One of the most unique and creative kids' albums of the past year was Mr. David's The Great Adventures of Mr. David. Filled with flights of fancy, musically and lyrically, the album is, appropriately enough, rather adventurous. The San Jose-based Mr. David was kind enough to answer a few questions about his musical upbringing, the inspiration for some of his songs, and his band. (Thanks very much to Mr. David for his time.)
When the children’s thing came knocking at the door, it was a light I hadn’t seen before. Children: they’re honesty, they’re excitement, they’re real human hearts, right in front of you. My first gig with the kids changed everything. It suddenly gave me this focus I hadn’t experienced before.
My earliest memories of listening to music: I’m standing in my sister’s room at about 6 years-old, and I’m listening to The Cars, Duran Duran, The Cure, Joy Division . . . Hm, some other girly stuff I can’t remember. I do remember her room was full of colorful, little knick-knacks you get from the mall, little clippings of cute 80’s musicians on the floor, pink Good ‘n Plenty candy boxes on the bed -- I didn’t feel very hardcore in there.
I have older brothers too. My oldest brother, Paul, was a Deadhead at the age of fifteen, so all I heard from his room was “Terrapin Station” and “Shake Down Street.” (1985: my brother is burning incants and designing airports for fun -- Paul was a very smart kid.) My other brother, Yorgo, was into The Police and U2 (the early stuff, which I think is the best). Let’s see what else . . . oh, Bob Marley, The Beatles (The White Album), Peter Gabriel, Steve Miller, Pink Floyd, Midnight Oil, The Stones -- Yorgo had more music because he had more money than anyone else, and he was still a teenager. He was really good at holding jobs.
The first record I ever put on by myself was “Eye of the Tiger.” How funny is that? Life is full of strange stuff. I didn’t really play a lot of music until high school. This guy Jake was playing “Come As You Are” at lunchtime. It looked so simple and so cool. I wanted to become the song. I went home that day, found my Mom’s old guitar in the closet, and played Kurt’s opening riff for hours. It took a while before I was able to play and sing. I thought you had to be like God in order to do that. In fact, I’m still learning how to do that.
I still play that same guitar every once in a while, It’s a 1965 Karl Hauser, hand-crafted in West Germany. My Mom played it at Willow Glen High School in 1966. I graduated from the same school 31 years later. She says the guitar sounds better today. I used that guitar in spots in “Sea Song” (The Great Adventures of Mr. David) I also used it in “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” in my first album for sentimental reasons.
I remember another enlightening experience I had with music was in 8th grade. It was during P.E., and we were walking the track because we were lazy skaters, with a typical 13 year-old bad attitude. My friend Sean takes off his head phones and says, “listen to this. . . . “GOOD DAY SUN SHINE, GOOD DAY SUN SHINE, GOOD DAY SUN SHINE, I NEED TO LAUGH AND WHEN THE SUN IS OUT . . . “ Oh, that got me running. End of story.
You have some background as an actor -- How did you decide that you wanted to play and record kids' music?
Auditions were getting old. You drive up to San Francisco to audition for something, get judged and go home feeling like, “What did I do with my life today?” It was cool when I got work, but it wasn’t really me. I wasn’t supposed to be placed in the background. I have too much to give. I didn’t feel like I was using the part of the brain that needed to be expressed. Student films were the best. I didn’t get paid, but man they were fun. We have some pretty funny little shorts around the house.
When the children’s thing came knocking at the door, it was a light I hadn’t seen before. Children: they’re honesty, they’re excitement, they’re real human hearts, right in front of you. My first gig with the kids changed everything. It suddenly gave me this focus I hadn’t experienced before. I knew I had focus in me, but it wasn’t tuned in until I started playing for the brats (I mean the kids!) I started writing more songs. They were flowing more honestly. I felt like the kids were constantly looking forward to another Mr. David song. It made me want to keep bringing them to the table. I didn’t ever ask an adult if this song worked. I’d play it for the kids a day or two after writing it, and they’d always let me know if the song was worth putting on the album.
I wrote a song the other day called, “Jump in the Jumpy House.” I can’t wait to record it for the next album. I’m playing it live now, and the response is awesome. (It has a James Brown vibe.) Anyway, the kids thing just took off, felt right and so I went with it.
Were any of the songs on "The Great Adventures" inspired by adventures of your own?
Yes, most were adventures through my mind. But, all of the sea and beach songs like, “In the Storm, Fighting the Octopus,” “Surf’s Up All Around the World,” “Dream Away; Sail Away” and “Sea Song,” were all pretty much influenced by driving over Hwy 17 to Santa Cruz in the early morning. I always find the morning is one of the best times for lyrics. The morning is a good time to go fishing for songs. Even Mick Jagger said so in his documentary “Being Mick.” It almost sounds too simple, but that’s the way I work. I always find it interesting to record or just remember the date and time when a song comes. There’s a different feel to a song, depending on the environment and time of day.
