Interview - Vincent Nunes


The first part of my conversation with upstate New York musician Vincent Nunes had to do with his name.  While Nunes has been making music for kids for about 25 years, he's had an even longer career as lawyer Paul Nunes.  (Vincent is his middle name.)

Nunes has a new album about, Smart Songs for Active Children, and I was interested in talking with him not only about his music, but about living a double life, or, rather, what it's like to have an active career in the non-kids music world while pursuing a second life in an entirely different field.

Zooglobble: What are your first musical memories?

Vincent Nunes: My mother singing to me, she sang around the house -- very simple songs with Portuguese/Latin rhythm.  She was 100% Portuguese.  My dad was Manual Acosta… There's some reflection back -- a song on the new album, "Lullaby to Lucy," uses a kind of Portuguese melodies.

Are there Portuguese nursery rhymes?

I don't know. The songs would have the classic Portuguese rhythm. Like the "lida" [sings the rhythm] -- I used that on "My Triangle" from a previous record.  Mom became a teacher.  She sang from the American canon -- "Farmer in the Dell," for example.

What about your dad?

I heard him play a lot -- he was a touring musician.  His main instrument was a keyboard, so we had an organ in the house.  The van had a second organ.  It never left the truck, it was a beast, it was so heavy to move.  His band was Manny Nunes and the Latin Kicks -- they did  songs with Portuguese rhythm.

Was he a vocalist?

No, not the vocalist.  He sang more toward the end of his career.  He was more of a lyrical interpreter -- he was a crappy singer.  He was pitch perfect, but had a grizzly bear voice.  He didn't sing much, for good reason.

I never took a [music] lesson from my dad.  I did learn a couple rudimentary things, but nothing formal.

We lived in a 2-bedroom apartment behind my dad's jewelry store.  Eventually there were 2 girls and a boy in our family, and so my sisters shared a room, and my dad had to convert the dining room into a bedroom for me.  But after the remodeling, he couldn't get the upright grand piano we had in there out of the room.  So I was 4 1/2 years old, and I woke up every morning staring at and squeezing past the piano getting out of bed.

What led you to the law as a career?

I never intended to be a lawyer -- I planned to be an English teacher.  I took all the courses to be one.  But a professor in college knew me and my family and asked, "Are you prepared for the life?"  He was referring to the fact that teachers don't make much money.  "You're smart, you write well -- have you thought about becoming a lawyer?"

At that point in the year, there were only 2 law schools still accepting applications, and Syracuse was one of them.  I went there, and it wasn't that I liked it a lot, but I was pretty good at it, so I stayed a second year, then a third year.  After graduation I worked in a U.S, District Attorney's office, I clerked for a judge, and then became a Wall Street lawyer.

And the birth of our first daughter led me out of there [to Rochester].  That was the birth of Vincent.  I continued to be a lawyer, but was afraid of telling the legal community that I did kids music -- and vice versa.  I was afraid that clients might not think of me as tough.  I prefer smart, creative, hard-working, honest people as lawyers, but I was afraid of that perception, so I decided that "Vincent" would do kids music, and "Paul" would be the lawyer.

But I was also afraid the other way, that musicians would think, "Oh, he's a lawyer, he must not be very good, it's a vanity project."  If you don't like [my music], fine, but it's not a vanity project.

It was only this year -- after years that included [my own] cancer surgery, the death of important people to me -- that I decided "this is who I am."  It feels kinda good.

I'm very proud of [Smart Songs for] Active Children.  I'm working on another collection now.  The greatest thing is to know that something I wrote will be introduced to kids -- what an honor!


You worked on Smart Songs for Active Children for several years -- what was the organizing principle behind the album?

I asked myself, why would someone listen to kids music?  There's lots of interesting and fun-to-listen-to music, but if that's the point, they can listen to the Beatles, or Pomplamoose, or Jason Mraz.

Kids are looking for protein, music that's age-appropriate.  So I'm interested in music with the 3 Cs:

1) Curriculum -- the content -- for early learners.  It can be even broader, including physical learning.

2) Must engage child's creativity -- can they connect to the song?

3) Does it connect to community values, such as sharing, helping, recycling, the importance of friends?

Are there any songs you're particularly proud of?

