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.

Interview: Tito Uquillas (The Hipwaders)


I tend to think of Tito Uquillas' Bay Area band The Hipwaders as being one of kindie's "old guard" -- not that they've been around as long as Raffi or Trout Fishing in America, let alone Ella Jenkins, but having released their self-titled debut in 2005, their sharper guitar-pop was one of the early examples of the kindie wave that swept over the kids music world in the second half of that decade.

So Uquillas has some history and perspective on kids music in the past decade.  His band's also got a new album coming out, Year-Round Sounds, on September 23.  The new album features a number of songs celebrating seasons and holidays.  In our chat, he and I talk about favorite holidays, the stop-and-start process of recording this new album, and how he views the balance between his day job as a paramedic and the rest of his life.

Zooglobble: What are your favorite holidays?

Tito Uquillas: As a kid, always Halloween, that was always fun.  Dressing up, trick-or-treating, those things.  Now they're fun from a different perspective.  As an adult, it's even more fun when we play, we dress up a bit.  For Halloween shows, I would dress up with a wig and costume beard and felt invincible, it was a great confidence booster.  Now that I've been playing for a while, I'll just dress up with a hat.

Christmas shows are a blast, too.  For Christmas we always dress up as a Victorian band.  Because everybody’s in the spirit.

It’s probably a tie now between Halloween and Christmas.

You did an entire EP of holiday/Christmas songs (A Kindie Christmas) -- what are your favorite holidays to write songs for?  Is it easy to write for a particular holiday?

I’ve been writing songs since I was 15.  I always liked writing jingles.  I remember writing a fake commercial for "The Starving Martyrs," who would starve for whatever your cause was.  The Christmas album included songs I'd written over time, some dating back to the 80s and I realized I had almost a full album.

The problem is it’s not until the actual holiday that I come up with a song.  People will hear it and ask, “Aw man, you have that recorded?”  And I'll say, “no, you have to wait a year.”

We've got a new song that was based on a tangent of a discussion between the bassist and drummer about the animal the chupacabra.  It's a fun song -- it’s a good feeling when your latest song is your band’s favorite song to play.

But, no, it’s [not a particular holiday but] whatever inspires you in the moment.  Writing about something [on demand], that’s hard.  Sometimes I can do it “on spec.”  There’s a song on the new album ("We Can Be Heroes") written as a theme song for an animated series.  The cartoon was going to be shown in Europe.  And then the studio got an attorney and said that it would be better to just be made for Wales.  So the song would have to be sung in Welsh.  That wasn't for me.  So now it's on the album...


Can you talk a bit about recording with Willie Samuels?

I work in a town called Crockett, which is the home of the C&H sugar factory.  A firefighter there went to school with Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day.  I thought Green Day [recordings] always sounded good, so I tracked down the studio where they recorded their stuff.  I once thought you just hired a studio, but it’s not like that, you have to find an engineer.  I found Willie Samuels, but he'd moved to a different studio, a top-notch studio, and I thought there was no way I could afford that.

But that's not how it works.  We set up a budget, and sometimes you get kicked out.  For our album The Golden State, which we also recorded with Samuels, we got kicked out for Lady Gaga.  Samuels recorded spoken word with Danny Glover, with Al Gore.  He recorded 20-piece salsa band.  So we recorded at odd days and times.

I've recorded whole albums at once and didn’t like intensity of recording 14 songs.  So we had 6 songs for a session, which was much more relaxed.

Besides he does what he wants.  He doesn’t like hand percussion, so on one song he mixed it really low.  I know what to expect.

How do you view the interaction between your day job as a paramedic and your life as a kindie musician?

I just celebrated my thirtieth anniversary as a paramedic.


Thanks, I think.  You know, if there was ever a panel at a kids music conference on being a  “slacker,” that’s me.  I've got to get that balance going between job, and marriage, and music.

I like the stress of my job, which is sick in a way.  As a paramedic we’re used to handling very stressful situations.  When I was 10, my mom got cancer and passed away when I was 12.  And that messed me up a bit as a teenager.  I was quiet and didn’t come out of my shell until 15 or 16.  I wanted to control the situation more than I could before.

I had a band at 15 and that was a relief.  The music thing was much more satisfying.  Much later in the Hipwaders, we’d play at children’s hospitals and parents would be crying out of gratitude.  Wow, thirty years of being a paramedic, nobody ever cries out of gratitude.  The 2 things parts go hand in hand.  The job is very clinical.

The performing part of the band has actually helped me.  Learning to play to the room, looking around making sure everyone is calm, cracking jokes, making sure everyone is put at ease.  It’s almost like a performance too, having to treat a patient.

I imagine a paramedic team is sort of like a band, everyone with their own roles and strengths.

