My inner child jumps up and down when I play good music made for children and families. Suffice to say my inner child was also smiling a lot listening to the music made by The Harmonica Pocket. I was sent the cd and I asked to interview one of the musicians involved.
I talked – via email – with Keeth Monta Apgar,who wrote all of the songs on the album.
Scott: What was your goal with this album? Did you accomplish it?
Keeth: The overall goal with Ladybug One was to create an outside-the-box album filled with familiar and new sounds that children and adults could listen to together. By "new sounds" I am referring to exploring some non-western music traditions like the North Indian Classical flavored "O Susanna" in 5/4 time, or the thumb piano piece played on an instrument called the "mire" from Shona Zimbabwe set in 7/8 time, or the waterphone, the didgeridoo, and other fun toy instruments like the "wind wand" and kazoos. Yes, I feel like I pulled it off by bringing in some seasoned musicians and sharing the stage with the various kids' vocal performances. So far the feedback has been pretty positive, and children and their parents are coming out to our live shows already knowing the words to our songs.
What are your influences?
My influences begin with songwriters. Although I didn't "discover" the Beatles until 3 or 4 years ago, they are at the top of my list. Others include Paul Simon and his world music phases, Bob Dylan, Elliot Smith, late 60s jamaican music, Bob Marley, Ali Farka Toure, Eddie Van Halen, Sigur Ros, David Lowery from Cracker, Dave Brubeck, and anything with a horn section. More recently Jack Johnson, Iron and Wine, and Nick drake have really inspired me with their simple, gentle music. But I can't leave out Dr. Seuss, Jim Henson, and Shel Silverstein.
Is your goal to entertain, educate or both?
Why not do a little educating while entertaining? I am trying to speak to children and their parents in an artful way about the environment, about tolerance, and about tuning in to the music of other cultures. On Ladybug One, for example, I invited my 8 year old friend Odette to present 3 scripted science lessons. So the album opens with a child instructing listeners how tiny firefly bodies are capable of creating light, and this is set to the "nighttime sounds" of tree frogs mating and a raven clucking, and an interesting instrument called the waterphone. On another note I am hoping to keeping alive some of the lesser-known verses of old American folk songs like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" by giving them some modern arrangements that people will hopefully want to listen to. So there's this subtle teaching going on, but this project is not entirely about education. I don't want to lose track of that raw kid fun. What we're trying to with The Harmonica Pocket children's show is to spice up the possibilities of our "adult" imaginations with some playful kid energy, plant a few educational seeds, and getting gigglish with our audiences.
What does it mean when you say that the album was made "off the grid?"
To me "off the grid" refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without relying on public utilities for power, water, or sewer. We are part of a growing number of people around the world who are generating our own electricity. for Ladybug One I wanted to use renewable energy generated with solar panels for recording and mixing the music to begin reducing the carbon footprint of the album.
This was a huge learning experience, especially during the grey and soggy winter months in the Northwest. At particularly overcast times I would run the recording gear directly off the battery bank using 12 volts -- the equivalent of recording off of a car battery. It was challenging and there were many unplanned interruptions due to stormy weather.
Since we are completely of the grid, rainstorms are an opportunity to fill our water tanks, so I'm thankful for those as well. We collect rainwater off the roof of the recording studio to water the nearby garden and orchard. We also use a composting toilet system that transforms waste into a resource.
By including the recorded-with-solar-power logo, my message is "let's continue imagining the possibilities of a more sustainable future."
What is the best and worst part about making music for children and families?
The best parts are 1) continually meeting very open-minded people of all ages who are ready to sing, move, and who are excited to be alive, 2) not having to stay up past my bedtime to start a set of music in a nightclub at 12 o'clock midnight; 3) wearing a painted on handlebar mustache; and 4) laughing more.
The worst part is probably writing a new song, being very excited about it, but then realizing it is an "adult" song and not really for kids.
Why the focus on ladybugs versus other animals?
All of the titles for Harmonica Pocket albums, and most Harmonica Pocket songs are excerpts. I like to take a little snippet, a partial line that stands out, and highlight that with a title. Very early on in the process I was reading through the lyrics to "Ladybug 1 2 3" and paused after the number 1. Hmmmm...."Ladybug One" -- I imagined a ladybug colored rocket ship blasting through the sky. I thought that would be a good album cover.
Why ladybugs? Everyone I have talked to so far loves ladybugs, especially young children. So ladybugs were a good choice because it's an insect most people can connect with. (It was a bit weird when we performed in Hawaii because there are no ladybugs there! but, still everyone knew what ladybugs were.) I have written 3 different ladybug songs so I guess they're an insect totem of sorts for me. But when you listen to the album there's really not a huge focus on ladybugs. It is more of an insect theme -- fireflies, spiders, ladybugs, and bumblebees. If you pan out a little from the ladybug focus, the theme reveals itself as the natural world. in the end ladybugs were chosen because they are beautifully iconic, and represent organic values as discussed in track 5, "Love a Ladybug."