Interview: Ashley Albert (The Jimmies)

Ashley_videoshoot.jpgAshley Albert is the founder of the New York-based band The Jimmies. Their debut album, Make Your Own Someday is a whole bunch of fun, and their videos are, well, their videos are something to see, and a lot of that is due to Ashley herself.

Let's put it this way -- when I asked Ashley to send some photos to accompany this interview, she sent me one that featured her wearing a fake mustache. Deedee Doodle (of Doodlebops fame) might have many positive attributes, but being willing to send a photo of herself wearing a fake mustache is not, I am willing to guess, one of them.

Read on for the story behind the band's creation, the recording of the debut, the name of their next album, and, yes, the picture of Ashley wearing the fake mustache.

Zooglobble: What were your musical influences growing up?
Ashley Albert: I had music coming at me from all sides when I was a kid- my dad was a record producer and I spent a lot of weekends in the 70’s asleep on the couch at the studio while bands like CSN, The Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton and John Cougar rocked it out. I also fell in love with a lot of unknown bands he worked on that never saw the light of day. My mom was really into the reggae scene and we actually lived in the Bahamas for a stint while Bob Marley was recording “Rastaman Vibration”. I was exposed to a whole lot of decidedly “adult” music. When I was writing the songs for Make Your Own Someday, I remembered that the songs I liked best were the ones that at least mentioned something that seemed kid-like to me…i.e. “Rock the Boat” by The Hues Corporation (“Boats! Boats are for kids!”) or “Just the Two of Us” by Grover Washington Jr. (“The number two! This is like a counting song!”). I also went through a heavy Dr. Demento phase in junior high, followed closely by an affinity for musicals, Carly Simon, Led Zeppelin and Cat Stevens. I’m just all over the place in the music department.
How did you find your way into kids' music?
I’m only on the second question and I’m sensing this is gonna be a long-winded interview… The shortish version is that a good friend of mine was in a work meeting and there was a need for a kid’s band and she volunteered me up as having a kids band and then called me and said “Um, how soon can you put together a kid’s band?” I threw together 3 songs- “Cool to be Uncool”, “Do The Elephant” and “Spanimals” and took the meeting… They didn’t think we were quite ready for what they needed us for (considering we’d never played out and at that time, the band consisted of me and my best friend, Kate Simses, on trumpet), but somehow, it felt right enough and fun enough- that I decided to write some more songs and head down to Miami to record the album with my dad and one UNBELIEVEABLY talented studio musician- Steve Gordon- and then I came up to New York and cast the band. Two and a half years later- here we are. (P.S. For those who are wondering about my dear friend Kate, she’s pursuing her flourishing acting career, but is still very much an inner-Jimmie… she sang back-up on the album and helps out the band in millions of ways. She even did my make-up for the Spanimals video!)

Which do you like more -- writing, recording, or performing music? Which do you like least?
Writing songs is a new skill that I’m still mining the depths of (I was always more of a poetry girl). But there is nothing quite like hearing something become real that was previously just a tiny idea sung into my cell phone while roaming the streets of New York City.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist- so I can get a little obsessive during the recording process- I know exactly what I want the song to sound like, but usually hafta express it with wild gesticulations and a lot of “It’s going ba-la-la-la-li-la-doo…and I want it to be more like balala-li-la-de-doo”.

My dad and I co-produced Make Your Own Someday together at his studio- Audio Vision- and it was so amazing to find out how well we worked together that I really feel that if nothing else ever came from The Jimmies, it will have been worth it, just for that experience and how it’s positively affected our relationship.

Performing is, of course, a great time, but a little scary. I just want it to be so good and so fun for the kids and we’re always adding and changing things, trying to get it right and some things end up working better than others- but we usually don’t find out until it’s too late (Hint: Don’t attempt to use a bubble gun up-wind).

The very best part is meeting the kids after the show when we sign autographs. I love that they just wanna hug you…and show you their band-aid.

OK. Be honest. You watched MTV a lot, right?
I don’t watch nearly enough anymore (In fact, my TV intake has truly suffered from all of the Jimmies business)…but I will proudly say that my dad and I watched the initial MTV broadcast like it really was the moon landing…and at the time, there was nothing, not one thing, cooler.

ash_stache_and_jungle.jpgYou take your videos more seriously (in a funny way) than most kids' musicians -- any particular reason?
I’m not sure who originally spread the word that if something was for kids, the production value could be cheap or the instrumentation could be synthesized or the writing could be simplistic…as if kids wouldn’t know the difference. I fully believe that kids have just as discerning a palate for entertainment as their parents do and unlike adults, who will, at least, sit quietly and applaud politely, just to make you feel better, if I kid doesn’t like something they’re gonna let you know about it. I feel like we need to be taking this as seriously as possible. Even seriouser.

A year ago, you'd just released Make Your Own Someday. This year, you're playing a lot of high-profile events around the country. Has your head stopped spinning? (Not in a Linda Blair sort-of-way, but in a good way.)
It has been absolutely ridiculous. And wonderful. Three years ago, I would never, ever have predicted that this would be something so viable and real and so far, all of the whirlwindy headspinning still feels fun and exhilarating. I hope I never get tired of people telling me that they love the album or that their kids are using their wrunkle or watching the "Spanimals" video over and over…because right now, every time someone does, it feels like a gift.

What songs have surprised you by being more or less popular in concert than you thought they'd be when you recorded them?
I was completely and utterly surprised that “What’s That Sound?” hit #1 on XMkids…it’s the first song on the album and don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled about it, but I feel like there are several other songs on the album that even I find stuck in my head. Alternatively, "Soaper," which we had tons of trouble with on the album (on account of never quite nailing down a satisfying robot voice for), has become this sort of bizarre and popular part of our live show - so much so, that when we recorded the song for our live DVD concert last month, we had this absurd, gigantic, tap-dancing robot join us on stage. I couldn’t tell if the kids were awestruck with glee or horror…but they were definitely awestruck.

Jimmies_wall.jpgWhat secret talents of the Jimmies (collectively or individually) can you reveal?
Dan, our drummer, in addition to his kung-fu skills, is actually a trained pastry chef and makes the most delectable, scrumptious, marvelous, wonderful, secret recipe cookies. Every month or so, I call him and casually ask him about a potential ingredient (“ Hey Dan, how are you? Um, I was just, uh, wondering…would the cookies, perchance, happen to have CORNFLAKES in them?!?? ”). I’m sorry to report that I have made NO progress on this front, but I’m gonna get that recipe if it’s the last thing I do. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m not sure if this is a talent, but Tim manages to lose EVERYTHING. Money, car keys, bass guitars, shoes…the guy is a one-man Lost and Found…er…Found and Lost.

Matt has an uncanny ability to get all my jokes, even the really bad, punny ones. Which is probably a secret talent that only I can appreciate- but still! He also makes fantastic enchiladas and I’ve heard he’s an incredibly good babysitter.

What's next for the band?
We’re gearing up to play Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, Musikfest and World Café Live in the next two months and we’re also doing a few stops for the Target Book Fair in places like Detroit and Minneapolis, so we’ll be living the rock and roll lifestyle for a while and I’m looking forward to improving on my over-packing skills. We should be releasing our new music video for "Bedhead" within the week, with videos for “Cool to be Uncool” and “What’s That Sound” following soon after (they’re gonna take some time though- I had NO idea how long it would take to construct a miniature candy carnival! P.S. Hot glue + Sno-caps = Bad idea) Once they’re done, we’ll release our DVD and then head into the studio in the fall to record our new album, Every Day’s A Holiday. And then maybe…a nap.