Meet the Artist: Francine Wheeler of The Dream Jam Band

When a band cites among its musical influences the Beatles, Duke Ellington, the Grateful Dead, Woody Guthrie, Led Zeppelin, and Mozart, you know you and your family are in for a wild ride. And that's exactly what the Dream Jam Band delivers. Recently, we spoke with singer Francine Wheeler about the band, its members and all those influences.

Meet the Artist: Francine Wheeler

The Dream Jam Band Album Cover

Courtesy of The Dream Jam Band

How did you all get together?
We've all been professional musicians and teachers in the New York area for a long time. Maestro C and Barry G had been teaching and Erin the Red had been performing. I'd been doing a lot of musical theater. And so we all met around that scene. I'd just had a baby and was also teaching preschoolers and I had become totally inspired by them. I realized that I love kids so much that I wanted to sing to them.

You and Barry G both have kids. Do you try out the music for them?
I have a 6- and a 3-year-old; Barry's twins are 6. We do play our songs for them. When they enjoy something, they say so: "Yeah! I like that!" Sometimes we'll even perform part of our show for them at home, just to feel them out and see what they think. And they love when we do that.

How can you tell if a song isn't going over very well?
Kids are really positive people, but they're very clear too. They won't tell me, "I don't like it." Instead they'll say something like "I want to hear that other one more -- I want to dance to that one!" Mostly I'm looking at their reaction. I'll know whether a song is working immediately by looking at my 3-year-old. If he's singing, if he's moving, if he's dancing, it's a good song.

Do you write songs as group or individually?
Sometimes we write our own and bring them in finished, and then our producer, Rick Chertoff, will help us arrange the songs in different ways. On the new record there's a song -- I can't pronounce it the way Maestro C does -- called "Boing." He brought in the idea, and then we all started playing. It's essentially a song of psychedelic music with some other sounds thrown in -- oh, and a freeze-dance in the middle! So we sort of all worked on that one together. When we get together to rehearse, we always come up with something good to add to a song, no matter how it was written.

Meet the Artist: Francine Wheeler, Continued

You're all very accomplished musicians. All told, Dream Jam Band members play dozens of instruments.
Erin the Red can play something like 16 instruments. All of us play piano and all of us play guitar -- but Barry G plays the best licks; he's really good. The fact that we have so many options is really great for us.

Some of your songs have a message and others are just plain silly. Where did "The Cow Song" come from?
One day we were sitting around having a meal and Maestro C came in and started playing ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk on the guitar, in A, I think. And he said, "I was just thinking, we have to have a sing-a-long." And I said, "You're right! We have to have a song where the kids can echo us." Because "echoing" is a really big thing for kids; they want to feel like they can sing the words, too. So he started singing and then we started singing back to him. That's how he came up with the lyrics. He was just singing silly stuff. A lot of times with lyrics, he starts with silly stuff and then tightens it up a bit. But this just stayed silly -- and the more we laughed the more we knew the lyrics were working.

You're debuting a new show in May; can you tell us a little about it?
It's theatrical, it's broad, and we do these little plays between the songs. The audience gets to learn about who we are and the relationships among us. And we have the kids doing lots of stuff, too; it's very active. We like to get the kids involved in the show and I'll definitely be jumping around in the audience. It's a rarity if one of us doesn't end up in the audience at some point.

What do you like about performing for children?
With kids it's always Yes! They're so positive and full of energy. You never get the same audience twice; we never know what kind of day it's going to be, and that's exciting.

Meet the Artist: Francine Wheeler, Continued

Does the band have a guiding principle or philosophy?
Great music is what it's all about. We believe in a family experience. We want our music to be great and inspiring for families -- the way the Beatles' music has been for us. Our first album had a song with music by Mozart ("Bike") and our new album, Leave It in the Soup, does as well. We want to share great music and we want everybody to have fun. And I want moms and dads leaving our shows to be singing our songs, too.

Do you write your songs with the parents in mind?
We don't think, "Oh, mom and dad will like this, too." But there's a lot in our music that will sound familiar to parents and adults. For instance, one of our songs, "Look Around" -- which was number one on XM Satellite Radio -- reminds me of the Grateful Dead. And if you've ever heard and loved that music, you'll connect with that song.

You sound like you really love your job.
The kids inspire us, and we inspire each other, and it's the most fun I've ever had. Honestly, I've been performing and teaching and working with kids for many years. But this is the best.

Copyright © 2010 Meredith Corporation.

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