There's "No One's Going To Keep Me Down," which speaks to the concept of grit.  That was a hard song to write.  You can't say, "You should," it has to be declarative -- "I am." I am smart, I am strong -- what kind of strong? there's a wonderful ambiguity there -- I am brave, I tell the truth, I am kind, I can help -- extending outside yourself -- and I will not quit.  That's a hard song for me to beat -- it's simple, people can phrases.

There is a very difficult song called "Manuel the Great," which has 7 different rhythms, turns on a hairpin.  It was a way to expose children to different rhythms; I tried to make it silly.  "They Speak Spanish" -- I didn't want to make the song "list-y." I thought about Portugal, it's the last country.  I wanted to write something respectful.  It started in Spain, but moved out from there.

Or "House of Love," as simple a song as can be. "What do we do in a house of love?"  We dance.... the listener doesn't hear a mother/father/child triangle. What about single parents, grandparents -- I can't say mom or dad without alienating my own family.  Same-sex parents -- don't they live in a house of love, too?

You have a long, successful career as a lawyer -- what do you get out of kids music?

I've thought about "legacy."  You know, I've been doing law for a long time. Files will get sent back to me from cases I worked on many years ago, and I need to decide whether to save or destroy them.  Looking through the files, I read about stuff I sacrificed vacations for, worked weekends on.  I'll mark "destroy" usually -- if the client won't continue to pay for the storage, I'm not going to keep them.

But the little CDs I made twenty years ago, people still order them.  People come and sing to me.  My legacy is not my law career, but these songs.

Here's maybe a subversive thought: Music in general is part of the human psyche.  We all get that rhythmic piece, that melody built right into us.  Music and lyrics and super-glued to the brain.  It's the first thing in the womb, and the last thing that leaves -- my dad, as he died, couldn't remember names, but could sing songs.

So if you take a children's song, infuse it with a positive message, you can change a corner of the world.  "More Love" -- that's a "we can build a better world song."  Numbers and colors are important, but "the rain falls, we need more love."

I have the privilege of recording the songs, which, if they're good enough, parents and teachers buy them.  If they like it, then we're changing the world.  If they don't like it, that's fine, there are plenty of flavors of ice cream.  But if they stop at Vincent Nunes' shop, I hope they buy a double scoop.

Radio Playlist: New Music October 2014

It's fall, so the number of new releases has picked up -- I've got a full dozen songs for your family's enjoyment. (If you missed September's list, you can see that playlist here).

As always, it's limited in that if an artist hasn't chosen to post a song on Spotify, I can't put it on the list, nor can I feature songs from as-yet-unreleased albums.  But I'm always keeping stuff in reserve for the next Spotify playlist.

Check out the list here or go right here if you're in Spotify.

**** New Music October 2014 (October 2014 Kindie Playlist) ****

Caspar Babypants – The Girl with the Squirrel in Her Hat
Lucy Kalantari – Betta'
Todd McHatton – Refreshments On Neptune
Fox & Branch – Aiken Drum
The Hipwaders – Kings & Queens
Dave and the Boombox – Friendly Little Neighbors
OOZAKAZOO – What Goes Around (Ode to the Cyclist)
Papa Crow – Give Some, Get Some
The Choo Choo Bob Show – Gandy Dancing
Gustafer Yellowgold – Smilefield
Demi Mays – Make a Face (feat. Spring Starr Pillow)
The Pop Ups – Puppet Playground

Kids' Songs for Halloween (Updated for 2014!)

I don't particularly care for Halloween.  I don't hate it, it's just not one of those holidays I like.  I'm all for the community aspect of the holiday, particularly in warmer climes like Phoenix, where Halloween in some neighborhoods becomes a movable block party.  But cheap, useless candy? Ugh.  Please just let me watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and move on to November.

But I realize I am in the minority here.  So here's a collection of kindie Halloween songs I'm aware of, some of them released this week, some of them dating back to 2006).  This is an update of my 2009 list with some subsequent songs.

This is a long (and, frankly, somewhat disorganized) list, but I'm pretty sure I'm missing your favorite kindie Halloween song.  Let me know which one it is, and I'll update it here!


