Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Recess Monkey: An Interview With Jack Forman

Over the summer, I had the pleasure of attending a free concert at the Brooklyn Public Library. The band I saw was none other than Seattle's Recess Monkey, creators of unique and fun children's music. The attendees of the concert were as follows: Me, Ari, my mom, my niece (Francesca- age 8), my great friend Josina and her son Nelson.

Josina and I were reflecting the other day on what an amazing time we all had. Recess Monkey had all the children dancing around the BPL auditorium in a conga line! And it was a such a culturally diverse crowd, there were kids from every nationality you could think of there.

One of the things I love about Recess Monkey is that they really get kids. All the band members are teachers, so they are constantly surrounded by children and use their daily interactions with kids as inspiration for their music.

After the concert, I purchased "Field Trip", Recess Monkey's latest album. I've used the music from "Field Trip" in the classroom when I play freeze dance with grades ranging from Pre K- 3rd, and at home when Ari requests a "CD" he is referring to "Field Trip." He loves to dance to "Fort."

I exchanged emails with Jack Forman, Vocals and Bass. Jack is such a cool guy! I occasionally send him videos of Ari rocking out to Recess Monkey and he always responds!

Jack, being the awesome guy that he is, agreed to be interviewed about Recess Monkey for OS/NS Mom. Here's what he had to say:

1. Who are the members of Recess Monkey and what instruments do you each play?

Drew Holloway (Vocals, Guitar)

Daron Henry (Drums, Vocals)

Jack Forman (Bass, Vocals)

Recess Monkey
Left to Right: Drew, Jack, Daron
Photo By Kevin Fry

2. How was Recess Monkey formed?

We all met not as musicians but as fellow teachers- we taught all together for three or four years at University Child Development School before we started to experiment with music. After a few special events at school, we started demoing songs under another band name: The Waiting Room. That band name was pretty apt, actually- it was the way that we prepared for Recess Monkey! It really takes a while to get to know someone else musically- a lot of experiments with songs and conversations and you eventually start to almost read each other's minds.

Once we starting making kids music, we never looked back. I think The Waiting Room played about 6 shows, and Recess Monkey just hit 250. We had talked about kids music for a while, but the main impetus was Drew's: he wrote an album's worth of songs based on the pre-k class that he and another teacher were teaching. We recorded those songs over a few months and started playing shows at tiny coffee shops and bookstores. Over time, the shows increased in size and frequency- and fun!

3. You're all teachers right? What do you teach?

Drew and Jack still teach at University Child Development School- Jack teaches first and second grade and Drew teaches in the full day program, pre-k and Kindergarten. Daron teaches at Spruce Street School.

4. What's the funniest thing a kid has ever said to you in the classroom?

Oh man, this is hard to nail down! Instead of one of the funniest things, can I say one of the weirdest things? A couple of weeks ago a kid in my class said that she and her dad sat in their minivan in the driveway of their house and listened to our hourlong live show on SiriusXM in its entirety. It apparently was just starting as they pulled in and they just sat and listened. Really: it's a total honor to get to make music for kids but never, EVER did we think that our music might delay dinnertime over a national broadcast! Totally unreal!

5. What inspires you to write your songs?

We think of our classrooms as focus groups for what's on kids' minds. It's crazy how many ideas come up over the course of a day that could make great songs. Luckily all Daron and I have to do is tell Drew what we've heard and he takes care of the rest- he's an amazing and PROLIFIC songwriter! Tons of ideas have come up about losing teeth, getting a new backpack, going on field trips and so many more... We like to wordsmith and are bigtime pun fans: on our upcoming space-themed album "The Final Funktier" there's a song about how a booster seat is like a booster rocket. The only thing limiting our output at this point is time :)

6. What do you enjoy the most about making music?

We talk a lot about how much fun it is to get to play live shows- there's such a real energy at our shows that totally undercuts the caricature that Seattle doesn't know how to dance. We see ourselves as just a piece of that puzzle- the energy that kids bring to our shows encourages us to try even harder. I really feel like the laws of gravity change when you get a group of 200 kids dancing!

It's also really fun just to get into a space where you can exchange musical ideas with your bandmates- you start to speak in a different language!

7. What's the coolest thing about Seattle?

Too many things to mention, but it IS worth mentioning that there are an absolute TON of great kids bands in Seattle right now. We're talking with as many of them as we can to think of new ways to collaborate and make this city bounce. This list is just a part of the local scene here and still completely earth shattering: Caspar Babypants, The Not-Its, Johnny Bregar, Brian Vogan, The Brian Waite Band, Board of Education, Eric Ode, Eric Herman, Linda Severt, The Harmonica Pocket and more. People are going crazy for all of these bands and people in other cities are starting to notice that "there's something in the water!"

8. If a child told you he/she wanted to become a rockstar what would you say?

There's that old joke about the guy who asks how to get to Carnegie Hall and the answer is "Practice, practice, practice!" But it's totally true! A friend of ours said the most important thing a few years ago: the best way to get better as a musician is to join a band full of people who are way better than you (it's worked for me!). There is absolutely nothing stopping elementary aged kids from forming their own bands with friends (other than bedtimes) and I've seen some amazing things happen when kids do that. Last year at UCDS a pair of kids rocked out to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" and it absolutely rocked! There are a number of great kids' music teachers in Seattle who create opportunities for kids to gig in a real way. One of our great friends Rob Hampton who's a really great guitar teacher does this a few times of year at local theaters: kids take the stage with supporting musicians and show their stuff. The other question I hear a lot is about what instrument kids should start on. I don't know if there's a magic formula for musical success, but piano and cello got me off on the right foot. Truly, an instrument you love to play and want to work hard at is waaay better than something that you get no joy out of. My mom says that when I was 4, whenever my cello teacher turned her back, I'd put my little 1/2 sized cello on my knee and play it like a guitar... kind of telling, huh?

Thanks Jack, you rock! And now, my favorite Recess Monkey Song, "Haven't Got A Pet Yet"

For more information on Recess Monkey click here.

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  1. My favorite (and the Little Man's too) is definitely Sack Lunch. Nelson waves, pretends to lay down on the bench, and bops along to the music. Then calls for more!

  2. Sack Lunch is awesome! Good call, Nelson. I love that one too! Ari could dance all day to this CD.


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