Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Shadow Dance

As a songwriter, musician and performer I'm always amazed at the level of talent in the Kindie music world. One artist whom I find super-talented and who's also cornered the market on a certain aspect of the kids & family music scene is Michael Rachap. Michael creates cool little videos that help new readers learn to read. Under the name Readeez, Michael's words pop up syllabically for readers to follow along. With simple images and snappy tunes it's a terrific concept. Having been a fan of the Readeez concept for a while, I sent Michael a song that I thought might work for a Readeez-style video. However, I didn't do my homework and failed to realize that there's very little instrumental passages in a Readeez video. Much like radio, you can't have "dead air." Michael was very kind and explained the importance of keeping the words flowing. I realized the obviousness of my error and was set out to write to the Readeez format. In less than a few minutes I wrote a new song that I thought would work. I wrote it as a duet and knew instantly that my friend, Charity Kahn of Charity and the JamBand had the perfect voice that would fit the style. Unfortunately, it took us about 5 months to get together to record the song! 

Charity offered the services of her band mate/engineer/producer/boyfriend, Daryn Roven, to record the song at his home studio in the hills of Oakland, CA. 
With just my banjitar (banjo body with a guitar neck) for accompaniment we sang the duet as Daryn did a terrific job recording - all 52 seconds of the song! Happy with the results I couldn't wait to show the song to Michael. 

However,in the meantime, Michael had taken on the herculean task of writing, recording and putting together 2 new DVDs of Readeez material which would consume most of his time for the next year. Undiscouraged, I was grateful that Michael's work inspired me to write the song and set about to find a way to present it that would make Michael proud  - without ripping off the Readeez style. I sought the help of Brian Clarke, aka Les Toil. Brian has produced all of the amazing art for our CDs, posters and backdrops since 2009.  We bounced ideas back and forth on how to create a little video to present the song and came up with a concept we thought would be fun.

We hope you enjoy it (dedicated to Michael Rachap and Readeez)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stream "The Golden State" in Honor (cough, cough) of the Grammys.

Sure, you could win a Grammy...if you've recorded with a well-known producer in a well-known "music town" or had a number one song or album.  Or, are the handful of famous names in your niche genre that the regular Grammy voter may recognize.  Otherwise, you are us.
    Why did we join the RIAA when I've disliked the Grammy's since 1978 when  Elvis Costello lost out to Hot Chocolate as Best New Artist?  Even though I've always paraphrased Grouch Marx by stating I'd never join a club that would have someone like me as a member?  Publicity.  Every little bit helps.  My big gripe is the RIAA ties your hands right off the bat by limiting your ability to publicize by stating, "While for your consideration"-type advertisements and communiqués are not prohibited, the specific category, field and balloting numbers are proprietary information belonging to The Recording Academy; such information may not be used, disclosed, published or otherwise distributed in connection with any advertisements, communiqués or for any other purpose."
   What the hell?  So I can't even say our album is in the "Children's" category.  There's a 122 entries in that category.  Are we to expect voters to scroll through every category to find our album? 
    However, I did receive a "for your consideration"-type email from a big (biggest?) name in the "Children's" category that had no problem with violating the above prohibition by listing their category, field and balloting numbers.
   So, what's a band like The Hipwaders to do?  We've been accused of being "closet punks" by some promoters and we've always had the view that kids are punks - in a good way.  They question authority, test limits and are frequently contrarian.  However, by violating the RIAA guidelines we could get kicked off the ballot and out of the Grammys. Hmm...oh what to do?

The Golden State - The Hipwaders  (Field 16 - Children's - Category 50 - Best Children's Album - #043)

“Where are the albums for kids too old for Laurie Berkner but not ready for Lady Gaga? This year's best album for that age group is the latest record from the Bay Area band The Hipwaders…Golden State isn't just a great album for the tweens in your life, it's album, period.”-
“These guys have a super hip retro surf sound that is instantly infectious and just plain fun.”{KID} Independent

“I've stated before that kids have pretty good BS barometers. The Hipwaders project a happy, healthy, unforced, kid-friendly attitude. You can enjoy the lyrics and melodies and trust that they came from - and succeed with - the best of intentions…The Hipwaders celebrate the shared community that music creates, whether it's schoolmates or neighbors, but mainly with family.”  - Mr Jeff 2000

 “Be on the lookout for this newest CD from "The Hipwaders" and be warned...once this CD enters your CD're going to be hooked!” One Bored Mommy

