American history in a variety of ways. Whether Paul is singing about Benjamin Franklin or lesser-known individuals like Augustus Jackson, he finds an incredibly compelling way to tell their story.

One lucky reader will win a copy of his new album, The Hero in You. Simply leave a comment, ‘share’ this Dadnabbit post on Facebook or retweet this on Twitter and you’ll be entered to win.

Dadnabbit was lucky enough to talk to Ellis Paul about his new record — here’s what he had to say:

With the new record, there is a sense of pride about telling the stories of people who have impacted American history.

It was really affirming, both to be an American and write it — heck, even having the ability to write it. I mean, if I was in Afghanistan I wouldn’t be able to write this record. A lot of that was coming up as I wrote. These people are really, really leading figures at creating protection for human equality. Because I’m so far removed from high school history books, it was good to be reminded of the great things from our history.

How do you follow up a kids’ record that had no expectations — how do you match or exceed it?

I think the main thing is realizing the expectations. It’s a side project. I do around 150 shows a year and only a handful of them are kids’ shows — maybe 30 or 40. It’s never going to eat up the other half of my career, which is writing for adults or for films or television shows. That said, I take the songs equally seriously, and try to just put as much art and time into writing them. There is a lot of joy in those songs that you don’t find in my adult stuff. I’m glad it’s in my life. It balances the yin and yang. I’m both a dad and artist when I’m writing these songs.

How do you balance touring and being a father at the same time?

My touring is restricted to the weekends. But I’m away pretty much every weekend. It’s very hard on my wife. She balances being a single mom when I’m away and she’s done an amazing job and I’m thankful for all that she does. I’m back home on Monday and here until Friday. It’s hard, but this  is my calling. I feel compelled to keep doing it.

The new album has a very specific theme. How did the idea come about, and how did you choose the subjects?

My daughters are getting older. I wanted to do an album that was geared towards first and second graders, but all the way up to probably seventh grade. I was a big fan of School House Rock. I had written one song about Benjamin Franklin, but thought, “Why not write a whole record on this?” so I hunkered down and wrote a conceptual record.

Can you see yourself making more historically themed records?

I would love to — they’re a lot of fun. There are people like Jesse Owens, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln. But I wanted to mix it up with some people that are less well known. I’m hoping to do two or three of these records and then move on to maybe historical events if the well runs dry.

How do you find a way to make children’s music financially beneficial to you?

Well that’s the smallest part of my business. I make more money writing and performing music for adults than I do for children. That said, a lot of people that buy my kids’ records buy them at my adult shows. They buy them for their kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews. I’d probably say that kids’ music makes up about one-third of what I make. It fulfills my mission as a folk musician, probably more than anything else that I am doing.

What was the appeal to creating children’s music in the first place?

If I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t be doing this. But I wanted them to grow up with music that was mine. So if Dad is away on a tour, they could put me on the stereo. They were able to be a part of and see the process of making a record. It was a great way for the family to come together on a project.

Do you find yourself with more artistic freedom in children’s music?

The rules are changed for kids’ music. I’m allowed to be more funkier with children’s music. I have a hip-hop song, a spoken word track and a cappella song. Those are choices I couldn’t make on an adult record. I don’t want to be so stuck in the singer/songwriter thing and approach the songs in one way. The adult records want to have continuity to them, whereas a kids’ record just wants to be entertaining song by song. The rule book has changed and it’s a lot more free with kids’ music.

What’s the reaction from your peers when they hear you’re making kids music?

I think they get it, because I’m a dad. They know Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, and Greg Brown all did kids’ music. It’s a little weird for the Verve Pipe or They Might Be Giants to be doing this music. But for folk singers it fits in naturally. I’m not afraid of how people view it. I don’t see negativity with it. Whether I’m writing a song for Volkswagen or a song about social injustice, I just want to be known as a great songwriter.

What’s the difference in playing a club where people have been drinking all night compared to kids hopped up on sugar at one of your kids’ shows?

There is not a lot of difference, actually. Sometimes there are crowd control issues at a kids’ show. But there’s nothing better than hearing a song you wrote being sung back to you by 100 kids. It’s just a wonderful feeling.

Famer Jason

Interview: Farmer Jason

Famer Jason

Rockin' or Huskin' corn?

Farmer Jason is set release his latest kids record, Nature Jams on February 7th. It will be the debut release for the brand new record label and entertainment channel, MyKaZooTV.

Farmer Jason was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about the new record and MyKaZooTV.