Yeah…  I like going to different people’s houses and cultures.  The last call I was on had this Middle Eastern war rug hanging -- it's a map of Afghanistan with pictures of guns, artillery.  When the Afghans kicked Russians out, they made these rugs -- our military would buy them, so would Afghanis.  The call before that was the tackiest house, looked like something from King Louis XIV; it was owned by an elderly Russian couple.  To me, that’s always fascinating.  Or seeing different religious shrines.  Especially in the Bay Area, which is so diverse -- Cambodians, Phillipines, Middle Eastern.

How do you integrate those two parts of your life?  I was recently having a discussion online with some kids music folks and talking about how major corporations are selling only Dora the Explorer or Kidz Bop album, but also the huge changes in the recorded music industry make it easier than it's ever been to be a part-time creative.

It’s three parts, actually -- family, job, and creative life.  I always have to have a project going -- in between bands in my youth, I might have had a visual arts project.  Now it’s just music.

The Dora and  Kidz Bop stuff -- I don’t even think about that.  That’s a multimedia thing -- TV, merchandise, it all goes together, there’s no way the kindie crowd can get into that.  People ask me, "Can you play Frozen?"  I say no, it’s just not me.  I like Frozen but I really don't like show tunes.  I had a partner doing pediatric care, and he was talking about preschool theme shows I don’t know at all.

The band is happy that we can make albums, play shows, and maybe release an occasional video and not use our own money.  But I’m really cognizant of maintaining the balance between family and playing shows.  We can usually make a day of it as a family.  I don’t want to disrupt that balance.  If I were offered a two week tour on the East Coast, I'd probably say, “Ahhh, I don’t know” unless they paid us a lot of money.

I’m not big on the PR thing now -- we can’t take time from our day jobs and tour the country.  So written press is not that important to us.  Being a regional act is fine for me.  We can get plenty of bookings; there are a half dozen musical acts and we all get gigs.  I'll do it yourself and hope for the best.

You’re not going to get rich, but you’re not going to go broke, either.

Lots of people record, teach music.  I’m not sure I could do it every day or every other day as a job.  What if I had to teach preschool, would I have to write more preschool songs?  That’s not me.  Laurie Berkner is really good at it, but a lot of the other preschool songs I hear are insipid.  I'm fascinated by people who do it as a job.  It's not for me, worrying about [it as] a job.  Hopefullly it’s working out well [for them], that they can retire.


Are their new tracks on the upcoming album you’re proud of?

“Kings and Queens” song was fun to write.  We’ve had Gunnar Madsen sing [Ed: and Charity Kahn also duets with Uquillas on the album], but never an actual musician.  I was listening to a podcast with Mike Myers, who has a reputation for being difficult. His was saying his art has a quirkiness, particular style.

Sometimes musical guests dilutes that.  I was really struggling with the keyboard part on "Kings and Queens", but couldn’t get it out of my brain on the recording.  So Chris Wiser from the Sugar Free Allstars came on board, said, "Oh, you want a funky clavinet... strings on the chords."  My wife said, "You can play that," and I'd say, "Yes, but I can’t get it out of me."

Oh, and the Buck Owens Christmas song ("Have a Very Merry Christmas") -- I couldn't make it just like Buck, then realized, I'll just make it an R&B song.  Also, I realized that there were just 2 bluegrass song covers and those weren't available on CD, so it was "Oh, nobody’s recorded that."

What’s coming up?

We have a new video (hopefully within a couple weeks) for “Just Not Me.”  Visually, I thought it would be a funny cartoon.  I saw Thessaly Lerner’s videos, which were a little Ren & Stimpy-like.  The animator's cartoons are a little more edgy.  He’s doing the animated video for that.  There's an album release show in a couple weeks, and Halloween shows and Christmas shows are already lined up.  We'll record a new song, too.  Got feedback from one woman who said her kids had [Year-Round Sounds] constant repeat.  That was nice to hear.

Interview: Bari Koral


Musician Bari Koral made her way to making music for kids and families the same way a lot of her compatriots did -- after getting burnt out making music for adults.

But as she's released four albums for families (the latest, The Apple Tree and the Honey Bee, came out earlier this summer), she's also been in the vanguard of folks who have focused on bringing yoga to families.

Koral and I chatted via e-mail recently and in the interview below, she discussed how her new album differed from her other recording experiences, how her first album came to be, and how she brought her yoga and musical lives together.

Zooglobble: What are your first musical memories?

Bari Koral: I remember listening to Thriller and the Grease Soundtrack pretty much on repeat when I was younger. I also remember being around 6 or 7 and being in camp and the counselors teaching us campers a new song. I seemed to get it before anyone else and I remember her saying “Now we know what Bari can do”

 I never forgot that.

What led you into making music for kids?

