The band is made up of elementary school teachers/rockers in Seattle. Drew Holloway, a father of two young girls, teaches kindergarten and full day preschool. Daron Henry teaches second and third grade. And Jack Forman taught first and second grade for thirteen years, but he is currently on leave to stay home with his toddler son.
The trio met while working at the same Seattle school and eventually released their first album in 2005 called Welcome to Recess Monkey Town.
The group writes incredibly catchy lyrics and tunes for kids and their adults. We've been fans for a long time at my house since first hearing their 2008 album Tabby Road.
Their latest CD "In Tents" has a circus theme. A favorite for us is the Beastie Boys-esque "The Dancin' Bear" (it seriously cracks me up every time I listen to it) and "Lemonade" (Love this line: Little sis is saving up for a trampoline; She's the biggest upseller you've ever seen).
When he wasn't chasing after his toddler, Jack Forman took some time out to answer a few questions by email, with the help of his band mates.
Here's our conversation:
Go Ask Mom: How did you all hook up and decide to start writing songs for kids and families?
Forman: It actually happened by accident! We were all teaching together at University Child Development School, a small independent elementary school in Seattle, and slowly started to realize that each other were as into music as we were. We toughed it out in the indie rock scene in a few different bands for a few years, but when we tried marrying our songs with what we knew best – kids – it was like lighting a fire! We ran a few summer camps with kids to teach them how to make albums, but it was really the three of us that learned the most- year after year we’ve been recording albums and learning new ways to capture childhood in songs.
GAM: Your songs are about everything from classic childhood experiences like sleepovers to more fantastical themes. What's your goal as you write new music?
Forman: Our absolute first goal is that the songs need to be ones that we want to listen to. That’s the first test- is this really a song that we want to play live 500 times!? It’s important to us that the songs have an authentic energy. We work really hard to write on a number of levels, trying to speak to kids and their parents at the same time. Then, we try to render the ideas with musical textures and melodies that reflect what we listen to when we’re not listening to kids music. There are so many ideas for songs and styles that we haven’t tried yet!
GAM: What's it like performing for kids? Any favorite moments?
Forman: They are, hands down, the best audiences in the world. Kids don’t censor themselves at shows - they just let loose, and when they’re feeling good, high-energy, it’s so motivating to us. It’s almost like an endurance challenge: When kids get moving, or laughing, or sing really loudly, we feel like we have to meet them at that energy, and then crank it up even higher. We’ve played hundreds of shows, but the most satisfying ongoing experience is hearing after we play that this was a son or daughter’s FIRST ROCK SHOW!!! What a total honor to get to be that for a kid. My first rock show was Joan Jett!
GAM: You've been teachers for a long time, but parents more recently. How has having kids changed the way you write songs and perform?
Forman: We’ve always appreciated the shared space that our music can create for a family - how every member of the family can be completely into the same thing. What an honor! That’s only intensified since we started having kids of our own. Drew’s older daughter was born the day after we finished our first album, so I think his kids have been his muse for a lot of songs ever since then. My son was born just after we finished our last album, Flying, and the last song was a sort of love letter to him before he was born. We’ve all worked with families for years and years as teachers, and you’re never done learning. Performing for families and having kids of our own deepens our understanding of childhood even more.
GAM: Tell me about your new album. My kids and I love, in particular, Lemonade and The Dancing Bear.
Forman: It’s funny - we joked about the circus as a theme for an album for a while, just because it’s one of those standard preschool kinds of themes and there’s already a lot out there about the circus. But the more we thought about it, the more we fell in love with the idea of the traveling show - the weirdness and mystery of the circus. We intentionally bypassed clowns altogether, and worked hard to make the case that some of the freakiest people at the circus are the families themselves!
Lemonade is a really fun song to play live, and it definitely benefited from our friend Dean Jones who plays trombone on the song and suggested that we beatbox to mix it up. The Dancin’ Bear is a straight-up homage to the Beastie Boys, and we like to think that we’re the first kindie band to do that! It was bittersweet that just as we were starting to perform the song live at the circus shows we’re doing here in Seattle, MCA from the Beasties passed away. We dedicated the song to him at a show the morning after he passed on, and dozens of parents put their firsts in the air and screamed in his honor! What a crazy thing to have happen at a kids’ music show - but I think it speaks to the authentic energy that we try to populate our songs and shows with.
GAM: Are you working on anything now?
Forman: We’re in love with this new album, and are playing dozens of shows this summer to share it with the world. We’ve never before made an album before In Tents that has been so instantly playable at live shows! Sometimes we play as many as 12 or 13 songs from it in a single set, which we’ve never done before ... Talks about our next album have started, but we’re intentionally back-burnering them for now. We just really want to enjoy these songs.
Recess Monkey plays The ArtsCenter in Carrboro at 11 a.m., July 21. Tickets are $7 for kids, $9 for the general public and $28 for a family four-pack. Click here for details.