Dadnabbit: Talk about the partnership with MyKaZooTV came to be and why it’s makes business sense for kids musicians:

Farmer Jason: For starters the two guys running it, Rick Dobbis and Richard Ellis are really sharp, very experienced business men.  They’ve run major record companies. Right off the bat you have these guys who don’t have false assumptions about what they can and can’t do. They are very committed to bringing quality music to families. The family music industry needs a good record label. There are some, but not enough. This should help without a doubt. It’s a strong idea with lots of potential.

Dadnabbit: Similarities and differences between releasing a Jason & the Scorchers record and a Farmer Jason record?

Farmer Jason: Certainly the Farmer Jason world, in terms as creating songs as catchy as possible is the substantial difference but the energy level is about the same. The exuberance with a Scorchers record is still there with a Farmer Jason record. Let’s have fun and break some barriers.

Dadnabbit: Does having a good cup of coffee in the morning help decide if you’re going to write a Scorchers or a Farmer Jason song?

Farmer Jason: Most of the time it is project driven. I know I have a project in front of me and that’s what I write. I don’t tend to write songs all the time, I tend to write for projects so it’s not as schizophrenic as you might think.

Dadnabbit: The first Farmer Jason record was an accidental success, that had no preconceived notion about it. How do you follow it up, knowing how high you’ve set the bar?

Farmer Jason:  I think with Nature Jams, it’s the first Farmer Jason record where I have to meet previous expectations. Thankfully I have 30 years of history trying to do that w/ the Scorchers so doing it for Farmer Jason comes relatively easy.  Anything I release will be compared to the first Farmer Jason record and I’m fine with it.

Dadnabbit: The guest list on Nature Jams looks like a hip-hop record with different guests on each track.

Farmer Jason:  Some of the songs were written and then I tried to find an artist that would fit. But some were custom made. “Take A Hike” for example I knew right away would be a perfect song for Mike Mills (R.E.M.) I have know him for years and his personality. But primarily, the songs are written first then the  guests are added later on, with who I thought would fit the chemistry of the song.

Dadnabbit: How has your friendship with Todd Snider developed into him becoming a regular on Farmer Jason records?

Farmer Jason: His first show in Nashville was opening for my band in 1992. The Farmer Jason collaborative effort has really grown organically. Todd doesn’t have children. But there is something about his personality and tone of voice that connects with both parents and children listening to the records. Even little 3 year old kids get the message that is Todd Snider. It’s always a high point on the record. It’s just a spontaneous party when he’s in the studio.

Dadnabbit: How accepting were Scorchers fans to seeing you write kids music?

Farmer Jason:  We grew Farmer Jason initially via the Scorchers audience; some of them even have grandchildren now. But lots of the Farmer Jason fans have little to no knowledge of Jason & The Scorchers. It has honestly help grow the Scorchers audience. We were a cult band.

Dadnabbit: Is there a freedom to writing kids music over a Jason & The Scorchers song?

Farmer Jason:  One the great blessings of being Farmer Jason is walking into a room full of 4 year olds and having no idea what to expect. It truly is spontaneous. Being Farmer Jason allows for a much bigger artistic freedom.

Dadnabbit: How did Jason & The Scorchers end up as a guest on Nature Jams?

Farmer Jason: I knew making a guest record without the Scorchers would be a crime. I think it is a magical track. When our drummer is talking about glaciers in a Swedish accent, it is really a magic moment.

Dadnabbit: Few children’s artists’ have intros on their songs. Why have you chosen to have those on your records?

Farmer Jason:  There is always a debate about doing intros. Some people really don’t want to hear introductions after the first time. I know some kids have memorized the introductions; it’s something kids don’t seem to mind. I have always felt there should be some type of education going on in the songs and on this album I think there are some strong educational moments in the intros.

Dadnabbit: It’s becoming harder and harder to make a living music as most money is made on live shows. Has making kids’ music been financially beneficial to you?

Farmer Jason:  I make a living off of my music. Luckily we’ve been able to do enough live shows and make money doing it. I’m very fortunate to be able to make a living with what I love to do, playing music. Farmer Jason is the center of my career and I’ll be playing live shows for kids for as long as possible.

Dadnabbit: As you write songs for your kids, do you find yourself writing for older kids as your own kids get older?

Farmer Jason:  I think the new record is primarily written for slightly older kids 6-12 years old which is my daughters age range. You can follow along on my three albums and see me writing for older kids each time, but for the next record I think I’ll go back to more a preschool aged focus.

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