I was burned out and totally exhausted from being on the road playing colleges and other places as an “adult” singer-songwriter. I was also broke and in debt. I had no idea what was next for me. The one thing I had was my niece. She was 5 and was a MAJOR light in my life. She was also deaf but got cochlear implants. Once she could start to hear around 4 she became a big music fan and she was especially obsessed with my adult song “Aspiring Angel” - which I have to say was one of my strongest songs I had ever penned up to that point.

I saw the sophistication of her taste and often thought about why she was so drawn to that particular song. Around this same time I saw Ralph’s World and was very impressed by the elegant simplicity of his songs, and the fact that the band rocked and there were no gimmicks other than great music.

I was also doing stuff on the side for Jim Packard at the Long Island Children’s Museum who suggested I take a real shot at writing songs for children. And finally, John Medeski, who is a friend, leant me the keys to his cabin in Woodstock. He had just gotten a kids record deal and he heard what I had written for the Children’s Museum and he said, “take these keys to the cabin and go write some songs.” And that is what I did. I thought of my niece Mikayla, at the time, pretty much my only influence and wrote almost our entire EP in one weekend which included “Nothing I Wouldn’t Do” and “A Day at the Beach.”  Eight years later those are still two of our most beloved kids/family songs.

You've worked with a few different producers - what led you to go to Nashville to record The Apple Tree and the Honey Bee with Brad Jones?

Brad Jones is a great record maker and music maker. He’s old school. He digs in deep, he’s got such good ears. He’s got old Martin Guitars lying around, everywhere and tons of off beat instruments. He’s such a great player and he has worked with Josh Rouse, Over the Rhine and many others who are easily some of the best singer songwriters we have today. Singers and songwriters are drawn to Brad because he can steer the ship in the most melodic and luckiest of places. Plus as a band we all got to honker down in the studio for almost a full week which is a total luxury these days. It was really something to get to work with him - I’ve been a long time fan and he’s been a great friend for years.

What was challenging (or exciting) about working with Jones?  Did knowing you were going to record in Nashville change your songwriting approach?

I already had the songs. I don’t record unless I have the material. I had just filmed 52 episodes of a TV show Yogapalooza with my bandmate Dred (air date to be announced) and I was totally exhausted. Brad said “you can relax and let me steer the ship. You can just lean back and sing and play." That was a VERY different approach to making an album. Usually you’re the ears of everything. But I trusted Brad, so I was able to give him the reins. That was a VERY new experience for me. 


Sometimes you have to get out of the way to let in some magic, and also of course there are times when you have to put your foot down and say “no, that’s not me, that’s not my audience, next idea please.” And that happened too but pretty rarely. We were on the same page pretty much immediately. He’s been making albums for so many years, and now he has 2 young children so the timing was ideal for him too.

But we did get Dan Cohen on the album to add some kickin' country twang. That was real Nashville and so fun. I had already penned my Johnny Cash-ish "Big Truck" when we decided on Nashville.

Do you prefer writing songs or performing them?

That is a great question and I’m not sure. Sometimes I prefer writing, sometimes performing. It depends on the show and the experience! It’s amazing how quick the writing time is compared to all the other work such as playing, promoting, etc. I was just thinking about that today. I heard Elton John say he never spent more than 1 hour writing the music for any of those songs. Hard to believe how many hours he has spent playing the songs he wrote in under 1 hour.

A major part of your career involves yoga for kids -- how did that come about?

I got into yoga because I suffered from rather severe anxiety in my early 20’s. I really suffered. Right away the first doctor I saw wanted to prescribe medication. I had no tools whatsoever to help me but knew medication was not the answer. Finally someone told me about meditation and yoga. These and other tools I can only describe as lifesaving.

As I had already been practicing yoga for almost 20 years, I finally got certified to teach around the same time that I started writing music for children. For a long time I kept the music and the yoga more separate, I was the yoga teacher at JetBlue for example and I was so afraid they may Google me one day and see that I sang for children!

It took a lot of energy to keep both of my words apart. And then one day, it seems so obvious but I just decided to put everything together! Because that is what makes us unique - it’s our unique combinations of interests/talents/influences. When that all comes together- magical things can happen.

Is it easier to rouse a sleep audience of kids or to calm a hyper audience of kids?

For me it’s easier to calm down a hyper audience. I have lots of tools!

What's the thing you've made for families that you're most proud of?

Songs and records made with love.

What's next for you?

I’m playing the Newport Folk & Jazz Festival Family Show this [past] Wednesday! I cannot wait! [I'm] also playing the Monterey Jazz Festival and am the keynote for the first Kids Yoga Conference in DC. I’m really into getting more parents and teachers knowing about how our music works for kids yoga too, so that is a big part of what I’ve been doing. I hope the show airs soon and would love to do some Yogapalooza live shows with rockin’ music and some music, movement and kids yoga and bring it to a town near you! I also have a lot of concert tickets to sell to our shows this fall. And we recently bought a beautiful house on a 4 acre pond outside of Woodstock, NY and I’m into nesting at the house whenever possible and sharing it with family and friends.