I visited San Miguel, Mexico on my honeymoon, and it was a lot of fun. I did more writing in my journal than actual songs. Here’s a funny story how “La Cucaracha” was born. We had dinner at one of the best “slow food” restaurants in Mexico. We’re feeling good, and walked out of the restaurant to head back to our house. My wife is standing in a farm of cockroaches. She jumps and screams, I look down, and it’s gross. These creatures are running around, dancing around her feet. She steps on one and it cracks! But, it still runs away like you gave it fuel. We keep walking and she says: “You should write a song called ‘La Cucaracha,’ and have the kids jump every time they see one.” We wrote the song that night out on a cobblestone street.
People walked by and thought we were crazy, between the two of us jumping up and down and yelling “La Cucaracha!” Mexico was fun, man. We had a lot of good food and everything and all of a sudden there was a “LA CUCARACHA!!” It works! Let’s put it on the album.
"Pearl" is a song that’s close to my heart. I played baseball when I was young. I didn’t play in high school, because I was too busy growing out my hair, and trying to be a Beatle. Funny thing is, I still have this connection to baseball in a more sentimental way. There’s something old and haunting about it. I think about families on their way to a ball game. I think about the way a child feels at the game and how their perspective is about dreams, and all the good stuff in life. I think about my baseball card collection and how a Ricky Henderson rookie card meant more to me then a warm meal. One day I thought about a kid catching a homerun ball, catching a dream, or a pearl, and giving it back to Dad. It just made sense while I wrote it. And I got all teary eyed.
I wrote “Backyard” in my backyard. Didn’t have to go too far to find that one.
Some of my elementary students helped me write “Rock n Roll” (the Lizard one). We were all sitting around one day, every one was chill and I thought, “Hey let’s write a song.” We did it in 30 minutes, lyrics and music. These kids get it. Kids are just cool like that.
The album has a very relaxed and loose feel -- was that just carefully planned recording, or did you intentionally seek out that sound?
The relaxed and loose feel just happened that way. I didn’t plan that.
Some of the songs, particularly the instrumentals, have a very "painting with sound" feel to them. How well do those go over in concert compared to more straightforward songs like "I'm A Fish"?
I must admit the straightforward tunes like “I’m a Fish,” “Rock ‘n Roll,” and “Come to the Plaza” are good dance tunes for concerts. That’s the kind of solid playing you need at shows. I find people are more interested in up beat tunes, especially at 1 in the afternoon. It’s always good to stick with tunes that make fans move. They don’t want to sleep at that time. I try to keep my shows UP. I don’t want to lose people with a dreamy octopus song.
I also think “Dream Away; Sail Away” works better for the album then in concert. Those songs could work better while driving with the family on a trip, or an hour before bedtime while things are winding down.
It’s interesting you mention a “painted feel.” I love to paint. A painted sound is much looser. It could be some form of meditation. I like to get lost in the song. It’s all a part of the trippy experience.
Which are your favorite songs to play?
I’m a Fish
Come to the Plaza
Rock n Roll
Tell me a bit more about your band, The Buckwild.
I was in a band called “Scapegrace” We broke up a couple mouths ago, but The Buckwild (our children’s project) has basically the same members as Scapegrace.
Mr. David: guitar/lead vocals
Richard Ajlouny :guitar/vocals/mandolin
Ryan Westphal : Bass
Adam Aharon: Drums
Our first big show was September 17, 2005 at Bonfante Gardens It’s still going strong. We just came back from a pretty cool show in Thousand Oaks (LA). We were doing both Scapegrace and The Buckwild thing for a while. The other members saw The Buckwild as something more promising. Adult music for us meant playing in a bar for 13 people. It just looked bad so we dropped it. Scapegrace did influence our Buckwild sound for sure.
I think that’s what’s unique about me. I don’t change my music for the kids. It’s basically the same stuff I’d be playing for adults. And, the same is true for my bandmates. Good music is good music. Scapegrace affected The Buckwild’s project in that the adult back beat and rhythms were moved over for the children, and I think that’s why parents can enjoy the show too. But, of course, we use kid friendly lyrics.
The children’s music helps the adult music in that it lightens it up. I like to keep things simple, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have deep meaning or are not well thought out. So whether I’m doing children’s music or adult, I still apply a lot of the same methods.
What would you like to see in Mr David's future?
We’ve always had a vision of Mr. David as something larger than just the music. I’d hope that someday, we would be able produce some of our ideas for different kinds of content for kids—music, books, programs—with the music as the linchpin for it all. My wife is a writer and designer; I’m a writer, illustrator, musician and painter. We’ve got great ideas for books and programs. We just need to find the right partners to help us get there.
My hope is that we can go national, even international, and win enough of an audience to start branching out and doing other things (with music always being at the center of it all.)
Also, I’m really proud to say that I’m putting out a kind of children’s music that really is different, and I hope that my music will help to change how people think about music for their children. I see the change happening in a larger sense in this genre, with artists like Dan Zanes and They Might Be Giants, and I want to be a part of that, in a big way.