Imagine a songwriter who takes the best parts of Fountains of Wayne – great catchy hummable power pop songs – but instead of writing about adult relationship woes his focus is on the joys and concerns of children. The topics range from playing baseball to the first day of school to seeing how his parents turn into kids when around grandparents.
Ready for the best part? That artist exists. His name is Justin Roberts and he is now my favorite songwriter for kids and families, replacing my prior favorite Trout Fishing In America with his new album,Pop Fly.
Scott:Why did you decide to write a song called Pop Fly? Why make it the title song?
Justin: I'd been thinking about a baseball song for a long time. My producer Liam Davis and my drummer Gerald Dowd are huge baseball fans. So all last spring/summer during tour baseball was on the brain. Liam was telling me about his failed attempts at little league and I was certainly not an all-star player. So I thought about writing a song about that very common kid who can't seem to keep his/her head in the game.
I've made it the title song because I thought it had a certain contagious energy and baseball is such an iconic american sport that it just seemed like something that would resonate with listeners.
What are your three favorite songs about baseball? My favorite is this one by folk singer Christine Lavin.
Hmmm. It's not a song but "Casey at Bat" comes to mind. I'll have to listen to the one by Christine Lavin. She and I traded discs awhile back and I really enjoyed her take on Pluto. I also have a song about that (unfortunately former) planet.
You guys really do 200 concerts a year? Don't you get tired or ever want to take a few months off?
Yes we actually do play that many concerts a year. Sometimes we do several shows in the same day. It is certainly exhausting but performing is one of my favorite things about my job so I do it as much as I can. I do try to take an occasional vacation. A few months off? That sounds good maybe in 2015.
I reviewed your your last album, Meltdown. How does this album compare to that one? Do you want to respond to anything I said in the review?
I think Pop Fly is definitely on the same trajectory as Meltdown as it has a lot of powerpop/indie rock influences. I didn't shy away from the sound that I like to listen to as an adult. I really appreciated your review because it focused on the lyrics which are always a big part of my enjoyment of music. When I'm writing songs I spend a lot of time putting those together until they sound right to me.
Do you have a message or messages you try to send through your music?
I try not to preach too much in my songs. So if I do have something to say I clothe it in a story and let listeners divine their own meaning. There are certainly some messages in the new record about watching out for each other and inviting everyone to the party but I think a lot of that just seeps out from my own experiences and finds rest in some childhood metaphor.
Who are your favorite living songwriters?
Loudon Wainwright, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder ... I could go on and on.
What's the best and worst part about playing music for kids?
I don't think there is a worst part. It's an absolutely exhilarating audience. The challenging part is sometimes their brutal honesty (if they are bored they will say it). But that only makes us strive to put on a better show. Switch gears and make the thing move again.
What are you working on next?
We just completed our first video for Pop Fly (available for viewing here.( It was directed by our trumpet player, Dave Winer. We are hoping to do more things with video (shorts on YouTube, other music videos) and eventually release a DVD.