How did you come up with the name Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals?
I don't know -- people ask me that all the time and I can't remember! I know I wanted to come from out of left field a little bit. I was looking at the names of other music programs and they were all so straightforward, like Let's Sing or Music Together. You got it immediately. I thought Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals would be a curiosity -- which would be an advantage. I thought people would wonder what it was and then look into it. But the name also had its downside at first. There were people who asked, "Music for art? What? Music for artwork? Art projects?" Now everyone knows what it is!
How did the Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals music classes start?
When I first had children, I took my son Ezra to a music class. It was one of those big national programs. And I just thought that the centerpiece of the class, the music itself, was so lame and dated -- like it was sung by mezzo-sopranos, and it was just really icky. And I thought, I want to write about subways and taxis and skyscrapers and bagels. So I went home and started doing that. And it really hit a nerve with parents.
A lot of your music focuses on the urban experience.
The only time I ever wrote a song about a farm animal, it was about a bunny. But the bunny ends up in jail!
And from the classes the band Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals grew?
Yes. I started doing the music for these classes for my own kids. I had no intention of making a career of it. I was bartending and I was also assigned to a label -- playing the very opposite of kids' music! The music got pretty popular around the East Village [of New York City] and I started getting all this press.
You really pioneered the explosion in rock-oriented kids' music that began nearly a decade ago.
There are articles saying that I changed the geography of kids' music. That's really flattering. When I first started doing this [in the late nineties] the work was met with a lot of immediate attention. I was getting called into every record label, every network. I saw everybody who had anything to do with music, but they didn't really know what to do with me. Back then there was no such term as "kindy" rock. And although I got a lot of amazing press, there were some critics who were saying that it wasn't kids' music. Of course, now all that's changed.
You're recording a new CD as we speak. Can you tell us about it?
Yes! I had a bit of writers' block during the last few years. Then, all of a sudden, about six months ago, the floodgates opened. I started writing and writing and writing. And now I have too many songs for one album. So I'm putting down the best of what I have. I think there are some real jewels there. I'm doing around twenty new songs and, outside of compilations, it'll be my thirteenth CD for kids. I'm really excited about it. I'm right in the middle of it, so there are always surprises. You never know exactly how things will turn out, but so far it's going really well and I'm really excited about it.
How would you describe the music on this new CD?
Like all of my CDs, this one is very diverse stylistically, ranging from really beautiful lullabies to heavy-sounding alternative rock stuff. Of course lyrically, it's always for kids.
How would you differentiate yourself from other kids' performers?
I don't think I could be as commercially successful as some of the other kids' artists because, well, take this album I'm working on now. There are going to be songs that people are going to love and treasure. And there's going to be songs that they'll say, "I'm not sure I want my kids listening to this!"
For instance, I'm working on a song about kids being addicted to TV and video screens and stuff. It's really about addiction. And it sounds very heavy. But there's a lot of humor in it.
Humor is a big element in your work. Can you talk about that?
There's a lot of poignancy in my writing, but there's also a lot of humor. And some of that humor is making fun of things. But it's not that I'm laughing at kids or parents. It's really to help them laugh at themselves when I write a song about a kid having a meltdown, or something like that.
How do you manage to appeal to both kids and adults?
I really don't hold back. I don't think about who I'm writing for. If I like it and it makes me happy, I'm putting it on the record.
So you don't deliberately incorporate lyrics or humor or references just for parents?
I never use insider jokes just for the sake of the parents. It's a thin line to walk where kids get the music on one level and appreciate it and parents are digging it for its intelligence or stylistic diversity or daringness.
Has your music changed lyrically as your three kids have grown?
No! If I wrote music about my 14-year-old son Ezra, I'd be writing about Xbox and PlayStation and "Oh, I missed my curfew, I hope I'm not in trouble!"
Copyright © 2010 Meredith Corporation.