Interview: Audra Tsanos (AudraRox)

Audra Tsanos, the driving force behind the New York band AudraRox, seems to know every kids' musician in New York. In AudraRox, she's assembled her own set of talented musicians whose debut CD, 2006's I Can Do It By Myself, ran the gamut from country to slick power-pop and very kid-targeted lyrics.

Audra kindly answered a few questions about her musical upbringing and AudraRox's formation, among other things. Read on for the story behind Audra's first band name, her experience in a Music for Aardvarks cover band, and, yes, the title to their upcoming CD.

Thanks to Audra for the interview (and the accompanying photo).


1. What are your musical memories growing up?
I was raised by fundamentalist Christians in Kansas City, Kansas - so my first musical and theatrical experiences were in the church. I sang my first solo when I was 2, did my first musical at church when I was 7 and joined the adult choir at 11. On my own I listened to bad Top 40. I won the talent show in high school my freshman year. I put together a band with the bass player from the jazz band and a sax player, played piano and sang Whitney Houston's' "Savin' All My Love for You." YUCK!

My best friend in high school, Linda Amayo, played Ella Fitzgerald for me. The only cassette tapes I owned when I went to college were The Police, The Doors, and Sade. Hats off to Joetta, my first roommate from California - she played me The Violent Femmes, The Smiths, Billie Holiday, and Bessie Smith. Then I dated and married a guy who had an album collection of about 1,000 and finally, I grew up musically!

I'm a late bloomer.
2. What did your parents do to encourage music around the house? Or were there other role models?
My father played piano, guitar and sang - both of my parents sang in the church choir and sang solos.
We would do the family band thing too - I would play piano and we'd break out the 3-part harmony for Christmas and church stuff. I was also very inspired and nurtured by all of my music, band, and theatre teachers!

3. How did you start your music career -- was it through Music For Aardvarks?
I got a BFA in Theatre Performance and I had a pretty busy regional musical theatre career before moving to New York. My first band was in college with my buddy Tom Price - we called ourselves Liquor & Eggs - cause we opened our fridge and that's all we had in it!! We played a couple gigs, but mostly just had fun learning all the songs we wanted to cover.

I moved to New York City to be an actress, met my husband right away and had a family. Four years and two kids later I was thinking "What am I going to do? Wait tables again?" (Which I did!) I thought a career in theatre would take too much time away from my family and a friend said, "you should teach Music for Aardvarks, you'd be great!" David Weinstone and I had really hit it off when I attended his classes with my kids and he was really supportive of my choice to teach. Teaching Music for Aardvarks ended up being my big segue in life....

4. When did you form AudraRox, and why?
I first started a band and covered Aardvark songs - parents were asking for it and David Weinstone wasn't into performing the songs live at that point. He gave me his blessing and I ran with it. Parents and kids really loved it! Everyone I worked with in the band was a parent from my classes, which I think is very cool. So after about 2 incarnations of bands - I finally gathered the core group I have now.

We called it Audra Tsanos and Her All-Star Band Perform Music for Aardvarks - rolls right off the tongue, huh? Well, my e-mail address has been "audrarocks" forever and people just started calling us Audra Rocks - I like that! The name happened organically - actually, this whole experience has happened that way, with a life of its own. Anyway, was taken so we ended up
AudraRox. I had a big following and Nickelodeon had heard about me. They asked us for a demo and we didn't have any original songs to give them! So in three weeks we wrote six songs, recorded them in six hours, and gave them the demo.

5. What was it like writing your own songs, as opposed to singing someone else's?
It was really cool to hear our own sound develop - people said "it sounds like your voice." I think we always took David's music and made it our own - but when playing our originals it's soooo us. It was also just amazing that everyone - kids, parents, critics, Nickelodeon - liked our album! What a relief after all that hard work and money!

6. It sometimes seems like you can play "Six Degrees of AudraRox" with the kids' music scene, especially in New York City. How did that come about?
Did you read that article? Six Degrees of Audra? [Ed: Yeah, though I'd completely forgotten about the title. Really.] Well, I know a lot of people - I've been teaching twenty-plus classes a week for 8 1/2 years - that's thousands of families - and my clients are in film and television, fashion, magazines and newspapers, artists, musicians, doctors, teachers, restauranteurs, shop owners... see? It's put me in the center of the community. When I first started I knew that the classes were about more than music - they were about community. Everyone coming together at the same time in their life - as new parents - and sitting in the circle. When 9.11 happened we sat in the circle and cried together, when a baby with Down Syndrome finally takes her first step we all celebrate together - the starving artist and the C.E.O. - all of us together on this common ground. It's very cool.

7. How did Toxic Muffin come about, and what's it like working with your kids in the band?
Well my boys were taking their private lessons and I thought it would be motivational to play in a group. They have grown up with musicians rehearsing in the house and mommy doing gigs all the time so to them it seemed very natural. It was good karma that Tino had two friends who were at the same skill level and were really into doing it.

Jordan Shapiro from AudraRox & Astrograss does a School of Rock with them once a week and helps them creatively. I do the business side for them, booking the gigs and stuff. I try to stay out of the creative side so they can have their own voice. They listen to Jordan better than they would mommy.

I've got to say they love performing - we aren't pushing them. People ask them to play and we do it if we can. We're not out there looking for gigs or press - anything that they have done has come to them. We aren't looking to have them "working" - they are 9 & 11 years old and have lots of things they are interested in. Music is just one of them. But I love that it is!

8. What's next for you and AudraRox?
Well, we have a bunch of songs for our next album and Marty Beller from They Might Be Giants is producing it. We have some great songs so I'm looking forward to getting into the studio. Probably this winter we'll record and we'll try to have a new CD for spring 2008.

I'll reveal the working title to you (drum-roll....) "You're a Rock Star Too" - Jennifer Milich who wrote "Don't Wake the Baby" from our first CD has written an equally beautiful song that will be the title track.

And an amazing writer, AJ Jacobs, is working on an AudraRox TV pilot with BusBoy Productions. So I'm very excited and hopeful for that project! (Fingers crossed!)

Other than that we are playing a ton of concerts and next week I start teaching 22 classes a week again and do a few birthday parties here and there. Busy, busy, busy...

Photo courtesy Audra Tsanos.