-- Eban Schletter's Witching Hour
-- Wee Hairy Beasties' Creepy Lullabies
-- Sue Schnitzer's Boo, Cackle, Trick or Treat
-- Katherine Dines' Hunk-Ta-Bunk-Ta Spooky!
-- Magic Maestro Music's The Sorcerer's Apprentice
-- Thirteen For Halloween by M. Ryan Taylor.
-- Big Pumpkin - Mr. Billy


"Skin and Bones" -- countless recordings (Raffi, Sam Hinton, the Hunk-Ta-Bunk-Ta Spooky disk above)
"Dia de los Muertos," Uncle Rock -- off his Plays Well With Others disk
"A Skeleton Bang," Rasputina -- off the Colours Are Brighter
"Harry's Haunted Halloween Circus," from At the Bottom of the Sea by Ralph's World
"The Edison Museum" - They Might Be Giants (No!)
"The Winchester Festival" - Mr. David

"Bonobo Joe and the Voodoo Queen" - The Hipwaders (see here)
"Scare Me Scare You!" - Baze and His Silly Friends
"The Monster Under My Bed" - Mighty Weaklings
"My Brother's a Monster" - Laura Freeman
"Boogieman" - Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
"Boogieman" - Keith Munslow
"The Day After Halloween" - The Sippy Cups

"Halloween Every Night" - Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips

"There's a Monster in My House" - Eric Herman

"Boo!" - Trout Fishing in America

"Trick or Treat" - Justin Roberts

"Halloween" - Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke

"Spooky Stuff" - David Tobocman

"Boogie Man" - Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band

"Ghosts and Goblins - Mister G

"Rattlin' Rattlin' Bones - Boxtop Jenkins

"Miss Elephant's Gerald" - The Pop Ups

"November First (Jump, Run, Shake)" - Eric Herman

"Dance Like a Monster" - Play Date

"For Halloween This Year" - You and Me and the Rain

"Perfect Pumpkins" - Todd McHatton

"Where Do Monsters Go?" - Ratboy Jr.

"Do You Believe in Monsters?" - Mr. Ray

"Wesley Werewolf" - Skelly and the Punkins

"That's How a Pumpkin Grows" - Brian Vogan

"Spooky Dance" - Rebecca Frezza

"Robot Monkey Head" - John Hadfield (OK, not totally Halloween-themed, but SHOULD BE)

"I'm a Vampire" - Roy Handy and the Moonshot

"Halloween" - Charity and the JAMband

"Spooky Way Home" - The Crayonettes

"Halloween" - Princess Katie & Racer Steve

"I'm Not Afraid" - The Angry Beards

"Missing in the Corn Maze" - vogelJoy

"Halloween Freak Out" - Chuck Cheesman

"Goblins" - DidiPop

"Monsters" - Jazzy Ash

"Robot for Halloween" - The Flannery Brothers

Bill from Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child also published his playlists from his '05, '06, and '08 shows...

Themed songs from 2006 show:

Ralph's World - Harry's Haunted Halloween Circus (At the Bottom of the Sea)
Roger Day - Monster Face (Ready to Fly)
ScribbleMonster & Friends - A Monster Goes Rrraargh! (Chocolate Milk)
Deedle Deedle Dees - Scared By My Own Costume (Live at Flywheel)
Monty Harper - Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet (Great Green Squishy Mean Concert CD)
Elizabeth Street - Really Gross (Different)
Telephone Company - Baby Halloween (The King's Surprse?)
Milkshake - Scared (Happy Songs)
Steve Weeks - 4 Little Girls (Aaron and his Aeroplane)
TMBG - Something Grabbed Ahold of My Hand (Apollo 18)
Mary Kaye - Skeleton Song (Spin Your Web)
Rebecca Frezza - Monster in My Room (Music in My Heart)
TMBG - Fingertips (Apollo 18)
Laurie Berkner - Monster Boogie (Buzz Buzz)
Andy Glockenspiel - Monster in Pink Underwear
Muppets - Wild Thing
They Might Be Giants - Hovering Sombrero '05 (Here Come the ABCs)

2005's list, "where we were much more Halloween-themed throughout":