"In The Hipwaders’ new CD The Golden State, the trio reimagines some best-loved tunes from their live shows for a home audience. The result is among my favorite CDs of the year. This album for the whole family even includes “My Dog Steve,” whose shoutout in rhythmic patter sounds intimate and universal at the same time." - Kathy O'Connell, MetroKids

 "This is one collection that will speak to your preschoolers and grade schoolers with smart lyrics that don't baby-talk down to favorite song ('Hey, Josie!')  pairs the sweetest lyrics with a chorus that makes me want to grab the nearest sticky hands and jump around the room for a few minutes." - Christina, Cool Mom Tech/Cool Mom Picks 

“The tunes are catchy, daring in their use of unusual harmonies and vocal lines, and altogether enjoyable to kids and parents alike…Every song nails the perfect tone in its writing, speaking to kids the way they want to be spoken to: as an audience worthy of respect and direct discourse.” Myles McDonnell, You Know, For Kids

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

That's My Jam!

This past Sunday we had the privilege of opening for Charity & the JAMband at Park Chalet on the western edge of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.  Charity Kahn and her band have been hosting shows almost every month for the past few years featuring a fabulous assortment of kids & family music entertainers.  Through her tireless efforts to bring the joy of music to young people, Charity has amassed quite the following of little fans that have taken her various music & movement classes & camps
     Her fans were great to us and were quick to start dancing as we began to play.  It was also the first time I ever had a toddler try and slip me a $20 bill during a song. I later found out it was her father’s attempt to tip us!
     We rarely get to perform on a bill with other kids & family acts so it’s always enjoyable for me to try and learn a thing or two about how to connect with young audiences by watching some pros.  This was the fourth time I've seen the JAMband perform and I’m impressed at their consistent dedication to the groove.  It’s a cliché in the world of children’s music to say your music appeals to both kids and their parents but in the case of Charity and the JAMband it’s absolutely true.   
     The JAMband is made up accomplished Bay Area musicians who are not only seasoned professional musicians but also engineer/producers who know their way around crafting interesting arrangements.  With Daryn Roven on guitar, Paul Lamb on bass, Hud Bixler on drums and Danny Zingarelli on assorted percussion (and Kaossilator!), the band effortlessly switches between rock, funk and folk/bluegrass genres - nice for those of us with short attention spans.
     Of course, what sets the band apart from other kids & family bands is the quality of songs.  Charity lyrics promote love & peace and the joy found in exploration and the commonalities that unite us all.  What I really enjoy is the vocals.  Charity has a voice that I can only describe as “bubblegum”.  It’s a joyous/childlike voice that seems to be also shared by her singing partner, Laurie Pomeranz.  Charity and Laurie's voices fit perfectly together and almost sound like the same voice double-tracked.  You can’t help but smile at the beautiful harmonizing and I found myself laughing during the times they’d adopt southern accents and sound (to me) like dueling Victoria Williams’.
       If you live in the Bay Area you owe it to yourself to come out to the Park Chalet to enjoy a Charity and JAMband show.  They have a couple more shows left in the series with the next one featuring the East Bay’s delightful family music band, Octopretzel
     Here’s a little video I made with my iphone using the ‘70’s setting of the 8mm app which seemed to fit the band vibe. It’s a performance of their #1 Sirius/XM Satellite Radio hit, “Amazing Rocket Ship”.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

In a Golden State

I was so excited when I saw the UPS truck coming up the street as I was cleaning up our garage/rehearsal space.  The UPS man looked nothing like Santa but it sure seemed like Christmas to me.  Boxes and boxes of stuff were carted up my driveway  - it’s our new cd “The Golden State”!  After fighting the urge to give the UPS man a hug, I quickly tore open a box to check out the album.  Wow, I was really impressed how well (the amazing) Brian Clarke’s artwork came out.  I’ll give Disk Makers props for doing a great job on the printing.  The whole package looked better than I expected. 

I’m glad that I choose to feature Bob Waller’s“California surf culture-inspired” Woody longboards in the artwork to aid the theme of the album.  His handcrafted skateboards are beautiful.  I felt bad when I rode mine for the first time and immediately ruined the clean white wheels!  Evidently a lot of purchasers of his boards just put them up on the wall as art.  One can see why. 

The audio files were transferred nicely and I really appreciate the mastering job Ken Lee performed.  It’s not the “in your face” “brick wall” limiting so many albums have that cause ear fatigue and make them sound distorted.  It’s sits in the middle of the volume spectrum for most cds and has nice dynamics.  If you want it louder…turn it up!

