Canadian Musician - July-August 2022 - Page 28


“ Children ’ s Music ” Can be Not for Kids Only

By Ezra Cipes

We are a fa mily that makes music for families . The Oot n ’ Oots is my three brothers , my daughter , and me .

At a certain point we sat down to put some thought into what we do . It wasn ’ t until we were clear on those intentions that we agreed to move forward as a band . We ’ re inspired by the great family entertainment of our childhoods , like the works of Jim Henson and Frank Oz , whose film version of Little Shop of Horrors was a favourite , as well as Pee-Wee Herman and the Saturday morning cartoons that his show played alongside , or the poetry and artwork of Shel Silverstein , and Richard Linklater ’ s superb School of Rock . Our favourite family entertainment is intentional . It works to express humanity and reflect life , to nurture kids ’ best authentic selves , and encourage a better world for future generations . We wanted to craft in that tradition . But that ’ s not where we started as artists .
In 2001 , my brother Gabe and I made an album for Bif Naked ’ s Her Royal Majesty Records . Gabe was 21 and I was 19 ; we were kids . Something unexpected happened during those recording sessions . Our conscience was awoken . Music is vibrational and lyrics are packed with meaning , both intentional and intuitive . Making music is playing with potentially powerful magic . Art does not have to be moral to be valid , so why were Gabe and I pondering these things ? I think we were battling our own young , strong egos . We didn ’ t really know who we were yet .
After a few more years , two more albums , and some great times on the road , our band broke up . Neither of us stopped writing songs , playing in bands , or recording music , but those things became our hobbies . Our focus became our jobs and the families we were starting .
Years later , at the 2014 Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival , my wife Rio and I were camping with our then-seven-year-old daughter
Ruthie . Dan Zanes was a featured performer and we were vaguely aware of him as the former frontman of ‘ 80s alt-rock band Del Fuegos , who then went on to win a Grammy for his children ’ s music . His kids ’ albums are rich with folk traditions , multi-cultural collaboration , and Zanes ’ trademark good-vibes coolness . We were instant fans . We attended all three of his shows that festival weekend . After one of his sets , I asked Zanes about his former band and how he liked playing for families now . “ Playing children ’ s music is the coolest ,” he said . He also said he liked to think of it as “ all-ages music .”
Already about seven years earlier , Gabe and I , along with our younger brother Ari , had recorded a full-length children ’ s album that was never properly mixed or released . We made it in collaboration with an upstart production company as part of a larger media venture . That whole thing fell apart , but during the process we had felt the inspiration and joy of what Zanes called “ all-ages music .” That ’ s how we thought of it , too . Recording that first kids ’ album was a dream . We slipped into a stream of creativity and wrote most of the songs in the studio . The music had real virtues . Gone was the heavy searching and pretension of youth that had weighed down our old band . In its place was simplicity , joy , silliness , and loving kindness . It felt like a breakthrough .
That album sat on the shelf for a long time before we finished it and released it as our debut album , Songs and Tales from the Great Blue Whale , in 2016 . Ruthie was just born when we made the original recordings and was nine years old when she added her backup vocals to the record .
Ruthie has always loved music and has always had an amazing ear . The first artists to blow her young mind were Patsy Cline and Elvis , followed quickly by Little Richard , Chuck Berry , Wanda Jackson , The Kinks , David Bowie , and Janis Joplin . On the way to and from school every day in the car , Ruth would ask for music history lessons . Soon her favourite artists included Bjork and Beck , and she continues to search out and absorb new music to this moment .
Ruth played her first professional gig with us at the Minstrel Café the day after her eighth birthday , getting on stage with Ari , Gabe , and me to sing three songs at the end of an acoustic set . She sang two originals and a cover of Prince ’ s “ Starfish and Coffee .” The crowd went nuts over this small kid ’ s mature , soulful voice . That ’ s when we set our intentions as a band and decided to focus on family music , and that ’ s when we dug out our old recordings to polish them up as well as we could at the time .
We released our first album as we started recording another batch of songs . The first song to be recorded from this new era was called “ Dust Pan .” It started as a genuine lament . I had written the first repeating line of the chorus ( I need a dustpan ) along with the chord progression and syncopated guitar rhythm after tiptoeing around piles of dirt on my floor . I thought it was just an in-the-moment kind of thing , but then my brother Ari got a hold of it and spun a whole song out of that one line . Amazing ! We started messing around in our home studio , demoing it and reworking bits . Slowly like a piece of clay , the song took shape with its uneven gait and doo-wop conceits . The addition of our eldest brother , Matthew , on drums added a little more structure to the process . Now we had a solid foundation to build songs atop .
We came up with some lighthearted epics like the onomatopoeic stomper “ Animal Sounds ” and the Latin-infused “ Fermented Foods .” Ruthie was writing , too . She contributed a magical song that only a seven-year-old could write called “ Where the Purple Geese Fly ,” which the band interpreted as a late- ‘ 60s thing in the vein of Big Brother and the Holding Company . Ruth also brought a chorus to the table with lyrics that reminded me of Lennon / McCartney ’ s