They Might Be Giants - Hovering Sombrero '05 (Here Come the ABCs) (telling you, that floating hat is scary)
Splash 'n' Boots - Spooky-Doo (Getting Our Feet Wet)
Josh Greenberg & the Mother Goose Jazz Band - Boogie Woogie Ghost (Rhythm and Rhymes)
Trout Fishing in America - The Goops (It's a Puzzle)
Jennie Avila - Gargoyles (For Kids)
Troubador - There's a Werewolf Under My Bed (All About Animals)
Laurie Berkner - Monster Boogie (Buzz Buzz)
Two of a Kind - This Holiday Is Halloween (Friends)
Kevin Kameraad - Pumpkin Belly (Tomato Collection)
Monty Harper - Trick or Treat Smell My Feet (The Great Green Squishy Mean Concert CD)
Babaloo - Gorilla in the Middle of My Bedroom (Bean Bag Bop)
Ben Kweller with Ben Folds and Ben Lee - Wicked Little Town (Wig in a Box)
They Might Be Giants - Something Grabbed A Hold of My Hand (Apollo 18)
Ralph's World - Harry's Haunted Halloween Circus (At the Bottom of the Sea)
Nerf Herder - Buffy the Vampire Slayer Theme
Daddy A Go-Go - Scaredy Cat Cowboy Part 2 (Mojo A Go Go)
Roger Day - Monster Face (Ready To Fly)
ScribbleMonster & His Pals - A Monster Goes Rrraargh! (Best of Friends)
They Might Be Giants - Someone Keeps Moving My Chair (Flood)
Too Much Joy - Pride of Frankenstein (Cereal Killers)
Kevin Kammeraad - Moogie Monster Man (The Tomato Collection)
CandyBand - Monsters (More Candy)
Jack Sheldon - Them Not-So-Dry Bones (Schoolhouse Rock! Science Rock)
They Might Be Giants - Fingertips (Reprise) (Apollo 18)
Monster Mash (Music for Little People)
Telephone Company - Baby Halloween (The King's Surprise?)
Gunnar Madsen - Mayonnaise & Pumpernickel Bread (Ants in My Pants)
They Might Be Giants - Exquisite Dead Guy (Factory Showroom)
Peter Alsop - What If? (Pluggin' Away)
Bill Harley - Monsters in the Bathroom (Play It Again)
Babaloo - Monsters in the Bathroom (Room for Everyone)
Wolf Party (Sun, Sun Shine: Songs for Curious Children)
Belly - Witch (Star)
Daddy A Go-Go - Scaredy Cat Cowboy Part 1 (Mojo A Go Go)
Rockapella - Zombie Jamboree
David Roth - Halloween
Deedle Deedle Dees - Scared of My Own Costume (Let It Dee)
Justin Roberts - Thought It Was A Monster (Yellow Bus)
Milkshake - Scared (Happy Songs)
Steve Weeks - 4 Little Girls (Alphabet Songs Vol. 1)
They Might Be Giants - Skullivan (The Spine Surfs Alone EP)

Spare the Rock 2008

TMBG - It's Spare the Rock
TMBG - Whistling in the Dark
Steve Weeks - 4 Little Girls (Alphabet Songs Vol 1)
Kimya Dawson - Little Monster Babies (Alphabutt)
Deedle Deedle Dees - Scared By My Own Costume (Let It Dee)

Wee Scary Beasties - Pumpkinhead (Creepy Lullabies)
Telephone Company - Baby Halloween (The King's Surprise?)
Roger Day - Monster Face (Ready to Fly)
Ralph's World - Harry's Halloween Circus)
Dr. Strangeblood & the New Zombies - Monster Mash (EP)
Salteens - All My Friends (Yo Gabba Gabba)
Los Straitjackets - Munsters theme
Soccer Team - I'll Never Fear Ghosts Again
Baze & His Silly Friends - Scare Me, Scare You!
Egg - Night Time Party
Jimmies - Soaper the Scaredy-Bot (Make Your Own Someday)
Mike Doughty - Firetruck (Smofe + Smang)

ScribbleMonster - Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child
Justin Roberts - Maybe the Monster (Meltdown!)
Hank Hooper - Human Fly (Playground Fortune Teller)
B-52s - Planet Claire (Anthology)
Lamar Holley - Digestion (Classroom Pop Vol. 1)
Aric Bieganek & Recess Rock - Bright Lights, Big Kitty! (Bright Lights, Big Kitty)
Monty Harper - Trick or Treat Smell My Feet (Great Green Squishy Mean Concert CD)
Louis Armstrong - Jeepers Creepers (Back Through the Years)
Telephone Company - Lumberjack (Panda Brain)

Mates of State - Starman
Mighty Weaklings - Monster Under My Bed
Rechov Sumsum with Ronnie Rock - En Den Dino (Sesame Street Playground)
TMBG - The Guitar
TMBG - Spare the Rock

