Interview: Peter Himmelman

PeterHimmelman.JPGPeter Himmelman has been around the kids' music scene for a while -- not as long as he's been making music for a living -- but his first album for families, My Best Friend is a Salamander, came out in 1997. He's adapted nicely to the brave new world of the music industry, scoring the Judging Amy TV series and creating not one, but two video series for the internet (more on that below). His fifth album for kids, My Trampoline, is being released today on the new Minivan Productions kids music label. I talked to him by phone last week, calling him at 8 AM -- not just my time, but also his time. Despite getting in from a songwriting workshop at 1 AM that same morning, Himmelman was thoughtful, expansive regarding his views on kids and music for kids, and, as befits a man who tells lots of ornate stories, far more verbally agile than I typically am at that hour... Zooglobble: Thanks for taking such an early call... Peter Himmelman: Oh, no problem -- please don't tell anyone that I don't live a bohemian lifestyle... So I'll start off with a question I typically ask in every interview, and that's what musical memories you had growing up? That's a good question worth asking. When I was 5 or 6, I'd listen with my older sister, who was 12; this was maybe 1966 or so. I would hear the Beatles' "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" or maybe "Stop in the Name of Love". The ever-enchanting "House of the Rising Sun." I remember the electric organ -- snippets of songs can be very moving. Then when I was 7 or 8, I'd play with my friend Doug Kauffman -- he had some free LPs. We'd listen and pretend the stuffed animals were the band. The rabbit would be the singer, flopping around. I enjoyed it more than he did, which is maybe why I went into music and he went into finance. You tell a lot of stories in your songs, so do you also have any book memories from growing up? Oh, Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach. My mom would read to me from a collection called Kiss, Kiss, which was kind of dark. Shel Silverstein. Maurice Sendak, of course - Where the Wild Things Are. Jules Verne... My first book I can remember really getting into was Scott O' Dell's Island of Blue Dolphins. Oh, we had these stories on vinyl -- I remember 101 Dalmatians. I also liked audio stories -- I still do. I like the aural imagery. Do you segregate your writing for kids?

Peter Himmelman: More Curious, Less Furious

Peter_KingFerdinand.jpgI already mentioned how Peter Himmelman would be releasing My Trampoline, his latest album for kids, next week on the Minivan Productions label. I also noted how he's putting together Peter Himmelman's Curious World, which will be webcast on the Land of Nod website. A few more details are trickling out, including, perhaps most importantly, a time and day. The first 10 episodes will start on Sunday, October 4, at 10 AM (Central Time), with new weekly episodes running each Sunday morning through December 6. [Update: Will now start Sunday, September 27.] Each episode will feature a theme of the day and things like questions from kids, on the street visits, and chats with King Ferdinand, Himmelman's African leopard tortoise. Ferdinand's been a part of Himmelman's Furious World webcasts for awhile now. You can even find some of Ferdinand's videos on YouTube. Here he is talking with Peter about music... King Ferdinand - "Music" [YouTube] And one more...

Peter Himmelman and Milkshake Team Up, Sort Of.

GreatDay.jpgYou know, I had this cover for Great Day, the upcoming album from Baltimore-based band Milkshake, but didn't yet have the tracklisting. On the other hand, I've had My Trampoline, the next album from Peter Himmelman, for awhile now (for a few more details from six months ago, go here). Neither item by itself was probably sufficient for a post. (I do have standards, you know, hard as that may be to believe sometimes.) But I've found the link, folks. Both albums are coming out on August 25. See? That justifies this, right? Oh, anyway, the tracklisting for My Trampoline and some other intriguing Himmelman-related news after the jump.

My New Music -- Sort Of -- From Peter Himmelman

Speaking of artists with Twin Cities roots, I've been hearing that Peter Himmelman was prepping the follow-up to his excellent 2007 album My Green Kite, but now I (and you) can actually hear the follow-up, or at least tiny portions thereof. From the sound of it, if you liked Kite, you're gonna like this. Himmelman's posted clips from 3 new kids' songs at his music page. The songs are the ska-tinged "Imagination," the XTC-ish "King Ferdinand," which is cursed with the shortest clip, and the bluesy title track. What's that? Title track what? The album will be called My Trampoline, thereby continuing Himmelman's run of "My" albums -- this'll make five. Makes you think he and Elizabeth Mitchell totally need to duet on a You Are My... album...

Grammy Nominees React

So after posting the nominees in the two kids' categories for the 50th Annual Grammy Awards, what's left to do except wait for the awards on Feb. 10? Oh, well, maybe solicit reactions from selected nominees in the Best Musical Album category. (Note: now with Buck Howdy!) Peter Himmelman (My Green Kite): "Perhaps the recognition I've received through this Grammy nomination in the children's field is a signal to me that writing songs that work to reclaim a sense of wonder and innocence is a worthy artistic direction to be headed in." Don Sebesky & Janina Serden, producers (The Velveteen Rabbit - Love Can Make You Real): "Recording and producing The Velveteen Rabbit CD was a labor of love for me. When my daughters were little, I used to read the story to them and even made homemade tapes at their request... Let me say that finding our nomination on that GRAMMY web site was one of the most exciting moments of my life!" (Janina Serden) Bill Harley (I Wanna Play) : "I was where I often am when I heard about the Grammy – in an elementary school with a bunch of kids – this time in Texas. It means a lot to me that other recording artists thought enough to vote for me. I’m in there with some pretty heady company. I like a lot of the other recordings, and am heartened that independent artists manage to sneak into the mix in our category. I know there are other artists just as deserving." Buck Howdy (Chickens!): "BB and I were tickled to be nominated. I've always thought being nominated for such an honor would be life-changing. Unfortunately, the horses and other critters here at Buttercup Farm don't quite see it that way. Which means I'm still getting up at the crack of dawn to feed and water them - so much for life-changing!" The Muppets (A Green and Red Christmas): "Arraggrgagraghha rar gagghh! Grammy!" (Animal)

My Favorite Kids and Family Albums of 2007

It's time once again for me to list my favorite kids and family albums from the past year or so. As I noted in last year's list, I don't put tremendous stock in individual "best of" lists, because taste is idiosyncratic. (Please note the title here is "favorite," not "best," a deliberate choice of words.) The idiosyncracies of taste are one reason why I came up with the idea for the Fids and Kamily Awards. The fact that I think Recess Monkey's Wonderstuff is one of the year's best CDs might be more easily dismissed if it weren't for the fact that a good number of 19 judges happened to agree with me. As for my list, the top 10 below reflects my Fids and Kamily ballot. But as with last year, limiting a list of favorites to just 10 albums would leave off a number of very, very good albums. In fact, as a whole, 2007 was even stronger than 2006, making this year's decisions even more difficult. Although I lost count some time ago, I'd guess that I probably heard 250 to 300 new albums this past year -- even at 20 albums, I've left off some great music from this list. So without further ado...