It was satisfying to have our first gig with our new cd in tow be another acoustic performance at Children’s Hospital Oakland.  The children's hospital shows always put us in a "golden state".  DJ and I try to keep it upbeat and fun which the staff and parents really appreciate.   As a paramedic I have no problem teasing the kids and treating them normal.  The staff kept asking us to stay longer and we did.  We were just about out the door when were asked us to serenade a child who could hear us performing in the playroom from his room and felt he was missing out in the fun.  Because isolation precautions were being taken we had to perform from out in the hall where he could still see us.  I made some comment about how we were honored and “feeling the love” so we performed “Valentine” which seemed a perfect way to end our visit.

Now comes the task of sending out copies of the cd to radio stations, music reviewers, friends and family and try and get some feedback.  If you’re one of those people…tell us what you like! Hopefully, you can make it to a show and pick up a cd.  Otherwise, it’ll be available online on August 2nd, 2011 from Amazon, CDBaby and other internet retailers.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pressure? What Pressure?

Rob Smith Can’t Say No: The Hipwaders

I’ve been compelled by the rules of this column, as well by my own expanding tastes, to listen to a lot of kindie music in the last year. As I’ve explained previously, there’s a lot of the stuff out there—a veritable universe of artists addressing the whims and peculiar mindsets of kids, explaining to the rest of us what it’s like to see the world through their eyes, and setting those expressions to music that is, at its best, as good as anything I’ve heard from “hipper” artists of the day. Part of me wishes I’d been exposed to this stuff years ago; that’s the part of me that last year heard my 11-year-old son listening to Rihanna sing “Come here rude boy, boy, can you get it up? / Come here rude boy, boy, is you big enough?”
Prudish protectionist regrets aside, there are fine sounds to be exposed to in the genre, and it didn’t take long for me to find a favorite band out of the bunch. Renaissance art had Michelangelo; Romantic poetry had Keats; detective fiction had Chandler; swing had Sinatra; Metropolis had Superman. Kindie music has the Hipwaders, a California trio who specialize in perfectly written and performed anthems for the kiddies. Quite simply, they are a great power pop band that just happens to play music for children. Think Fountains of Wayne performing songs aimed at six-year-olds, instead of thirteen-year-olds.
These guys, to these ears, are the best. My love for them is immeasurable, my respect for them immense. The band—singer/songwriter/guitarist Tito Uquillas, drummer Nick Baca, and bassist DJ Kinville—observe three essential rules for making great entertainment for children:

Rule #1: Don’t Talk Down to Them
Whether they’re extolling the virtues of maternal units in “Always Mom” (from their 2008 EP Goodie Bag) or dissing budding assholes in “Stand Up to the Bully” (from their self-titled 2005 debut), the band treats its topics, as well as its audience, with respect. The chorus to “Bully” even gives some sage, empowering advice:

Don’t feel shame
You’re not to blame
Bullies act out

They need to stop

You need to walk

With your head held high

They can also tell a story in a manner that grooves as well as it narrates. “(The Work Song) Cinderella” provides the ages-old tale from the perspective of the downcast title character, with a beat straight out of Creedence’s “Fortunate Son.” Even original stories, like “Field Trip”—a song about the coolest thing you’d ever have to get a permission slip to do—are done with a palpable sense of joy. Who wouldn’t want to take an interstellar trip, play laser tag with Martians, pass into another dimension, and take a space walk—all on a school day? And who wouldn’t want to have a cool new-wavy guitar riff as the soundtrack for the day?
Rule #2: Give the Parents Some
That joy is part of why parents should love the Hipwaders’ music, but there’s also a bit of winking content for parents in their songs. Think of the first time you saw the first Shrek movie—how the film’s makers sprinkled their creation with knowing asides and pop culture references that flew over kids’ heads, but hit adults squarely in the noggin. Likewise, Uquillas (the band’s chief songwriter) tosses out lyrics and musical snippets that entertain the adults in the room (or the car, or the party) as well as their progeny. The title track of 2007′s Educated Kid has a simple riff and cool chorus harmonies, as well as lines like “Get scholarships, student loans, special grants, get schooled at home, uh-huh.” Your kindergartner won’t know why Mommy just shuddered over the mention of “student loans,” but there ain’t an educated ex-kid who wouldn’t. 
And if you’re anything like me (God help you), the Association-like bah-bah-bah vocals in “Valentine”—a love story, played out at recess—will seem like a setup for the second verse:

You had my heart when you tackled me

The recess monitor ended your assault

No, it’s not your fault

Cupid’s shot

Hit its mark

And drove you crazy

Ah, to be young again! Boy shows his affection by yanking Girl’s pigtail, and she showed hers by bloodying his nose. Assault and battery never again seems quite so lovely.