Photo Credits: Shervin Lainez

Interview: Raffi


Raffi is the man whose music literally created the kids music section -- his first kids music albums, starting with Singable Songs for the Very Young, were so popular that record stores created new sections for his music.

This week, Raffi releases Love Bug, his first kids music album since 2002.  His voice is in as fine a form as ever, and his gentle music will likely stir up fond feelings in the hearts of Raffi's "Belugagrads," those who grew up listening to, say, Raffi's Baby Beluga album and who now bring their own kids to Raffi's concerts.

Raffi and I chatted on the phone as he came back from a walk.  It was an appropriate lead-in to an interview about his new album and his views on the (in)appropriateness of information technology and social media for kids.

Zooglobble: What are your first musical memories?

Raffi: Of my father singing and playing accordion in Cairo, where I lived for the first ten years of my life.  I loved to hear him play -- he would hold court with his big, booming voice.

I first sang in the Armenian Church choir in Toronto with my dad when I was eleven, twelve years old.

In my teenage years, I listened to the Beatles.  I bought a guitar from a pawn shop when I was sixteen and sang in 3-part harmony with friends.  We listened to Pete Seeger, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan...

What are your memories of being outside, in nature?

When we lived in Cairo, I remember we'd get into our two-tone Studebaker and drive up to a cafe, the Cafe du Vue de la Pyramide -- the "Cafe with the View of the Pyramids."  We'd play in the Cairo sands.

When I first came to Canada, to Toronto, it was quite different for me to experience sliding on ice.  

My father took us to see the fall colors outside of Toronto.  I loved it, so much so that I won a poster contest with my drawing of the woods.  I was thirteen years old, and my poster won the Smokey the Bear Fire Prevention Contest from over 5,000 entries.  I remember it like it was yesterday… it was titled "Keep It Peaceful."


It's been more than a decade since you last released an album of kids music, though you've been recording other music and commenting a lot on social media -- what made you want to go back and record a new album (Love Bug)?

I think it's going forward, actually.  I always make music when I feel a new stirring, and I felt like I wanted to do one for the Belugagrads, the term of endearment for millions of fans.  I wrote these songs about the joy of the real world.  It's the first Raffi album in the digital era.

The [title track] itself came from a little guitar riff, you can hear it in the song, and for the first time I played the piano.  I recorded the whole thing in my living room, and about 80% of the whole album was recorded at my home in Salt Spring Island, an island of about 10,000 people between Vancouver Island and Vancouver.

You've written about the potential dangers of information technology and social media, particularly for kids under 13, in your book Lightweb/Darkweb.  How did those themes manifest themselves in the new album? 

It was clearly a response to the digital overreach in our lives.  It prompted a full-on celebration of the real world.  [That connection] is the primary purpose of being human.  It has nothing to do with InfoTech [Information Technology] devices.  Those devices are not designed for kids' hands and laps.

My position -- that those of developmental experts like Terry Brazelton and Penelope Leach -- is that kids' primary attachment should be people -- that's what a child needs to bond with.  The internet is the opposite -- it's shiny and flat.  It's too seductive, too powerful an intrusion.  The reports of tech device dependency and addiction in young people bears me out.

It's hard for middle-aged people to avoid.

Yes.  Younger kids need to learn how to use these.  It's not fair [to them].


You know, you could go back and listen to albums like Singable Songs for the Very Young at the start of your nearly 40-year recording career, and the listener would find those same themes of connection and natural world there, too.

Sometimes I think, why record a new album now?  Have I already said it all?  But there's room for creativity, to say things in new ways.  Like, that impulse to hug someone, where does it come from?  In "Love Bug," from viruses.

Have you noticed any changes in your live audiences from when you were last performing consistently?  More faces turned down, looking at black or white rectangles?

Not at all -- it's a remarkably similar vibe compared to when I was doing it in the '90s.  We ask the audience to turn their cell phones off, not record anything.  The audience is all singing along.

I play a lot of the familiar songs, respecting the kids' needs for their familiar toys.  Most of the adults are Belugagrads, so they're experiencing it in two ways, both as parents as well as in their hearts from childhood.

I'm a very lucky man.

Any other plans after the release of Love Bug?

Well, I'd like to eat lunch.


Then there's dinner...


That's one of my favorite subjects… But there are more shows coming -- I hope to announce some shows in the United States soon, they're more "select shows" rather than touring.

There are new songs brewing, I'll be recording a new CD this fall.  It's a very creative time for me right now.  I'm loving the power of music within me and the embodied joy young children are.  I hope that my fans find diverse pleasures [on Love Bug], different moods to hear.

Photo credits: Billie Woods