Gwyneth's Halloween set from 2007:
Lager Rhythms - Zombie Jamboree - Aftermath
Steve Weeks - 4 Little Girls - Alphabet Songs Vol. I
Ralph's World - Harry's Haunted Halloween Circus - At The Bottom Of The Sea
ScribbleMonster & His Pals - A Monster Goes Rrraargh! - Best Of Friends
Karl Williams - Merry Halloween - Big Fish Little Fish
Sue Schnitzer - Black Cats, Spiders, and Bats Blues - Boo, Cackle, Trick or Treat
Wendy Rochman and Sue Schnitzer - Your Bones - Boo, Cackle, Trick or Treat
Laurie Berkner - Monster Boogie - Buzz Buzz
C. Shells - Halloween Ghosts - C. Shells
Dan Zanes & Friends - Moonlit Town - Catch That Train!
GeereMusic - Halloween is Magic Time - Celebrate! Vol 1
Family Circus Kids - The Spider - The Complete Lyric Language
Janet Sirett - Another Halloween Night - Creepy Crawly Slimy Things
Brady Rymer - Full Moon Walk - Every Day Is A Birthday
John McCutcheon - Halloween - Four Seasons-Autumn Songs
Carole Peterson - Black Bat Farm (Oct) - H.U.M
DJ Spook A Lot - Skeleton Dance - Halloween For All
The Hipwaders - Howling At The Moon - The Hipwaders
John Bindel, Nashville Chamber Orchestra And Kid Pan Alley - Scary Things - Kid Pan Alley- Nashville
String Bean Jones (With The Lefty Jones Band) - Good Ghosts Here - Live From The Bathtub
Justin Roberts - Maybe The Monster - Meltdown!
Pam Blanchard & the Sunny-Side Up Band - Halloween Waltz - Music Makes Me Happy
Bruce, Troy, and Margaret - Thirty-Six Witches - Now For My Next Number
Steve Songs - One Halloween Night... - On A Flying Guitar
Monty Harper - Trick or Treat Smell My Feet - The Great Green Squishy Mean Concert CD
Steve Blunt and Friends - Pumpkins, Beware! - Outta School!
Sesame Street - The Monster in the Mirror (Grover) - Sesame Street Platinum All-Time Favorites
Brent & Woofy - On Halloween - Shine Shine Shine
Eric Herman And The Invisible Band - Hide And Go Seek With The Moon - Snow Day
Erin Lee & Marci - The Moonlight Wolfbite Batjuice Jamboree - Snowdance
Mary Kaye - The Skeleton Song - Spin Your Web
Thaddeus Rex - The Moon Is Rising - We Wanna Rock
Wee Sing - The Ghosts Go Flying - Wee Sing For Halloween
Danny Adlerman - Pump the Pumpkin
Imagination Movers - Knocking on Your Door 2

Devon has a lot more suggestions, including this list of songs.

Video: "I Can't Feel My Face" - Gustafer Yellowgold


If somebody just listened to Gustafer Yellowgold's music with no visual accompaniment, they might find it to be catchy, pleasant to listen to, and, based on a couple songs, they might wonder if perhaps there lies a more absurdist sense of humor than occasionally peeks through the lyrics.

And if they watched the accompanying videos, they'd be absolutely convinced of it.

On the first single from the brand-new-out-this-week album/DVD Gustafer Yellowgold's Wisdom Tooth of Wisdom, the horn-filled song "I Can't Feel My Face" could be heard as a love song from the perspective of the lovestruck narrator.

Except there are these lines: "Pie just falls away / Can't bite with curtains."

Huh?  Where did that come from?

Just watch.  All will be revealed.

Gustafer Yellowgold - "I Can't Feel My Face." [YouTube]

Video: "Pretty Crabby" - Caspar Babypants

Me? I'm a big fan of Caspar Babypants. And a big fan of Charlotte Blacker.

And, as you might expect, a big fan of when the musician and the artist combine for videos.  (See here and here.)

So when CB and, er, CB get together to release a brand new music video, um, yes, I shall post it.  Blacker joins with Mark Taylor to create a another spiffily kinetic and knitted animation for "Pretty Crabby" off Caspar's brand-new album Rise and Shine!   My favorite bit is the crabby band.

Caspar Babypants - "Pretty Crabby" [YouTube]

Weekly Summary (9/8/14 - 9/21/14)