Rule #3: Play It Like You Mean It
Let me stress again that the Hipwaders are a terrific band, capable of moving from tempo-shifting toe-tappers (“Dewey Decimal System”) to a sea shanty about dinosaur-hunting pirates (“The Song of the Paleo Pirates”) to pure power pop goodness (“Yes It’s Christmas”). All the smart, funny lyrics in the world would be null and void without great melodies, singing, and playing to get them across to listeners, and the Hipwaders do that as well as any other pop or rock band you can name.

They have a new record coming out in July; I’m looking forward to hearing it as much as just about anything else on my wishlist of upcoming releases. Give the Hipwaders a shot, particularly if you have kids; I’m pretty certain you’ll become a fan, too.

Everything's Coming Up (Bread &) Roses!

We've been having some great shows lately.  I believe it's due to the re-newed energy we're feeling from making our new album.  We're very excited about it and it's giving us confidence in our performances.  Here's a review of a recent show we had for the non-profit benefit, Bread & Roses. The best part of the day for me was at the end of the show when a little girl asked me to write a song about "saving the planet".  When I found out her name was "Gaia" I was impressed and the next day quickly wrote a song about a girl named Gaia who's trying to save the planet.  "Thank you" to my young muse! 

The Hipwaders at Fairfax/San Anselmo Children’s Center *
Date: 4/5/2011
Host: Debbie Matson
Essence Story by Debbie Matson:
(With additional details from Lisa Starbird)

Today I walked into San Anselmo/Fairfax Children’s Center thinking I would be hosting a typical children’s show, which are usually great, but the attention span of the audience is usually around 30 minutes. Was I in for a big surprise today, as the Hipwaders lit up the room with electric excitement and tons of fun for all ages nonstop for over an hour. Their business card has a perfect description of what the band plays – “hip music for kids”. There was rock, pop, folk, reggae, and even disco songs performed for the enthusiastic crowd.  The band played both originals the kids could relate to like “The Messy Room Song” and covers of such favorites as the Sesame Street and Sponge Bob songs. One of the staff mentioned that they should be on the Disney channel. Every song was high energy, had a great beat, and fabulous singing.

When the band first started, the smallest children were up right away hopping and dancing with giant smiles on their faces and squeals of delight. As the music continued, the older children quickly joined in, but it did not stop there. Many of the adults, including teachers and even the head of the facility were up dancing and shaking their stuff right in the middle of the dance floor. Even the shy kids eventually got on their feet.

There were young girls up in the front the entire time that asked for autographs after the show. There were “cool kids” who started by tapping their toes, and next thing the “too cool for it kids” started a congo line that moved around the room and then wrapped itself onto the dance floor. Another boy had a big group around him imitating his every dance move and his hand movements - like the jerk, which went on for a few songs. And when one mother came to pick up her son, he said, “No way, I’m not going now.”

Something very special happened today in Fairfax, and I am grateful that I was able to be part of it!

Lisa Starbird
Bread & Roses
Program Assistant


Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Tito, DJ and Alisa

We've finished tracking vocals, instruments and assorted percussion.  Excelsior!  That's apparently a catch phrase Al Gore uses for a missions accomplished and quite apropos as our engineer, Willie Samuels, informed us he recorded Mr. Gore a few days prior for an audiobook.  Sweet.  The Hipwaders are using the same engineer as Al Gore - an inconvenient truth for some.

I had more fun with this final session more than any other as I had less stuff to do than the Nick and DJ who still had some back up harmonies and vocals to perform.  Actually, the first thing we did was record (ala Al Gore) a spoken word performance by Nick's better half, Alisa Cromer.  OK, it was only 5 words but it'll be the first vocal heard on the album.

DJ & Tito desecrating George Winston's piano

The next task was to record some mouth "pops".  I remember as a kid seeing an actor named Fritz Feld who was in lots of movies, commercials and t.v. shows like "Gilligan's Island" and "Lost In Space".  His shtick was slapping his hand up against his mouth to make a "pop".  Of course, being a kid I had to learn this trick and perfect it.  Now, as an adult I give it a prominent role on our new album.  Actually, the most prominent "pop" was done by DJ.  But he did it the yucky way by putting his finger in his mouth - don't tell his mom.

Nick and DJ carried on with a few harmonies and backing vocals and I did some hand percussion bits (shaker, tambourine and afuche cabasa).  We all gathered 'round the mic and did some clapping bits that were quite fun and then... we were done.  Woo hoo!
The Hipwaders:  clap yo' hands...

Next up:  mixing.